Summary: God works cheerful obedience into his people.
Our text reminds me of the four-year old standing in his high chair during dinner one evening, much to his parents’ chagrin. They tried the usual antics to make him sit: begging, reasoning about the dangers of standing in a chair, fussing, and eventually threatening punishment. But for some reason, this night, he would not comply. Exasperated, the mother reached over, grabbed the boy by the arm and drug him down into the sitting position. With great determination and defiance, he yelled, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside!”
We learned soon after becoming parents that obedience is more than sitting down on the outside. It does what I ask, when I want it done, and with a good attitude; it is quick and cheerful. In the same way, God’s grace is evident in us when we obey without grumbling or complaining, but with joy. Paul issued that very challenge to the church in Philippi.
[Read Philippians 2.12-18. Pray.]
Grumbling, complaining, questioning, whining—these are NOT pretty words. When such behavior characterizes our children, we make speedy adjustments in our parenting. When employees exhibit those traits, the boss quickly corrects or maybe fires them. Unfortunately, those same attitudes and behaviors can show up in God’s children. When that happens, we mar our relationship with God and create ill-will and conflict with one another.
Living (as we do) in the wealthiest society in the history of humanity, one might expect us to be equally wealthy in contentment. But those who observe American attitudes say that we are (in general) a discontent people.
The Bible connects that restlessness to our fallen condition. Separated from God, we long to be restored to the happy holiness we were made for, but the way back to Eden is lost forever. Desperate, we try to force substitutes into the void. But none can truly satisfy, so our hearts swell with impatience, irritableness, griping, murmuring.
But even though the problem springs from our hearts, we should also realize that the world is motivated to stir up such feelings in us, due to the profit a lack of contentment generates.
Pastor John MacArthur (Commentary on Philippians, 175) observes: “The media, to create dissatisfaction, continually assault the senses with alluring and often unrealistic images that have been described as ‘plastic perfection.’ Fueling that enchantment is the staunch conviction that personal happiness, though elusive and unattained, is the supreme objective of life.”
So what would make us content? Certainly not more possessions! “Stuff” never satisfies because we always want more. Like John D. Rockefeller’s famous answer to the question, “How much money is enough?” Though one of the wealthiest people on the planet, he said, “Just a little bit more.” Hearts that want wholeness cannot be filled by empty baubles.
Suppose you work hard in the yard all day, even skipping lunch. At 6 in the evening, I offer you some beanie weenies. You might hungrily devour them even though they are not great food. But if you know that your sweetie is in the kitchen, baking homemade bread, tossing a fresh salad, grilling steaks, steaming asparagus, and making hollandaise and chasseur sauce for the foods, then you would reject the beanie weenies without grumbling or questioning, because you know something better lies just ahead. So even in difficult circumstances, if we are certain that we will receive everything we desire, then we can be content.
The Bible promises that very thing to all who trust God because of what he has done in Jesus. 2Peter 1.3 points out that God has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” 2Corinthians 9.8 adds: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Those who are certain that “all things work together for [their] good” (Romans 8.28), do not complain because we have nothing to complain about. I do not grumble about the hunger I feel at the end of a long day nor at the offer of beanie weenies, when those very things increase my appreciation and enjoyment of a special dinner.
Given these amazing promises, we expect Christians to be overwhelmingly content. But this too is an area for growth. The Scriptures must teach us and the Spirit conform us so that sinful attitudes no longer control our hearts and words.
1. God’s Work In Us Produces Cheerful Obedience and Community Harmony (Philippians 2.14)
What are the all things we are to do with a good attitude? If we note the connection with the previous paragraph, we find that “all things” in verse 14 refers to obediently working out salvation with fear and trembling in the previous verses. God insists that we have not yet obeyed until and unless we do so quickly and cheerfully.