We Singaporeans love to complain.
The weather, work, transportation … We complain about everything. And I’m no exception.
Recently, I’ve been weighed down by many issues in my life. I find myself grumbling about the mundanity of my job. I find myself groaning about the people in my life. And it doesn’t help when others complain to me too. The burdens pile up and become too heavy for my heart to bear.
But in this season Philippians 2 keeps popping up as a reminder for me. While I’ve written on humility from verses 3-8 previously, it seems there are still more lessons for me to learn from this chapter.
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16)
This was the first instruction from Paul right after he told the congregation to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” So not grumbling or being argumentative are hallmarks of a Christian who shines!
When I think of grumbling people, I think of the Israelites when they were rescued by God out of slavery from Egypt.
From the very start, the entire journey was filled with complaints and grumbling. First, the Israelites blamed God for making things even more difficult for them, having left Egypt. And this was barely after they had cried out to God to get them out of Egypt.
Then, encamped by the sea, they complained faithlessly about being taken out of Egypt when they saw the Egyptian army had come to recapture them (Exodus 14:10-12). And even after God provided a way out for the Israelites by parting the Red Sea, they continued grumbling about their dietary wants (Exodus 15:24; 16:1-3; 17:1-4).
God finally had enough at their fifth complaint and began punishing them for their behaviour. At the end of the day, grumbling stems from ungratefulness and faithlessness. When we complain, we slap away the hands that have provided for us. When we complain, we dismiss the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Complaining dishonours God.
There is something about corporate complaints that makes bitterness fester.
It’s easy to look at the Israelites and diss them.
But what about us? We complain a lot about life too, don’t we?
The truth is that life is hard. There are times when people frustrate us to no end. There are times we receive unreasonable treatment. But … so how? Just smile and pretend everything’s ok?
Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t dismiss our struggles. God didn’t shy away from Job’s suffering or Habbakuk’s outbursts. Instead He welcomes our difficult questions. I mean just look at Psalms – full of groans and complaints!
So I think there’s a proper way to air your grievances. Given that we are either like the Israelites or the Psalmist – we should learn how to grumble like the latter.
TWO STEPS FOR A GODLY GRUMBLE
1. Bring the issue to God
The first thing I noticed was who each party complained to. The Psalmist took his frustrations to God in a private session. The Israelites, however, were constantly grumbling amongst themselves (Numbers 11:10, 14:2).
There is something about corporate complaints that makes bitterness fester. When we vent our frustrations to another person poorly, chances are that little traces of that same hostility get transferred over as well.
Besides, complaining to each other also creates a fertile breeding ground for gossip and malicious talk. We’ve all been through it: We live vicariously through a person’s anger, and discontent starts to spread like wildfire.
It’s why the Bible instructs us to confront the party involved directly whenever there’s a conflict (Matthew 18:15-17).
2. Don’t play the blame game
I saw how the Israelites’ grumbling always had an accusation in it. They would blame God for their troubles while conveniently forgetting all the incredible He had done for them (Numbers 14:2, 16:13, Exodus 16:3)
The Psalmist, on the other hand, cried out to God for help in the midst of difficulty (Psalm 22, Psalm 69, Psalm 142). He didn’t point fingers, he didn’t accuse – He simply asked God for help.
Both were in life-threatening situations, but their differing responses reveal that their attitudes towards God were worlds apart. While one continued to trust God for His goodness and providence, the other began to assassinate His character despite having being delivered time and time again.
What about us? When troubles come, do we point our fingers at God or do we point ourselves towards God?
Everyone can work, but not everyone can work without grumbling. But when we know we have a God who is sovereign and good to us every step of our way – we don’t have to be fazed by circumstances. Instead, we can bring our worries to Him and trust that He will bring us through.
Then we will shine like stars in the sky.