We have looked at what it means to “work out your own salvation” by trying to answer the question, “How are you working out your salvation?” Following that, we looked at the means provided for working out “your own salvation” by answering the question, “What are the means of working out your own salvation?”
In this piece, we shall continue our discussion by looking at “How not to work out your own salvation”
We are still in the Epistle to the Philippians. This time we shall have as our anchor,
Phil 2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings”
Do all things: Do ALL things. Nothing exempted. Whatever the believers choose to do (for there is the choice also of not to do). Believers in Christ are to do things. They are not to be idle or be busybodies. Rather, they are to do whatever it is that is in conformity with the will and purpose of God.
Without, that is, not with. Something that should be absent, that should not be there. That is, murmurings and disputings should not be part of whatever you or any believer does or will be doing.
Believers in Christ are commanded to do all things they do without murmurings and disputings.
It this is obeyed by all, the Christian environment will necessary be an environment where work is enjoyable!
What is murmuring? What are disputings?
Murmuring is grumbling. Complaining, to express discontent. It is a manifestation of a disaffected spirit.
Where God is the object that murmuring is direct at, then a spirit of unbelief that charges God with error, wickedness, injustice and other things that are contrary to the nature and character of God is usually at work. It berates God as if He is no more God.
When it is directed at humans, there may be an underling envy masquerading as a legitimate concern for some perceived wrong done by the object of the murmuring.
Disputings are arguments. It is being argumentative for no reason or out of selfish interests for the purpose of self-righteousness. It is having or being involved in open brawls and quarrels.
When disputings are directed against God, it is often a manifestation of a critical spirit with the underling attitude or sense of entitlement. It is a spirit that says to God, “You own me. You are under obligation to do what I demand or desire.” Such a one will often go into dispute with God brandishing a long list of credentials that makes him entitle to God serving him.
A case in point is the Pharisee who prayed with himself:
“11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12).
You get the drift.
Examples amongst men
An example of this is what happened between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot, (Gen 13:7-8); Also, Paul and Barnabas had what appears to be an open disputing or quarrel over John Mark (Acts 15:37-40). To these you may add many more from personal experience too.
Yes, disputings are oftentimes the manifestation of a critical spirit, which in turn is a consequence of pride. As we are informed,
“Only by pride cometh contention: But with the well advised is wisdom” (Pr. 13:10).
Thus, in this passage, believers in Christ are being exhorted against the ungodly behaviour of murmurings and disputing in whatever they do.
We thus see that this ungodly behaviour can be against God or, and against man. And it recognises no status as it can infest anyone.
Though people do murmur against God, believers in Christ are not to murmur against God (Num. 11:1).
Experience of Israel not to be emulated by believers in Christ
The Israelites especially during their journey through the wilderness were known for their recurrent murmurings and disputings against God. These were established habits towards both their leaders, Moses and Aaron, and against God.
Hence, they complained in the time of scarcity by their Impatience. They showed their impatience by their speeches:
- “What does God mean to kill us with famine?”
- “What sins have we committed to deserve this type of treatment?”
- “God should either solve this problem or take us away!”
Or they showed discontent for brief periods of scarcity or unpleasant but temporary situations by causing rebellion and strife within the assembly. They often thereby tried to procure a remedy by a means worse than their initial murmuring.
Their behaviour and the consequences of their actions make for an unpleasant, though very instructive reading. These are as summarized in the NT (1Cor 10:1-33), so they will not be emulated by New Testament believers.
Murmurings and disputings are not a constructive or peaceable way of seeking to redress an unpleasant situation or circumstance. They engender strive, hostility and only stir up more ungodly emotions that do not accomplish the righteousness of God. Rather, they make the people of God to unwittingly ally with or play into the hand of the devil and his cohorts.
Observe that, people don’t complain when there is plenty, when everything is working fine, or things are as they expect. So, watch or observe yourself and people intently when things are not meeting your and or others’ expectations, for that is when you and they are vulnerable to murmurings and disputings too.
Impatience is a vice. But patience is a virtue, a fruit of the Holy Spirit(Gal 5:22-23).
So, cultivate patience. Run away from impatience. You know it that people murmur against other people. But believers are not to murmur against their fellow believers, and indeed against anybody.
Some of the reasons for which these murmurings come include:
- Bearing a grudge against someone because of his spiritual growth/maturity,
- Bearing a grudge against someone because of he is preferred in a certain situation/position/assignment,
- Bearing a grudge against someone because of his popularity,
- Bearing a grudge against someone because of his wealth.
Further, such grudge is not limited to words only, but manifests in actions calculated to discredit and ultimately cause the downfall of the object of their envy.
Murmurings and disputings are behaviour that can be unlearned.
Remember how the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Jewish religious and political leadership, and large portion of the Jewish population continuously opposed the Lord Jesus Christ till they eventually crucified Him on manufactured false charges.
Their actions were deliberate and well planned as we are told,
“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” (Mat 22:15).
Thus, their motive was not to acquire more knowledge of God or get to know Jesus Christ more intimately. Their motive was not about keeping the law of Moses pure and uncorrupted.
Rather, out of envy and unbelief, they were out to incriminate the Lord Jesus Christ, and all their efforts and pretentions were tailored towards that goal. They neither believed what the Lord taught, nor did they desire to know the truth so they can obey it.
Many continue to this day to behave towards God the way the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders behaved towards the Lord. They want to and try to trap God in His Word. There are bible-promise hunters. They do not obey what they already know from the word of God, neither do they try to get to know the truth so they can obey.
Rather, all their efforts and actions are similar to one who shakes the bible in God’s face and says with venom, “You say so and so in Your word, now do it for me or you are not God!”
Similarly, within the Christian assembly of the early church:
- Grecians murmured against the apostles (Acts 6:1).
- (Acts 15:37-40). Even Barnabas and Paul had a serious dispute at a point in their missionary activities together
What these examples show is that this is a very common habit and a fault among people, and believers are not exempt.
It is especially bad when believers who are children of God, and therefore, expected to know better engage in it. It does not seem to matter whether such a one is considered superior, an equal, and an inferior person to them, they just have to murmur and engage in all sorts of disputings!
This should not be amongst believers. What makes this terrible habit of murmuring worse is that even when there is reason to complain, rather than a friendly discussion where ideas are exchanged and issues are properly looked into, things become a heart issue with much rankling and backbiting.
Please, rather than absolving yourself off-hand, search yourself intently to see where you are.
But where do murmurings and disputings come from?
Their origin may surprise you, but it shouldn’t for we see it in others every day. Only we hardly look at ourselves to see if we operate from this ungodly base that we see others operating from.
One often hears others say, “they”, “He” or “She” when referring to these things in others, but never, “I”
Whoever is speaking therefore absolves himself from such ungodly behaviour. This is self-deceit or self-delusion. We should even be more critical in examining ourselves than when we examine others. Especially, as we are to first remove the beam in our own eyes so we can see the mote in our brother’s eye (Mat 7:3-5). But the word of God is inclusive of all, i.e. you, me, and all other believers in Christ.
According to the book of James:
“1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (Jam 4:1-4).
There it is: The love and friendship with the world are at the foundation of the wars believers engage in with God and with fellow believers.
Just agree with the word of God. Then examine yourself and begin to deal with your love and friendship with the world, no matter how cleverly it is disguising itself.
What others are their companions?
Like many other bad things that people like to do or associate with, murmuring and disputings usually do not occur in isolation. Like many bad habits, they are not loners, but like and enjoy the company of their kind. Yes, they move in company of other bad, ungodly habits.
Let us hear the word of God:
“idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies.” (Gal 5:20).
But I encourage you to see all of Gal 5:19-21:
“19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” (2Cor 12:20).
Murmuring and disputings are part of the works of flesh. They do not walk alone but in the company of other works of the flesh. Flesh hear means the sinful nature.
Believers are supposed to have had their sinful nature crucified with Christ and should no longer live in sin (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20). Neither should sin have dominion over them (the believers) any longer (Rom 6:14).
God wants to be the all-in-all in your life. He does not want and does not accept any competitors.
The world is a master and tends to dominate those who belong to it. Similarly, the devil, of whom the world is a very strong and loyal ally. Because of the love for the world, people desire to have things of the world through the means of the world.
They do this, all the time wanting to remain with, and be considered to be children of God. But you cannot have one leg or hand in the world and have one leg or hand in the things of God.
The two camps are mutually exclusive. You are either in one or the other not both. For you cannot serve God and mammon at the same time (Mat 6:24). Mammon is a most visible and attractive representative of the flesh, the world, and of the devil. It is a big snare by which the three working in an unholy alliance draw their would-be victims from God, and into ruin.
Hence, the root from which this murmuring and disputing sprout from is an evil and jealous mind. This is what makes murmuring and disputing so repugnant to God, and even other human beings. And this was why God visited the people who engaged in them with severe judgement.
This is also why conscientious believers dislike and make effort not to associate with these people with sectarian and disruptive spirit. It is therefore mandatory for the believer to make every effort to weed this out. And go further, to cultivate a habit of open, candid discussion, with a generous heart with other believers.
The counsel of God to believers:
“8 Go not forth hastily to strive, Lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, When thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. 9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; And discover not a secret to another: 10 Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, And thine infamy turn not away.” (Pr. 25:8-10);
“14 The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: Therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with. 15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, Even they both are abomination to the Lord.” (Pr. 17:14-15);
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15).
Do remember that many unrighteous desires, and ungodly and self-seeking goals and agendas are often disguised in the attire of fighting for righteousness, or for God.
“the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20).
So, please examine yourself, especially the motive for your behaviour intently:
- Do you have the attitude that nothing God does, or that another believer does is right or good except it be done through or by you?
- Must have the last say otherwise nothing of worth has been said?
The Israelites were repeatedly guilty of these throughout their journey in the wilderness, and later as they settled in the land of Canaan. It goes without saying, as we are commanded that,
“whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23),
that we should do all things without grumbling, and without disputes or arguments.
I can’t repeat this often enough: Examine yourself:
- Do you engage in murmuring?
- What are you called to do for God, for others, or for yourself?
- How do you go about it?
- Do you do things wholeheartedly or under a heavy spirit of “this is not fair?”
- Are you argumentative, especially over inconsequential things?
- Do you disguise your fleshly desires under the gab of fighting for righteousness and for God?
Please, examine your motives for doing things.
Do remember that when you complain or grumble for whatever reason, God hears just as He heard the murmuring and disputing of the Israelites of old. And just as their murmurings and disputings displeased the LORD, so your own too if you murmur and dispute will displease Him (Ex 16:7-8; Num. 11:1; 14:27).
Murmuring continued in the New Testament church
- As said before, murmurings and disputing did not stop with the old testament saints. Rather, it reared its head within the New Testament church.
- The apostles apparently disputed amongst themselves for Christ Himself asked them concerning a dispute amongst themselves(Mark 9:33).
- Many others murmured for and against various things and for a variety of reasons (1Cor 1:11).
- Many disputed within the churches of the New Testament (Rom 16:17; 1Cor 3:3).
Resolve issues peaceably rather than engage in murmurings and disputings.
This is not saying we should just accept anything thrown at us just because we are believers and are not to complain.
When there are unpleasant situations, disagreements and misunderstandings, there are godly and acceptable ways to constructively redress the issue.
Both the content of the murmuring and disputing and their object are the critical issues.
Believers should not fall into open brawling and quarrels. Rather, they should resolve disagreements and misunderstandings constructively.
They should imitate the example of Abraham in the way he resolved the problem between Lot’s and his own herdsmen Gen 13:7-8).
Abraham was the uncle of Lot, and he brought him up. Further, Abraham was the head of the family with much privilege including the authority to make decisions that are binding upon every member of the family including Lot. But He did not stand on his rights to his advantage. Rather, he was kindly predisposed to Lot, went to him to yield his right rather than contend with him.
- How do you respond to situations that are unpleasant?
- How do you respond the errors and or the faults of fellow believers (both the leaders and the followers?).
- We must be aware of our position as children of God in this world.
- We are to be aware of, and recognise our role,
- for our own sakes (our character, our position, and or own comfort),
- and for the sake of the world in which we live, i.e. our immediate environment.
- For we are in the world but are not of the world.
- Rather, we (i.e. believers), are on open display like a beautiful dress in the shop window of the world.
- We are to be seen by the world which needs to be convicted of sin, be reproved, be enlightened concerning the things of God, and thereby be saved.
- For we are the commentary on the word of God people read.
- And it is often what they read there that either encourages or discourages them concerning God and His desire to save the world.
Concerning God, no matter your situation:
Never charge God with error. Never ascribe evil to God. Recognise His sovereignty over all His creation, including you.
Humble yourself under His mighty hands. Believe that whatever the situation, it will turn out for your God because God is at work.
Concerning fellow believers:
Deal with them in love. Make attempts to resolve misunderstandings peacefully with open, frank discussion, and a generous heart, in an atmosphere of truth where the Holy Spirit controls.
Resolution does not mean continuing association. There must be no bitterness, rather, the spirit of forgiveness should prevail.
- Whatever happens, remember, do not murmur and dispute with God, nor with other believers.
- Take your problems and difficulties to God humbly in prayer, submitting yourself under His mighty hands.
- Resolve your misunderstandings with fellow believers following the word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Where errors and sins are involved, correct in love, and if indicated, involve others who may be able to bring the erring one back from his/her errors.
Philippians 2:14 is a direct directive to every believer in Christ: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” And if individuals believers do all things without murmuring and disputings, it follows that a group or collection of such individual believers will do all that they do without murmuring or disputings. It will be an environment where the Lord is truly honoured and glorified.
Resolve from now on to engage in behaviour that honours God by doing all things without murmurings and disputings.
But what if you are not yet a believer in Christ?
Please understand that the above concerns the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. They can with the help of the Holy Spirit and the written word of God, and a humble spirit be able to be obedient to God. This is because what God demands of His people can only be done with the help of God.
So, if you are not yet a believer in Christ, if Jesus Christ is not yet your Saviour and Lord, the above may sound to you as unreal or a fairy tale. But I assure you it is real and not a fairy tale. And better still, you can come in and have what genuine believers in Christ have.
By becoming a born-again child of God:
Accept God’s verdict concerning human beings:
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And that“the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
That is, in the opinion of God, we all fall short of His standard. Further, our sin has earned a deserved wage which is death or separation from God in hell.
But while we are still in our sin, God took the initiative to reconcile us with Himself as we are told:
“But God commendeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Yes, while we were all still in our sin, God showed His love for us by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ to die for us. God gave Jesus Christ to the whole world (John 3:16). So, all we need to do is to accept that Christ has died for our sin by standing in place of us.
We do this by doing what the word of God commands all would-be believers:
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Everyone who appropriates the sacrifice of Christ is acceptable to Him. And He Himself extended the invitation to all:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
So, I encourage you to appropriate the finished work of Christ and confess Him as your Saviour and Lord NOW!
I prayer that God will accept you into His household through Christ in Jesus’ Name, Amen.