How would you characterize your language at work?
One trait that should not characterize the language of Christians is grumbling. In Philippians 2:14-18, Paul warned the church in Philippi to avoid habitual complaining, but instead to be glad and rejoice.
This isn’t a mandate without a purpose. Paul tells us our attitude and the words flowing out of them directly reflect our status in Christ. When Christians have a positive attitude, it demonstrates the change brought on by regeneration. It demonstrates our priorities and how they have changed.
Despite Paul’s warning, it is easy for anyone, including Christians, to develop habits like grumbling, especially when faced with the toil and frustrations of work in a sinful world.
What Causes Grumbling?
Grumbling is a symptom of a discontented heart. It refers to a habitual and continuous expression of unhappiness.
Typically, such discontentment is a result of feeling things aren’t going as well as they should be. This may have to do with personal worries or broader concerns with what is happening in the company.
When someone complains continually, it shows they expect things to be better and feel they deserve more. When the language of Christians is characterized by habitual complaining, it shows they have lost sight of who they are in Christ, at least temporarily.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis famously writes,
[Hell] begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself being distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.
Continual complaining reflects a habit that is hellish and looks more like a “crooked and twisted generation” than a light of the world (Philippians 2:14-18).
Christians that grumble miss the joy of the Gospel, joy found in the beginning of the new creation and demonstrated in a sense of vocation.
Why Is Grumbling so Prevalent at Work?
Author and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel opens the introduction to his book, Working, with a paragraph that reflects how most people feel about work:
This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.
There are only a few stories in Working from people who see value in their daily work beyond the direct reward of a paycheck.
Donna Murray is the subject of one of these stories,, Murray rebinds old, crumbling books so that they can illumine more minds and delight more readers. Murray comments,
Keeping a four-hundred-year-old book together keeps that spirit alive. It’s an alluring kind of thing, lovely, because you know that belongs to us. Because a book is a life, like one man is a life.
Work is more than what we do to earn a paycheck. It is a way we can participate in God’s mission. Murray had joy in her work because she saw value beyond the actual cloth, leather and paper she was pasting together. Though she was not a Christian, she felt she was contributing to something greater.
When Christians work they are doing much more than keeping ideas alive, they are demonstrating the implications of the greatest idea ever: the Gospel. This should enliven us and keep us from grumbling.
How Can We Keep from Grumbling?
James tells us, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). This does not let Christians off the hook for failing to tame the tongue. It just lets us know we won’t be fully successful this side of the new heavens and new earth.
Focus on things for which you are thankful. Often we complain because all we see is the negative. Keep reminding yourself of the positives: you have a job, you enjoy a certain aspect of your work, you enjoy some or all of your co-workers, etc.
Avoid situations that lead you to grumble. Avoid patterns of action, like sitting with particular groups at lunch, that lead you to be discontented. Or, excuse yourself when the conversation shifts into complaining.
Pray for help to overcome the pattern of sin. God calls us to holiness, and this requires effort. However, he also promises to help to escape. As Paul reminds us,
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
There are no easy solutions for stopping grumbling. However, it is important for Christians to avoid habitual complaining to represent Christ well and to increase our own joy in our labors.
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