“Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Here, Paul indicates that this is part and parcel of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We live a life of reverence toward God (fear) and out of trembling over the nature of sin. And let me say this: the moment that sin no longer causes us to tremble, no longer convicts, then we are not working out our sanctification, we are working out our self-love. We work out what God works in. Reverently. With conviction!
Notice the comprehensive command here: do all things without grumbling or disputing. Everything you as a follower of Christ do without grumbling or disputing. Can you imagine this? Now, we might not always use the words grumbling and disputing, but we have other words such as griping, complaining, arguing. Of late, there’s a word that sounds so innocent, and even therapeutic: venting. We call up a friend, get on social media, or couch it as a prayer request and unload all the anger and bitterness they have regarding others.
But let’s dig deeper. The word ‘grumbling’ in the NT comes from the word that is used to describe how the people of Israel grumbled against God in the wilderness. It was a general pattern with God’s people. They grumbled when they didn’t have the food or water they wanted. They grumbled when they came to the Promised Land and saw the inhabitants and said, “They are too big, and we’re too small!” In Numbers 16, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, the leaders.
Do you see the pattern? You may say, “Well, they just grumbled at what they had or didn’t have. They grumbled against the leaders’ direction.” That’s true, but deep down, do you know who they really were grumbling against? God Himself. And it’s that way for all sin. In Psalm 51, a confession of sin after King David committed adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers, he said something interesting: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” All sin that’s against God’s imagebearers is also against God Himself.
Let’s not forget about what disputing means. The Greek dictionary (BDAG) defines this word as one where ‘verbal exchange … takes place when conflicting ideas are expressed.’ It deals with an attitude that must challenge and resist rather than submit. And this isn’t just about outward expression, but also inward thinking as well. So, while outward obedience is good, if we go about outwardly doing the right things, but inwardly we grumble and dispute, we miss. What do we do when this happens? Let’s put that on a shelf and look at some other things, such as:
The why: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (15a). Interesting pivot here. If you do all things without grumbling or disputing, you’ll be blameless and innocent? Blameless? Do we mean sinless? No! It means that you would not be accused of wrongdoing. Innocent is right along with this: it means ‘still in its original state of intactness, totality, or moral innocence.’ In essence, it means that no charge of wrongdoing in word, thought, or action would stick.
He goes on: “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” This echoes a verse Deuteronomy 32:5:
“They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Again, even with God’s faithfulness and provision, they grumbled and disputed—and would do so again in their history. But the only way we can be children of God is not through Adam, for he was blemished. Not through David, for he fell as well. But through Christ, we can be called sons of God – faithful in Him! Not crooked or twisted in their rebellion. And thus, grumbling and rebelling among the people of God is more in keeping with the crooked and twisted, identifies us with rebellion against God.
Do we grumble and dispute? How do we react when things do not go the way we want or think they should?