I was reading along in Philippians and it jumped out at me, doubly emphasized by the pen underlinings and my bracketings.
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…
(Philippians 2:14-15; NKJV)
Is it really that simple? We have all these ideas about how to shine as a light to the world. Dress a certain way, read certain books, do this, do that. But in Philippians, Paul tells us it’s more what we don’t do. Don’t complain. Don’t dispute (or “argue” in some other translations).
As I thought about it more, I realized just how much the lack of those actions (or rather, words) would make me shine as a light. Go almost anywhere and the overriding tone is one of negativity. People complaining. Petty arguments that do nothing more than bring about division. Pessimism from every side.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a store and some random stranger will make a negative comment regarding my children and how much work they must be for me (and I only have two!). And the unspoken expectation? That you’ll agree with them and use the opportunity to complain. But even on hard days, when I’d sometimes love to complain, I’ve tried to make a point to not. Instead of going on about my horrible morning and whiny toddler, I try to say something about how there are indeed hard times, but the joys definitely outweigh those.
Does this mean that we can never be real about our struggles and always have to be happy, happy, happy? Hardly. I feel very passionate about speaking the whole truth and not being fake. But it basically boils down to our attitude in it. Do we have a complaining attitude or one of joy? To continue the metaphor of Philippians, are we bringing light to the situation by what we say, or are we just perpetuating the darkness?
It’s hard. In some ways it seems so easy to give in and just complain along with everyone else. Or to let our frustrations find vent in arguing with someone over nothing (or even over something). But if we want to be a shining light in this dark time, we have to look past all that and speak words of grace (Col. 4:6). This can’t be done by just trying to think positively; we need the Holy Spirit’s help to renew our minds and hearts so they can then be filled with His joy and grace.
And only then can we shine.