Do Everything Without Complaining

Article by Scott Hubbard


“Do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). It’s remarkably easy to breeze by this command without really hearing those two intrusive words: all things.

Do all things without grumbling? Yes, all things: Wake up with a sore throat, receive criticism, pay a parking ticket, shovel spring snow, host houseguests, discipline your children, change a flat tire, answer emails, and do everything else without one murmuring word. “This is a hard saying,” we might be tempted to say. “Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).

Many of us wake up set to “grumble,” and move through our days murmuring at a great variety of objects that get in our way. We may dress it up in nicer words: “venting,” “being honest,” “getting something off my chest,” or even “sharing a prayer request.” But God knows what we’re doing — and if we really think about it, we often do too. Grumbling is the hum of the fallen human heart, and often a hallmark of Christians’ indwelling sin.

And that makes non-grumblers a peculiar people in this world. As Paul goes on to tell us, those who “do all things without grumbling” burn like great suns in a world of darkness (Philippians 2:14–15).

The Voice of Discontentment

Paul’s use of the word grumbling (and his reference to Deuteronomy 32:5 in the next verse) takes us back to the desert between Egypt and Canaan, where we meet that group of experienced grumblers. What do their forty years in the wilderness teach us about grumbling?

They teach us that grumbling is discontentment made audible — the heart’s contempt escaped through the mouth. It is the sound we make when we have “a strong craving” for something we do not have, and we begin to grow restless (Numbers 11:4Psalm 106:14).

The object of our craving need not be evil; often it isn’t. The Israelites, for example, reached for pleasures quite harmless in themselves: food and water (Exodus 15:2416:2–317:3), a safe passage to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:2–4), comfort (Numbers 16:41). But their desires for these good things somehow turned bad: they wanted them sooner than God chose to give them; they wanted them more than God himself.

So too with us. We want a relaxing evening at home, but we get a call from a friend who needs help moving. We want a job that feels meaningful, but we get stuck among spreadsheets. Or, more significantly, we want the future we planned for, but we get one we never wanted.

“Unfair,” says some voice within us. “That’s not right,” says another. Desires become expectations; expectations become rights. And instead of bringing our disappointment to God, and allowing his words to steady us, we let unmet desire fester into discontentment. We grumble.

Murmuring Against Our Good

Grumbling is more than the voice of discontentment, however. It is also the voice of unbelief. We grumble when our faith in God’s good purposes falters. Unwilling to trust that God is crafting this disappointment for our good, we have eyes only for the painful now.

When the Israelites finished burying the last of the wilderness generation, Moses revealed God’s purpose in all their desert trials: “[God] led you through the great and terrifying wilderness . . . that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:15–16). What a tragic commentary on those graves in the desert. On every tombstone in that wilderness were carved the words, “We grumbled against our own good.”

God had already told them as much after their first episode of grumbling. He presented them with a choice: They could either “diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God” (Exodus 15:26), or they could follow the raging mob within themselves. Well, we know the story. They followed the mob.

Our own grumbling, likewise, relies on an interpretation of God, ourselves, and this world that is utterly out of step with reality. (Of course, it feels like reality; the serpent’s voice always does.) We grumble because we have diligently listened to a voice other than the Lord our God’s, and have begun to repeat the words. Instead of crying out to God, “Help me trust you are good!” we mutter and spill and vent — the equivalent of saying, “God, your ways are not good.”

Let Go of Grumbling

Like all temptations common to man, the temptation to grumble always comes with “the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But how? How can we confront our own tendencies to murmur and, amazingly, begin to “do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14)?

1. Repent of wayward desires.

When you do recognize some grumbling words, stop and ask yourself,

What am I wanting right now more than I want God’s will?
What craving has become more important than God’s commandments?
What desire has grown sweeter than knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?

Grumbling does not spout forth from us because of a problem out there, but because of a problem in here. No outward circumstance compels us to grumble. The same apostle who said, “Do all things without grumbling,” was wearing chains for the gospel as he wrote. Yet Philippians is drenched in gratitude, not grumbling (Philippians 1:34:14). More than that, at the center of Paul’s letter is a Savior who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, without one murmur (Philippians 2:5–8).

God has given us everything we need to let go of grumbling — even in prison, even on the road to our own execution. In addition to recognizing our grumbling, then, we need to repent of those wayward desires that would keep us from saying with Paul, “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” whether by comfort or disappointment, whether by hope fulfilled or hope deferred (Philippians 1:20).

2. Remember God’s word of life.

Because our grumbling relies on a false interpretation of reality, we need God to reinterpret our circumstances for us. Therefore, as Paul tells us, we put away grumbling by “holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16).

Hold fast implies effort and attention. Grumbling will rarely flee if we merely wave around vague thoughts of God’s goodness. We need to take specific words from God and, with ruthless intensity, hold on to them tighter than we hold on to our words of discontentment.

What words from God should we hold fast to in these moments? Any that confront our inner clamor of voices with the truth of God’s abundant goodness (Psalm 31:19), our benefits in Christ (Psalm 103:1–5), the brightness of our future (1 Peter 1:3–9), God’s sovereignty over trials (James 1:2–4), and the pleasures of obedience (Psalm 19:10–11), for example.

Or, to stick near the context of Paul’s command, consider holding on to this gem of a promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Glorious riches for every need are ours in Christ. Hold fast to that word.

3. Respond to God in faith.

Finally, take these words and turn them back to the God who is our very present help (Psalm 46:1). In other words, replace grumbling with its righteous opposite: prayer. Every decision to grumble is a decision not to pray, not to pour out our hearts before God, not to draw near to his powerful throne of grace. Likewise, every decision to pray is a decision not to grumble.

Of course, even in prayer the fight continues. Our minds will often wander back to whatever person or circumstance has agitated us. But keep bringing your mind back around. Keep wrangling your focus back to the God who made you, knows you, loves you, bought you, and will bring your holiness to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Grumbling cannot abide in the presence of this Jesus. Over time, it must make way for gratitude. It must bow the knee to faith. It must give way to praise.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

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A Different Kind of Profanity

Article by David Prince

What would you do if one of your children walked in your house and spoke a string of four-letter words? What would you do if one of your children walked in your house grumbling? I fear that most of us would drop everything and confront their intolerable use of four-letter words (and rightly so) but would say nothing about the grumbling or maybe say something like, "I am sorry you are having a bad day." You may say, "Yes, but the four-letter words are profanities." So is grumbling.

We tend to reason that grumbling is not a big deal because it is not actually doing anything it is simply talk. In contemporary American culture grumbling is often ingrained as a way of life and many treat it as harmless personal therapy. We tend to rename it as something like venting in order to remove the stigma. Grumbling is so habitual that we often miss the irony of our words when we stand in front of closets full of clothes and murmur that we do not have anything to wear. Or when we stand before refrigerators packed with food and say we don't have anything to eat.

In the Bible, grumbling is described as corrosive. A grumbling spirit never stays self-contained but begins to infect all aspects of life and thought with an entitlement worldview. Parents who model grumbling or treat it as acceptable when their children grumble are placing their kids in character quicksand. Grumbling and thankfulness cannot coexist. One always vanquishes the other. A grumbler becomes immune to gratitude because no matter what happens circumstances will always bump up against our personal desires.

In Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt walking between sovereignly walled up water; then, within one month of that event the awe-inspired gratitude is erased. Why? They are thirsty (Ex 15:22-17:7). The irony that they saw the power of a God who can control the Red Sea and now a bit of thirst has them complaining should not be lost on us. Moses had courageously been used by God to confront Pharoah and lead the nation out of bondage in Egypt but now they get a bit hungry and ask him, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Ex 16:3).

God had provided them water and he now provides them bread and quail. They are instructed to gather only as much bread as they need for each day, but not everyone obeys (Ex 16:20). When they get thirsty again and say, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (Ex 17:3). You get the point. Grumbling vanquishes awe-inspired gratitude. Moses rightly asserts, "Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD" (Ex 16:8). The same is still true. Parents who grumble and permit their children to grumble are catechizing them in discontent with the Lord.

In the New Testament, John 6:25-59, Jesus asserts himself as the "bread of life" after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15). Jesus, like Moses, provides bread and meat for the people. Jesus tells them that they are to believe in him (John 6:29). Ironically, the people who just saw an amazing sign say they require a sign to believe. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35). How do they respond? "So the Jews grumbled about him" (John 6:41, see also, 43, 61). The Greek word for "grumble" is "gonguzō," which actually sounds like murmuring.

Paul tells the church at Corinth not to grumble as Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5-11). He says, "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11). James admonishes his readers not to "grumble" against each other' (James 5:9). Likewise, Peter tells his readers to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet 4:9). In Philippians, Paul exhorts the church to have the mind of Christ and reflect his self-sacrificial example on display in his incarnation and crucifixion (Phil 2:5-11). Then, one of the first applications of how to do so is, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Phil 2:14).

There seems to be a vast discrepancy between the way most of us think about grumbling and how the Bible speaks of it. We are wrong, the Bible is right. Parents often fixate on grades, success, and achievement in the lives of their children. However important these things are, they are far less significant than whether or not our children become grumblers with an entitlement worldview. To profane is to treat that which is holy as common. In Christ, our very lives are holy and our words are sacred. That reality is why grumbling in the Bible is profanity.

Grumbling is doing something, something profane and corrosive. Grumbling vanquishes thankfulness and makes us insensibly immune to awe. In other words, when we grumble, we are using our words to preach hellish sermons, not holy ones--sermons for which Satan would gladly say, "Amen." May we see grumbling as profanity against God, and correct it in our lives and in the lives of our children.

About the Author: David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

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