At NCCF, we have often considered the command to, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14), and we have often been encouraged by the hope that refusing to complain causes us to shine like lights in a dark world, full of complaining. I have been challenged countless times to consider what a dishonor it is to God’s name to complain, and this has encouraged me to fight every temptation to complain by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But this week, the Lord showed me that I’ve been focused on only half of the command in that important passage. The broader passage (the rest of the sentence, actually!) continues:
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
I was convicted that, because I’ve always focused on the “do all things without grumbling...” portion of the sentence, and I’ve mostly skimmed over the rest. But the command isn’t just negative, against complaining. There’s a positive aspect as well. Just as much as I shouldn’t grumble, to the same degree that I reject grumbling, I should also positively seek to hold fast to God’s Word.
This showed me that not grumbling in and of itself is only a partial victory! If my whole focus is on resisting grumbling, I’m only obeying half of God’s Word. To come through a challenging circumstance and say, “I didn’t grumble!” is good, but that’s only a negative testimony, a partial victory. A full victory is, “I’m more rooted in God’s Word because of that challenging circumstance. Sure, I didn’t grumble, but even more, the Word took root as I held it fast!”
Family, this is how we bear fruit!
“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
A Challenging Question
What is the promise from God’s Word that you’re holding onto, right now? When the storm comes, when the distress tempts you to complain, what promise are you falling back on?
Really, stop for a second. What’s your answer?
I’m convinced this shouldn’t be a challenging question. We should be so consistent in claiming God’s promises that we ALWAYS have His Word on our hearts, at the ready, to hold fast to when the storm comes. And not just “God’s Word” generally, but a specific promise of the Lord that we are claiming by faith (eg 2 Samuel 7:25-29, Daniel 9:2-19). This promise is always changing for me, but I can say by God’s help He has begun writing precious promises on my heart that are available to grab a hold of in the time of distress.
This shouldn’t be a law; it’d be a mistake to now decide, “I must determine what my promise is so that I can answer the question next time.” But it’s a good litmus test of where we are. How can we hope to “hold fast the word of life” instead of “grumbling and complaining,” unless God’s Word is written on our hearts?
A Stirring Example
I saw an amazing example of this in the life of Jeremiah. The first three and a half chapters of the book of Lamentations detail the Lord’s judgment of Judah and Jeremiah’s intense pain at the destruction of Jerusalem. This section reaches a climax when Jeremiah describes how fiercely God has dealt with him personally:
“Surely against me He has turned His hand Repeatedly all the day. He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, He has broken my bones... Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer... My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, ‘My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD.’”
Lamentations 3:3-18 NASB
Surely this circumstance is a temptation for grumbling and disputing! And it may even look like he’s complaining, to someone unfamiliar with the passage. But what we see as we read further is that this isn’t the end of his story! What he’s said isn’t all he has to say — which is so important.
He continues, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
See what just happened there? Jeremiah is “holding fast the word of life!” He’s saying, “In the face of all that I feel, I will forcefully remind myself of what I know to be true by faith. Yes, I’ve felt and experienced all that I just described, but my own feelings and experience aren’t the end of the story. What does God’s Word say? Let me remind myself of those things, that His Word might be the ultimate determinant of my reality.”
It is interesting to see what is he reminded of when he holds fast to the word of life: “Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:39
) He’s reminded that doesn’t deserve
any good at all! The underlying basis of his temptation to complain — that he deserves to be treated well — is completely unfounded. He realizes that the truth is, “I deserve so much worse than this.” And I want to bear that in mind too: whatever difficulty I might be experiencing, it’s nothing compared to the eternal hell I ought to suffer for my sins.
Jeremiah continues, having held fast to the word of life, “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40).
Because of all this — the suffering he has experienced, his temptation to complain, choosing to hold fast to God’s Word, being reminded that he doesn’t deserve any good at all — he remembers that “the Lord will welcome me back when I repent.”
What a wonderful example. Such circumstances, when placed in the light of God’s Word, come that I might have an opportunity to examine my ways, and to repent. They become an entrance into turning more wholeheartedly to the Lord, freed from every wrongfully cherished entitlement.
Thank God for revealing that the command is to not complain AND hold onto God’s Word!! I want to be diligent to replace complaining with holding God’s Word!
If my testimony is only that I don’t complain (which is good), it’s only partial obedience. I want my full testimony to be that not only, “I did not complain,” but also, “I grabbed more a hold of God’s Word in the midst of the circumstances that were tempting me to grumble.”
Persevering in this way is how we will bear fruit for the kingdom of God. May He do it in me, and in all of us, by His Holy Spirit.