Most people assume they are generally agreeable and easy-going. Few people would proudly say they were hard to get along with or difficult to be around.
But if you added up every argumentative, complaining, and frustrated word you spoke this week, along with all your eye rolls, disappointed sighs, and grumbling grunts, you would likely be shocked by how much of your time is bound up in expressing your discontent and dissatisfaction. In fact, some people talk about little else!
Last time we considered Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church—and by extension, every believer—to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14). But the apostle didn’t merely issue an abrupt command—in the subsequent verses, he gives us some clear reasons why believers must not follow the discontent, complaining pattern of the world.
For the Sake of Your Testimony
Immediately following his exhortation to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” Paul writes, “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach” (Philippians 2:15). The first reason believers must stop complaining is for the sake of their own testimonies.
Very few things are as accurate a measure of the true nature of your heart as how you react to trials and disappointment. And if you’ve developed a reputation as a complainer, there’s no amount of tracts you can hand out or fish symbols you can slap on your car to make people think you’re godly. The presence or absence of a complaining spirit in your day-to-day life is likely a stronger testimony to those around you than the actual words you say.
Paul’s point is that you prove the true nature of your heart—and the validity of God’s transforming work in you—by not following the complaining, discontent pattern of the world. Our lives must be “blameless and innocent,” distinct from the rebellion that consumes sinners’ hearts and minds.
In his commentary, Sinclair Ferguson explains that such a constant discontentment and dissatisfaction ought to be foreign to us as children of God.
We are children of the heavenly Father; we therefore turn away from a spirit of complaint and dissatisfaction because it is so out-of-keeping with the spirit of His family. . . . Those who murmur and complain betray the ingratitude of what the New Testament calls the “spirit of slavery”, not the fruit of the “Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15-16).
Christians need to remind themselves many times a day, “I am a child of the heavenly Father.” Meditate on that blessing and its far-reaching implications. It will change your life; it will sweeten your spirit; it will put a touch of heaven into your soul.  Sinclair Ferguson Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 58.
Harboring a rebellious, discontent spirit is a blight on your testimony, as well as the rest of the church. It’s a black eye for God’s entire family. Instead, Paul says, we must live blameless lives and be above reproach.
For the Sake of the Unsaved World
There’s a second reason to heed Paul’s prohibition against complaining, and we see it where we left off in Paul’s epistle. Following his train of thought, our disciplined behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but rather “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Put simply, believers must stop complaining for the sake of the unsaved world.
Paul borrows a phrase here from Deuteronomy 32:5, where Moses condemned unfaithful and rebellious Israel as a “crooked and perverse generation.” Israel was meant to be separate and distinct from the surrounding nations, set apart in their devotion to the Lord to serve as a light to the rest of the world. Through repeated cycles of grumbling, complaining, rebellion, apostasy, and idolatry, they failed to live up to their covenant with God.
God also calls us to be set apart from the world for the sake of reaching sinners with His Word. We need to be distinct from the “crooked and perverse generation” surrounding us.
John MacArthur explains how godly qualities—or the lack thereof—form the foundation of a believer’s testimony:
Living faithfully and purely is an absolute prerequisite for fulfilling the Lord’s mandate to carry His divine message of salvation to a world lost in sin. . . . The quality of a believer’s life, whether faithful and obedient or unfaithful and disobedient, is the platform of his testimony. A grumbling, complaining Christian will not have a positive effect on others. For obvious reasons, unbelievers are not attracted to that kind of life.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (Chicago: Moody, 2001) 184-186.
We cannot expect to make even the slightest spiritual dent in the world with our words if the tone and tenor of our lives doesn’t back up what we say. That cuts all the way down to our attitudes—if we incessantly complain like the world does, how can we expect to attract people to the truth? It’s the gospel that gives us the freedom to not succumb to the prevailing spirit of discontentment, and it’s our discipline of contentment that lends credibility to the gospel we preach.
There’s another aspect to our testimony in the world through our actions. Here’s how John MacArthur describes it:
The way that believers live as children of God has a dramatic impact on how they influence the godless world around them. But just as right doctrine without right character is hypocritical and ineffective, so also is right living ineffective if believers are not proclaiming gospel truth. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians, 185.
In Philippians 2:16, Paul includes the short phrase, “holding fast the word of life.” The King James Version says “holding forth”—that’s really the point Paul’s emphasizing. It’s not a question of us holding onto Scripture, but rather that we’re holding it out to the world as God’s redeeming truth that transforms lives.
And it’s our faithfulness to hold the Word out to this “crooked and perverse generation” that makes us “appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
For the Sake of Your Leaders
There’s one final reason Paul gives us to part with the world’s pervasive discontentment. He writes, “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:16). Paul says believers need to stop complaining for the sake of their leaders.
Paul’s not talking about some extra credit or glory he would receive in heaven if his followers shape up and live disciplined, godly, complaint-free lives. In fact, it has nothing to do with his eternal reward, but that of his followers.
The “day of Christ” Paul is describing is not the “Day of the Lord,” for on that day the Lord pours out His righteous wrath on the world. The day Paul refers to is the day believers will be judged. John MacArthur explains:
Although it will also be a time of judgment, in the sense that believers will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” the focus will be only on rewards, not punishment, “so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians, 187.
That’s the day Paul—and every faithful shepherd—looks forward to seeing, as the sheep under his care are rewarded for their faithfulness. He wants to rejoice in their perseverance to the end, and see them welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom. As he’s already exhorted them earlier in this chapter, their disciplined righteousness will “make his joy complete” (Philippians 2:2).
John MacArthur explains Paul’s pastoral heart this way:
The best thing believers can do for their pastors is faithfully to live out the truths of God’s Word that he has preached and taught, so that he can say with Paul, “I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” Every pastor desires that the reward of his efforts will be full, that the people under his care love and obey the Lord without grumbling or complaining and with their lives and words effectively demonstrate the gospel to be true and believable. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians, 188.
In his third epistle, the apostle John wrote, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
The joy of the pastors and elders God has placed over you might initially seem insignificant compared to defending your testimony and reaching the lost, but it’s no mistake that the Holy Spirit included this point in Paul’s list.
We need to understand that in God’s spiritual economy, living the kind of lives that are a blessing to the leaders He’s placed above us is just as important as protecting our testimonies and reaching out to the lost with His truth.
And Paul’s point is that we can’t accomplish any of that if we don’t first stop complaining.
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