“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…”
When we get a flat tire, our teacher hands us an extra assignment, or we have to deal with a frustrating customer at work, what is our first inclination? Too often, I know what mine is: an irritated sigh, followed by a substantial dose of grumbling.
Paul exhorted the Philippians not to complain so that they could be blameless, shining a positive light on the negative world around them. Often finding things to complain about is so easy; things are not fair, and we want someone to understand how big our struggle is. But if we are busy rehearsing aloud our challenges, are we shining as lights to the world? Are we showing others the hope inside us?
Examine the motives.
In order to tackle this problem, we need to evaluate why we complain. Is it because we are discontent or to “get it off our chests?” Are we simply joining in the recreational complaining of our classmates or coworkers? Of course, there is a time to discuss our problems, and we are instructed to confess our faults to one another (Jas. 5:16) and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). However, the purpose behind complaining is different; it is not to productively discuss a game plan to overcome faults and challenges. We should honestly examine our motives; pointlessly grumbling is exactly what Paul instructed the Philippiansnot to do.
Put the problem in perspective.
Sometimes our challenges seem enormous and frustrating. Take the children of Israel: they were so convinced that their problem was insurmountable that they wanted to make a 180 and head straight back to slavery (Num. 13:31-33). And just as we tend to, they grumbled up a storm (Num. 14:1-3). The Israelites forgot that, with God’s help, they could have easily conquered the nations that stood between them and the Promised Land. Similarly, it is so easy to forget that our “present sufferings” are temporary and, in the grand scheme, minor; they are “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Complaining is like a car stuck in the mud—the more we stomp on the gas and spin the wheels, the messier the car gets and the deeper its wheels sink. The longer we grumble about an upcoming test, the more daunting it seems. The more we complain about an uncooperative coworker, the less we can stand her. Instead of shrinking problems by working toward a solution, complaining magnifies struggles and ruins our perspective. If we put our problems in perspective, we are much more likely to follow Paul’s advice not to complain like the Israelites did (1 Cor. 10:10).
Replace negative words with positive ones.
Jas. 5:9 instructs us not to “grumble against one another.” Instead of complaining about others, James tells us to follow the example of the prophets and Job, who suffered with patience (Jas 5:10-11). Instead of using words in a negative, destructive way by complaining, adopt a patient mindset. If we change our perspective to be grateful rather than discontent and encouraging rather than negative, our words will follow suit. We have the choice to replace our complaints with positive, edifying words.
Every time our study group is grumbling about a frustrating project, every time we share a shift with an annoying coworker, every time we step in a puddle and soak our shoes, we have the choice to complain—or not. We have to consciously monitor our speech: are we discussing a problem to solve it or spinning our wheels and grumbling about it? As Christians, we have a perfect peace that surpasses the challenges we are currently facing, and we have an opportunity to share that positive outlook with those around us. Every opportunity to complain is also an opportunity to be positive—let’s use them.