The Apostle Paul’s Seemingly Impossible Command

The Apostle Paul gives the following impossible command to the Philippian church:

Bible Complaining Leadership Elders Submit Obedience14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

First, he does NOT say, do your best to avoid arguments. He doesn’t say try not to complain. He does not say the overall attitude should be compliance, not complaining. No, He says, do everything without complaining or arguing. Everything. No complaints.

Second, the main concern in this command is not your psychological well-being or your need to be protected from spiritually abusive pastors. The issue is squarely one between God and His people. If you belong to God, then do what you are told to do. [note the . ] And when you are told what to do—and thus are doing what you have been told to do—don’t allow your heart to grumble or your mouth to complain. When you are thus characterized by glad obedience, you are acting as blameless and pure children of God.

Third, the sum of such a compliant, obedient heart is a powerful witness to a perverted world. The most natural activity in the world is refusing any authority outside of yourself. All of us are by nature like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, who finds even the smallest thread of binding to be positively unbearable.

This wildness of heart and untamable demand for fleshly autonomy is evident even among Christians who have godly leaders lovingly instructing them.  It has a very long history among God’s people. It was prevalent in the Israelites in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:2-3, NASB),

2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

In the midst of their suffering, they cried, “Why God!” Then they refused to trust the leaders God had given them, demanding instead to return to the past, which wasn’t perfect, mind you, but it was at least familiar. It was manageable. They could navigate the past. They knew they could get along comfortably there, but they had no guarantee of comfort going forward into a future which demanded faith in the place of sight. The past was easier to accommodate. It was doable. So, they grumbled at the man God provided to lead them into a promised future.

Such grumbling and complaining is both natural and wicked. It is severely and consistently condemned throughout Scripture. Jude marvels that the archangel Michael would not dare to condemn the Devil; instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (See Jude 9.) Yet, mere humans crept into the church and did not hesitate to “revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals….”  “Woe to them!” says Jude, “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11).

Paul, likewise, has severe words for those who cannot obey without complaining. In a letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10), Paul speaks of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness. He has a particular interest in protecting the church from grumbling, so he warns them not to “try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  You see the pattern? Grumbling and complaining get you killed. It’s not safe. Not good.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the stories of Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness were written down so that later generations of God’s people might be instructed—that is, might learn from them how to follow godly leaders.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Like it or not, we must be humble and obedient people, holding firmly to Christ, keeping His word, and serving His Bride as He completes His redemptive work in this world. We must not be like the rest of the world, acting as unreasoning animals, demanding our own rights, pursuing our own fleshly preferences. We must be humble, obedient, and faithful sheep listening for and responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd Himself.

What does that mean in practical terms? Consider these 4 applications:

Submit to your elders:
 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Do not entertain charges against your elders:
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19)

If you disagree—or think you might disagree—go before the Lord in prayer and dive into the Word in study before ever disparaging the work of your church or its leaders.

Finally, when you feel you must question your pastor or elders, do so with fear and with faith. The issue must not be viewed as your preferences versus the pastor’s. The only issue is the preference of the Good Shepherd Himself. What does Christ command? What does His word teach on the subject? Bring your concern to the man with your Bible in your hand and the hope of reconciliation in your heart.  Then, and only then, can you claim to be doing what is right before God.

This is a grievous subject. More than a few churches have divided and split as a result of grumbling and complaining. Those who grumble and find fault are often followers of their own lusts. They speak arrogantly, flattering some people for the sake of gaining advantage over others (Jude 16). They cause deep divisions in the otherwise unified body of Christ. And this is why the Bible says, “Woe to them!”

This expectation of unity and peace among believers is why Peter asks, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Then answers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).  It’s also why Paul lovingly tells the Philippians to do everything without complaining or arguing. Paul does not want any in the church to fall into the condemnation and woe of fleshly grumblers.

We need to think more about what this means in the church. So, what are some questions for a further post?


Why God Is Not Impressed with Our Anger

Moses, God’s Leader, Had Trouble With Trust, Too

God Restrains His Wrath, And We Can Restrain Ours

Protect Your Pastor: Two simple steps to stop the devil’s scheme

Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael, 1515. In ...

Christ’s Charge to Peter by Raphael, 1515. In telling Peter to shepherd his sheep, Christ was appointing him as a pastor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In story after story, pastors are being targeted for persecution. One recent story told of pastors in Asia who were chained to metal poles and beaten so they would renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. I know at least one of the pastors in the story remained faithful.  I hope they all did. But the persecution pattern is predictable: “Strike the shepherd, and they will flee.”

Jesus applied a prophecy from Zechariah to Himself when he quoted this phrase (see Matthew 26:31).  Though the original quote refers back to a judgment passage, Jesus quotes the verse in application to Himself. He was going to suffer God’s wrath and also the injustice of sinful men; and His sheep were going to turn away from Him. Sadly, the enemy knows this scheme is still effective. So he still uses it.

In contexts like the Asian one mentioned above, local leaders target pastors with severe persecution. They know if they can defame and dishonor the pastor, then the flock will flee (either for safety or just to save face, as Peter did on the night our Lord was betrayed).  Defamed pastors put the flock in disarray. So, strike the shepherd, and the sheep will flee.

For most of us reading this blog, there should be two simple responses to this diabolical scheme.  First and foremost, we must guard our shepherds and watch their backs. There will never be a shortage of folks attempting to discredit the shepherd. They know any defamation of his character will lead to a separation of his power.  Deceivers in the church wish to divide the flock, thereby gaining power to levy against the shepherd—to force him to bend to their will rather than following Him as He obeys God’s will. The gravity of this scheme is affirmed in the commands of Scripture which tell the flock not to even entertain a charge against a pastor except on the presence of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).

This protection is put in place for elders because of how vulnerable he is. Anyone who leads is obviously a target for ridicule, slander, and malicious gossip.  Any pastor who leads faithfully will offend some people (even as Jesus and Paul and Peter offended some). The gospel is offensive to the flesh! For the good of the flock, God commands the flock not to entertain an accusation against the pastor unless the proper protocol has taken place.

And what is the proper protocol? The idea in 1 Tim 5:19 is that anyone wishing to make an accusation must FIRST go and speak directly to the pastor and work for reconciliation. If there is no reconciliation at that point then the SECOND step is to take along two or three witnesses and work toward reconciliation. Only after the FIRST and SECOND steps have failed to bring reconciliation should there be the THIRD step of entertaining an accusation against a man called by God to be a pastor.

What grievous wrongs might be made right if only churches would properly safeguard the Scriptures and, thus, protect their pastors from gossip, slander, and even more intense forms of persecution!

The second simple response to the reality of the devil’s “Strike the shepherd, and they will flee” scheme is for the flock to doubt the accuser instead of the accused—unless the accuser has followed the biblical pattern. If he has followed the pattern stated above, then the charge must be taken seriously. If he has not, then take notice of him and warn him against the sin of being divisive. If he continues to make accusations without following the biblical order, then have nothing to do with him:

You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned (Titus 3:11, see vv. 9-11).

Finally, decide that you will be a faithful servant of God’s flock. Follow Titus 3:1-2,

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Do not go with those who make accusations in secret rooms or in public settings but never bother to actually seek reconciliation in private with the person they are accusing of being unfit for ministry. They are doing the bidding of the one still hoping to strike the shepherd so the sheep will flee. Protect your pastors. They are always particularly vulnerable.