Back in the day, I was a first grade teacher. I enjoyed introducing six-year-olds to basic concepts in the classroom. Teaching them to read was my favorite job. Even if students had already started reading in kindergarten, they usually blossomed that next year.
These days I still get to interact with that age group on Wednesday nights at church. A couple of weeks ago, I was helping two little boys memorize the following verse.
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” ~Philippians 2:14
“Murmurings” and “disputings” are some big words when you’re six, so I tried to explain the verse. I told them it basically meant they should do everything without complaining and arguing. Then we talked about some examples of what that would look like for them.
Did they always obey dad and mom without arguing? Did they ever complain about what they were given to eat for supper? We had fun talking through some possible situations they might be in that would present opportunities for them to choose whether or not to argue or complain!
Talk about a basic concept – and a simple, direct command! It’s not only to first graders, it’s also for me!!
This is one of those verses that doesn’t leave any wiggle room for our current mood or situation. “All things” means all things. It doesn’t mean we get a pass for complaining if we’re tired or our child just made a big mess or the driver in front of us won’t go any faster.
Complaining doesn’t seem like a serious sin. Yet this quote from Joan Chittister helps us realize what an effect it can have in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
“Complaining is the acid that shrivels our souls and the soul of the community around us as well.”
What a word picture! I don’t think any of us want acid pouring over our souls, causing them to wrinkle and shrink. And most of the time, complaining doesn’t just affect us individually, but also whoever’s around us. After all, we’re usually complaining to another person, not just talking to ourselves!
When it comes to arguing, I’m usually one to avoid personal confrontation. But do I ever argue with God? If I feel Him convicting me of sin, do I immediately confess, or do I debate with Him (or within myself) over whether or not it’s really that bad? If I’m going to follow the command in the verse above, I need to do whatever’s in front of me without arguing or complaining.
One of the best antidotes for complaining is revealed in this quote from E. M. Bounds.
“Gratitude and murmuring never abide in the same heart at the same time.”
We can’t be simultaneously thankful and complaining. It reminds me of another one of those direct command verses.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:18
There it is again. Just like we’re to do “all things” without complaining and arguing, so we’re to give thanks “in every thing.”
We get to make the choice every. single. day. Will we complain or will we give thanks?
I know that way too often, I choose the complaining, often without even thinking about it. Wouldn’t it be neat if our default setting could be gratitude? I think it can be, with the Holy Spirit’s help. And I’m thinking I need to post 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in a prominent place to remind me daily that God’s will is for me to choose giving thanks.