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9. Beware of Complaining and Arguing

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Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:14-18)

Why should Christians do everything without complaining or arguing?

Paul in the previous text called for the Philippian church to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (v.12). Here he calls for them to continue the work of conforming to the image of Christ through doing everything without complaining and arguing (cf. Phil 2:6-11). This was especially important because situations in the church were threatening to stagnate or even destroy their spiritual life. They were experiencing persecution for the faith (1:28). False teachers were present in the church (3:2), and there was a division between two women in the congregation (4:2). Many threats to the spiritual growth of this congregation existed, and he calls for them to work out their salvation to completion by not “complaining or arguing” (v. 14).

This is very important for us to hear. We live in a world and society that is prone to complaining. In companies, the employees complain about their bosses and one another. In homes, husbands complain about their wives. Wives complain about their husbands. Children complain about their siblings and their parents. In churches, the members of the congregation complain about one another and the pastor. The pastor complains about the congregants. We live in a world full of complaining and arguing.

This tendency began at the Fall. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve never complained about anything. They didn’t complain about God putting a tree in the garden that they were forbidden to eat. They didn’t complain about not having any clothes on. Nor did they complain about the command to only eat vegetables. One of Satan’s first temptations was to get Adam and Eve discontent with God’s plan for them. He says, “Is it true that you cannot eat of every tree in the garden?” He tries to make God’s plan for them feel restrictive and domineering. He then tries to make them feel that God is trying to keep them from the best. He said, “God knows that when you eat of this tree you will be like God.” Satan’s overall temptation was to get them to not trust God and to become discontent with what they already had.

Isn’t that the state of the world today? We are discontent about everything. We are discontent about our job, our home, our TV, our phone, our family, our church, etc. For some people it is hard to find anything that they are content with. In fact, right when Adam sinned we see the tendency of man’s new sin nature to complain. He says to God, “The woman you gave me, gave me the food and I did eat.” When God asked him if he had eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge, he didn’t respond with, “Yes.” He responded by blaming God and the woman for his failure. The woman then blamed the serpent.

What we now see in the world is a tendency to complain. As a veteran of the U.S. military, I can say that the military is probably the place where I have experienced the most complaining. While I was on active duty and now as a reservist, it seems to be part of the culture. We all complained about the military, and this complaining bonded us together. We had a common animosity. I would say the church is at times not too far behind the military. We complain about the worship, the sermon, the seating, the lighting, the offering, the leadership, the members, and anything else we can complain about. Paul realized this tendency was in the Philippians, and Christians overall, and therefore, he challenged them to do “everything without complaining and arguing.” He didn’t say “some things” but “everything.”

Is this realistic? Why should we do “everything” without complaining? In this text Paul teaches us why we should do everything without complaining. His hope was to motivate Christians to live in a manner that would properly reflect our relationship both to God and the world.

Big Question: Why should Christians do “everything without complaining or arguing” according to Philippians 2:14-18?

Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Obey God

Do everything without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14)

Again, Paul says that Christians should do everything without complaining and arguing. “Complaining” can also be translated “grumbling.” “‘Grumbling’ (goggusmon) is an onomatopoeic word that sounds like what it means similar to words such as: buzz, boom, meow, or murmur.”1 It “describes the low, threatening, discontented muttering of a mob who distrust their leaders and are on the verge of an uprising.”2 It is a verbal expression of one’s dissatisfaction with circumstances.

The word “arguing” in the Greek is the word “dialogismos” which is where we get the English word “dialogue”.3 It describes both one’s inner reasoning as we argue in our minds and one’s outer reasoning with our mouths. When we are discontent, we argue both in our minds and with our mouths—with ourselves, other people, and with God. Paul says this is one of the things we must get rid of as we work out our salvation.

The classic story on complaining and arguing is seen in Israel’s wilderness wanderings. When God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and they went into the wilderness, they complained about a lack of water (Ex 15) and a lack of food (Ex 16). In Numbers 11 they complained about their trials in the wilderness, and how they wanted meat. And throughout their time in the wilderness, they complained against Moses and God. Because of their complaining, God judged them and many died. Paul said this about Israel’s experience in 1 Corinthians 10:9-11:

We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

Paul said God killed them because of their grumbling through a destroying angel. In Numbers 11 God brought a fire and a severe plague in the camp that wiped out many of them. I don’t think many of us have truly meditated on Israel’s wilderness experiences. Think about this, they wandered in the wilderness without water for three days, and when they found some, it was bitter (Ex 15:22-23). For us, we are accustomed to having a drink anytime we want, just as the Israelites were in Egypt. It would be very hard for us to not complain when lacking fluids. Then God gave them manna from heaven for food, but the problem was that was all they ate for days at a time. What if they didn’t like the taste or the texture of it? Wouldn’t it be normal to complain and even acceptable? Plus, even if they liked the taste or the texture, they still ate the same food every day. Who wouldn’t complain? “Come on, God, isn’t your anger and punishment a little unreasonable—to kill them? Father, that just seems like a little too much.” And, also let us consider the fact that they wanted some meat (Num 11:4). I complain all the time while living here in Korea because many meals have no meat or very little meat. To me a meal without meat is not a meal. It is a snack. I want a meal. I figure that if I was in the wilderness with them, I would have complained alongside them.

One of the things we learn from Israel’s wilderness wanderings is that complaining is incompatible with our salvation. They were saved from slavery in Egypt and God deemed it unreasonable for them to complain after such a large display of grace. However, we have received much more grace. We have been delivered from slavery to sin, the world, and the devil. We have been given eternal life and the status of children of God. How much more is our complaining a sin in the sight of God? Therefore, God calls us to work out the completion of our salvation without complaining and arguing.

We must understand that complaining is not a little sin; it is a big sin. The writer of Hebrews said this about bitterness, which again was possibly an allusion to the wilderness wanderings of Israel: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness and complaining is contagious. Not only does it blind us to all the ways God has graced us, but it also spreads to others. It spreads throughout a family, an organization, and a church—limiting and sometimes destroying spiritual growth.

Let us remember the time Israel was at the border of the promised land, and how they sent ten spies to survey the land. Two of them came back with a positive report of God’s faithfulness and how good the land was; while eight of them complained about the giants and the impossibility of taking the land. They then complained about God and Moses and convinced the Israelites not to go into the land (Numbers 13-14). “This task is too great!” they said. This root of bitterness coming from only eight Israelites defiled the whole nation and led to God’s judgment. The Israelites were judged by God and called to wander in the wilderness for forty years while everybody over twenty died for their rebellion.

Many people in the church are in a wandering experience in their spiritual life. They are not progressing; they are not going anywhere. And the reason is because there is a bitter root destroying their harvest and inviting the chastisement of God on their lives. It also might be bringing God’s chastisement on others’ lives as well. Maybe this bitterness is an anger against somebody that harmed them. Maybe it’s simply discontentment with their circumstances or lack of trust in God’s goodness. Whatever it may be, it must be known that this complaining spirit is a very dangerous sin that brings God’s discipline.

Personally, the gravity of this makes me very strict as a parent. My baby daughter is at an age where she likes to throw tantrums and fall on the ground when she doesn’t get her way or simply because she doesn’t like her circumstances. Because of God’s anger about this in Scripture, this is very serious to me. Some parents think tantrums are cute, but it is a very dangerous sin that if not remedied will carry on into adulthood and invite the chastening of God. By training my daughter, I realize that this could save her life—the Israelites died because of their complaining spirit. If I allow her to continue this practice, she will not only complain about us—her parents—she will complain about her teachers, her boss, her husband, and ultimately God, potentially leading to severe discipline.

Some Christians, because of a tendency to complain, are constantly under God’s discipline. God, like a loving parent, is seeking to turn them away from their petty tantrums and their distrust of him. Complaining is like telling God he doesn’t know what’s best and that he doesn’t care. It is an affront to God. Therefore, Christians must forsake complaining and arguing because it is forbidden by God.

Interpretation Question: How can we get rid of this complaining disposition?

1. We get rid of a complaining disposition by learning to trust God more.

Solomon said this: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5). The reason we complain and argue essentially is because we don’t trust God with our circumstances. We don’t trust that he is working all things out for our good (Rom 8:28). Some of us like Adam and Eve doubt God’s essential nature—his goodness (Psalm 135:3). The Lord is good and everything that is good comes from him (James 1:17). He is how we define good, and therefore, to complain is to challenge his nature—his goodness. When we trust that we have an all wise God working all things out for our good, then this trust will deliver us from complaining—complaining about God and others.

2. We get rid of a complaining disposition by acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all situations.

Ephesians 1:11 says God works “all things” according to the counsel of his will. Scripture teaches that God is in control of everything. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” God controls the heart of man like a person moving around water in his hand. He is sovereign.

We should recognize that the sovereignty of God is a difficult and controversial doctrine and for that reason many don’t like it. However, let it be known that this doctrine is crucial for us to “do everything without complaining and arguing,” and therefore, it is an essential doctrine for our holiness. It is also an essential doctrine for prayer. If God isn’t in control of everything, why pray? It is the backbone of a deep prayer life. If we don’t see God is in control of everything, then we will not pray as we ought.

In order to not complain we must not only trust in God’s goodness but also acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Only a person who is fully trustworthy and good is worthy to be sovereign over the affairs of all things. I may not understand why tragedies happen in the world, but I can have peace because my God is all together good, trustworthy, and sovereign over all situations.

3. We get rid of a complaining disposition by learning contentment with God’s provisions.

First Timothy 6:6-8 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

He says if we have food and clothing we should be content. The word “clothing” just means covering so it could refer to clothes and shelter. We live in a society that teaches us to not be content. Every commercial says, “You need this!” “You need that!”  Therefore, we live in a society not content with anything. We get a new phone that we are all excited about until the newer version comes out. Then we are back to being discontent. This society works off discontentment.

One of the disciplines we must develop is to be content with whatever God has provided even if it is only basic food and covering. This is a discipline Paul challenges Christians to grow in (1 Tim 6:6-8). This is exactly what God promises to provide us with in Scripture. He promises to meet our needs—to give us our daily bread. He doesn’t promise riches, wealth, and health on this earth in contrast with the “prosperity gospel.” Christ told his disciples that God would meet their needs for clothing and food as they sought first the kingdom of heaven (Matt 6:33). We see Paul himself had learned this reality in Philippians 4:11-13. He said he had learned to be content in every circumstance whether in prosperity or lack because of God’s strength working in him.

How do we learn contentment? We learn it by finding our fullness and satisfaction in God. We should ask ourselves these questions, “Is God really enough? Is he really all I need? Will I be satisfied with just him? Do I really need all the clothes, the shoes, the entertainment, the electronics, etc.? Can I be content with just him?” The writers of Hebrews says this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

How can we be free from the love of things which is a common cause of discontentment? We can be free by believing God will never leave us nor forsake us. We can be content with what we have because we have God. Christians should be radically different than the rest of the world because they already have everything. They have everything in their relationship with God.

When you are not content with God and his provisions, it is then that you will be tempted to fall into all types of sin including complaining and arguing. Like Adam and Eve, you will spend your time looking at the one thing you don’t have or don’t like instead of the many blessings given to you by God. Trusting God, acknowledging his sovereignty in all things, and practicing contentment will help us to not complain and grumble.

Application Question: What are some areas that you are often tempted to argue and complain about? How would you rate yourself 1-10 on complaining and arguing?

Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Grow in Godliness

…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault (Philippians 2:15a)

Paul gives further reasons for us to not argue and complain. In the next phrase, he gives the purpose clause “so that.” Paul says do not argue and complain “so that” or “in order that” you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault.

What does Paul mean by becoming children of God? We are already children of God when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and are born again. He simply means that we will manifest that we are children of God. What we are in position, we must become in practice. Children by nature bear the characteristics of their parents, and they are identified by these characteristics. People look at my daughter and immediately say, “She looks just like Greg.” She has many of my features. In the same way, we should both by nature and practice look like our Father in heaven. Paul said this, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1). We, therefore, demonstrate the character of the Father when we live without complaining and arguing—we grow in godliness.

Observation Question: How do children of God grow in godliness according to Philippians 2:15?

Paul seems to be giving descriptors of children of God who are growing in godliness by not complaining and arguing. We will look at the descriptors Paul gives.

1, Christians grow in godliness by becoming blameless.

The word “blameless” does not mean perfection, but it does mean that a person is practicing holiness. It means that no charge can be sustained against a person. It is very similar to what we saw in the life of Daniel. Daniel 6:4-5 says this:

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

While in Babylon, Daniel demonstrated that he was a child of God. The administrators had nothing to accuse him of other than his faith in God—the character of his Father. It should be the same with us.

We see this blamelessness in Paul as well. He said he would not eat meat nor drink wine if it caused another to stumble (Rom 14:21). He was willing to give up even things that were not sin in order to not cause others to stumble. This is a blameless life—a person seeking to live above accusation not only with sinful things but even with things that are his or her right.

Again, this has particular reference to not complaining and arguing. A person who is a complainer or an arguer will often be worthy of blame or accusation. They cause conflict and division and promote murmuring. This should not be the character of a child of God.

2. Christians grow in godliness by developing purity.

The word “pure” means unmixed. “The term was used to describe pure wine that was unmixed with water and pure metal that was not alloyed. The believer’s life is to be absolutely pure, unmixed with sin and evil.”4 Paul said in Romans 16:9, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent [pure] about what is evil.” Not only must we seek to be free of wrongful actions but we must seek to have right hearts before God. We must keep them from becoming mixed. Jesus said this in Matthew 15:18-19:

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

God always looks at the heart, and therefore, we must practice being pure in our hearts and our minds. Again, this especially has reference to doing all things without complaining and arguing. Some of us may not complain outwardly, but we are bitter inwardly. God is always looking at the heart to see if it is pure—unmixed with sin and evil.

3. Christians grow in godliness by being without fault.

“Without fault” can be translated “without blemish, spot or defect.” “This is a word that is taken from the Old Testament sacrifices made to God.”5 The concept behind this is that the believer is to live and walk as a sacrifice to God by keeping himself from divisive behavior such as complaining and arguing. Romans 12:1 similarly teaches that believers must seek to live as acceptable sacrifices to God. It says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The implication that Paul gives is that complaining and arguing is a practice that blemishes our offerings before God and makes them unacceptable. In describing public worship in 1 Timothy 2:8, he said that he desired “men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”  When men led the congregation in prayer, it had to be done “without anger and disputing.” Anger and disputing would corrupt the offering. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:23-24:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

If you have an offering to give God (prayer, worship, tithe, etc.) but you realize somebody has something against you, Jesus said first go make that right. Again, the implication is that the offering will not be accepted by God if we are living in discord with others. In order to grow in godliness, we must make sure our offerings are without blemish by being free of complaining and arguing. We must seek to be acceptable to the Lord in all we give him, and by doing this, we manifest ourselves as children of God—we grow in godliness.

Christians must seek to be without blame—having no fault in them that others can point to. They must seek to be pure in their motives and actions. Finally, they must seek to be without fault and blemish as acceptable sacrifices to God. And, all these things are done so that they can grow spiritually—manifesting themselves as “children of God.” Complaining and arguing hinders spiritual growth.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you specifically to grow in godliness by being blameless, pure, and without fault? What practical steps is he calling you to take?

Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Be Witnesses to Unbelievers

without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:15b-16)

The next reason Paul gives for not complaining and arguing is our witness to unbelievers. He pictures the world as a dark place and believers as stars in the universe. The word “crooked” is an interesting word in the Greek. John MacArthur said this about the word:

Crooked is from skolios, referring to what is bent, curved, or twisted. The medical condition scoliosis involves an abnormal curvature and misalignment of the spine. The term was used metaphorically of anything that deviates from a standard or norm, and in Scripture, it is often used of things that are morally or spiritually corrupt.

This world is twisted—it deviates away from God’s original plan. Paul also says the world is “depraved” meaning “corrupt and wicked.” This world is a dark place primarily because they refuse to acknowledge God. Romans 1:28 says this:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. 

The world is a dark place filled with every kind of evil because they choose to not acknowledge God. This leads them not only into complaining but into all kinds of perverse sin: idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexuality, disobedience to authorities, murder, and the approval of all these things (cf. Romans 1:28-32).

However, because believers have a relationship with God, they should shine as stars. The word “stars” can also be translated “lights” as in the ESV. We don’t shine because we are light in ourselves, but because we reflect the light of God. In practice, we are more like the moon than stars, as it radiates the sun’s light off its surface. Throughout history people have always recognized that there was something special about the moon. On its own it is just a big pile of rock and dust, but when it is in just the right spot, the sun shines on it and the moon radiates. All of a sudden in the radiance of the moon, people stand in awe, take pictures to remember the moment, and some even fall in love. In one sense, the moon is no different than us. There is nothing special about us on our own. We are just a big ball of dust, but in the light of Christ, magical things happen—people’s lives are changed, people find strength and encouragement, and people are led to Christ. That is the type of light Christians are to manifest in this crooked and depraved world. They should manifest the light of Christ as they dwell daily in his presence (John 15:5).

As long as we are dwelling in the light of God, we reflect his light and his glory. Paul implies three particular ways that we are lights: (1) by not complaining and arguing (2) by growing in godliness—being blameless, pure, and without fault as previously discussed, (3) and by holding out the word of life. “Holding out the word of life” is probably better translated “holding forth” the word of life which seems to refer to evangelism—the preaching of the gospel. However, the primary way we shine as lights to the world in the context is by not complaining and arguing which leads to all the other characteristics.

As Christians live a lifestyle of light, they draw people to Christ. People should look at believers and see a stark difference. This light will either push them away or draw them closer so they can learn about Christ—the reason for this light (cf. John 3:19-21). Again, the primary way we live as lights is by not complaining. When we practice complaining and arguing, we look more like a child of this world.

Scripture actually describes the world as not being “thankful.” Paul said this in Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Paul describes the world as those who knew God but refused to glorify or give thanks to him. By denying the knowledge of God, the world has become a thankless place. They refuse to acknowledge the Giver of all good gifts, and therefore, their hearts become dark.

When Christians are in a work place, a family, or a ministry and they choose to be thankful instead of complainers, they demonstrate that they are children of God and lights in the world. They stand out. Their lifestyle becomes a witness to the world and therefore draws others to Christ.

However, it should be heard that when Christians choose to complain and be thankless like the world, they dim the light of the gospel. They instead look just like the world which is characterized by not glorifying and giving thanks to God.

While Job was suffering and he declared, “The Lord giveth and he taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” he shined like a star in the world (Job 1:21). It pointed those watching him toward faith in God. When Paul was in prison singing worship songs to the Lord in Acts 16, he shined like a star in that prison, and when the jailor accepted Christ, no doubt Paul’s unique, joyful disposition was part of the reason (Acts 16:25-31).

Does how you respond to uncomfortable situations draw people to Christ or does it push people away? Christ said we either gather or scatter (Matt 12:30). There is no in between. One of the reasons we must choose to not complain and argue is for the world—so that they may know Christ.

Application Question: Is unthankfulness a valid descriptor of the world? Why should thankfulness characterize believers?

Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Honor Our Leaders

in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing (Philippians 2:16)

Surprisingly, the next reason Paul gives for not complaining and arguing is in order to honor the apostle and his ministry to them. He says “in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” The day of Christ means the second coming of Christ and specifically the day that Christ will reward believers for their works (2 Cor 5:10). It is a picture of Paul’s future happiness at his disciples’ faithfully following Christ. We see him reiterate the prospect of this future joy both to the Philippians and also to the Thessalonians. Look at what he says:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (Philippians 4:1)

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? (1 Thessalonians 2:19)

The word Paul uses for “crown” in both of these texts is not a royal crown for ruling but a wreath given to the winner of an athletic contest. Paul says essentially that his “victory” on the day of Christ—his greatest “reward”—will be seeing that his disciples were faithful. Paul asked them to give him that joy as they worked out their salvation without complaining and arguing.

To some this may seem selfish, but Scripture teaches that those who teach us, especially our elders, will one day give an account for us before God. It also teaches that we should obey them so their work will be a joy and not a pain. The writer of Hebrews says this: 

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In this text, the writer’s primary incentive given for the Hebrew believers’ obedience was their leader’s “joy.” For many pastors and leaders their work is not a joy, in part, because of the constant complaining and arguing of the members of the congregation. The nation of Israel constantly pointed their finger at Moses and complained about his leadership. Even his own family complained against him. Moses became so burdened by the people’s complaints one time, he simply asked God to let him die. Consider what he said:

Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:10-15)

The people were receiving manna from heaven, but they decided that they wanted more variety in their diet. They were tired of bread and wanted meat. Therefore, they complained against Moses and against God. Moses finally responded, “Lord, are these my children? Why do I have to care for them? Why me?” One of the reasons we shouldn’t complain is because of our leaders, not only for their joy on the day of Christ but for their joy now.

Scripture commands us to be considerate of our leaders and to bless them. Galatians 6:6 says, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” We should honor those who feed us and care for us even though they are not perfect. They sin and make mistakes just like everybody else. I think it is their imperfections that should make us honor them even more. They need grace. Paul implies that one of the reasons we should not complain and argue is for our pastors’ joy—so they may boast on the day of Christ.

I can relate to this both as a member of the church and now as a pastor. As member of the church, I look forward to one day meeting with my former Sunday school teachers and pastors who imparted into my life, even just to say, “Thank you.” I also want to encourage them by saying, “I was the apathetic student in your Sunday school class, but one day I got serious about God. Thank you for your labor. Thank you for your prayers.” With that, my other great joy will be those I have labored for and served as a pastor in ministry. Like Paul, I will rejoice to see how they progressed in their spiritual lives. They will be my crown of rejoicing in heaven.

Application Question: Which spiritual leaders have made the greatest impact in your life?

Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Be Joyful in Every Circumstance

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

Finally, the last reason Paul gives for not complaining and arguing is in order for us to have joy. Paul says “even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith.” The drink offering was the final part of an offering (Lev 23:18, 37). A person would offer a burnt sacrifice to the Lord and then pour some wine on top of the offering as a sweet smelling savor to the Lord. It was the final act of the offering. Paul here was referring to both his and the Philippians’ suffering for the Lord as a sacrifice (Phil 1:27), and he may be alluding to the possibility of his future death as the drink offering. He essentially says, “Even if this is my final offering to the Lord as I face potential death, I rejoice with you and you should rejoice as well.” He commands them to not complain and argue so that they can have joy in their mutual offering to the Lord.

This is the reality: complaining and arguing not only affects others negatively, but it also affects us. It ruins our own joy. Most Christians are up and down in their spiritual life based on the events that happen. Therefore, their joy is not constant. One cannot have joy if he is constantly complaining and arguing. Paul says that even if the worst thing happens, his potential death, the Philippians should still rejoice.

Paul will command them to rejoice three more times in the letter (Phil 3:2, 4:4). He says in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He wants them to have joy in spite of their suffering and in spite of the difficulties happening in the church (Phil 4:2). But in order to do that, they must stop complaining. It is the same for us, God wants us to learn to have joy even in the worst circumstances, and one of the ways we do this is by choosing not to complain and argue.

Do you realize that complaining steals our God-given joy? Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22); however, it can be lost when we choose to complain and argue. We grieve the Holy Spirit and forfeit the grace that God wants to give us. Paul said this:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29-30)

The implication is that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we let anything unwholesome come out of our mouths—cursing, lying, complaining, and arguing. When we grieve the Spirit, we lose the supernatural joy and peace that we should have in our circumstances. Paul says one of the reasons we must not complain or argue is so that we can have joy. Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (8:10). Therefore, to complain and argue can actually weaken and cripple us for God’s work.

Application Question: Is it really possible to have joy in every circumstance? If so, how do we develop this? Does being joyful mean never mourning or being sad?


Arguing and complaining is a characteristic of the world. We live in a world that has rejected God and therefore abides in a state of unthankfulness. Many homes and work environments have a culture of grumbling and complaining. However, for Christians this should not be true. God has called us not only to not complain and argue but to be thankful. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will is for us to be thankful in every situation.

Why should Christians do “everything” without grumbling and complaining?

  1. Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Obey God
  2. Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Grow in Godliness
  3. Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Be Witnesses to Unbelievers
  4. Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Honor Our Leaders
  5. Christians Should Not Complain and Argue in Order to Be Joyful in Every Circumstance

1 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 99). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 51). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 180). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 182). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

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