14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life…
Consider what life would be like for someone who never complains or grumbles about anything. It is difficult to imagine this in a world where the majority of conversations, news, and entertainment are based on sarcasm and complaints. This is one aspect of life in which Christians are to be separate and radically different from the world. Paul admonishes the believers, “do all things without grumbling or disputing.”[i] Following verse 1-11, this exhortation is perfectly logical. If a believer exemplifies the same humility that is present in the character of Christ, then it stands to reason that the believer will be submissive and obedient to the will of God, accomplishing the tasks that God has set before them without complaint.
It is intriguing that Christians are encouraged not to dispute. This is one of the chief accusations leveled at the church in modern times. It seems Christians would rather argue over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary then discuss real world issues. The denominational arguments and inter-denominational disputes have displayed a character of argumentative division.[ii] To be clear, it is imperative that Christians struggle with one another to understand God and His nature. It is necessary for disagreements about theology to arise as we discuss what we see in Scripture. These kinds of discussions are not what Paul is addressing in verse 14. Rather, the Philippians are encouraged to live a humble lifestyle that does not complain or argue about the circumstances that they find themselves in.
When Christians strive for holiness, the world takes notice. Christians stand out, not only because what they do is different from the world, but because of what they do not do. Christians do not respond with the same selfishly-divisive attitude when the stresses of life come upon them. They stand in humility, willingly submitting to God’s design and accepting what seems impossible to accept. When humanity is pressed and stresses are placed on those who do not believe in Christ, it is rare for that person or people to respond with anything other than complaint and division. However, these two characteristic responses are to be absent from the Christian. If grumbling and disputing are the normative response in a person’s life, that person needs to repent and trust in Jesus. Only Jesus can change the heart so that when life shakes you, grace comes out.
God changes the heart of those who believe in Him (c.f. Ezekiel 36:22-38). In changing their hearts, He engages the world with His own image. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that believers are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [their] creator.”[iii] The Lord has established Christians as the image bearers who would live a lifestyle so contrary to the world around them that they improve their surroundings simply by living in them.
Are you cultivating beauty in the world around you? Does your presence make the lives of those who are around you a better place? Christians are lights, bringing illumination to a dark world ruled by selfishness and death. For a believer, truth and love are the guiding principles of life. As such is the case, Christians rest in the truth that God is in control of everything and that they need not argue over the trivialities that consume the rest of the world.[iv] Further, Christians improve society. The humility and service modeled by Christ changes the world. If believers would simply live as they are made to, then the world would be a more beautiful place. Unfortunately, many in western Christianity have decided it is more important to have a beautiful building and nice carpet than to engage in making the world a better place for the name of the Gospel. Saints, it is time to work to improve our surroundings. The Gospel changes souls, indeed it also changes the way those souls live on this earth. Strive to cultivate beauty, effect change, and serve the world. In doing so, you will shine!
We cultivate this lifestyle and improve our world by “holding fast to the word of life” (v. 16). Obey the Bible. It seems almost too simple, but it is true. If Christians will obey the Bible and live by what it says, they’ll see the world change.
[i] ESV Philippians 2:14
[ii] This particular division is extremely prevelant in the Southern Baptist denomination, which has been arguing and disputing as of late on soteriological matters which are important and policy issues that are unimportant.
[iii] ESV Col. 3:10
[iv] In the west, these trivialities extend all the way to our political systems.