I heard a story about an old lady that walked into a department store one day and was surprised when an executive pinned a flower on her dress and gave her a $100 bill. She was the store’s one millionth customer. A tv reporter asked her, “just what did you come into the store for today?” To which she replied, “I was on my way to the complaint department.” I am sure that was embarrassing to the department store to have their one millionth customer coming in to complain.
Complaining is something all of us have a tendency to do. We complain and grumble about the weather, politics, our jobs, traffic, our health, the music at church, the temperature in the church, etc.
Paul has just told us in verses 12, 13 to work out our salvation. We are to work outwardly what God has worked inwardly. We are to become like Christ. One way we can work out our salvation is to do all things without grumbling and disputing. Instead, we are to give thanks in everything. (2 Thessalonians 5:18).
Doing this is virtually impossible because of our humanity and the fact that we have the flesh to deal with and the fact that everyone else is doing it and complaining and grumbling tends to be very contagious. However, it is possible to do this as we are being filled with the Holy Spirit.
This verse should drive all of us to the Gospel and cause us to pray “I need to be saved from this sinful behavior of grumbling and disputing and being ungrateful.”
Notice, first of all, our temperament.
We are to do all things without grumbling and disputing. First, what does he mean by saying “all things”? You are probably thinking that surely he doesn’t mean “all things.” Surely, if you go to the Greek, you will see that is not what God means, right? Well, I did look it up in the Greek, and guess what it means? All things. “All” means “all” and that is all that “all” means. We are never to grumble or complain.
Grumbling is complaining. It is probably one of the sins most tolerated by Christians. In fact, many of us do not even think of it as sinful because so many people do it. But it is directly disobeying God when we grumble. You may not like that God is offended by it but you and I have to accept it.
When we grumble, we are being like the children of Israel when Moses led them into the wilderness out of Egypt. God judged them severely for their grumbling and complaining. 1 Corinthians 10:9-11 says 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”
You might be thinking "We all grumble and that is not such a "big" sin." We couldn’t be further from the truth! God put these grumblers to death in the wilderness. God is “dead serious” about grumbling (no pun intended)! And to accentuate Paul's point to the saints at Corinth he added "Now these things (the grumblers dying) happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." (1 Cor 10:11). We need to learn from this example that God hates grumbling and complaining. It is very offensive to Him.
James 5:9 says, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged. Behold the Judge is standing at the door.” God is very serious about grumbling, and we should be too. We need to fight this sin with God’s help. If you are not saved, this is one thing that should drive you to put your trust in Christ and be saved, because you cannot stop grumbling and complaining without salvation and without the Holy Spirit. And you will be judged for this sin that is very serious in God’s sight if you don’t run to Christ for salvation.
This verse comes right after the section on sanctification, working out your salvation. Remember, we are not working “for” salvation but we are working it “out.” We are pursuing holiness in the fear of God. We are making every effort to live godly. And one way to do that is to strive not to grumble.
Even if you are saved, it takes a lot of effort to put this sin to death. It takes a lot of prayer and a lot of confession and a lot of discipline and a lot of practice. How do you get better at something? You practice. You practice being grateful for everything and not complaining about anything.
Why does God hate it so much? Grumbling and complaining shows a lack of humility. Remember, verse 8? God’s Word is calling us to follow the example of Jesus who humbled himself and came to this earth to die for our sins. He humbled himself, left the glory of Heaven, to become a man. When we grumble, that is not humility. That is the opposite. We are acting as if we deserve better when in reality, we deserve much worse. And this attitude is very offensive to God.
He says we are not only to avoid grumbling but also “disputing”. I think this word is talking about our internal attitude towards God when we are upset with God for allowing circumstances into our lives. We question Him or second guess Him. We feel that He is not being fair. We dispute with Him about how we don’t deserve this, when all along we deserve much worse. This leads to a bitter spirit. We are rejecting the theology that God is sovereign and providential. This is the internal struggle that leads to external grumbling.
We often see David doing this in the Psalms. We see Job do it. And this shows that both of them were human. Just because they did it in Scripture doesn’t make it right. It is not right for us to dispute with God, to question Him, or to make ourselves judge over His fairness. We must ask God to help us be different. We need to repent of this attitude.
We have to bring every thought into the obedience of Christ. We have to discipline our minds to remember that God is good and sovereign in all things. No disputing and no grumbling. That is to be our temperament.
Secondly, notice our testimony. (vs. 15) First, it says “That we might be blameless.” “Blameless” doesn’t mean perfect. But it means we live our lives in such a way that not even our enemies who are looking closely can find anything to say bad about us. This is what happened with Daniel and his enemies. They said “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5
As a Christian, our testimony is important. We are not guarding our testimony when we grumble. Sometimes, unbelievers hear believers grumbling even about their church. This is a terrible testimony to the unbeliever. And even when we are grumbling about our circumstances rather than our church, we are showing to the unbeliever that we really don’t believe God is fair and good and sovereign and providential.
An unbeliever might try to use us as an excuse for not trusting Christ as Savior. They might say, “Well, Jason is the pastor of a church and he grumbles. He is no different from me or anyone else. Why should I get saved?” It hurts our testimony and witness if we grumble.
Not only are we to be blameless, but we are also to be “innocent.” The Greek word means “pure or unadulterated.” It means undiluted or genuine. We are to be genuine Christians. We are to be the real deal. Do people think you are a genuine Christian by your attitude?
Also, we are to act like "children of God.” Like it or not, children are a reflection of their parents. Children are naturally selfish and ungrateful. We never had to sit our kids down and say, “Now, this is how you complain.” We never had to teach them to be ungrateful. However, when parents teach their children to be thankful and to not complain, children will be less ungrateful. If a child constantly complains, it makes their parents look bad. If we as children of God complain, it makes God look bad. The reason God created us is to glorify Him, to make Him look good. Since we are saved, we are to make our Heavenly Father look good. But when we grumble, we are sending the message that God is not good and that He is not sovereign.
We are not acting like children of God when we grumble. We have forgotten our identity as children of God. We are royalty. Our Father is the King of Kings. If you heard a prince or princess grumbling or complaining about their circumstances, you would tell them, “What do you have to complain about? You live in luxury. Have you forgotten who you are?” Many Christians have forgotten who they are and therefore they grumble.
We also see that we are to be “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation." This means we are to be a breath of fresh air in this world that is polluted. The word “crooked” means they have no standards. The world has no absolutes, so they are crooked. The word “twisted” speaks to the fact that whatever principles they live by, they are deceived.
We are “in the midst” of the world. God has left us here to be an influence. He could have taken us to Heaven right when he saved us, but He has left us here to be salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. We have to be in the world without the world being in us. Just like a boat has to be in the water without the water being in the boat.
Many Christians want to isolate themselves from the world around them. They are religious recluses. How are we going to influence the world if we are not in the world? While we are in the world, we must make sure we don’t act like the world - that we don’t grumble and dispute God.
Furthermore, we are to “shine as lights in the world.” Matthew 5:16 says “ Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.”
We are to be like stars. When do stars shine the brightest? When it is dark. They shine during the day but no one can see them because it is light. But when it gets dark, you see the stars. The darker the night, the brighter the stars shine.
When can we be most effective in our witness for Christ? In the good times when the sun is shining? No, it is during the darkest times of our lives. When everything is falling apart and we are still thankful and we do not complain or grumble, our light shines the brightest. Or when we are in a situation where everyone else is complaining around us and we are giving thanks, we stand out like stars in the darkest of nights.
Many people we work with and go to school with and live next to may never read the Bible, but they are reading us. They are watching how we respond to bad times. Paul is saying that we have to decide “Are we going to whine or are we going to shine?” Because you can’t do both
This goes hand in hand with Philippians 1:27 - “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Grumbling and complaining is not a lifestyle worthy of the gospel of Christ.
So, our temperament is no grumbling nor disputing. Our testimony is to be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish, shining as lights in this dark world.
Thirdly, notice our task. Our task is to rejoice instead of grumble and complain. In verse 17, Paul says that even if he is poured out like a drink offering (executed and dies), he will rejoice. And he is encouraging the believers to rejoice with him in whatever circumstance they find themselves in.
Sitting in a jail cell, Paul knew that death was a real possibility for him. That is what he meant by “if he was poured out like a drink offering.” When we get saved, we give our lives to Christ. That means we give him the right to terminate it when he sees fit. If that means 80 or 18, we surrender that to the Lord. We must not only rejoice when God spares our lives, we must rejoice when he takes our lives. So Paul is telling them, “If you hear that I have been released, rejoice! And if you hear that I have been killed, rejoice!” In either case, rejoice!
Now, Paul tells us how we can rejoice. He says in verse 16, “Holding fast to the Word of life.” The Word of life is a term that refers specifically to the Gospel. The Gospel is the Word that brings spiritual life to people. To hold it fast means to give our attention to it. We always ought to be thinking about how what we do affects the Gospel. Even after we are saved, we have to preach the Gospel to ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that because of the Gospel, we have been saved and we are different than we used to be.
The theme of this whole book is to rejoice in the Gospel. Rejoice that Jesus left heaven and came to earth to die for our sins. Rejoice that He rose from the dead and conquered the grave. Rejoice that He has offered forgiveness to us. Rejoice that His Spirit has drawn us to God and we saw ourselves sinners and repented in faith, trusting in the work of Christ on the Cross. Rejoice that we are headed for Heaven instead of Hell. Rejoice that God is at work in our lives conforming us to the image of His Son, Jesus. Rejoice that the Gospel will be advanced through whatever God allows us to go through.
Notice, it says "So in the day of Christ (the day He returns) I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” This is another way we can rejoice in any circumstance. We must remember that Christ is returning. He is coming back to take us to Heaven. Most of the things we grumble about will not matter at all when Christ returns. In fact, most of the conflicts that come up in churches will not matter either.
Paul saw his life like a long distance race that required endurance. “Verse 16 - I may be proud that I did not run in vain.” There is much pain involved in running long distances. Paul had experienced much pain and persecution for Christ. He did not want his life to be in vain. He wanted these believers to stop grumbling so that he would not feel that he had labored in vain. So, he urges them to let God work in them and rejoice even in dark times.
I appreciated what Nick Foles, the quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, had to say a couple weeks ago at his press conference before his game with the Indianapolis Colts.
While commenting on his collarbone injury, which has kept him off the field since the season began, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles said that he "can have joy in an injury" because he is going to "glorify" God "in every action, good or bad."
He added that "people hear that and say, 'That's crazy.' But when you believe in Jesus, and you go out there and you play, that changes your heart. And you only understand it when that purpose is in your life.”
"But at the end of the day, as I got this -- this is the journey You want me to go on, I’m going to glorify You in every action, good or bad," said Foles, the first NFL quarterback to throw seven touchdown passes in one game.
"Just like when I hoisted the Lombardi trophy, the reason I'm smiling is my faith was in Christ," said Foles. "In that moment, I realized I didn't need that trophy to define who I was, because it was already in Christ.”
“That’s my message when I play," he said. "The same thing happens when I get injured. We tend to make this so much about us as human beings, we tend to make it about us as athletes. It’s not about us. It really isn't."
"If you make it about yourself, you’re probably going to go home at night and lay your head on your pillow and be very alone and very sad," he said. "Then, hopefully someday you can find that purpose in your life because my purpose isn't football."
"It's impacting people, and my ministry happens to be in the locker room," said Foles.
There is more theology in this press conference than in most sermons you will hear.
Here’s an example of what we are talking about. Our testimony is at stake. Foles is not a religious recluse. He is playing football so that he has a platform to preach the Gospel. And he could have complained and grumbled about his injury, but instead, he used it as an opportunity to share Christ.
That is what Thanksgiving is all about. It’s not just giving thanks for the good things in your life. It is also giving thanks for what we would call “not good.” Because God will work it all for good. Because God is good!
Our temperament is to be without grumbling and disputing.
Our testimony is to be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world.
Our task is to rejoice even in dark times.