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(016) Philippians X: Quit Whining

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Philippians X: Quit Whining

Philippians 2:14-18

January 13, 2008

Paul comes to Philippi

Today, we continue our series on Philippians, and we will be in 2:14-18. They basic point of the passage is very simply, even if it is complicated to do:

·         Don’t complain and don’t argue

I want to start with a little history lesson about how Paul demonstrated this when he planted the church in Philippi.

Act 16 tell us that Paul was preaching the Gospel in what is now Turkey, when he saw vision of a man from Greece begging Paul to come to help them. So Paul, Silas, and Luke went to Philippi.

Paul had a standard routine when he first came to city: He would go to local synagogue and preach the Gospel until he got kicked out, and then he would start preaching to the Gentiles in any public forum he could.

But Philippi did not have a synagogue, which may reflect an anti-Semitic mood in Rome. Around this same time, all Jews had been kicked out of Rome by the emperor Claudius.

But Paul knew the Jews would meet on the Sabbath for prayer by the river. So he went to the bank of the Gangites River, about 1 ½ miles out of town and found a bunch women meeting.

So he began preaching to them and at least one of them, became a Christian, the first convert in Europe. She was a Gentile by the name of Lydia, and she was a “dealer in purple fabrics.”

Purple dye

As a side note, this tells us that she was very wealthy. It’s like saying she was a Fortune 500 CEO. Purple dye was very expensive and rare in ancient days.

The dye was extracted from a small mollusk, shown here. It was a very labor intensive process. It is believed that it took 12,000 shells to produce 1.5 grams of dye. Because it was so expensive, only royalty and the very rich could afford it.

That is why purple is traditionally the color of royalty. And that is why the advent candles we used at Christmas were purple.

Arrest and freedom

As Paul continued preaching in Philippi, there was a slave girl who was demon-possessed that made a lot of money for her owner as a fortune-teller. This girl began following Paul around shouting at them.

After several days of this, Paul has had enough and casts the demon out of her. This makes her owner really mad, so he starts a riot, with anti-Semitic undertone.

·         Paul and Silas ended up being flogged (whipped) severely, and thrown in jail, without a trial.

This is the traditional site of Paul’s imprisonment from the outside. And here is a picture inside. We can’t be sure that this was actually it, but it was a place like this.

So here are Paul and Silas, bleeding, sore, chained to the wall, probably cold and hungry as well, since ancient jails were not know for humanitarian conditions.

Q   Put yourself in their shoes, how would you have responded?

·         Hymns would the first thing out of my mouth!

But rather than being angry, complaining, or questioning God, they praised him. Even in the face of severe hardships they demonstrate the joy Paul was known for in Philippians.

·          The Bible points out that the other prisoners were listening.

This is not what they were used to. They are used to cries of agony and despair, profanity.

·         Hey Joe, what’s going on in #4? Those guys are singing and they aren’t even drunk.

That night, there’s an earthquake and all of the jail doors opened up. Something about the entire event must have freaked out the prisoners, because they didn’t take off, which is odd.

The jailor sees the open doors, thinks the prisoners have escaped, and goes to kill himself, because he would executed. But Paul stops him, saying that they are all still there.

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household.” Acts 16:29-31 NIV 

We will never know what sort of impact Paul had by his attitude and response, which is so different than mine.

Not only did the jailors and his family become Christians, but I guess that he made a strong impact on the other prisoners, and I would imagine that some of Paul’s readers of Philippians were those prisoners and the jailer.

The whining Israelites

And so, as we pick up in Philippians 2:14, we see that Paul practiced what he preached. We will be reading verse 14-18, so let’s turn there, page 831 in the pew Bible.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life-- in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18 NIV

What’s interesting is that Paul is making a subtle comparison and contrast between the Philippians and the Bible’s most notorious grumblers: The Israelites.

·         Verses 14 and 15 Paul alludes to the Israelites as the wandered in the desert after being freed from Egypt.

The Israelite served as a great example of “what not to do.” God saved them from brutal slavery in Egypt, did great miracles to demonstrate his ability to care for them, including parting the Red Sea and having food literally fall from the sky.

·         But all they did was whine and question Moses’ ability to lead.

We know he’s alluding to them because every time this Greek word for “complaining” is used in the Greek translation of the Torah (first five books of the OT), it refers to them. Then in verse 15, Paul quotes an OT passage:

...children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation... Philippians 2:15 NIV

But Moses said about the Israelites:

They have acted corruptly toward [God]; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation. Deuteronomy 32:5 NIV  

The key words are “children,” and “a warped and crooked generation.” In the Greek, these are identical.

Paul’s point: Don’t be like the Israelites that were disowned for complaining and questioning. Rather, shine your light to folks like them.


Personally, I wish Paul had left “complaining” out of this. Since I knew that I would be talking about complaining, I more sensitive to my own complaining.

Not long ago, I realized that I could not answer the question “How are you” without some complaint. Without exception, I had to qualify every positive with a negative.

·         When I finally realized what I was doing I was dumbfounded.

I am not saying we shouldn’t be honest, but why couldn’t I ever just say, “Great!” It was like I was afraid being happy. I still have no idea why I did that.

·         Complaining is like the great American past time.

It is one thing we can all agree on. In the Northwest, we like a little bit of personal space, and we have all sorts of unspoken rules, like don’t talk on the elevator. But there are two accepted exceptions:

·         “What floor?” and “Wow, this is slow.”

Complaining is the most acceptable form of communication.

If you are in a slow checkout line, it is completely acceptable to saying things like, “Why don’t they open up another line?” But if you say, “It sure is a nice day!” people will look & hide their children from you.

Complaining = Ingratitude

So what is the big deal? What’s wrong with a little complaining?

Complaining = ingratitude, that’s the problem. When we complain, we’re saying that what God has given us isn’t good enough.

The Israelites had been freed from cruel slavery, but when the hardship of the desert hit, they complained. They forgot all God had done, and started whining about not having any onions.

See it from God’s perspective. If you have kids, how times have you given your kids something only to hear, “Sarah got more!”

Q   How do you feel at that point? Usually irritated.

But if you gave them something worked really hard for, sacrificed, poured your heart into, their complaints can be a real slap in the face.

I have to image that our habit of incessant complaining must be a slap in the face to God who has given us so much.

The antidote to complaining is gratitude. Gratitude and complaining are mutually exclusive. To the extent that I see life as a gift from God, I will be less inclined to complain.

What makes complaining worse is that it communicates to this world that God is not good, that he hasn’t taken care of me. It’s like “anti-worship” the opposite of worship.

·         Complaining leaves us shining like stars in L.A.

Honest laments

Again, this is very different from being honest about how things are going. It is crucial that we be authentic about how we feel and not try to sugar coat everything. Being fake is a huge turn off for the Gospel.

·         There’s a fine line between “not complaining” and being plastic.

I think difference lies in when, where, and how often you express yourself. It also has to do with what sort of things you are “honest about.”

·         Maybe the slow checkout line shouldn’t bother us.

But the best gauge of these things is not ourselves, it is other people. I am not very good at telling when I am whining, but I am great at seeing it in others!

·         So Paul tells us quit our whining, and we do that not by being fake, but by being grateful.


Next we are told “Do everything without arguing.”

The word translated as “arguing” is interesting. There are several words in Greek that mean “argue.” Some focus on being quarrelsome, or hot-tempered, but this one on reasoning.

·         The word can also be translated as “to reason” or “to question,” and many translation say “without questioning.”

That doesn’t seem right. I love questioning. As a kid, I could reason my way out of just about anything, until my mom just stopped listening.

But more than weaseling out of things, my dad raised us to ask question and not just believe what we’re told. “Because I said so” was not a common phrase around our house.

·         This explains my affinity for

Dad encouraged us question things, even what the pastor says, and compare it against the Bible. And I want you to do the same – don’t just take my word for it.

·         On judgment day, “Josh said” won’t be an excuse.

Q   Is Paul telling us to be closed-minded, as we are accused of?



Questions vrs. questioning

Again, Paul’s reference to Israel sheds some light: They were well known for questioning their leader Moses and hence God.

The best example was when God brought the Israelites to the edge of the Promised Land, but they refused to go in because they questioned God’s ability to defeat their enemies.

And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! ... So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” Numbers 14:2,4 NIV 

·         This doesn’t really impress God and he sends them wondering around the desert for 40 years.

The problem here wasn’t asking questions, it was questioning God’s ability and character. The difference between questions and questioning lies in our attitude.

·         Questions show a desire to understand and learn, questioning is accusations thinly veiled as interrogative statements.

The problem I think Paul is addressing is lack of trust, not a desire to understand.

Questioning = distrust. And if the root of questioning is distrust, doubting God’s goodness and love, then the antidote questioning is trust.

Q   Do you believe that he will do what is good and right, even when his ways don’t make sense?

Questions in church

But Paul isn’t simply talking questioning God. Among the Israelites and the Philippians, there seems to be a problem of questioning the leadership.

If questioning God is doubting his wisdom and character, then questioning church leadership is doubting their character without having good reason.

You are welcome to question my wisdom, I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff and there is a high degree of probability that I will do some more dumb stuff.

·         I am very grateful for the elders because together we lessen those odds.

A great case in point, I announced that later this month we would announce a new vision for the church. They encouraged that a vision is a pretty big thing and we probably won’t be ready.

·         And they are right, so we’ll have to wait a little while.

As a side note, I want to encourage you all that a new vision doesn’t mean “start from scratch.” It means a fresh push in the direction God has been moving this church.

The two components that I am most excited about is refining who and how we are reaching out and sharing the Gospel, and improving how we, as pastors, equip the members to serve.

But back to questions and questioning: This is not the old days of TG where questions are viewed as disloyalty. It is fine to ask questions, to ask for clarification, to make suggestions.

I only have two requests:

1. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s be respectful and assume the best of each other’s motives.

2. Go directly to the person you have questions for.

Questions are not bad. I love other perspectives, and sometimes the dissenting voice is the most valuable.

Run in vain

Paul closes this section by saying: order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. Philippians 2:16 NIV

It sounds a self-glorifying for Paul to say “that I may boast.” Paul is basically saying “do me proud.” He didn’t boast about his knowledge of the Law, having visions or visiting heaven.

·         He boasted about his children in the faith.

As parents, our greatest pride is in our children. Our highest hope is for our children that they live lives pleasing God.

As a minister, my highest hope for this church is to see us grow to be more like Christ, living healthy, God-honoring lives, serving each other, and reaching out to the world.

I have only been here three month, but already I am so proud of this congregation, the way it stuck together and weathered difficult times, and the excitement you have to grow

Some day, I will give an account of my service for you. I want to be able to boast. My success will not be our building, our music, our programs – it will be you.

Like Paul said to the Philippians, I say to you, live worthy of Christ (as we studied last month), be unified, serve each other like Christ, and do everything without grumbling or questioning.

·         Together, we will shine like stars in this hurting world.


Thank you for this body that the elders and I have been called to serve. Thank you for what you are doing and what you will continue to do in us.

·         Help us shine like stars to our friends, families, and neighbors.

And as Paul taught, help us specifically be people of gratitude, not complaining. Help us be people of trust and unity, not questioning and arguing.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.


The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Temptation,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 11/11/07

“Dear Philippians VII: Stop Your Whining,” a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 3/16/03.

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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