A poll among believers would surely reveal that the most popular epistle in the New Testament is the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is a favorite of so many because the apostle says many positive things, especially about joy and rejoicing. Some 15 or 16 times, forms of these two words are used in just four short chapters.
It's impressive that an apostle who was in prison, awaiting a trial before the emperor of the Roman Empire, developed this theme. He was soon to make a defense of the gospel, and in so doing put his life on the line. During that time many of the brethren he had trained to preach the gospel had begun to turn their backs on him; they left him to stand alone in his defense (2 Tim. 4:9-11,16,17).
Not one time in the 104 verses of this letter does this defender of the faith complain about his circumstances, about the way close brethren had treated him, or about the opposititon of false brethren. He even rejoiced that his enemies had preached Christ in Rome -- although it was done to create problems for him (Phil. 1:15-18). And amidst all that, he says plainly to the brethren at Philippi, "Do all things without murmuring and questionings" -- another way to say it is "quit your whining" (Phil. 2:14).
This epistle and this point have ever been a constant reminder to this brother not to gripe or complain about life. That doesn't mean that, like many among us, I'm not guilty. But I seldom do it that I don't soon think of Paul's circumstances and what he has said to us in this letter. In recent months when I find things to complain about, I take note of the first two verses of a song by Ira Stanfill titled Follow Me.
I traveled down a lonely road And no one seemed to care, The burden on my weary back Had bowed me to despair; I oft complained to Jesus How folks were treating me, And then I heard Him say so tenderly:
"My feet were also weary, upon the Calv'ry road; The cross became so heavy, I fell beneath the load; Be faithful weary pilgrim, the morning I can see, Just lift your cross and follow close to Me."
"I work so hard for Jesus" I often boast and say, "I've sacrificed a lot of things To walk the narrow way; I gave up fame and fortune; I'm worth a lot to Thee," And then I hear Him gently say to me:
"I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss, My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross; But now we'll make the journey with your hand safe in Mine, So lift your cross and follow close to Me."
Have any people ever lived in a country that leaves them with less reason to complain than we Americans? Think of our prosperity -- our jobs, our automobiles, our air-conditioned/heated homes, our modern and luxurious schools, our grocery and food supplies, our opportunities for games and fun, our entertainment media, our shopping venues and choices, our super-highways, our freedoms and unlimitied opportunities, our restaurants and fast food outlets, etc. Despite all of this we whine about the weather (too cold or too hot), about the traffic (too slow or too fast), about the cost of gas or food or clothes, about taxes and bond issues -- on and on.
Again, we think of Paul who in this epistle says: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content." He had learned this valuable lesson while hungry and while filled, when in want and when in abundance (Phil. 4:11,12). He had been imprisoned, beaten with rods and whips, left cold and naked, and imperiled by men and nature. Yet, the apostle was humbled by it all and learned that God can empower His people in weakness as well as in strength (2 Cor. 11:21-28; 12:9,10).
Lest we forget, brethren, it was the constant whining of the Israelites that led to an evil heart of unbelief and cost them the privilege of living in Canaan -- a land of opportunity and prosperity (Heb. 3:7-19). Complaining is essentially an act of unbelief -- a failure to trust the Lord. There is, however, much more at stake for those of us in Christ Jesus who can't learn to be content and "rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4). We forfeit rest with God that He has promised the faithful. Whining can only reap for us a "Depart from Me" rather than a "Come, ye blessed...inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).
By L.A. Stauffer in Biblical Insights, Vol. 6, No. 9, September, 2006.
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