Complaining often masquerades as ‘transparency,’ but it derails our relationship with God. We cannot shine our light without a focus on who and what God is.
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (Philippians 2:14-15)
Today’s verse adds an interesting dimension to the biblical concept of being lights for Jesus in the world. It’s a ‘sneak peek’ at one of the ways we ‘shine.’ But it’s also something that we don’t necessarily always put in the same context as being a light. Complaining is a very common human failing, so common that we often don’t even realise that we’re doing it. What it means, if we look at today’s verse, is that our lights may not be shining as brightly as they should be.
God’s attitude to complaining.
The Bible is filled with warnings about complaining – or murmuring as it’s often called. In its simplest form, complaining is the evidence of discontentment. It’s proof that we are not satisfied. It implies that we don’t think God is doing right by us. This explains why God hates complaining, and why He dealt with it over and over with a very firm hand.
We easily lose sight of the reality that our complaining reflects the wrong perception of God. Our lives are intended to manifest God – to shine His light – so that His true nature and character is revealed. Complaining detracts from God’s holiness and glory. Obviously, this isn’t literal, because we cannot change who and what God is. It’s about perception. By complaining we are essentially saying that God is not what He claims to be. That opens the door to a multitude of errors and wrong understanding.
The world attitude behind complaining.
Aside from discontentedness, complaining reflects a heart attitude of ingratitude. It tells the world that have no gratitude for the things God has done and is doing in our lives. It points the world to self rather than to God and contradicts our faith. We cannot declare Him sovereign and glorious on one hand and murmur against Him on the other. This bring our faith, our salvation, and our relationship with God into ridicule. It effectively tells the world that we’ll only believe God when He makes us contented.
The problem with this, of course, is that it’s simply not in human nature to ever be fully satisfied. Contentment is something we learn (Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: Philippians 4:11). Learning implies discipline, effort, and obedience. Complaining is a response and attitude of self. It’s a me-myself-I attitude that manifests the world philosophy of self-gratification which says that our needs are the most important. Complaining is saying that we do not feel that God has met our needs – that He’s either inadequate or uncaring. The light we’re shining is skewed and dulled. It points people in the wrong direction.
The difference between honesty and complaining.
The psalms are full of the honest outpourings of those in difficult circumstances. These are forthright and without pretence, and I’ve often heard believers claim that these are complaints. The real truth is that they reflect absolute honesty. Complaining speaks against God. Honesty brings issues to God. There is an enormous difference – when we complain it’s ‘out there’ for the world to witness, but when we speak honestly with God, it’s between a Father and His child. It’s intimate and private.
God encourages us to be honest with Him. He doesn’t want us to come in the pretence that it’s all hunky-dory and we have no problems. The psalms illustrate very clearly that we should lay all the facts before God – which includes our feelings, responses, and attitudes. Complaining is all about me, but honesty is all about God. If we examine these brutally honest psalms, we find that they occur within the context of faith. They enable us to surrender the issues to God and receive grace and power to live as we should, despite the difficulties.
Complaining derails our relationship with God.
When we fall into a complaining attitude, the first thing to go is our intimacy with Him. We cannot enjoy a right relationship with God if we question who or what He is. Because complaining infers that God is somehow inadequate, uncaring, or unfaithful, our faith is compromised. We may not even be aware of it, but we take a step back from Him. Any degree of separation, however small, means there’s no healthy ‘flow’ between God and us. This, in turn, creates more misunderstanding, which leads to more complaining, which leads to more doubt…a vicious circle.
Honesty before God keeps Him as our focus. It doesn’t diminish or overlook the reality of our situation. Instead, it opens the way for God to work in us and in our circumstances. We see Him clearly – who and what He really is – and respond to that rather than to our discontent. It reminds us that God is always bigger than the problem. We can only reflect what we know. Complaining puts focus on the problem. Honesty puts focus on God and enables us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). To be a shining light is to reflect the pure knowledge of the nature and character of God. Intimacy with Him is the oil that keeps our lamp burning.
We choose between complaining and honesty.
I’ve heard some believers state that not complaining is hypocrisy, that we’re pretending and not being ‘transparent.’ This is simply an excuse. God never asks us to be dishonest. The power of our testimony – our light – is determined by our level of honesty. If our ‘faith’ prompts us to declare that the problems don’t exist, it’s a lie. Of course they do. Pretending they don’t makes us foolish. It’s not the problems that define our light but our response to them. Real faith acknowledges the problems but recognises that God is bigger.
Our response should always be God-focused. Yes, we don’t like this place, work, situation, or trial. We get weary and despondent, and we sometimes wonder if God really is doing something about it. These are natural and normal, and we cannot avoid them. But acknowledging them is not complaining. It’s honest. The difference is that we shouldn’t dwell on the problem but focus on God in faith that He works everything to our good. That’s faith in action. It’s a faith that says no matter how big the trial, God remains the I AM.
The antidote to complaining.
God has provided us with a simple antidote to the poison of complaining – thanksgiving. Simple, yes, but often the hardest thing to do in difficult situations. When we train ourselves to find the good and to focus on what God has already done – both for us and for others – we learn to give thanks in everything. Not for everything. This is often misquoted. It’s in everything. No matter how rocky your boat or how fierce the storm, give thanks. If our mouths are filled with thanksgiving, we cannot use it for complaining. Thanksgiving is the natural response to fixing our eyes on Him.
Forgive us, Lord, for those times when complaining has replaced genuine honesty. Help us to grow in the knowledge of You and transform our hearts with grace for thanksgiving. Help us to keep our eyes only on You, so that we shine in this world with the true reflection of who and what You are.