The Joy-Filled Book of Philippians {Part 5}

Even when our path is frayed, our God is good.

{If you are looking for part 4, or other parts to this series, check here}

Is there any space more difficult to study the verse “do all things without grumbling or disputing” than when one is sheltered at home in a pandemic? Admittedly, from the moment I decided to teach this book, this was possibly the passage I was most nervous about studying and teaching because complaining is something that just comes so natural and easy to me. But, to answer my initial question: Yes, there is a more difficult space to declare this truth and that would be while stuck in prison, beaten and feeling neglected, and that is where our author, Paul, is coming from as he writes today.

Pray for wisdom, and then read our text for today.

Philippians 2:13–30

“(12) So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (13) for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (14) Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (15) so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (16) holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (17) But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (18) You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. (19) But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. (20) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. (22) But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (23) Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; (24) and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. (25) But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; (26) because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (27) For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. (28) Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. (29) Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; (30) because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”

If you are like me, this is a long passage and it is so easy to get distracted. If you found yourself distracted, read again. Then, let’s talk through this passage.

“(12) So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (13) for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Obedience. God’s word has a lot to say about obedience. 1 John talks about how we will obey God’s commands if we love Him. James 2 talks about how a faith that is not accompanied by works is “dead.” And here, in our Philippians passage, we see Paul encourage these people regarding how well they have obeyed. Part of love and belief is trust and if we trust God that He cannot lie we will trust that His commands are the best for us.

This is not talking about working FOR our salvation (for more, read Galatians 3, particularly the first few verses). This passage is addressing sanctification, the WORKING OUT of our salvation. When we make a life commitment to become a Christian, we are not just saying that we believe God exists (James 2 tells us that even the demons believe there is a God) but we are choosing to make this God our Lord — our master, savior, ruler. As we walk forward in obedience, spiritual growth happens in our lives.

Paul reminds the Philippians that, as they obey, God works in them for His good pleasure. Isn’t this exciting? I, too, can follow God obediently and He will work in me to grow me by His good pleasure!

“(14) Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (15) so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (16) holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (17) But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (18) You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”

Here we have arrived at some of the most famous and convicting words in the book of Philippians. Grumbling. Disputing. Other translations use the words complaining, arguing. You get the point. As children of God, we are to STOP the complaining, grumbling, arguing, and disputing.

There is an interesting cross reference I found related to this passage and that is Exodus 16:2 and the verses preceding and following that verse. I am so quick to judge the children of Israel for how much they complained and grumbled against Moses and the Lord yet I am so fast to fall in to this sin myself. I may couch it as venting, defending, or releasing tension but, at the end of the day, we are commanded to quit complaining.

But more than the command, let’s look at the WHY. Verse 15 tells us that, when we avoid grumbling and disputing we are shining a light for Jesus. This is how we show we are different from the world. This is how we show others what the joy of the Lord looks like. When we choose to speak joyful, uplifting, truthful words, we shine to others as the bright stars shine in the night sky — you can’t miss them and they are beautiful, incomprehensible, and grand.

The phrase “children of God” is also seen in John 1:12–13, Romans 8:14–17, and Galatians 3:26–29, important cross references to understanding the depth of this. I encourage you to read these passages to really grasp the depth of our relationship with God. Now that we have been transferred from the family of death and destruction to the family of life in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ there is nothing in this world that merits a complaint or an argument from us anymore!

Paul finds great joy to hear that the people he has ministered to have been joyfully obedient in their attitudes, actions, and words. This is proof of how effective his ministry truly is to this group of people.

Before we move on, let us rest for just a minute on two different keys related to this passage:

  1. What happens when we DO complain, argue, grumble, and dispute?
    Let’s reverse the situation here. If NOT complaining sets us apart to show the world Jesus, makes us appear as lights in the night sky to others, and demonstrates our faithful obedience to God, what about when we do complain?
    I’ll let you fill in your answer here, but I would argue that, when we complain, we make Jesus look less appealing. We don’t shine as stars in the night sky but we blend into the sky just like the rest of the world. Others don’t look at us and see something they wish they had. Worse, they may hear our complaints and feel this Christian life is something they don’t want! This is tragic. I don’t think we take our obedience in this area seriously enough most of the time.
  2. How do I stop complaining?
    Here is where the rubber meets the road. I would offer three tips for helping fight this oh so common sin struggle:
  • Develop a Grateful Heart — This one is tough. And I would imagine most of us believe we are doing a far better job at being grateful than we truly are. Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? I thought it was kinda silly, too. People would talk about “gratitude journaling” and I would laugh a bit inside, think of three things I was thankful for real fast, and give myself a great big winning checkmark for the day.
    But, seriously, think on the past week. Can you think of any times you specifically thanked God (more than the blessing before mealtime)? How about heart-felt thanking others? Take a challenge and start recording things you are grateful for. It can be anything from the beauty of nature to the provisions God has given you to the people who have served you to the thankfulness you have for this very breath you just took — write it down. Some people I know try to add 3 things every day to a paper gratitude journal either in the morning or just before bed. I have found an app (there are tons of them) where I can record things on my phone throughout the day that I am thankful for (and also add a photo which is super cool). However and wherever, challenge yourself to find 100 things you are grateful for in your life over the next few weeks. If it helps, extend your list to 1000 or more and keep up your practice.
    Take time in your relationships to voice these things you write down. When speaking to a friend, tell them about the beautiful sunset you saw last night or the turtle you had fun watching as he sat on a log outside. When on the phone with a family member, recount how a friend or stranger made your day better. And go to the person(s) you are thankful for and express your love and gratitude to them. Even the simple kindness of thanking the person in the checkout line at the grocery store instead of offering a complaint brightens your star!
  • Perform Brain Surgery on Yourself — Our brain is made of millions of neural pathways. To make life easier, our brains track down their certain grooves very easily. If I make it a habit to think about how frustrated I am with someone or some life situation then thinking about this is going to become easier and easier, more and more natural to my daily pattern. Getting out of this mind game takes effort and energy.
    When do you most often think (or say) complaints? In the shower? To a friend? At home? At the office? I recently found myself in a bad habit. Literally every time I took a shower or was home, alone, in the quiet, I would think through this specific situation in my life of someone who I am at odds with. In the past there have been some cross words between us and I would process, over and over, how I would respond if I had the chance or if/when I have another encounter with them. This thinking then spilled over into my speech. I was obsessed with the situation and this person who had wronged me. I wanted to tell everyone how they had hurt me and how right I was. At some point, I had to literally just choose to quit thinking about it. Philippians 4:8 tells us not to think on things that are not true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute. It took some time but gradually I realized this was not my go-to thought anymore and I found myself thinking on other things instead. Now, mind you, I have had to fight that these “other things” are also not just a different version of complaining and I’m still not perfect but it is hopeful to see this gradual change in my thought life.
    In Luke 12:12, Jesus sends His disciples to share the gospel with the world and tells them not to worry about what they will say, for “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” This has been so true for me in situations as I explained above. When I next have an encounter with this person I must choose to believe I don’t have to prepare, I just have to pray, and the Holy Spirit will teach me in the very moment what I need to say.
  • Stop Talking — Possibly the most practical and most embarrassing/ frustrating of these steps is that of action. Quit talking in complaining, arguing, and griping tones. This starts at home. Apologize to family and friends for your tones, complaints, gossip, and arguments. Then examine everything before it exits your mouth. When you feel that gentle prick of the Holy Spirit that what you are saying is not right, STOP. Even if mid-sentence, just say “you know, I’m not going to complain about that right now,” or “before I start arguing, can I pray about this first?”

“(19) But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. (20) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. (22) But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (23) Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; (24) and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. (25) But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; (26) because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (27) For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. (28) Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. (29) Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; (30) because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”

It is so sweet to see how much Paul and the Philippians loved their friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Do you have friends like this? People you long to see and be with or people you so strongly love and feel for when they are sick or have hurts in their own hearts.

Paul calls Timothy his child in the faith. He had such a genuine concern for Timothy, so much that we have some of his letters to Timothy preserved in the Bible. In Acts, we find that Timothy stayed with Paul when Barnabas left which makes me feel he is a true and enduring friend.

Epaphroditus was one of the Philippians who delivered messages back and forth. He got sick but God provided healing. The whole church was concerned for and loved him.

Who are your children in the faith? Who are the kindred souls you care for and love? Pray God places people in these positions in your life and praise Him for the ones He has.

Final Thoughts…

  • How are you doing with obedience to God and His word? How have you seen God growing you recently?
  • What do your words and tones portray about God and Christians? Do you need accountability in this area?
  • Who are your “children in the faith?” Are you discipling others now or do you know someone that would like to take on this role with you? Are you faithfully being discipled by someone?

Until next time….

Resources:

  • The Bible, New American Standard Version (KJV, NKJV, Amplified, NIV, ESV also used as reference)
  • The Book of Philippians by Jo Saxton
  • Count it All Joy by Kay Arthur
  • Various Bible commentaries as desired

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Wife to Ryan, mom to Liam and Chloe, loves Jesus, Bible teacher, cookbook author, dietitian

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Ellen Wallace

Ellen Wallace

Wife to Ryan, mom to Liam and Chloe, loves Jesus, Bible teacher, cookbook author, dietitian

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