Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.
– Philippians 2:14-15
Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, and for that matter most other New Testament books, the letter to the Philippians includes no direct quotes from the Old Testament. This may be because the church in Philippi was made up almost entirely of people from a non-Jewish background, so the congregation may have been less familiar with the Old Testament. Another possibility is that Paul did not need to cite the Old Testament because he was not writing to correct bad theology like he did in other letters. Whatever the case may be, as someone who was immersed in Scripture, Paul couldn’t help but allude to the Old Testament from time to time because it was so thoroughly entrenched in his way of thinking. In today’s reading, Paul makes a few Old Testament allusions.
In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” The first Old Testament allusion Paul makes is with the word translated as “grumbling.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word was used predominantly to describe Israel’s attitude toward God after He had saved them from their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 16; Numbers 17). The believers in Philippi evidently also struggled with grumbling, though their grumbling was more towards each other than towards God. Paul chose to leverage this distinctive term to teach readers that “grumbling,” whether it is towards God or towards others, has no place in the life of those who have been saved. Instead, we “should be glad and rejoice” (Philippians 2:18).
Another Old Testament allusion Paul makes plays off of what Scripture teaches happened to Israel as a result of their grumbling. Deuteronomy 32:5 says that the Israelites lost their status as “children of God” and became a “warped and crooked generation.” Here in Philippians, Paul reshapes the verse from Deuteronomy to give his readers a positive vision for what they could become if they would give up grumbling: “children of God . . . in a warped and crooked generation.”
Paul’s point for his Philippian readers was that grumbling was inappropriate for them as a saved people because it prevented them from being the beacon of light that their Greco-Roman world so desperately needed. This point stands for us today. When we allow division, complaints, and arguments to occupy our minds and take control in our relationships, we fail to adequately reflect the message of the gospel. But if we would make the uncommon decision to rejoice and let unity prevail, we could show the light of Jesus to the world and “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:15).
DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT GRUMBLING
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.