“Conquering Complaining”         Philippians 2:14-18            October 24, 2010

 

SI:  We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.

Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.

   Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,

   he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,

   and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.

 


 

INTRO:  There was once a monastery with a very strict vow of silence.

The monks could only speak once a year.

   And when they spoke, could only say two words.  Two words, once a year.

   A man entered the monastery and took the vow of silence.

The first year rolled around.

   He met with the Abbot and said:  “Bad food.”

Then the second year rolled around.

   He met with the Abbot again and said:  “Hard bed.”

Then, the third year came and he met with the Abbot and he said:  “I quit.”

   And the Abbot said:  That doesn’t surprise me. 

   All you’ve done since you got here is complain!

 

The Apostle Paul is building a picture for the Philippians of the joyful life.

   He has told them to live a life worthy of the Gospel,

   To do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,

   To work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

And as he continues to show them the basis of a joyful life he says:

   “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .”

 

Complaining seems like such a little thing.

Out of all of the things we struggle with in our lives—all the serious temptations

   and spiritual battles—complaining seems like no big deal. 

What does it matter if I’m grumpy now and then

   and complain about bad food and hard bed and other stuff?

 

Paul thought it was a big deal.  He was a veteran of the Christian life.

   He wasted no words in his letters.

   Everything he wrote was of utmost importance.

He’s like an old sergeant about to send green troops into battle. 

   And he’s going through their equipment and saying—you need this,

   and you don’t need that.  He’s honing things down to what is really important.

And he tells the Philippians, this church he loved so much,

   It matters, it’s vital, that you do everything without complaining or arguing. 

 

Paul is not saying that good Christians bottle up their negative feelings

   and never voice them to God.  Or that you never speak to the Lord or your

   brothers and sisters about the pain of a broken heart or a barren womb.

The Bible doesn’t forbid that.  King David himself said in Psalm 142:

   “I pour out my complaint before the Lord, before him I tell my trouble.”

There is a whole class of Psalms that are called complaints.

   And they are filled with prayers of believers who are being honest with God.

   They are saying:  Lord, I trust you, but I’m hurting.  Please give me relief. 

But that’s not the complaining that Paul is talking about here. 

   He’s talking about a complaining that is the opposite of a prayerful trust in Lord.

   It’s discontentment.  It’s self-centered negativity.

And there are plenty of examples of that in the Bible too.

 

Moses complained about having to deal with the Israelites: 

   “What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? . . .

   If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now.”

The martyr:  No one appreciates me. 

   I slave away for this family and I never get the respect I deserve.

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes complained about his work:

   “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? 

   All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. 

   This too is meaningless.”

The cynic:  Nothing ever changes. 

   It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s not going to make any difference.  Life stinks.

 

Proverbs describes what it’s like living with a certain kind of complainer.

   “Like a constant dripping on a rainy day is a contentious wife.”

   “Better to live on the corner of a roof, than to share a house with a contentious woman.”

The critic:  Is that the best you can do?  Why can’t you fix things around here?

 

And there are other kinds of complainers:

   there is the grumbler and the whiner, the nag, the curmudgeon.

And all of us can think of people who fit these categories. 

But Paul wants you to resist that temptation, resist the temptation of saying,

   I know who needs to hear this sermon—and focus on your own hearts.

   Because this is a matter of the heart.

This is a matter of working out your salvation with fear and trembling.

   Because, in a sense, complaining and arguing the opposite of fear and trembling.

   They are the very opposite of the tone of life we are to cultivate.

 

So how do you conquer complaining?

   Paul says three things—three great truths to believe and apply.

   I’ll give them to you as we go.

Credit where credit is due:  sermon by Dr. Richard Kaufmann

MP#1  You must realize how bad complaining really is.

As I said a moment ago, complaining doesn’t seem to be that serious.

   Especially when you do it.  And when it’s something that deserves complaint.

But the Lord has a different view of our complaining—he hates it.

   The first step toward conquering complaining, is to really see how bad it is.

 

The way Paul drives that home is by alluding to the most destructive

   example of complaining in all the Bible.  He says:

   “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.”

Do you know where Paul got that phrase “a crooked and depraved generation”?

   From Deuteronomy 32.  Moses choice of words for the generation of Israelites

   that complained in the wilderness.  We read some of their complaints earlier.

What do we learn from the complaining of the Israelites? 

 

We learn that when you complain about things, you are complaining against God.

Moses made this point over and over to the Israelites.

   When they were complaining about food or water or Moses’ leadership he said: 

   “The Lord has heard your grumbling against him.”

And all of your complaining about things and people and circumstances is really

   complaining against the sovereign rule of God over the world and over your life.

 

Complaining about the government, the church, your boss, your parents,

   your teachers—it’s all complaining against God.  Why?

Because God gave you those authorities. 

   Because God gave you your life and standard of living. 

   Because God put you in particular circumstances. 

In fact, the Bible goes so far as to equate complaining with rebellion.

That’s exactly what Psalm 78 says about the Israelites:

   “But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High.”

 

All of you parents know how serious rebellion is. 

   Your children can disobey you for many reasons.

   They might disobey out of childishness or immaturity, fear, selfishness, laziness,

   peer pressure—and you judge the seriousness of their disobedience by motive.

If your child has lied to you out of fear of being punished, or if he’s done

   something out of foolish immaturity, you treat that accordingly.

But the very worst motive is rebellion. 

 

When your child has disobeyed you out of hard-hearted defiance.

   I will not submit.  I will not bend.  I refuse to recognize your authority.

   When you come against that as a parent, know you’re facing the worst.

That’s how God views complaining, like the sin of rebellion.

   Because it’s saying to your heavenly Father, you are wrong, and I refuse

   to accept your authority and right to guide my life as you see best.

 

And if you think this is stating the case too strongly, then consider this—

   complainers don’t enter the Promised Land.

In ancient times it took two weeks to travel by foot from Egypt to Canaan.

   There were several well-traveled highways. 

But the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.  Why?

   Because of their grumbling and complaining.

 

The Lord would say:  Give me another lap around the desert.

   And no sooner had they caught their breath, than they would complain again.

God would say:  Take another lap.  And they kept complaining and circling

   until an entire generation died and never entered the Promised Land.

   Their complaining kept them out of the Promised Land.

And what does the Promised Land symbolize?  Heaven.

 

Paul makes that point in this passage.  He says, I don’t want you to be complainers,

   because I want to be able to boast about you on the day of Christ.  I don’t want

   to run and labor for nothing.  I don’t want you to be missing from heaven. 

I don’t want you to die in the wilderness like those complaining Israelites.

 

Now your theology is probably kicking in and you are saying:

   Wait a minute, I thought we got to heaven by faith in Christ alone.

If we believe in Christ our sins don’t keep out of heaven and our obedience

   doesn’t keep us in.  Only unbelief can keep us out of heaven. 

And that is Paul’s sober point.  The root of complaining is a heart of unbelief.

   Psalm 78 has this assessment of Israel’s complaining: 

   “They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance.”

And Hebrews 3:19 says:  “They were not able to enter because of their unbelief.”

 

If you are going to conquer complaining, the first thing you have to do is

   recognize the seriousness of your complaining.  You have to see that when

   you complain about your spouse, or your parents, or your work, or whatever—

You are complaining against the sovereign rule of God.

Complaining is rebellion, and it is rooted in unbelief—the most dangerous sin of all,

   that kept a generation of Israel out of Promised Land. 

That brings us to Paul’s next great instruction. 

 

MP#2  You must remember why you are here!

Paul tells the Philippians Christ has saved them to be . . .

   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.”

 

That’s why you are here.  That’s your mission from the Lord.

   To be a person of integrity in this corrupt generation.

   To shine like stars in the darkness as you as you hold out

   to lost people the word of life in Jesus Christ.

Now, if that’s your purpose in life.  Then you can’t complain.

   Because complaining completely contradicts your purpose in life.

 

You can’t hold out the word of life, and tell people that the Lord is in control

   and that he is good and loving, if you complain about your circumstances.

This dark world is full of complainers—

   full of martyrs and critics and cynics and grumblers and whiners.

   When a Christian joins the chorus of complainers, he’s no different from world.

 

But on the other hand, when a Christian does not complain, he stands out.

   Paul says you will shine like stars in the universe. 

That sounds like an exaggeration, that by not complaining, you shine like a star.

   But it’s true.

 

Jim Edwards showed me a scrapbook that Gloria made to commemorate

   their months in Little Rock when Jim was at the Myeloma Center

   for his bone marrow transplant.

What kind of person makes a scrapbook of cancer treatment memories?

 

You open the cover of this scrapbook and on the first page

   are the big ugly words “Multiple Myeloma.”

And then, all around, are other words that hit you in the gut—

   stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, white blood cells, antibiotics, infusion

   oncologist, malignant—there are the names of a whole host of drugs—

   Coumadin, Thalidomide, Dexamethasone, Allopurinol, Melphalan

It’s overwhelming.  It would drive most people to say: poor me, life stinks.

But you turn the page, and there are two big words:  “But God . . .”

   And the message is as plain as day.  This is what life has thrown at us.

   We’re not going to sugar coat it.  We’re not going to ignore it.

   And we’re not going to complain about it.

Because our God is in heaven, and he loves us,

   and he’s working in all things for the good of those who love him,

   and we are part of that big thing he is doing.

 

And from that point on in the scrapbook are photos

   of the cancer treatment adventure with commentary by Gloria. 

Many of the pictures are of Jim’s fellow patients and their spouses. 

   And I know, from the stories that Jim and Gloria told me, that these people

   were drawn to the Edwards.  Some of those patients were fellow believers. 

But some were not.  And they were drawn to Gloria and Jim because of their

   confident trust in their heavenly Father and because the held out the word of life.

 

When you contemplate a story like that, you realize that Paul’s words—

   shining like stars in the universe” are not an exaggeration.

Especially when you realize that for unbelievers, their universe is very small.

   Their universe is the cancer treatment center, their universe is their workplace,

   or their school, or their home town, or their political party. 

They can’t look beyond that. 

   So when troubles come, those troubles fill their universe.

 

And then, they encounter a Christian, who is experiencing the same life,

   the same troubles—but this believer, does not complain, does not grumble,

   does not play the martyr—instead he says:  The Lord is in this place.  But God.

And that Christian is like a shining star.  He or she shows unbelievers that

   there is indeed a world beyond their little world—the world of life with Christ.

 

Now, my question to you:  Have you been sucked into the tiny universe

   of your workplace or school or circle of friends and acquaintances?

Do you echo the same gripes and grumblings? 

   Do you complain about the boss or the customer, or how unfair things are?

If you are a Christian, you can’t. 

   You’ve been called to something great, you’ve been called to be a star

   shining in the universe—light in the darkness—

   children of God in a wicked and depraved generation.  Remember who you are.

But where do you get the strength to be this shining star? 

That brings us to the third truth for conquering complaining.

MP#3  You must rejoice in the cross of Christ.

Paul wraps up this passage and this first portion of the letter with some

   unusual words.  Look at them again, verse 17:

“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.”

 

In Old Testament worship, there was something called the drink offering.

   The worshipper poured wine on the burning sacrifice to compliment it,

   to express gratitude, and to present a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Paul is saying there that he sees his suffering as a drink offering.

   It’s an act of worship to the Lord, poured out on the altar.

He’s in difficult circumstances, but instead of complaining, he rejoices,

   because he sees it as a God-ordained opportunity to worship his Savior.

 

What’s the bottom line on why we complain?

Because we believe we deserve better!

   I deserve a better cut in this deal.  I deserve more respect. 

It can be big things or little things. 

   Thursday night I found myself complaining that I had to wait 20 minutes

   at Taco Bell.  It was silly and embarrassing.  But all situations aren’t silly.

 

Think about Paul’s life.  He was on the fast-track in Judaism.

   He had the pedigree, he had a brilliant mind, he went to the Harvard of

   rabbinical schools—the school of Gamaliel. 

A life of success and honors lay ahead.  Then he met Jesus Christ.

   And you could say that his life was a mess from that point forward. 

 

When Paul wrote Philippians he had been a Christian for 20 years.

   He had been working hard as an Apostle for most of those years.

At this point in his life you would expect him to be able to relax a little

   and rest on his laurels.  Travel to churches around the Roman world.

   Be wined and dined and honored and admired by the Christian community.

 

Instead, he was in prison in Rome, chained to the praetorian guard, awaiting trial.

And to add insult to injury, there were Christian ministers in Rome who refused

   to visit Paul in prison, instead they criticized him from their pulpits in order

   to advance their own petty agendas. 

If anyone had legitimate gripes it was Paul.  He had reasons to complain.

   Instead he says:  My suffering and even my possible death is a drink offering.

   It’s wine poured out in gratitude on the altar of Christ’s sacrifice.

   And for that I rejoice.

How could Paul feel that way?  What made him tick?

   The cross.  Paul understood the cross. 

 

The cross shuts down complaining.  It destroys it at the root.

We say:  I deserve better.  I deserve to be treated with more respect.

   I deserve to be shown more appreciation.  I deserve a better deal out of this.

This cross says:  This is what you deserve—the wrath and curse of God.

   You deserve pain and thirst, darkness and rejection.

 

But because of the death of Jesus Christ in your  place,

   you received far more and far better than you ever deserved.

You’ve been freely given forgiveness and life and adoption as sons.

   Paul understood the significance of the cross. 

So he saw his circumstances, not as a reason to complain,

   but as a God-ordained opportunity to worship his Savior. 

 

We’ve been talking about complaining in our home for the past few weeks because 

   Allison and the kids heard an inspirational speaker talk about the negative effects

   of complaining in the workplace.  And she gave out these black rubber bracelets.

You put it on your right wrist in the morning, but if you catch yourself complaining,

   you switch it to your left wrist.  Allison said it did get your attention.

It did make your realize how much you complain. 

   And those sorts of things are helpful as far as it goes.

   And certainly, every workplace would be better if people complained less.

 

But to sever the root, and to decisively answer the mother of all complaints that

   wells up from deep in our hearts—the complaint that says—I deserve better.

You have to pull out the big guns for that.

   That complaint will only be met by the cross of Jesus Christ. 

Only the cross will enable you to see your life rightly—

   and break the slavery of such a high opinion of yourself.

Only the cross will enable you to believe God has ordained this suffering or

   irritation or humiliation to be a drink offering for you to pour out with rejoicing.

And only the cross will assure you that even your complaining

   can be forgiven by the Lord, that he shed his blood for your rebellion.

We’re about to sing a lovely old hymn before communion:

   “Be Still My Soul  It was written during a time of revival in the German church.

And it speaks of a frame of mind that is the very opposite of complaining—

   confident rest in God, contentment, and even joy.

 

What would happen if you stopped complaining? 

   What would that do for your marriage, for your home, your workplace?

   Wonderful things.  You would shine like a star in the universe.

You can do it. . .

   Because Christ died on the cross to show you how bad complaining really is,

   and to forgive all your grumbling and complaining—

   and to fill you with a spirit of rejoicing.

Believe that, and live it this week.