This past Sunday, we studied Philippians 2:14-16 together. Having told the Philippians church that they must "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling" (v. 12), the apostle Paul goes on to give them a practical example of how they might do this: "do all things without grumbling or questioning" (v. 14). This was particularly pertinent in Philippi because division was beginning to rear its ugly head in the congregation. However, God's design is not that local churches would merely exist and function; rather, churches should exist and function in unity. This means our relationships with one another in the church are very important.
From the beginning, human relationships have been important, as God has made us as relational beings. Distinct from all other animals, human beings have a unique capacity for relationships both with other human beings and with God. This capacity is part of what it means to be made in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27). After God said that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), it was discovered that there was no suitable partner in all the animal kingdom for Adam. Only another human being would do, so God made Eve. God establishes the family as the cornerstone of society.
Later, Abraham is called out to be the progenitor of a new nation. This nation would be God's people...a people having distinct relationships with God and with one another. As the Lord Jesus carried out His earthly ministry, He did so in the company of twelve men. Then, through His death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of His Spirit, Jesus established His church. He did not merely establish a religious system in which individuals are reconciled to God; He established a community of believers. One day, all Christians from all times will be finally and forever gathered to live on the new earth, living in perfect relationship with God and one another.
It is this big picture that makes it unwise and unbiblical to look at relationships as disposable. It is also this big picture that brings me to the main thrust of this week's blog. When we consider grumbling and questioning, we must consider that it leads to separation. It separates brothers and sisters in the church. Grumbling and questioning isolates us from one another, and it is with this in mind that I want us all to consider the teaching of one of Solomon's proverbs.
"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment" (Proverbs 18:1). Though man was created to be relational, the presence of sin means we tend to isolate ourselves. First, our sin isolates us from God. Second, our sin isolates us from one another because it brings with it conflict and strife to our relationships. This can happen in the home, at work, in friendships, in societies...it can even happen in the local church.
Solomon's words ring as true today as the day he first penned them. Isolation from others is the result of seeking our own. In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery plays a famous author who lives as a recluse, living in isolation to escape society. He never goes outside (except to clean the exterior of his windows). He has his groceries delivered...the whole nine yards. He decided at some point that regular contact with other human beings was too much for him, so he isolated himself...he sought his own desire.
You and I may not be recluses, but we still may see to isolate ourselves from others. Some of us keep our friends at arm's length, so they will not see the real me...the sinful me...the struggling me. Instead, they will see the happy me, the spiritual me, the best version of me. In doing this, I am seeking my own desire to not be diminished in the eyes of others. You know, Facebook is perfectly designed for such an approach to relationships. It gives me the ability to put forward the "me" I want others to see...without anyone really knowing me. It can give the illusion of relationship while remaining essentially isolated.
Some Christians decide to isolate themselves from the church...a concept absolutely foreign to New Testament doctrine. However, they think that with TV and mp3s and online tools, the physical gathering of the church is not needed. After all, I can get much better preaching online than in my local church (I don't argue). Others determine that since there is no church where all my preferences are met, I have no need of the church. And...I know some Christians at work, at school, or at the gym. So, I have relationships with other Christians. That's all I really need. This is seeking my own desire.
Other Christians live an isolated existence by hopping from one church to another. This is not unlike the one who keeps friends at arm's length. The person or family spends a few weeks, a few months, or a few years at a church, but once I start feeling a bit "blah" about the congregation or the leadership or whatever it may be, I feel it's time to move on. We may have the same relationship with the church that we have with our local grocery store. As long as the product and the cost fit my needs, I stay. Again...seeking one's own desire.
Let me mention one more. There are still other Christians who may tend to remain isolated without ever leaving a particular local church. We come to corporate gatherings such as this, but we do not care to involve ourselves in relationships...or serve in ministries...or concern ourselves with the business of the church...or whatever the case may be. We are all together...yet alone. Still seeking one's own desire.
This proverb speaks boldly to all these kinds of isolation, saying that "whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." So, what does this have to do with grumbling and questioning? Well, think about the reasons why we grumble. I mentioned two on Sunday: (1) we don't get what we want, or (2) our expectations go unmet.
When we don't get what we want or our expectations go unmet, we must respond, and there are two main responses. We will either respond with the kind of contentment that trusts God's sovereignty in all situations, or we will respond by grumbling and questioning. If we grumble, we seek our own desires with such conviction that we are willing to isolate ourselves from others. Left uncorrected, this passionate pursuit of my own desires can lead to radical amputation of relationships.
What I want can become so important to me that I am willing to sacrifice my relationship with you or anyone else who stands in the way of what I want. My heart is open to sinful bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice, where I should be kind and tenderhearted (Eph. 4:32). I am willing to grumble, I am willing to hold grudges, I am willing to walk away from the church where God has placed me...and all because I do not get what I want. To paraphrase the proverb: we seek our own desire and isolate ourselves.
Now, what's the big deal? The big deal is that Solomon didn't stop with just describing the relationships between isolation and our desires. He goes on to say that the one who does these types of things "breaks out against all sound judgment." What is this sound judgment? It's God's judgment. And God tells us that we are to seek to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). With that in mind, grumbling and questioning must be put to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).
The only way we will do this is to learn how to hold to our own desires and expectations: loosely. My desires and my expectations cannot be ultimate; they must be subordinate to the purposes of God. In many cases, they must be placed in submission to those whom God has placed in authority over us. This brings the place of prayer to the forefront. We must cry out to God to give us the grace necessary to live in this way, and the good news is that God is at work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
One last thing – If you commit yourself to do all things without grumbling or questioning, it is almost certain that you will soon find yourself not getting what you want...having your expectations unmet. God will superintend our lives to show us where we must continue to repent...continue to live by faith. And we can do so, looking to Jesus, who did all things without grumbling or complaining, including facing the wrath of God on the cross. His perfect "doing" is credited to us through faith, and we can never add to that righteous standing before God. So, we can work hard at working out our own salvation without relying on our own hard work. And that's what we must do...for God's glory and for our growth.