What I’m about to share may upset you. And I’m ok with that!
A few weeks ago, after finishing my laps in the YMCA pool, I overheard a conversation full of grumbling and complaining. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop; the conversation was loud enough that you couldn’t help to hear it. They weren’t yelling, but it certainly was unmistakable.
I understand letting someone know about a problem. I get that. If no one knows there’s a problem, it’ll never get fixed. Totally legitimate! And that’s not a complaint. This was something more ugly.
I walked away saying to myself, “I’m glad I don’t complain like that,” – to which The Holy Spirit quickly replied – “Don’t you remember last week?”
“Oh, but I had a good reason!” I said. “The way I was treated was undeserving.”,
You know that kind of silence when you’re trying to talk your way out when you know you’ve been busted by your parents? They stare silently at you, saying a lot but never opening their mouths. This was eerily similar to that!
Bottom line? I wasn’t innocent.
We’ve all done it
You have. I have. Your neighbors have. Your parents, siblings, friends, and people you’ll never meet all have. We’ve complained. To clarify, this is not letting someone know there’s something wrong so it can be corrected. Complaining, grumbling, and arguing are something more. And Paul gives clarity to the difference.
Do all things without complaining or arguments; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world Philippians 2:14–15 NASB 2020
Paul presents evidence for spiritual unity and follows with the challenge to be like Christ. I’ve read the Gospels. Multiple times through, but I never once read an instance of Jesus complaining, grumbling, or arguing in the context Paul presents here. To really understand, we need to examine the definitions here. Other translations may say grumbling or disputing. Regardless of the English word used, the message is the same. Do all things without complaining or arguing.
The Greek word Paul uses for complaining is goggusmos, and it’s a negative response to an event or situation that’s discouraging, difficult, or just flat-out unpleasant. It typically comes from a self-centered idea that whatever the event or situation, it’s undeserved. It’s more of an emotional response.
And the Greek word Paul uses for arguments is dialogismos. It’s a little different than complaining or grumbling in that it’s less emotional and more intellectual. It’s reasoning, disputing, and questioning.
Implication? Complaining is the emotional response to which we begin to argue our case against each other or against God, all because we feel we’ve been treated undeservedly. And there are times that I know I can say the way I was treated was undeserved, as I’m sure you can as well. But I’m not entirely convinced we have a right to take the emotional response that Paul warns against.
And that brings up an interesting question we’ll close this post on. Why does Paul warn against this? It’s a great question to postulate some answers to. So let’s do that!
Paul warns us because complaining resists praising. They are mutually exclusive. Complaining opposes praising. Complaints, despite the details, fail to consider who God is, His character, His power (I mean, He did create the universe and breathed life into each of us), and the awe captured when we reflect on God’s magnificence! Why do I believe this? I can’t complain much when I believe God is all-powerful and in control of all the details of my life, despite how I’m treated or the conditions I face. Because when I’m complaining, I’m, by default admitting that things in my life aren’t going right and it’s God’s fault. Reduced down – when I complain horizontally, I’m simultaneously complaining vertically.
I’m complaining about how God’s doing things.
For clarity, this is not referring to pouring out laments as we see so much in the Psalms. A lament is an expression of grief or sorrow. Lamenting is not complaining.
Paul doesn’t just use the word complaining but connects it with arguing. The first leads to the second. Here’s what I mean. Since complaining is an admittance of a lack of trust in God, I’ll start to doubt God’s good for me. I’ll begin to doubt God’s’ ability to care for me. I’ll doubt His character. I’ll doubt if I can trust Him completely and start to operate out of my own resources.
Specifically, my interpretation of my conditions presents a weak God. It gives me a picture of God that’s unable to work all things for my good (Romans 8:28). However, when I praise God, I see God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all in love with me, and God speaks into my condition. God informs me how to interpret my circumstance.
Do you see the difference and why Paul warns about complaining?
This all highlights a singular truth visible all through Scripture. We need to praise God. Praising God pushes back the complaints and arguments Paul refers to in his letter to the Philippian churches. Praise is our weapon against complaints. It keeps us from becoming self-centered, doubting God, opposing God’s will, tearing down another person, and hurting them. It keeps our spiritual growth unhindered. It pushes us toward Jesus Christ and the people he’s called us to love.
It’s so easy to complain
I couldn’t agree more! That’s why we have to be super diligent in praising God. This, of course, happens in the context of a church service (singing praise), But praise happens in your every other-day context. At the office, on the line, in the restaurant, in line at Walmart or the bank, and at home! It happens when we thank God in all conditions. Praise occurs when we confess our utter need for Him and His grace and lovingkindness. Praise happens when we’re in the car alone, and our favorite Christian song comes on the radio, and we sing at the top of our lungs even though we can’t sing!
I certainly can’t be the only one! You do it too!
The bottom line, praise resists complaints. And in doing so, resists arguments and a lot of other nasties. Praise pushes back hell.
So next time you’re about to complain or do complain, stop and praise God. Give Him thanks. Offer Him a moment to take your praise and inform you of your conditions. Let your praise for Him recall His trustworthiness, might, and love for you.
Praise Him now!
You are loved!