“ Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure . . .”
Recently, I was given an opportunity to teach in a Sunday School I attend. The topic was “How to Put the Lid on Complaining” from the verses above. Immediately, my mind ran to the solution (not that it is the solution, but my solution as I was asked to teach). I want to share the highlights here.
How do you put the lid on complaining? To answer this question, we must dig deeper to understand the nature of complaining, why we complain and about what. You cannot put a lid on complaining without addressing the deeper issue because complaining is merely a symptom of a more pervasive disease. What is that disease?
The verses quoted above follows directly Paul’s early hymn of Christ’s humility. Jesus who was equal with God gave himself over completely to the will of the Father, becoming human, serving creation (which he himself made), even experiencing death (and the most horrific kind of death at that). Jesus was focused centrally on the will of the Father, and throughout his life moved with “fixed purpose” towards Jerusalem, his place of execution (Lk. 9:51). Yet, his life was lived for others, and even the cross was endured for the “joy set before him.” (Heb. 12:1-2).
When weighed in the scales of humility, we find the scales tip emphatically in Christ’s favor. We are proud. We want what we want when we want it. We are, after all, taught from birth that life is all about us, all about what we want. As babies, our parents serve our every need (at least, as a parent, it feels like this is all I do. . .) As we grow, more and more of our lives are geared towards our own happiness. We pick the hobbies we like, we start wearing the clothes we want to wear. Soon, we find a job we want, and start earning money to spend on whatever we believe would fit a “good life.” Now, our money serves our desires. We buy a car that takes us where ever we want to go. We purchase (or, more often, given) a cell phone that because a mini-universe which serves our every whim.
By the way, none of these things, like clothes, jobs, phones, etc., are inherently bad. Its’ reality.
Yet, it’s equally important we catch the implied liturgy in each of these aspects of life. We are silently affirmed in the belief that life is about us. This is dangerous.
Paul says that everything should be done without complaining or arguing. Such a state of life cannot be reached while we carry the belief that life is about us, that life should go as we plan or desire. Pride, the complete anit-Christ state of mind, will cause us to complain often because life often doesn’t go the way we really want, hope, or deserve. St. John Chrysostom, a 4th-century Church Father known for his eloquent sermons, suggested complaining is far more serious than we typically assume. He said, “grumbling [complaining] is terrible, yes a terrible thing; it is akin to blasphemy. . . . The grumbler [complainer] is ungrateful to God, and one who is ungrateful to God is a blasphemer.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. VIII, pg. 259)
Sometimes, the starkest terms possible helps clear the muddy waters on issues, doesn’t it!?
So, the question then is this: how do we rid ourselves of pride?
How do go from the couch to a 5k? Train.
But, can you train humility? Yes!
For example, what if for seven straight days you obeyed every speed limit without exception (even on the interstate)? Silly, right? But, could it be that our subconscious thinks that speed limit sign is outdated and inapplicable to me?
Or, what if you set your alarm for the same time every morning and prayed, but not your own spontaneous prayers? What if you found an ancient prayer book and used the prayers of our brothers and sisters from before to begin your morning?
The ancient church has prescribed various rules of life for individuals as a means of ascetically training designed specifically for curbing the pride of the soul. Rather than letting individual moments determine decisions (these often being based on the desire of the moment), decisions are predetermined by a rule of life.
Paul says the point of a life without complaining and arguing is actually beyond the mere absence of complaining and arguing. Paul sees complaining as a symptom. If you attack the disease, the symptoms disappear. If you attack the root of all sin in pride, particularly the sin of complaining, you find the result for which Paul hopes: a life that is blameless and pure.
A life that is blameless and pure is the goal of all those who follow Christ because Christ’s own life was blameless and pure. Earlier in Philippians 2, Paul said, “Let this same mind that was in Christ be in you.” In other words, live as Christ lived. His life was void of pride. Ours should be, too. Christ did not complain, nor should we. Christ accepted all things as coming from the Father’s loving hand, for God’s glory and his good. We should do likewise.
Our continued complaining is a symptom that our pride remains. And, if our pride remains, we are not blameless and pure. We are worthy of blame and impure.
Which will be a part of God’s kingdom?
Seek the Lord and his wisdom for ways of uncovering and addressing pride. Then, watch as you start to do more and more without grumbling or complaining, thereby becoming blameless and pure.