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, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.
The amount of things that distract and disturb us in our lives, that give us cause for complaints, seem numberless. The Apostle wrote that we should do everything without complaining and arguing, and it seems an impossible task, but the Spirit inspired these words and has an essential point to make.
The backdrop of the command is the perverseness of the world, “crooked and depraved.” This represents the blackness of the night sky against which the stars shine in contrast. In the world people twist words, attack credibility, often without hesitation. The world’s goal is not to stand for what is right, though from time to time we find people of high moral character, but it is for the most part to get one’s way. Laws are set in place to prevent us from tearing one another apart, for surely if there were nothing to prevent slander and libel, they would be used much more often.
And the world seeps into the church environment because we each carry the world in our natures. Other New Testament writers – notably John and James – make similar commands as Paul. Love is to be the nature of the church, not complaining and arguing; love is to be the nature of our lives as well, acted out through servant-like hearts. But this is the new nature, created in Christ Jesus in true righteousness and holiness; we still must contend with the old sinful nature that remains within us.
I suppose very little is so discouraging in churches as the absence of graciousness among many our people. All sins and weaknesses among God’s people are lamentable but to be ungracious is a denial of the fact of our need of grace and God’s provision. Since all must be patient with me, forgive my faults, should not I be patient and forgive the faults of others as well? Certainly, we do find some who are gracious to others under all circumstances, who do not attack or slander or complain – even when they recognize the weaknesses of others around them, but it is sadly all too rare.
More than once to younger ministers who are lamenting the imperfections of church members I have reminded us, “We have a lot of sinners in this church.” None of us is completely mature; each of us is still growing. The Apostle has raised a standard, a hallmark that is mediated into our lives by the graces of Jesus Christ. This is more than just “counting your blessings” when faced with frustrations; it is the attitude of abandonment to the causes of God as demonstrated in the life of Christ and described in Philippians 2:5-8.
The illustration of “holding out the word of life” is quite possibly a reference to a lighthouse whose light shines to protect ships in the dark of night. The imagery should touch us, that there are lives all around us that are shipwrecked, or in danger of it, and we squabble over minor things, issues and matters of virtually no eternal value. We are like those assigned to light the beacon in the lighthouse so those in the dark can see, but we waste our time arguing among ourselves over petty personal matters, such as: who gets the credit for lighting the light, or did we get the cheapest candles possible, or he wasn’t nice to me, or that’s not how we lit candles in my day. Meanwhile the lives we are called to reach languish in the darkness.
Most disturbing to me, however, are the number of times I have acted like this, as I said, we have a lot of sinners in the church and I am one of them. Could we today, by the graces of Christ, recommit ourselves to be servants of God, to carry out His will, and not get tripped up by trivial matters or our own desires? I am sure a case could be made for everything that bothers us with others in church – whether it is money, processes, changes, order, styles, personalities, facial expressions, or whatever. I do not believe that people fabricate the issues they get upset about; almost always there is something to back them up. It is just that these issues are not as important as the matter of forgiving and loving one another, avoiding slander and complaining, and shining the light of God’s truth. This is where Christ’s work is done in the world.
It is love that covers over a multitude of sins, not complaining. May God help us to be who He is calling us to be!
Lord, as many before me I am weary of the pettiness and mean-spiritedness among Your people, especially what I see in my own heart. We need Your grace to forgive, to accept, to love, and to hold forth the word of truth. Time marches on and before long we will leave this earth or You will return and opportunities for witness will be lost. Return us to Yourself in the spirit of abandonment to Your causes. Let us use the time we have wisely for Your sake. Amen.