Our theme for our teaching focus this year is Called. We are considering each month some of the teachings of the scriptures in regards to our calling in Christ. We are seeing our purpose as Christians in our daily lives and our purpose in our worship together. One of the pictures that we see throughout the scriptures is that we are called to be is light. Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). It is a purpose that is easy to forget. This is who we are. We are light. You are here as light. Being light has implications. There are requirements for us to act as the light of the world as Jesus wants us to be.
Now let me ask you something that will appear to be completely unrelated. When is the last time you complained? Was it months and months ago? Who here is free from complaining? It is easy to be professional complainers. We complain about the weather. It is too cold. Now it’s too hot. We complain about traffic. We complain about traffic lights. We complain about food. We look in the refrigerator and say that there is nothing to eat. We look in the closet full of clothes and say that we have nothing to wear. We complain about being around people who complain. Now what does this have to do with being light? Open your copies of God’s word to Philippians 2:14.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14–16 ESV)
Listen to what Paul says to these Christians. Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Every day and in every circumstance we are not to complain. We are not to argue. We are not to murmur. Do everything in your life without complaining. Imagine not complaining about the people at work. Imagine not complaining about your boss. Imagine not complaining at the kids or the teachers at school. Imagine not complaining about your children. Imagine not complaining about your parents. Imagine not complaining about how people are driving. Imagine not complaining about how people are in your way. Imagine a life that is completely free from complaint. Does this not show us how much we are in need of God’s grace and mercy for how easy it is and how frequently we fail at this?
Why is this so important? Remember that Jesus twice taught that it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 15:18). When we complain we are revealing what is in our hearts. Grumbling says I deserve better. Grumbling is the putting of ourselves at the center of the universe. Grumbling means that it is all about me. Grumbling says that this is not what a person like me deserves! I should not have to wait. I should not have any suffering. All my wants should be satisfied and all my needs should be fulfilled and if they are not then I will complain. All my feelings should be respected and valued because I am me. I deserve better. Further, grumbling also says that I know better.
Grumbling is bringing God into our personal court and determining him to be unwise. Grumbling says that if I was all-powerful that my life would be different. We are judging God to be inadequate and unfaithful to us. God has not done for us what he should be doing. God should turn all the traffic light green because I am on my way to work. God should not make me wait in line because I need to be somewhere. God should get people to listen to me and do what I say because I am so special and amazing and no one is like me. Complaining does not proclaim the glory of God but denigrates the glory of God. We are saying that God is doing a terrible job with my life. He needs to wake up and do better with me so that I can be comfortable and happy. Grumbling says that if God would just give me the reigns of my life I would do so much better.
But let us come back to our passage in Philippians 2:14-16. Why must we do all things without grumbling or arguing? Paul says grumbling and arguing means that we are not blameless or innocent. Grumbling means that we are not children of God without blemish. What was the fatal characteristic of the Israelites while they are in the wilderness? The problem that the scriptures point to repeatedly is complaining. They complained and they perished in the wilderness for it. Their complaining showed that they were not the children of God. They complained about food. They complained about water. They complained about the enemies they would go up against in Canaan. Grumbling and arguing shows that we are not God’s people.
Notice how Paul uses this problem of complaining as contrasting being light. Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you can shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. We cannot shine as lights in the world if we are complaining. We have lost our light when we grumble. We are no longer blameless and innocent. We are not longer looking like God’s children because we are complaining. What is one of the defining characteristics that separates us from a crooked and twisted generation? Paul says the defining characteristic is not grumbling or disputing. Doing all things without grumbling or disputing is how we may shine as lights in midst of this crooked and twisted generation.
People are to be constantly exposed to the light of Jesus in everything we say and do. We carry the name of Jesus everywhere we go. We represent Christ. God has placed us in the darkness to shine as lights. You are the light of the world. This is not an assignment that we can decline. This is who we are. If we are children of God then we must be light. If we are children of God then we must represent our Father. How can we proclaim the goodness of following Jesus while complaining about everything in this life that God has done?
We know that a life that is free from complaint makes an impact. There are people that we have known in our lives that we never heard complain or hardly heard complain. I can think of faithful Christians of this congregation who have passed from this life and have gone to be with the Lord who would not complain. Through all their difficulties and through all their suffering they did not complain and we remember it. It set them apart. It made them different. This is a crooked, twisted, and broken generation. Our world is broken. This is not news. God teaches us this. Sin has bent this world. God’s solution is each of us shining as lights in the bent and broken world. God has placed in the darkness to shine as lights. Now we need to consider what this will mean for us. The Gospel of John opens with Jesus coming to the darkness and the world did not comprehend it (John 1:5). Jesus came to his own and they did not receive (John 1:11). People love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). So now we are to shine as lights in the darkness. We are to shine as lights in a crooked and twisted generation. We cannot expect people to openly receive that light when we shine. We know that shining as light means there will be difficulty, discomfort, and suffering. But it is to this that we have been called.
We need to let this passage bring us closer to Jesus so that we can be what we have been called to be. Look at the life of Jesus. If anyone had a right to complain, it certainly would be Jesus. What Jesus experienced was unjust and evil. But Jesus shined as the light without grumbling or disputing. Jesus keeps his mouth silent when he is scourged. Jesus does not open his mouth when he is being interrogated and falsely accused. When our hearts begin to desire to complain, think about Jesus who did not complain for all that he suffered for us. We will walk in the footsteps of Jesus knowing that complaining is not justified. We will not excuse our complaints but beg our Lord for forgiveness when we fail.
Second, we must stop thinking about what we do not have and focus on what we do have. Complaining is the looking at life negatively. We do not see our blessings but only our lack. We complain about our spouses because we think they should be better rather than being grateful for who they are. We complain about our children and our parents because we think they should be better rather than being grateful for who they are. You know what? You can be better to. People can complain about you. You are not so perfect. We need to be grateful for each other. We need to be grateful for who that person is rather than upset that this person does not do more for us, which is selfish thinking. Be grateful for the world God has created. Be grateful for all the people on it because the world would be a boring place if you were the only person on it.
Finally, extend the mercy to others that you have received from the Lord yourself. You fail all the time. You do not live up to your own expectations yet we expect others to live up to our expectations. Worse, we certainly do not live up to God’s expectations. We are grateful for God’s kindness and forgiving love toward us. Show that toward others so that you will not complain about them, but love them.