From Grumbling to Gratitude for the the Great Commission2
It’s striking that one important preparation for being a compelling witness to the world is gratitude. In Philippians 2, Paul connects putting away our grumbling with becoming a compelling, shining light of the Gospel to the world. Christians are contented people who joyfully thank God in all circumstances, and because of this, present a striking contrast against the landscape of a grumbling world.
This passage was very convicting as I reflected on how discontentedness undermines Gospel witness: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).
I could dedicate another pastor’s post to the second feature of Christian character that Paul says will prepare us for witness: “Do all things without…disputing.” Paul seems to be saying that we should pursue unity as Christians, not allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by an inward-focused, argumentative spirit because it will distract us from the outward character of shining the light of the Gospel to the world.
But for this weekend, I’ll focus on the first: “Do all things without grumbling…” In order to dive deeper into the connection between gratitude and the Great Commission, I’ll organize this into three sections: (1) the history of grumbling, (2) the motivation for gratitude, and (3) the contrast of a grateful witnessing church against the backdrop of a grumbling world.
The History of Grumbling
Grumbling has a long and sad history among God’s people. In the Garden of Eden, even though God had given all the trees of the garden for Adam and Eve’s enjoyment (Gen. 2:16), Eve became obsessed — as Satan pointed out the one fruit she wasn’t allowed to eat (Gen. 3:6) — and this was the first occasion for humanity to grumble against a rich provision of God. Sadly, our hearts still follow this sinful pattern. Even though God provides every rich gift for us, we often fixate on the one thing that we feel God is withholding from us. Echoing our first parents, we grumble.
On the way to the promised land, though God had provided food on the way and promised his protection and presence, Israel grumbled. When they looked at what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle (tall giants that already lived in the promised land), Israel wanted to throw in the towel, appoint new leaders for themselves, and head back to slavery in Egypt. Instead of testifying to God’s faithfulness in the past, and believing that God would lead them into this scary new territory in the future, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?” (Numbers 14:3). Paul looks at this episode in 1 Corinthians 10:9-11, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and we’re destroyed by the Destroyer.” Paul goes on to explain that these things happened to Israel as a pattern to help the New Testament church not fall into the same temptation of grumbling against God.
The Motivation for Gratitude
Paul doesn’t merely command us, in the book of Philippians, to stop grumbling: he gives us motivations and reasons to be grateful. The greatest motivation for gratitude comes in the context of Philippians 2. Jesus didn’t cling to the glories of heaven but was intent on serving his people. Because of this love for us, Christ emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and obeyed his Father all the way to death, even the horrific, bloody, humbling death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-9). That’s the first and most significant motivation for gratitude: Christ loved us all the way to death, and beyond.
But connected to this, Paul often argues from the greatest gift, Jesus himself crucified and resurrected for us, to knowing that our Father will provide every smaller thing that we also need: “He who did not spare his only son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, together with him, not give us all things” (Romans 8:32). The heart of grumbling echoes Eden’s temptation to listen to Satan: we believe God is holding back on giving us the things we really need to make us happy. But the Gospel proves that, if the Father has given us his Son, he will certainly not provide for us everything else we need.
Grateful Children Against the Backdrop of a Grumbling World
Christians are called, therefore, to live contented lives in the context of a grumbling world. It’s particularly difficult to “do all things without grumbling” when we seem to encounter grumbling everywhere. It’s the only pattern we know. But the Bible says that, as we demonstrate a contented, grateful spirit, we will be so markedly different, that we will be like bright, shining stars, on a pitch-black night.
Paul shows us an example of gratitude in the hardest circumstances when he gives thanks for the time he spent in a prison cell: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served for the advancement of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12). What a strange prisoner Paul must have been, to those imperial guards, who heard him giving thanks as they locked the door each day on his prison cell! This is the kind of gratitude that sets us apart as Christians and proves the Gospel. There would be no other explanation for this kind of transformation and gratitude in Paul’s life, besides the fact that Christ was truly raised from the dead. May we pray to be transformed by the love of the Father, to know that if he has given us his Son, he will provide everything we truly need. And may that contented heart shine brightly in the midst of a dark world.
In His Service,
What Pastor Adrian is reading . . .
How Christian Contentment Can Strengthen Global Missions
by Andrew Davis
This article makes a similar point to Philippians 2:14-15 and does a good job drawing out the sufficiency of Christ.
The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment
by Jeremiah Burroughs
This is a classic puritan book published in the 1640s and collects Burroughs sermons on the topic of contentment. I particularly appreciate his final chapter, “How to Attain Contentment.”
Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age
by Erik Raymon
This is a modern book, just published 5 years ago, but also distills the thoughts of Puritans on contentment.