Responding differently—becoming a rejoicer rather than a complainer—means first recognizing the truth of Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who works in you.” “Philippians,” Paul says in essence, “God is at work. God is in charge. God is willing and empowering you to live and serve in a way that pleases Him. You are secure and provided for by your Abba Father, even if you can’t see it. This leaves no wiggle room for grumbling or disputing.”
And so it is for us, too. God is at work even if we can’t see His work unfolding quite yet. With this truth in mind, we can read verse 14 as “do all things [then] without grumbling or disputing,” because the command follows Paul’s description of the continual work of God in our lives. Grumbling and disputing are antithetical to the idea that God is at work in all things, for these actions convey that God has abandoned us, will not provide for us, or does not have our good in mind when He sets leaders over us.
In his command, Paul emphasizes the words “all things”: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Should we not then have matters we disagree on in the church? Should we not ever disagree with our leaders? No; rather, Paul exhorts us to handle our disagreements according to the way modeled to us by Christ in Philippians 2:1–10: with humility, with an attitude of obedience to the Father, and with a focus on understanding and showing the value of the other. We are to handle our disagreements with humility, with not even an ounce of grumbling or quarreling.
Paul then tells us the purpose or the outcome of our obedience to this command: “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” (emphasis mine).
Paul tells the Philippian church that they have a witness to the world. He describes this witness using light imagery, not saying, “you need to shine” or “I command you to shine,” but rather that they already shine because they have the Light of the world in them. In other words, Paul tells them that they naturally stand out in the world because of their hope in Jesus.
What is the command for us, then? It is that we must do everything without grumbling or disputing so that the light of Jesus in us will shine unhindered by our own attitudes and actions. We must not tarnish or blot out the light of Jesus in us through our faithless grumbling and disputing. Our refusal to grumble displays our trust and peace in God, and these certainly shine bright in a cynical, despairing world.
When we trust God’s sovereign hand, Paul says we “hold forth” or “hold fast” the word of life. We hold forth to what we hold fast: Jesus, called the Word, called the Life. When we refrain from grumbling and disputing because we trust that Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit is at work, we commend Jesus to others. We show people in the world where life is truly found.
This, then, is the work of the Christian: to know God is at work. When this truth is embraced by faith, grumbling and disputing wither, and in their place grows a heart overflowing with joy.