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“Do all things without murmurings and disputings”


THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS is one of the most loving of all the church letters written by the Apostle Paul. Apparently this little community of the Lord’s people loved him as fervently as he loved them, and his afflictions on their account bound their hearts to him in lasting gratitude. The letter was written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome, about A.D. 60-64, when circumstances indicated that his death was imminent.

The church at Philippi was the first one established in Europe and had a very humble beginning. Divinely guided to leave Asia and go to Macedonia (Acts 16: 6-10), Paul and Silas looked for opportunities to serve the Lord in this important city. It was not the eminent leaders that welcomed the Gospel message, but a few folk who gathered out of town by a riverside, where a prayer meeting was usually held.

Lydia, a godly woman

A worshipper of God even before Paul arrived at Philippi, Lydia was one who received the Gospel of Christ gladly. Her hometown was Thyatira, a city on the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, noted for the production of dyes. She had evidently moved to Philippi to make her living as a “seller of purple.” The Lord opened her heart, and she and her household were baptized, forming the nucleus of the first European Christian congregation.

A strong bond of love was established during those early days between St. Paul and the brethren at Philippi. Danger always attended the missionary efforts of the Apostle and his companions, and on this first occasion he and Silas were arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges. On being released and required by the authorities to leave the city, they first went to Lydia’s home and comforted the friends gathered there, before departing.

Practical help to the Apostle Paul

The Scriptures tell of at least four occasions when this church gave not only words of sympathy and cheer, but also financial assistance to support the work of preaching the Gospel. They sent gifts while Paul ministered in Thessalonica and in Corinth. When he was a prisoner in Rome, this loving church did not forget the Apostle, and it was their messenger, Epaphroditus, who brought to him the last touching memorial of their love (Phil. 4:18).

This dear fellow-servant had been brought “nigh unto death” for the Gospel’s sake, but on his recovery the Apostle Paul sent by him to the church at Philippi the beautiful letter known to us as the Epistle to the Philippians.

“The scope of the epistle is to confirm them in the faith, to encourage them to walk as becomes the gospel of Christ, to caution them against judaizing teachers, and to express gratitude for their Christian bounty. This epistle is the only one, among those written by St. Paul, in which no censures are implied or expressed. Full commendation and confidence are in every part, and the Philippians are addressed with a peculiar affection, which every serious reader will perceive.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

Not to the Philippians only

Paul’s loving letter to the church at Philippi might appear to be no more than the product of circumstance, intended for their blessing only. Its preservation through the centuries is indeed a testimony to the high esteem in which it was held by those early Christians. But their generosity of spirit is also seen, in that the inspiring message, penned by the divinely appointed Apostle of Christ, was cherished and shared with other churches, that its valuable instruction might be spread abroad to bring much-needed comfort and encouragement to the growing household of faith.

And when we consider further how the writings of the Apostles have been preserved from generation to generation, sometimes in the hands of those who devotedly appreciated them, but for a long time — in the “dark ages” — hidden away in the sackcloth of dead languages, we recognize also the beneficent hand of Divine Providence.

Paul speaks to us also

Our circumstances are rather different from those of the early church, yet in principle Paul says to us, as to them, “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1: 7). He lovingly exhorts us: “Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you. . . make my best hopes for you come true! Live together in harmony, live together in love. . . . Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves.... Learn to see things from other people’s point of view. Let Christ Himself be your example” (Phil. 2:1-5, Letters to Young Churches, J. B. Phillips).


That the Apostle Paul should speak to the Philippian church of rivalry or personal vanity does not imply that they were guilty of such conduct. Nor does his exhortation that they should “do all things without murmurings and disputings,” suggest that there was a spirit of discontent among them. Rather, they would value this counsel, followed as it was by the best of reasons for observing it: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).

Yet the danger was as real then, as it is today. Paul had firsthand experience of the tendency of his own countrymen to murmur. The word means to complain, to grumble, to rebel. A murmuring is often a continuous, low, indistinct sound, suggesting an undercurrent of discontent. It may amount to little more than a tendency to tolerate a situation with less than good grace and good cheer. Or it may be more active and vocal, as when, delivered from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel soon grumbled resentfully at the hardships attending their newfound freedom.

Murmuring against the Lord

The people of God, who accept Him as their Guide and Leader, should never complain, and Paul reminds us that the murmuring of the Israelites on that occasion carries a lesson for us. Their complaint was on account of the manna, for which they had at first been so thankful. This divinely provided “bread from heaven” (Ex. 16: 4) had become their staple diet. It could be crushed into flour, boiled or baked, made into pancakes with a honey-like flavour and a suggestion of olive oil. Inventive and resourceful as the women might have been in varying the manna based diet for their families, it was inevitable that many would weary of it and hanker after the “flesh pots” of Egypt.

The grumbling started among the mixed multitude who had thrown in their lot with the Israelites and come away from Egyptian oppression. “Oh, for a few bites of meat! Oh, that we had some of the delicious fish we enjoyed so much in Egypt, and the wonderful cucumbers and melons, leeks, onions and garlic! . . . and day after day we have to face this manna!” (Num. 11:5, 6, Living Bible). The discontent was contagious and the people of Israel allowed their minds to grow so vexed that they wept like children as they thought of what they had left behind. It was with them, as it often is with us, that “distance lends enchantment to the view.” Looking backward, they forgot the trials and difficulties of their bondage in Egypt, and like peevish children allowed their fancies to affect their reason.

Their daily bread

The “wilderness of wandering” was not entirely a barren desert. It was, rather, a wild, uncultivated region with extensive rocky mountainous areas, and deep valleys where water courses, varying in abundance with the changing seasons, supported the growth of herbs and shrubs, adequate to provide pasture for the flocks and herds — “very much cattle” (Ex. 12: 38) — brought from Egypt. But it was the scarcity of water and food for humankind that resulted in the Lord’s miraculous provision of water from the smitten rock (Ex. 17: 6), and the constant supply of manna from heaven. And so He gave them their daily bread.

Yet, the Apostle Paul tells us, some complained — and with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10: 5,10). He describes their experience of 40 years wandering as the provocation, the day of temptation in the wilderness,’ the Lord saying: “I was grieved with that generation, . . . They . . . err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. . . . They shall not enter into my rest” (Heb. 3: 8, 10, 11).


Many of us may have in our natural dispositions a tendency to grumble, to complain, to repine — to be discontented. Appalling thought! That we, of all people, who have been carried so carefully through the wilderness of this present evil world, attended by the daily providences of our loving Lord — that we should murmur must surely grieve Him!

Of course there are times when we chafe at life’s adversities, perhaps failing to remember that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8: 28). Our discontent may be little more than an occasional spell of low spirits, possibly born of boredom, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy, and often resulting from an awareness of our own faults and failings.

Even the saintly Paul was afflicted. “The good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . . 0 wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:19, 24). Yet this kind of dissatisfaction may have a salutary effect, in spurring us to greater efforts to overcome character defects. Certainly Paul, near the end of his life, could say with assurance: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Tim. 4: 7, 8).

And as an understanding parent comforts a fretful child, so our loving Heavenly Father forgives our human failings and restores our reason. With the psalmist, we can say: “I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Psa. 116: 6, 7).

He helped me! God is ever merciful to forgive our lapses through human weakness, and lifts us up out of our despondency, if we only allow Him to do so.

The dangers of becoming a malcontent

Persisted in, however, the spirit of discontent must be regarded as a serious character fault, totally unbecoming to any who consider themselves to be followers of the Lord Jesus. It is a dangerous condition, which abuses the goodness of God and threatens its possessor’s eternal destiny: “They shall not enter into my rest.”

Murmuring — whether audibly, or in the secret thoughts of the heart, is an unmistakable indication that all is not well with us in our relationship to our Lord and Saviour, and to our brethren in the faith. What are the implications?

• If we are dissatisfied with what we have, we are telling the Lord — Who reads our hearts — that we are ungrateful for His provision for our needs. Are we questioning His goodness? Are we doubting His wisdom? Are we grieving Him, as He was grieved with that generation in the wilderness? Can it be that — without realizing it — we are hurting our loving Heavenly Father?

• The person with a perpetual gripe is usually quite vocal about it, although the simmering-under-the-surface kind of discontent is also sensed by others. There is often an element of accusation in such an attitude, as if to say: Why are you so favoured? Why does God smile on you but let me suffer? Others are thus made to feel guilty about their own good fortune and happiness, and it is painful to them. Such an atmosphere can ruin family harmony, destroy friendships, and disturb the blessed peace of Christian fellowship within a congregation of the Lord’s people. They are all hurt.

• Discontentment hurts ourselves, if we harbour it. Our complaint may relate to material things. Are we being tested as to the genuineness of our consecration to sacrifice earthly interests and give our all to God’s will? Or perhaps it is our situation as to family, work colleagues, neighbours that we find too irksome? Or maybe there are privileges of service we covet, but which are denied us, and we are aggrieved, we complain. Having acquired a reputation as a malcontent, we alienate even out Christian friends, and find ourselves lonely. Worst of all, we lose that rest of heart and mind that is the inheritance of God’s faithful people (Heb. 3: 18). If we are chronically discontented, then by our own ingratitude we too are deeply hurt.

Little wonder that the Apostle Paul, having the Philippian brethren in his heart, desired their continued peace and harmony, and thought it not unwise to exhort them to “Do all things without murmurings.”

And our Lord Jesus assuredly has us in His heart: “As the Father bath loved me, so have I loved you. . . . I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15:9,17). Like our Lord, we are to be peacemakers, keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4: 3). Doing all things without murmuring, we shall find “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psa. 133: 1).

There is a sense in which it might be argued that the Lord’s people should not be too contented with present conditions. The American Heritage Dictionary defines discontent as:

(a) Absence of contentment; dissatisfaction.

(b) A restless longing for better circumstances.

The grumbling kind of discontent or dissatisfaction we have described above. But the restless longing for better things is an inherent feature of the Christian hope. It is no idle dream. It is no Utopian fantasy quite impossible of realization. How often have the Lord’s people been mocked for preaching “pie in the sky” — accused of unrealistically clinging to an illusory promise of some future good!

Utopia was the title of the book by Sir Thomas More (1516) that described an imaginary island representing the perfect society. Its literal meaning from the Greek is no place.

Conversely, the Scriptures teach that every place — the whole earth — shall be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Psa. 72: 19; Hab. 2: 14). Peter echoes the declaration of God’s intention given through the prophet Isaiah (65: 17), and says that we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3: 13).

This will be the perfect society. It is indeed visionary, but it is founded on the sure Word of the Lord, and the establishment of such conditions has been the substance of our prayers from generation to generation: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mart. 6:10).

The Apostle Paul also extends the vision to include heaven: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who.. . hath purposed . . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1: 3, 9, 10).

Israel’s experiences were our examples
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul recounts the events of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, and tells us that these things were our examples. They prefigured the experiences of a world of mankind that would lose its way, lose hope, and lose life, until God would send a deliverer to lead them to their place of eternal rest and happiness.

The rebellious generation that died in the wilderness, never seeing the Promised Land, were succeeded by a somewhat humbler people who, under the leadership of Joshua, took possession of their rightful inheritance. The progress of Israel from conditions of slavery to the status of full nationhood, while divinely ordained, owed much to the vision of the few among them who trusted in the promises of God, desired their freedom and their dignity, and stirred themselves to respond to His leadings.

This is an example of a quite proper dissatisfaction with servitude to sin and all its oppressive taskmasters. It reveals the latent — or not so latent — nobility in some of humankind that desires to stem the tide of degradation and lift the human race to a better relationship with their Creator and with one another. Such men and women cannot but be discontented with evil conditions, and they see in our Lord Jesus the Deliverer — a greater than Joshua — to show us the way.

From discontent to achievement
Thomas Edison said: “Restlessness is discontent, and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” It was Oscar Wilde’s opinion also that “Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.”

The spirit of this present age is the spirit of restlessness, which, taken to extremes, can blind one to the joys of life — mercifully, still to be found — and destroy peace of mind. Yet that restless longing which desires better things is a spur to activity, and history records the efforts and the achievements of many noble characters whose discontent with prevailing poverty, oppression, and injustice, has brought relief to their fellow men and women.

Such discontent may arise purely out of humanitarian motives, or it may be based on Scriptural ideals of love for one’s neighbour. It has nothing in it of peevish complaint, but is a genuine urge to rise above the conditions of this “present evil world” and a willingness to strive to that end.


The Scriptures records occasions when the disciples “disputed” in the sense of contending for the faith. Stephen entered into discussion with men of certain Jewish sects, “and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6: 9, 10). So they put him to death.

Paul disputed — reasoned — with the many philosophers, students, and others who gathered daily in the market place at Athens. They gave him a hearing for a while, but his witness as to the resurrection of the dead was more than they could swallow, and eventually he left them to their false theories and fancies. But Paul’s ministry there was not without fruit, and a nucleus of believers was founded in that great city (Acts 17: 17—34).

At Ephesus, the Apostle Paul spent three months reasoning and persuading — disputing — in the synagogue. When fierce opposition put a stop to this witness, Paul withdrew, taking many believers with him, and they continued their debating at a schoolroom made available by one named Tyrannus (Acts 19: 8, 9). Disputation is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary as:

“Debate; an academic exercise consisting of a formal debate or an oral defence of a thesis.”

As we have seen, it is somewhat along these lines that disputing is proper for the Lord’s people. It is a means of earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Contentious argument

In the modern world a dispute is generally understood to be a disagreement or a quarrel, as between workers and their employers, or concerning boundaries, property rights, racist problems, and a multitude of other grievances.

The exhortation to do all things without disputings evidently warns against permitting a disagreeable, quarrelsome spirit to arise among the Christian congregation. Even the most well developed of the Lord’s people can find themselves, almost unawares, over-zealous in clinging to some privilege or status, contentious in defending some point of view, and unwilling to resolve differences by the process of godly reason.

Our Lord Jesus Himself had occasion to administer a gentle rebuke to the disciples. When in Capernaum He asked them, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for . . . they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (Mark 9: 33, 34).

Of course He was quite aware of their argument, and impressed upon them that anyone wishing to be the greatest must be the least — the servant of all. Illustrating His lesson, He took a young child in His arms and explained that whoever humbled himself and became as a little child, would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Privileges of service

It was natural, humanly speaking, that those who had forsaken their earthly careers and parted from family and friends to follow the Master, should wish for some assurance as to their future reward. And it was not surprising if they betrayed at times a trace of proprietorial protectiveness, as when they found a stranger casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and forbad him (Mark 9: 37-40). Again, the Master put the matter in the proper perspective and showed a breadth of love and generosity that would take His disciples a lifetime to develop.

Many centuries earlier, Moses had occasion to teach a similar lesson. It was reported to him that of the 70 elders appointed to relieve him of some of the burden of his work, all of whom received the Lord’s spirit to guide them, two were apparently prophesying independently in the camp of Israel. Urged by Joshua, then a young man, to forbid them, Moses’ reaction was unexpected: “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11: 24—29).

There is a lesson here for us also. While the Christian message has been variously interpreted through the centuries and still goes out in all its simplicity and in all its complexity to a largely unheeding world, none of us has any proprietary right in preaching the Gospel. If we should consider our understanding as being more complete, more reasoned and enlightened, it is not our prerogative to assume any superiority over the ministry of others who bring men and women to Christ, who bring practical and spiritual comfort to others, and who lay down their own lives in the service of the Saviour.


The church at Philippi did not neglect their privileges of serving the Lord’s cause, either directly, or by supporting Paul and other prominent ministers with prayer, hospitality, and money. Such was the bond of love between them, that they would hunger for news of Paul, and take great comfort from his words of commendation and exhortation. Do all things — be diligent, be watchful, not idle Christians, content to leave the labour to others, but earnestly working together in peace and harmony for the common cause.

With such generosity of spirit, our Philippian brethren would not begrudge our sharing in their joy, taking to ourselves the Apostle’s wise counsel, and making it our special concern for the year ahead.

The Way Forward
An ungrateful, complaining heart manifests itself in a spirit of altercation. Such a disposition damages our relationship with God and our fellows. Conversely, our gratitude to God and a happy resignation to His will and pleasure at His dealings with us, overflows into all of our relationships. We will be kinder, more merciful, more generous, and less contentious with our brethren as a result. Here, then, is a formula we can use for the coming year. Let us strengthen our resolve along these lines.

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless. . . without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:14, 15, 13).

- taken from bible standard
sister very good read! (havent finished yet will soon ) I have a question .. What is a "seller of purple"? I am sorry I dont know what it means.. thanks so much..
I enjoyed that article too, made a few points a little clearer for me! :)

I think it means cloth dyed with that color?
Coconut said:
I enjoyed that article too, made a few points a little clearer for me! :)
I think it means cloth dyed with that color?
Coconut, this article is a great reminder of our example for living together in a manner that brings joy to the heart of God.

Yes, purple is cloth, and associated with wealth, especially royalty. That Lydia was a "seller of purple" indicates she made a lucrative living. Yet instead of coveting her comfortable lifestyle, she received Christ and opened her heart and home to the brethren.

Jesuslovesu, here are two Scriptures that reveal the quality associated with purple:

Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:16)

"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." (Luke 16:19)

The soldiers dressed Christ Jesus in purple to mock that He was called King:

And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Mark 15:17-18)

Glory to God that He has taken away every barrier to our living generously and strengthening one another in His love!

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