14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 that you may 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 may have cause 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 And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. [NASB ‘77]
After telling the Philippians they need work out their salvation as God works in them, Paul now gives them a picture of what that looks like. The believer is to live a trusting life focused on his sovereign Father in heaven without grumbling and disputing. This manner of life will set him apart and make him a light in a dark world. In a word, the Christian is to be different – looking beyond his circumstances to the ultimate day of the Lord. If we truly believe God works in our lives we won’t complain about the methods He uses to complete that work.
This verse at first seems out of place, coming right after Paul’s admonition to work out our salvation. It almost seems like he’s just decided to randomly give us a handy tip – “Oh, by the way, never grumble or dispute and always wear matching socks.” But the fact that it follows the admonition of verses 12 and 13 helps us understand his meaning. If we truly believe God is working in us for His good pleasure, it affects how we see our lives and the world. It enables us to live without grumbling and disputing.
The Israelites during Moses’ time were known for their grumbling. They repeatedly complained about their circumstances even after witnessing God’s miraculous acts time after time. They routinely forgot His faithfulness and distrusted His motives (see I Cor 10:9-12). They’re a picture of what it looks like to question God’s provision and be dissatisfied with His leading. About those people God said, “For forty years I loathed that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in my anger, truly they shall not enter My rest” (Ps 95:10-11). God makes clear the gravity of what’s at stake. Those who continually question and complain aren’t His – they won’t ultimately be with Him. The believer who knows that God works in his life will have a trusting perspective that affects his expectations.
Notice that Paul calls for action in this verse. We are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. It isn’t just how we respond, it’s how we act. This is who we are – it’s how we roll. It’s our way of life. Our duties, our responsibilities, all of our actions – they’re to be done with a trusting attitude in our heavenly Father who works in us for His good pleasure and who’s perfecting us for the day of Christ (1:6 – that verse again!).
It comes down to belief and faith. Do we believe God works in us and do we have faith in His goodness and love? Do we believe that there is more at stake in our circumstances than simply hardship and pain? Can we see beyond ourselves and our situation to a God who works for His glory and our sanctification?
Paul continues the thought by effectively telling us to be what we are. We are children of God so we must act like children of God. Children of God trust their Father and live blamelessly before the world. Thus a trusting believer shows himself to be what he is – a child of God.
Living a trusting life sets us apart from the world. Doing all things without grumbling and disputing is evidence of a blameless and innocent life that’s above reproach. The world doesn’t live this way. Those who aren’t children of God have no reason to trust Him. They can’t have confidence in Someone they don’t know.
It’s interesting that in this case it’s the absence of something in our lives that becomes a testimony. Living without grumbling and disputing, living without bitterness or anger – that’s what sets us apart. And we have to remember – as if our own experience doesn’t remind us – that nowhere does the Bible say that the believer’s life will be trouble-free and that living this way will be easy. There would be no reason for this admonition if every believer’s life was painless. He’s already told the Philippians that they’ve been granted the gift of suffering for Christ’s sake (1:29). Thus what sets us apart in a dark world is our ability to live through suffering and trials without grumbling about the fate that’s put us there.
The words he uses to describe the world – crooked and perverse generation – are the same words Moses used to describe the Israelites (Deut 32:5), thus giving us another reference to the people of his time. In both cases they describe those who live without faith. They’re crooked and perverse because they look away from God for meaning as they walk in darkness (Rom 1:18-25). They blindly walk away from the truth. So among them the children of God appear as lights in the world. The darker the world gets, the more the light stands out (and the more the light hurts the eyes and irritates those who live in the dark – light isn’t typically welcomed by those used to the dark). Trusting God, following God, living without bitterness and anger – these are characteristics of light. Living without trust and hope, living without vision – these are the characteristics of darkness.
And it’s trust and hope that should characterize us instead of grumbling and disputing. Do all things with trust and hope. And hope is meant in the biblical sense – expectation based on God’s faithfulness. God is sovereign. God is good. God loves us. God will work to complete us until the day of Christ. These truths dominate our perspective. They enable a life free of bitterness and questioning and complaining. They enable us to see beyond our circumstances and look to the One in charge of our circumstances. We understand there are bigger things at stake than our current happiness or comfort.
The believer who wants to live this way must hold fast the word of life. This statement carries with it both the idea of holding on to the gospel – likely what he means by word of life – and holding forth the gospel (another way the word can be translated). We live out and proclaim the gospel. Our lives proclaim the gospel to a crooked and perverse generation. And it’s the gospel that allows us to live as lights in a dark world. We’ll never live without grumbling or disputing and live beyond reproach without focusing on and holding fast to the gospel (picture trying to swim in a stormy sea without a lifejacket – we must hold fast to what keeps us afloat in the midst of dark and deadly waves). God’s love inherent in the gospel gives us confidence about His love throughout all of life. We trust the One who died for us while we were yet sinners. It’s the gospel that informs and enables a life of faith.
As he ends this portion of the text Paul once again shows that it’s the gospel that’s at the center of his life. He says he wants the Philippians to hold on to the gospel and live as light in the world so he’ll have cause to glory because he didn’t run in vain nor toil in vain – his life ministry will have been worth it. Not only that, but even if he’s being poured out as a drink offering – used up for the sake of the gospel – it’s OK because it’s all worth it. The gospel is worth it. And as they share with him in the gospel he wants them to share his joy. He rejoices at a life lived and given for the gospel – both his and theirs – and wants them to share his joy and let him share in their joy. Believers united by the gospel share in its joy as they look to the day of the Lord.
And that’s the final element to working out our salvation. The believer who lives a life that shines in a dark world is one who looks beyond today to the day of the Lord. He knows that’s the day God works toward in his life. He knows that’s the day he’ll be rewarded for a life run not in vain but for the gospel. We can’t live without grumbling or disputing if we focus only on today. We must see beyond the present and look toward the great day. And we have to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances to the One who works in us until that great day. When we see this way we can share our joy with others and stand out, rather than spread our bitterness and blend in.
We live in a world that’s rapidly growing darker. Cultural attitudes that most of us have taken for granted our whole lives are changing radically. The secularization of our western culture is accelerating at a rate way beyond what anyone would’ve predicted even a few years ago. It’s scary to watch mores and norms fall away and Christianity move from respected or tolerated to feared and resented. Every day we and our beliefs become more and more outside the mainstream.
But while it may be scary to see the changes around us, we should also be excited about the amazing opportunity those changes present. As we pointed out above, the darker the darkness becomes, the more opportunity there is for light. When we lived in a more religion-friendly nation we were perhaps more like daytime running lights than beacons. Now, however, the darkness grows exponentially day by day, and the opportunity to shine like a lighthouse grows along with it. We’re called in this text to be DIFFERENT, and it’s getting easier and easier to understand just how different we’re called to be.
What we may start to see in the coming years is the chance to live as Paul lives as he writes this text. In his world it’s definitely NOT a good thing to be a Christian. He’s in chains because of it. The people he writes to are suffering because of it. That may be in our future. And yet it’s in those circumstances that he talks of joy and of being what we are. We are children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation that may someday decide we’re too dangerous to be allowed to pursue our beliefs freely. But it’s in that generation that we’re to live JOYFULLY, trusting our God without grumbling and disputing.
If that’s the case, then it seems to make sense that we shouldn’t hold in contempt those who walk in darkness. We aren’t called to shout down those who disagree with or disrespect our beliefs. We’re to shine in such a way that people see the truth, not resent them for knowing no other way. Jesus’ main response to sin during His ministry – other than the sin of hypocrisy – was compassion. As we look beyond our circumstances to the Author of those circumstances, so we should compassionately look beyond the sin of the world to the reason for that sin. There are larger things at stake than how we’re treated or respected. If we hold fast the word of life it should cause us to have mercy on those who don’t have it.
But we can’t do any of this without the right focus. We must see God in everything. We must trust His love and goodness and sovereignty. We must hold fast to the gospel. We must work toward our sanctification knowing that God will never stop working in us. And we must keep in front of us at all times that there will come a day when Christ appears and calls us to Himself for all eternity. It is a gospel-centered, eternity-minded vision that will allow us to live without grumbling and disputing in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.