Church, fulfill the purpose for which you’ve been saved by the gospel of Christ.
In the course of that gospel, Christ rose from the dead, and when He did a new creation began in the resurrected body of Christ. The older creation, shot through with sin, had been fading away for some time; in Christ’s resurrected body a new thing untouched by sin has begun. And when a person hears this gospel and believes, he is placed into Christ, into the new human Being, and thus he becomes part of the New Creation.
Now it’s true of that person: the old creation is dying but the new has begun. In an important sense, he is a new human being learning anew how to be human. And he’s doing this alongside other renewed human beings, and together they are a community of new creation. The Church is the social presentation of the new creation. So not only are we learning individually what this salvation has brought to pass…as a Church we are working out our salvation. Where Christ is all and in all. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the Head and we are His Body.
In walking worthy of the gospel as a Church, is it vital, then, that we the Church demonstrate an engaged unity – the life and peace and harmony and genuine goodness of the new creation…in the life of the Church. In saving us God has brought us into one Body, so walk worthy. “Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
To make a point more directly: although of course there are individualistic applications to be had here, in this section of Philippians Paul is emphasizing how the gospel works itself out in the corporate life of the Church. Unity and the specifics of unity – humbleness, engagement, interest in others, a principled prioritizing of others over oneself – all these ingredients of Christ’s attitude are to be brought into our church life.
Now moving to v. 14: In this calling for the Church to act in truth, as we have indeed been rescued out of the old dying creation, Paul raises another particular: do all things without grumbling or disputing.
Church, do all things without grumbling or disputing. It’s ever been the case that complaining and hyper-criticism or fault-finding (a good rendering of the Greek) are endemic in the world. When was the last time you heard someone complain or criticize? Once you log on to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, how long does it take to find carping and maligning? All around are complaints about and accusations against the medical system, the government, my co-workers, my spouse, my manger…. A teenager starts working a job for the first time and can’t believe how co-workers grouse about each other the minute their back is turned.
There’s micro-complaining and fault-finding. And there’s this stuff at the macro level. Why was I reared this way? Why was I pushed into this career? My siblings have always been treated better than I…. You can complain about things as they come up or you can carry around significant grievances throughout the years.
Of course, this can show up in the Church. Christians can complain about the gatherings. Why do we have to sing this music? Why can’t they keep their kids quiet? Complain about leadership: Who does he think he is? Complain about fellow members of the Body: Why are we putting in all the work and they’re just sitting on their rear? Even find fault with the Head of the Church: I’ve been faithful to Christ and how does He respond: He doesn’t give me the one thing I’ve always wanted.
No. Work out your salvation. Don’t remain in the habits and reflexes of the old humanity. But be blameless and innocent in regard to complaining and fault-finding. Which doesn’t mean being a goody two-shoes, but in your attitude, in your response to inconvenience, in your response to setbacks, be blameless. Let there be nothing by which people can reproach you for not trusting in God.
Job 1:20-22 [After his life falls apart]: Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Be innocent. Let your baptismal confession and your response to day-to-day struggles be coherent: I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God is good. He’s trustworthy. God is competent to judge so I don’t need to enact vengeance even by my complaint or critique. God is over the world. That’s what is meant by innocent: there’s no duplicity between your confession and your actual in-the-heat-of-the-moment response. You really do trust God and that shows up in your patience in small trials – your spouse didn’t buy the right peanut butter – and large trials.
Without blemish – meaning you’re not carrying around even a spot of this fault-finding. It’s one thing to be pleasant and positive when life is going well, when you’re being taken seriously by people, when people appreciate you… but what happens when you lose your high profile? When people forget about you? When it seems like a dark cloud is over your abode?
Is there poise and good sense? Trust? Are you able to call on full reservoirs of patience in relationships? Or under stress does your former positivity show itself threadbare?
That you may be… children of God. Here, being a child of God means behaving like a child of God. That’s not to say that when you stop complaining you become God’s child. If I would say to Tess, “Be a Landry.” I don’t mean that she’s not a Landry but that I mean for her to act like one (shuffle around, eat cereal and watch movie trailers…)
Paul says – forgoing complaining and hyper-criticism has us acting like God’s children. Meaning, God Himself isn’t someone who tends toward complaint and criticism, so neither should His children. He’s a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
I can recommend two books, one new and one old, that are meditations on the kindness and patience and good nature of God: “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund and “Centuries” by Thomas Traherne.
Let this good nature be reflected in His children.
AND God’s children, the ones who truly bear His image, are known – not for their grumbling and fault-finding – but for their reasonableness, their meekness, their trust in their Heavenly Father with specifics, their righteous disposition toward work and its frustrations and necessary relationships. They are practiced at finding the way to peace and harmony between people who are unlike them, realizing that their image-bearing has much to do with that. The children of God act most like His children when they trust their Father.
Not complaining and fault-finding has much to do with trusting God. Here’s what I mean: A lot of our complaining comes out of fear. You might recall various episodes as the children of Israel went through the wilderness. They approached hard times, seemingly desperate times, and they grew afraid. The way that fear presented was to complain about how God must be toying with them, to find fault with Moses’ leadership, to complain about food etc.
But a child of God – he trusts in God. When things get dicey or when the pantry runs short he actively trusts in God. He reins in his thoughts as they move toward what ifs. That’s what image bearing looks like, and so that’s how the Second Adam and those in Him do it.
Let’s continue that phrase: that you may be…children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. The crookedness of the world presents in their complaining and fault-finding. The world’s darkness lies within the fact that they do not trust God, they are alienated from God, they feel relatively alone and helpless and terrified, and they react in whining and sighing and resentfulness and hyper-criticism and blaming.
Now, this reaction isn’t the case across the board. In Paul’s day there were Stoics who looked down on complaining and championed an attitude of overcoming, taking responsibility, keeping your head down and working. And there are modern day Stoics too – friends who aren’t in Christ but who set us a good example of soldiering on.
Now, this response looks better than whining and blaming others, but both the typical and Stoic responses are grounded in a reality of estrangement from God. People sense: God is not for me. Most of them react with a low-grade terror that presents in complaint. A few noble souls react with a grim and courageous doubling down on duty.
But a child of God – he believes, knows for a truth that God is for him and he reacts to the turning wheels of life with trust. Hope. Gratitude. Even joy.
How does he respond thus? How can that be sustained? Which brings us to our next phrase: holding fast to the word of life. The word of life is specifically the Gospel, the message of salvation in Christ – His life, death, burial, resurrection, appearances after the resurrection. The children of God become and stay cool, become and stay poised, become and stay positive, become and stay grateful, become and stay responsible…through constant exposure to this life-giving message of salvation.
Over and over you hear that Christ humbled Himself for us, went to the cross for us, kept trusting in the Father…in our behalf – and all that became our salvation. This affection, this sympathy…. After all that, really what is there to complain about?
In this word of life you keep hearing about what has been secured through Christ: peace with God. God is for us. God is among the Church. God is committed to us, in body and soul. God is training us. The wrong peanut butter is working patience in us.
We do need to hear that word of life, that gospel over and over. If that word grows silent we start to imagine God as a threat, as an Ogre, as a hostile Judge….and then not only do we have the news of cancer we think that God is using the cancer against us. No wonder we lash out in complaint!
So, it’s not a direct connection: read the Bible every day and you’ll magically stop complaining less. We need to work on our complaining – some of us can face big trials in life and go through them without complaint, but then day-by-day when our spouse hasn’t bought what want from the grocery store, when the music leader leads the song too slowly, we complain about these little things. Is that you, children? Are you a whiner?
Then others of us have gained control over these micro-complaints but we’re carrying around resentments about how our life has turned out. I’ve been saddled with this unromantic spouse for years. Our church has had a spate of absent leadership. God has given me this handicap. Both types of complaints need to be deliberately addressed and trained out of us.
But beyond our training, more fundamental than it, our exposure to and holding tightly to the word of life is key in that it provides the substantial logic for our training ourselves away from complaining. God is for us. God has given us His Son. God has raised the Son from the dead and us with Him.
We are justified in Christ’s Resurrection. I don’t feel justified. Well do you feel like Christ is raised? Does it matter? No! Christ is raised, you are in that action justified! Hallelujah!
Let’s finish this sentence …so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. So many observations to make here but I have time for just one:
Paul says that, at the future time when Christ returns again in glory, and then looking back to the time when he was in prison writing this letter, if these brothers and sisters had been marked, not by complaining and grousing, but by their trust in their Father through their holding fast to the word of life – all his labor will have been worthwhile. If instead of these people moaning and sulking and griping and censoriousness they be children of God – trusting instead of fearing, believing instead of living by their feelings…that’s what his ministry had been all about.
In other words: this is not a small matter.
Church, take our attitudes and words seriously. Of course, we should each ask ourself, am I a regular whiner and fault-finder? Do my kids think of me as a complainer? Am I moody around the house? Do my colleagues know me as someone a little surly? Prickly? Am I carrying around resentments?
Church, when outsiders think of us do they perceive that we be children of God, trusting Him, steadily weathering the ebbs and flows of ministry in New England with pluck, with optimism, with good humor, with reasonableness, a congregation of people facing our personal trials and setbacks with hope…or are we reckoned to be a combative bunch, thin-skinned, defensive, gloom-and-doomers, tough on society, ragging on other Churches, always having the pastor and deacons for lunch, afraid of what’s coming down the road, always ready to believe that God has abandoned us, always moaning that we don’t have enough money or people or whatever to move forward or even take ourselves seriously?
You know, I’ve heard a name mentioned quite a few times recently: Len Waterman. Len started this church in 1968. The first service was on 3 November. Now Len is with the Lord. I like to think about today’s conclusion as from him:
Dear Brothers and Sisters of SBC: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. You obviously don’t need me – I’ve been gone for a while. You do need God, and you have Him. God is here – not in this building but among this people – individuals and relationships and culture – who are constituted as Somers Baptist Church.
Brothers and Sisters, because God is here as a Mighty Savior it’s mighty important that you not be known for whining about your life or for being hard on other people, especially one another. That’s easy. That’s natural. That’s what Adam and his children do.
However, if instead of this typical response to life, in small and big ways you trust God your Heavenly Father, you’re going to stand out. Your forbearance and gratitude will be a light in Somers, and some struggling people will be drawn into it.
So go ahead and work at getting and maintaining a good attitude – try out some different things: a complaint jar maybe? A gratitude journal. Times of testimony in church. Singing. Including songs of lament for venting. Instead of criticizing people approach them privately with concerns… and then only if you think it’s wouldn’t be healthy to just overlook their faults and foibles.
But in combatting complaining the main thing is, dear Brothers and Sisters, keep Jesus and His Cross and that Empty Tomb in front of you. Your sins punished…in Him. Your life started again…in Him. God is for you. Hallelujah. Keep that old story constantly fresh, because that old story is what makes you fresh, new, a new creation. A restored image bearer.
Brothers and Sisters, when I was among you I woke up early, I battled temptations, I fought off quitting, I entered into difficult conversations…I ran and labored. But if you be people of gratitude and good humor, if you behave as true children of God, if you are practiced in feeding from this word of life…well, all the trouble I went through will have been more than worth it.