Theology of complaining – Philippians 2:14

Written by Dave Urbanski

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This past Sunday we focused on just one Bible verse — and it’s one we all know well, either from our own study of Scripture … or because we’re all quite familiar with the subject matter.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” — Philippians 2:14

Who among us hasn’t been guilty of that? Of complaining?

But while we as believers certainly have joined the chorus of complaining from time to time, we really don’t need to be singing that tune! Pastor Scott broke down the verse and explained to us that Christians instead ought to be thinking differently than nonbelievers and focusing on solutions to our problems rather than on the problems themselves.

Indeed, there are biblical reasons to avoid complaining.

The first is recognizing that God is working positively in our lives, no matter what our circumstances might be. God always has a bigger plan in mind and is using events in our lives to teach us — about patience, about forgiveness. The bottom line is that we live in a broken, fallen world, and not everything is going to go perfectly. Therefore we must continually tell ourselves the truths that God is in control, God is good, and God is loving.

The second reason to not complain is that the seeming setbacks we deal with are opportunities for God to work in our lives. Think about Paul in prison: He didn’t view that “setback” (to put it mildly) as the end of things for him. Instead it was a beginning — and an opportunity, he wrote more than once, to advance the gospel!

In this vein, Pastor Scott brought up one of the many Old Testament accounts of the Israelites complaining about their circumstances in the wilderness. And he pointed out a very interesting tidbit. They complained about the same three things that children always complain about: the food, the living conditions, and the leadership. Truth!

One question we need to ask ourselves: What is the opposite of complaining? Pastor Scott said the answer is trust. When our complaining increases, how much are we trusting in God’s authority? Probably not much. Therefore when we notice our complaining is increasing, we need to do a spiritual check and realize that our level of trust in the Lord isn’t as high as it should be.

Another key point Pastor Scott made is that there’s a big difference between complaining AT God and complaining TO God. He used David’s Psalms as an example of a “good kind of complaining.” In Psalm 142, we see David pleads to the Lord for mercy — an outcry for God to take burdens from him. And the thing is, God wants us to go to him in need. He waits and waits and waits for us to come to him in prayer. As believers, we need not bottle up those raw emotions. Instead we can go straight to the Lord’s throne and ask him to work in our lives.

Another compelling moment came with Pastor Scott introducing the Greek word for “disputing” in Philippians 2:14 — and it’s “dialogismos.” Indeed it’s closely related to the English word “dialog,” except it runs deeper than that. Pastor Scott checked out all the places in Scripture where the word “dialogismos” shows up and told us that it’s related to our “inner dialog” — our thoughts and inner discussions we have with ourselves.

The word “dialogismos,” for example, is found in Luke 5:22 when Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the mat and then rebukes the Pharisees for their inner thoughts against Christ’s rightful ability as the Son of Man to forgive sins. 

See, our internal dialogue can really get us into trouble and get us going in the wrong direction. But as believers, we need not entertain our problematic inner dialog because Jesus is in control of our lives, and he knows what he’s doing!

Therefore let us continually keep in mind these important principles as we move forward:

  • Complaining can be a spiritual indicator of a “heart” problem. So let’s be ready to do a heart check!
  • Complaining TO God (but not AT God) is a good thing. No, the Lord won’t necessarily take away every problem we want to get rid of — consider Paul and his thorn in the flesh the Lord wouldn’t remove — but instead works in us through all kinds of circumstances, even negative ones.
  • The opposite of complaining is trust.
  • And complaining and negative thinking is not befitting of Christians.

Indeed, it’s often difficult for us to know why God does and allows certain things to happen in our lives. More often that not, we have no idea what God is doing. Therefore let us ask him to help us trust in him more and more each day.

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