“Do all things without grumbling or disputing”
This is a section of scripture that steps on most everyone’s toes. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” It’s a favorite verse when someone’s complaints are irritating us but not so much when we’ve just spent 20 minutes waiting in line at the grocery store, driven home through a traffic jam, or endured hours home alone with a cranky child and all we want to do is “get it off our chest.” It is certainly a challenge to “do all things” with never a murmur of dissent or an utterance of criticism. Let’s dissect this passage a bit, get it more ingrained and strive to understand Paul’s charge.
Philippians is a book all about our thinking. Paul admonishes time after time throughout the book regarding the mind. He has asked
that we be of the same mind (2:2), that we regard one another with humility of mind (2:3)… and he goes on. “Mind” is one of the key words in Philippians. Our passage for the day continues on this line.
Often when we read this passage, we decide that in order to follow the command, we’ll just keep our complaints to ourselves. That’s not what Paul is getting at, though. “Grumbling” here is a word that means “a secret displeasure not openly avowed” 1.Paul is still trying to get into our minds. Public complaining is a problem, but so is grumbling within, whining with no intent or effort to solve. “Grumbling”
draws to mind someone muttering under their breath, eyebrows drawn together and scowling for all the world to see, but no one to fix. What does this moaner accomplish except making everyone else feel that much worse?
“Disputing” has a similar meaning. It’s a thought or an inward reasoning2. This is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 7:21 when He says “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries” (emphasis added). Again, Paul seeks to reform us from the inside to the outside. When we entertain and nourish negative thoughts and thought patterns, they come out in our actions and our words even when we think we’re being careful.
It is a deceit to be grumbling and disputing inwardly and yet outwardly be a smiling, complaint-free person. In order to fulfill this command, we must change from the inside. We must choose to look on the bright side, to see the best in others. When there is valid cause for criticism, we must do more than moan; we must take action and seek to better what is wrong. Because this command runs so counter to our culture, when followed, we truly set ourselves apart and, as Paul says in the following verse, we “appear as lights in the world” or, another way to say it, we shine as stars (Philippians 2:15).
- James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurence of Each Word in Regular Order., electronic ed. (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996). G1112.
- Ibid, G1261.