by Matthew W. Bassford
The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once said, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.” The same is true of Christianity. Most of the time, we don’t struggle with the knowing, but with the doing.
Philippians 2:14 is a prime example of this unpleasant truth. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” is not a long sentence. We know what all of those words mean. It’s simple.
However, I suspect that most of us would prefer for those words to mean something else, something not quite so ... pointed. We find grumbling and disputing to be quite enjoyable, and we don’t like hearing that we’re not supposed to, ever.
Indeed, Paul’s words here may point to two different ungodly methods of dealing with conflict. Imagine that it is Thanksgiving, and your Uncle Gerald shows up with the rest of the clan. You can’t tell whether he’s doing it on purpose or not, but he has the knack of taking every one of your most cherished beliefs and stomping them into the mud, all with the most infuriating, self-righteous tone you’ve ever heard in your life.
How do you handle Uncle Gerald? Do you give him a piece of your mind right then and there, or do you spend the car ride home assassinating his character to your spouse? If the first, you’re probably a disputer. If the second, grumbling is more your thing.
Interestingly, both the disputer and the grumbler like to cloak their behavior in virtue. The disputer is “telling it like it is”. The grumbler is “biting my lip for the sake of peace.” Of course, speaking truth without love is not godly, and neither is avoiding conflict while sowing the seeds of bitterness.
The solution is as simple as the problem. Imitate Christ. Philippians is pretty much a book-length explanation of how following Him keeps us from disputing and grumbling. Stay united. Put others first. Pursue their good as well as yours.
This habit of mind transforms our perspective on the Uncle Geralds we encounter, whether in our earthly family or our church family. When we truly have Uncle Gerald’s best interests at heart, we’re less interested in giving him a piece of our mind and more interested in figuring out what we can say to help him. We might bear with him for the sake of love, but we won’t shy away from going to him about his sin. We certainly won’t gossip about him rather than talk to him!
If we take the high road, Paul in the very next verse promises that something amazing will happen. We will prove ourselves to be blameless, innocent children of God who shine like lights in the midst of the sinful world. Why wouldn’t we? The world is full of grumbly, disputatious folks. When we aren’t that way, we can’t help standing out, and we reveal clearly who our Master is.
On the other hand, if we do practice grumbling and disputing, well, that reveals who our master is too, doesn’t it?