14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. 16 Hold firmly to the message of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18
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Paul was an expert on the Old Testament, and he knew well the story of Israel in the desert after leaving Egypt. He knew how in Exodus 14-17 and Numbers 11, 12 & 14 the miserable story of the Israelites grumbling and complaining in the desert is told in detail.
Their grumbling consisted of: “We don’t like this food, we’re thirsty, we don’t like this camping spot, we’re all gonna die, are we there yet, we had it better in Egypt!” It was really that awful. And if we take just a minute to think about it, it becomes obvious how vile and offensive their grumbling actually was. They had been delivered, rescued, and redeemed out of Egypt - saved, if you will. None of them starved or died of thirst. Not a single one. Ever. They were provided for on a daily basis and God was in their midst. No wonder they were met with such hard discipline from the Lord. Go ahead, read the rest of the story!
You see, their grumbling was an affront to everything God had done for them. They suffered from "spiritual amnesia" as John Piper puts it, forgetting God'd deliverance and provision.
For us, it might sound like, “God, I know you’ve forgiven all my sins at the cross, rescued me from eternal conscious torment, and given me everlasting joy in your presence, but all we have for dinner is ramen or Cheerios and the air conditioning is on the fritz!”
So what do we think we’re doing when we whine and complain and grumble and hold grudges and argue? People of God, we have been saved from eternal wrath by a loving God and Father. We are provided for actively, on a daily basis, with everything we need by an attentive and compassionate heavenly Father.
Shouldn’t we be ashamed of , and repent of, our petty squabbles and pet political disagreements and our general negativity about circumstances? What about grumbling about our brothers and sisters in Christ? We are citizens of heaven and children of God! How dare we grumble about one another in front of our Father.
Later in his letter, Paul names names. In chapter 4 he pleads with two women, Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord. These ladies, who had labored in the Lord, whose names are in the book of life – had some kind of disagreement going on. It wasn’t a brief or passing thing or Paul probably wouldn’t have known about it. Keep in mind that nobody was airing their grievances on Facebook or Twitter back then. This was significant enough that news had reached Paul by letter. And Paul urged these ladies to work things out for the sake of peace.
Paul’s words – Holy Spirit inspired words – confront every one of us with the challenge to resist attitudes and actions that threaten to shred the fabric of Christian community.
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