“Do all things without murmurings and questionings: that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:14, ASV).
Webster defines “murmur” as a low, muttered complaint or repining; grumbling. Paul’s instruction is clear: don’t go about being grumblers and complainers. Some murmur about things God has commanded, or against other Christians, or about circumstances, but all the murmuring is ultimately against God.
In the greater context of his letter to the saints in Philippi, Paul shows that he lived this instruction, and his words give us insight into how he did it.
Paul writes this letter from imprisonment, a circumstance hardly desirable for any, and one in which many might complain. Yet there is not a hint of that in Paul, for he says, “Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel; so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest; and that most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear” (1:12-14).
Paul could suffer undesirable circumstances because he had a greater goal in view. He had been “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (1:17), and he desired that “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21). He would not allow undesirable circumstance to hinder him in his pursuit of his own salvation nor that of others. He knew the Lord could use him in whatever situation he might find himself. When, then, is there time for complaining about circumstance when one is in pursuit of something greater?
Paul was not only focused upon fulfilling his ministry but was unselfishly concerned about the spiritual well-being of the Philippian brethren: “Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again” (1:24-26). His mind was removed from a state of thinking that would complain about his own state of affairs to one concerned about the welfare of those whom he loved. When we are tempted to murmur about our condition, we would do well to stop and ask ourselves if we are really thinking about ourselves too much and about others too little.
Contentment through greater faith
Discontentment is a parent of murmuring. On the other hand, to be content is to be satisfied because one recognizes he is sufficient. Paul was content. Contentment is not circumstantial and is not automatically the natural inclination; Paul said he learned it. “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:11-13). Paul confessed that Jesus Christ was his strength in the face of want or plenty. That requires great faith. In another circumstance, regarding Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the Lord has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Contentedness requires greater faith to recognize that when we are on the Lord’s side, He supplies us with what is sufficient for the circumstance.
This is not just some mental exercise; it’s about who we need to become. It’s about following the exemplary thinking and works of an apostle who encourages us to follow his example (3:17). He is not our perfect example; Christ is. But Paul instructs, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
When we find ourselves prone to murmur, we ought to stop and ask ourselves some questions. Are we forgetting our greater goal to work out our salvation and to try to save others? Are we focusing too much on ourselves while forgetting our usefulness to the Lord in serving others? And are we content, knowing by faith that we are sufficient in Christ? If we honestly answer these questions, we may well discover the solution.