Several years ago I read somewhere that a woman in Colorado actually complained to the government that the extra hour of sunlight (because of daylight savings time) was burning up her lawn. Well, certainly we would see that sort of complaining as ridiculous. But did you know that God sees your complaining and my complaining as being ridiculous? And not just ridiculous, but (what comes as a shock to a lot of people), I think God sees it as sin. I’ve been convicted this week in my study of God’s word about this common practice, so common we don’t think much of it: grumbling, complaining, whining, griping, bellyaching, expressing dissatisfaction with our circumstances or our responsibilities, or that we don’t have what somebody else has. I think God takes that more seriously than we usually do.
If you have a Bible I invite you to turn with me first to the Old Testament. We’re going to do a little reading about…
Some grumblers a long time ago.
Let’s look first at Exodus 14. While you’re turning there, let me give you a little context. God has promised the nation of Israel to deliver them from their Egyptian oppressors and bring them to the good land of Canaan and give that good land to them as their inheritance. To persuade Pharaoh to let these people go, God brought the series of 10 plagues on Egypt, showing Himself to have power like no other god, showing that He rules heaven and earth and all therein, and that He’s fully capable of carrying out His promise and He intends to do just that. This nation of slaves of over two million has marched out of Egypt and God has been leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And God has led them out in a strange way. He brought them to a certain point and then had them back track and camp by the Red Sea. And He’s done that to make it look to Pharaoh like the Israelites are wandering aimlessly. And He wanted it to look that way to Pharaoh because He knew Pharaoh’s heart and that he would think, “O, their God must have finally left them. Surely if their God was still with them they wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly. He must have left them. Now they’re mine for the taking.” God wanted Pharaoh to think this because He wanted Pharaoh to gather his army and chase after them. Well, Exodus 14:10 says, “As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” So they’re grumbling. They’re dissatisfied with how things are going. They’re charging Moses and in effect also charging God with doing them wrong. But you know, this nation was just starting to learn about the true and living God, about His unfathomable power, His never-failing faithfulness, His infinite wisdom, His perfect goodness. They were just getting to know Him. So God is very patient with their grumbling here and just does for them what He had planned, to bring glory to His name in the earth. He parts the sea for them, and when they’re all across, He brings the waters crashing down on Pharaoh and his army.
Well, they travel three days in this dry wilderness and they run out of water in their water skins and they’re thirsty. They finally spot some water, but when they try to drink it they find it’s bitter and undrinkable. So 15:24, “So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” But God’s still real patient with them here and He points out to Moses a tree by the waters and tells him to throw it into the water and suddenly the water becomes sweet and drinkable.
They continue on and they’re getting hungry. 16:2, “The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” But God’s still patient with them. And He flies in for them a bunch of quail for dinner, and then in the morning, surrounding the camp, there was all that (what is it?) manna in Hebrew. But this time Moses and Aaron tell the people in verses 7-8, “You know, God hears your grumblings. When you grumble in your tents and you think only your family hears you, God hears you. And He really doesn’t like it. You’re grumbling against Him.”
They journey on and they’re thirsty again. 17:2, “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’ But God is still patient with them and gives them water from a rock, not because they grumbled, but just because they need it. Moses tells them “You’re testing the LORD when you grumble. You’re testing His patience. It’s time to stop all this whining and complaining. It’s time to realize that the LORD your God is good and all powerful and in total control and He knows what He’s doing and He’s faithful to His promises; He’s going to take care of you and bring you to the promised land. It’s time to realize that and be grateful for what God has done and is doing and will do for us. It’s time to stop all this grumbling. It’s testing His patience.”
Do they listen? Let’s go to Numbers 11. About a year later as God continued to be very good to them, God made a covenant with them of wonderful promises. It was a great deal they had with God. He gave them a law so that they might have order and peace in their society. God even forgave them for breaking the covenant in worshiping the golden calf. When they repented, He accepted them back. And God graciously provided for them a way to obtain forgiveness when they sin through offering sacrifices at the tabernacle. He’s brought them even closer to the Promised Land. He’s been protecting them from their enemies and providing them with manna so they can eat. You’d think this nation would be overwhelmed with gratitude to God. But Numbers 11:1 says, “Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah [which means in Hebrew burning], because the fire of the Lord burned among them.” So by this time, God is fed up with their grumbling and He begins to discipline them for it.
Do they learn? Nope, 11:4, “The rabble [the non-Israelites] who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.‘” Which the text explains was actually pretty good stuff. The text says it tasted like cakes baked with oil. And in Exodus 16 it says it tasted like wafers made with honey (Ex 16:31). I think of those funnel cakes they sell at the county fair. Are there better things than those things? But they’re ungrateful and dissatisfied with their provisions, and they throw a fit about it. Verse 10 says, “Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent [because they don’t get all the same food that they used to eat back in Egypt]; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased.” And all their whining, crying, and grumbling makes life so miserable for Moses that they even drag Moses down to complain as well. In verses 11-15 Moses grumbles, “Lord, I shouldn’t have to put up with these people. They’re not my children. I didn’t conceive them. I didn’t ask for this job. Just please kill me now and put me out of my misery if this is how things are going to go.” Well, God has patience still for Moses and He makes things easier for him by sending His Spirit on to 70 other men of the nation to equip them to share the burden of leadership with Moses. But God is running out of patience with these people. Look at verse 18. “Moses, say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, “Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”‘ In other words, “You want meat, I’ll give you meat, until it makes you sick, you bunch of whiners.” Now look at verse 31, “Now there went forth a wind from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep [3 feet deep] on the surface of the ground. 32 The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.” I think what happens here, is God gives them enough quail to last them a whole month, and for a whole month they’re going to eat quail instead of manna. And so they gather a whole bunch and spread out the meat to dry in the sun, to make it like jerky so it will last them a month. And they going to get so sick of it, but it’s all they’re going to have for 30 days. And verse 33 says, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague. So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah [which means “graves of greediness”], because there they buried the people who had been greedy.”
In chapter 12 Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron come and grumble at Moses over the fact that he gets to be the leader and he gets all the attention, and they think they’re just as deserving of the top spot as he is. And the lame argument they make is that Moses married a Cushite woman. “What decent sensible man of leadership quality would marry a Cushite woman?” And God says, “You three, come here! Tabernacle, right now!” And the cloud of God’s presence comes down at the entrance of the tabernacle and He calls Miriam and Aaron closer and has a stern talk with them and when He finished, the cloud of His presence withdrew, Miriam was left white as snow with leprosy. Moses begged God for her healing. God said, “Alright, but she’ll be this way for a week.”
Chapter 14 is when the 12 men that had been sent to spy out the land of Canaan returned after 40 days and gave a report. And they said, “It really is a good land that flows with milk and honey. Look at the size of these grapes and figs and pomegranates that we brought back. But the people of the land are also huge and strong and their cities are large and fortified.” And the 10 of the 12 spies said, “We can’t take this land. We’re too small. They’re too big. We can’t do it.” So 14:1, “Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 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! 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?’ So they said to another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” And God says, “Moses, I’ve had it with these people. I’m going to wipe them out. And then I will make you into a nation greater than they and bring your descendants into the Promised Land and give it to them.” And Moses prays, “But Lord, if you wipe out this people, the other nations will think little of you. They will think that you got them this far but then were unable to bring them into the land and defeat the Canaanites and their gods and just slaughtered your people in the wilderness. So please Lord forgive them and let them take the land so that Your power may be known and Your name great in the earth.” And incredibly God lets Moses change His mind. The prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. But look at what God says about these people, verses 22-23, “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times [and you know most of those times were by their grumbling] and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.” And down at verse 26, “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, ‘ As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey — I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness.”
It’s amazing that after all the trouble they’d gotten themselves into by grumbling, there were still more occasions of grumbling further on in the Numbers’ account of their history (Numbers 16; 20:2-5). Let’s skip over a couple and just look at one more. Numbers 21:4, “Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” And you’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? Again? Really? It seems like they just did that and it didn’t turn out well.” But the last couple occasions of grumbling actually took place close to 40 years later after all the grumbling they did in the first couple years when they came out of Egypt (see Numbers 20:28; 33:38). It’s easy if we’re not careful to forget lessons that we learned many years ago. God disciplined them again on this occasion. It says, “The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”
Now, does this really have anything to do with you and me? That was the Old Testament. And that was weird stuff that happened a long time ago. Does it really have any relevance to us at all?
The New Testament says it has tremendous relevance for you and me.
We’re going to look at 3 passages in the NT.
I Corinthians 10:1-11
I Corinthians 10:1, written to Christians 1500 years later, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” He’s saying the Israelites were like us. They were baptized into Moses in that Red Sea, like we are baptized into Christ. And they regularly, in a sense, partook of the Lord’s Supper. They ate and drank the same spiritual food and drink provided by Christ. They were like us. We are like them, he is saying. But look what happened to them. Verse 5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” Though they were baptized and they took the Lord’s Supper regularly, they didn’t make it into the Promised Land. Verse 6, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they craved.” He’s saying that God intends that we learn from the mistakes of the Israelites. Have you heard these sayings? “If you won’t learn from history, you’re condemned to repeat it,” and, “History usually repeats itself. It has to. Nobody listens.” We face the same sort of temptations (10:13). And just being baptized and taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t insulate us from the judgment of God. Paul is saying if we are like them, if we do as they did, we too will fall short of our promised land. He points out a number of the failings of those Israelites, reasons they didn’t make it that were especially relevant for his readers in Corinth. But a couple of them that Paul mentions are occasions that we just read about where they were grumbling about their accommodations out in the wilderness. Verse 9, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did [that was by their grumbling], and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Notice that they were written for our instruction. They were written to teach us that we must not grumble about how God is dealing with us before He brings us to our promised land.
The little one chapter book of Jude deals with certain false teachers who were teaching that you can be immoral and live however you desire and the grace of God will still cover you, you’ll still be alright. They viewed the grace of God as license to sin. They missed that God has a condition of repentance and faithfulness if He’s going to cover your sins with His grace. And much of this little letter is showing that these teachers have put themselves outside the grace of God and on their way to hell along with all who follow their ways. At verse 16 Jude points out another characteristic of these teachers that further confirms that God is not pleased with them and they’re on their way to destruction. Verse 16 says, “These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts…” He’s saying here’s something else about these teachers that confirms God is not pleased with them. They’re like that Exodus generation of Israelites who were grumblers, who found fault with Moses and found fault with God because of their lusts for meat and melons and garlic and the food they used to have and for just ease and luxury. And they weren’t okay as these teachers want you to think they’re okay. Notice the little participles in verse 16 after the word “grumblers.” I think they explain part of what’s so wrong with grumbling. Grumbling is finding fault, and that is with God, because God is the one running this world and in control of the circumstances of our lives, right? And so when we gripe and whine that we don’t have what someone else has, or about our responsibilities, or how something is not as easy or fast as we’d like it to be, or whatever, aren’t we in essence accusing God of mismanagement. And it’s not only finding fault in God, but as the next participle says, it’s following after our own lusts. You don’t grumble because God wants you to, because it would be so encouraging to the people around you, and brightens up the atmosphere and makes a positive difference. You grumble because you are following your own desires and not the will of God.
One more NT passage…
To get some context so we can really see what Paul is saying let’s start at verse 3. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” You think about what he’s saying there and that’s a high calling and that’s a rare way of living in this world, and I’ve fallen way short of it. “Do nothing from selfishness…” He saying don’t be like most people in the world and primarily just think about yourself and take care of yourself. Rather you go about life thinking about the people around you and the people that you know, and about their circumstances and what they’re going through and their needs and how you could possibly be a blessing to them, and you go about giving yourself to be that for them. He’s saying you give your life to the service of others.
Then in verse 5 he says, “Have this attitude [have this mind] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Christ had this unselfish mind that seeks the good of others. Verse 6, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [or held on to], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” And why did He do that? Why did He empty Himself of His power and omniscience and omnipresence and all that made Him superior to us and become a weak, vulnerable, poor human being in this unwelcoming world? Because He wasn’t thinking about Himself. He was thinking about you and me and our need for a Savior. Verse 8, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Even the death the Romans had perfected as the most excruciating horrible execution possible. Why? Because we needed a sacrifice that would really compensate for our sins. Now verse 9, “For this reason also [because He was unselfish like this and obedient to the point of death], God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Now verse 12 makes an application of that. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Now, the word translated “work out” is usually translated elsewhere in the NT as something along the lines of “achieve” or “accomplish” or “effect” or “bring about” or “attain”. And I think that normal usage of the word fits well here. I hear Paul saying in verse 12 not just to show that you’ve been saved, but be like Christ in that He gave Himself for the good of others and He was obedient to the point of death and in doing so, attained His salvation. God highly exalted Him because He was obedient to the point of death. Now, you Philippians attain your salvation by following in His steps. You give yourselves for the good of others and stay obedient to the point of death and God will highly exalt you.”
And don’t think it’s too tough for you to live this way and that you’ve got to do it all on your own. He says in verse 13, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” If you want to be this way and you try, God will help you. God will help you to be willing and working for His good pleasure.
Now watch verse 14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” It can be very easy to succumb to grumbling when you follow Christ in His unselfish service of others, when you give up a lot that you could have had because you’ve given so much of your time and energy and money for others rather than to accumulate for yourself. And it’s even tougher when people have it better than you though they’ve been just totally selfish and you’ve not been, or when people don’t appreciate what you do for them; it’s easy to fall into grumbling. But Paul says, “Like Christ just served and gave Himself up and didn’t complain, you follow in His steps without complaining.”
And then he gives some reasons in verses 15-16 why we must not be grumbling and disputing. He says, “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Do you remember reading about a crooked and perverse generation? The Philippians were also living in a generation like that and so are we millenniums later. Most people still are selfish and ungrateful and greedy and grumble and complain about all kinds of stuff. But if we’re going to be blameless and innocent and beyond reproach and shine as lights in the world, we must be different. And part of that differentness is not complaining. So the next time something doesn’t go your way or you don’t have what others have, ask yourself, “Are you going to whine, or are you going to shine?”, because Paul says shinning involves not whining.
Then verse 16, “holding fast the word of life…” But are we holding fast the word of life if we’re grumbling, if we’re saying “Woe is me. I’ve got it bad. Things aren’t fair for me. I should have what they have”? Because the word of life, God’s word, says, “If you’re a Christian, not woe are you, blessed are you! Your sins are forgiven. You’re a child of God and an heir of God. You’re rich beyond what you can imagine. And God’s causing all things to work together for your good.” Hold fast what God says and don’t grumble as though you don’t have it good.
And he says do this, “so that in the day of Christ [that is the day He comes back] I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” In other words, “Follow Christ to the end of your days, seeking the good of others, without grumbling and complaining, so that I won’t find out on the day of judgment that I went through all that trouble to share the gospel with you for nothing.” In other words, “Do this, so that you make sure you make it to the Promised Land, so that you make sure you don’t repeat the story of the Exodus generation of Israelites.”
Then verse 17 Paul gives himself as an example. Listen to this. “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” As he’s talked about it earlier in the letter, he’s talking here about the possibility of being executed soon. He’s in prison in Rome at the time of this writing, awaiting trial before the emperor. And he doesn’t think that he will be executed yet. He thinks he will be released, that the Lord still has work He wants him to do on this earth (1:19-26). But execution is a possibility. And he pictures it here as being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service he’s given to bring about faith in the Philippians and others. In the OT sacrifices a drink offering was a portion of wine that would be poured out beside the altar usually after a burnt offering was offered. Well, Paul pictures his sacrifice and service to bring about faith in others as like a burnt offering that he offered to God. And now if he is to be executed, it will be like the drink offering that is added after a burnt offering. A drink offering even resembles the kind of death that Paul would die if he was to be executed. Being a Roman citizen he would be spared from crucifixion. Instead he would be beheaded and his blood would pour out of his neck onto the ground like a cup of wine being poured out beside the altar. But does Paul complain? Does he grumble that he’s lost everything to serve others and now he’s in prison and possibly facing execution? Not at all. He says, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” In other words, “I rejoice that I can honor Christ in this way and be an example for others and encourage others; that I can be of use to the Lord before He takes me home.”
Verse 18, “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” That’s the opposite of grumbling and complaining, isn’t it? Rejoice and share your joy with others. Even if you suffer, rejoice that you get to honor Christ in that way and be an example to others and be of use in this short, short life before He takes us home.
I don’t know about you, but I needed this lesson. I respond to the invitation this morning. And I ask that you’d pray for me that I see and never forget how blessed I am to be in Christ, that God has freed me from the bondage of my sins and the fate that I deserve. And that before I go to an eternity of blessing that I don’t deserve, that I spend the rest of my short life here honoring the God, who is so good to me, in serving of others as He wants me to, and that I will not complain about a single thing, because I have nothing to legitimately complain about. I’m so blessed beyond what I deserve.
– James Williams