without murmuring and arguing

I was reading Philippians 2.12-18 yesterday and noticed something really interesting — a treasure hidden in plain sight in a very familiar passage.

You probably know how it starts:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Verses 12-13)

But what’s fascinating is what comes next. How does Paul immediately apply this to work with the grain of what God’s doing in the Philippians?

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without belmish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. (Verses 14-15)

Those given to mirror reading may detect a problem with murmuring and arguing lurking behind this application. And that may well be true.

But I wonder if Paul has put his finger on something more universal here.

To begin with, he seems to think that doing ‘all things without murmuring and arguing’ will mark out Christians from pretty much everyone else.

And he’s probably also drawing from the well of Israel’s historical experience, reflecting on how even those God had just rescued from Egypt fell to murmuring and arguing without much delay.

On top of this, he may possibly be channelling his experience as a Christian leader.

You see, casting vision, promoting creative dissatisfaction — all that leadership stuff — makes it all too easy to become a murmurer and complainer. The kind of ‘visionary dreamer’ Bonhoeffer talks about, who’s always accusing the brothers and sisters.

The remedy isn’t to give up dreaming dreams or imagining how things don’t necessarily have to be the way they are.

The remedy is to follow Paul’s advice: trust God to be at work, and fall into line with what he’s doing — that is, to pray (entrusting it to God) and to knuckle down (taking seriously our responsibility under God).

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