Missteps and Murmurings

We all have stories of stupid injuries, at least every man does. When I consider the stupid injuries in my life, there are two that stand out above the rest. 

The first was when I was nine. My family was in the process of building a house and we went out to the worksite. I have no doubt that my mother warned me to be careful around the construction debris but when I saw a rusty nail sticking up out of a board I apparently took her instruction to mean carefully place your foot atop the nail. With all the grace of a drunken elephant, I lurked forward and the nail was thrust through my shoe and embedded deep in my foot.  

The second was, unfortunately, as a full-grown adult. I will spare you the whole story but it involves racing through a glass maze and missing the final turn. My face did not appreciate the sudden stop. I split my eyebrow open, bled considerably, and needed a few stitches. 

To the untrained eye, the second injury appeared far worse than the first. It was visibly larger and bled far more. However, to the trained eye and mind of a doctor, the first was far more dangerous. Why? Risk of infection. The doctor could easily see that my eyebrow was a clean cut with no contaminants, a simple clean and stitch and it should heal quickly. Although my foot was a small incision, the risk of contamination was high. The doctor had to cut the wound open more to ensure that everything was removed. We watched carefully for days to make sure an infection wouldn’t result.

When something unpleasant, or even painful, happens we excuse murmuring and grumbling as a minor offense or not an offense at all. But the trained eye of the Bible has a different perspective. It recognizes the hidden discontentment and sees a murmuring spirit as a potentially nasty infection.  A fight in a Christian marriage can create a large wound but God knows that the stitches of His grace and forgiveness can heal it relatively quickly, so long as there is no infection of discontented grumbling. But Satan knows this as well.

A Generational Problem

Satan’s tactic is simple. He can’t stop God’s redemptive work for His people. So he seeks to make it seem miserable and blinds them to their own sin and rebellion against God so that they complain instead. This is what happened with “the wilderness generation”.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did… We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Co 10:1–6, 9-12)

The whole generation died in the wilderness, save two. Paul clearly tells us that the reason these stories were recorded is so we who are part of the church don’t fall short of the Promised Land as well (Romans 11:20-21; Heb. 3:12-19). We think grumbling when things don’t go well is a mild, perhaps, necessary evil so long as it isn’t too much (or about us). The Bible, however, uses it to describe people who are eternally damned. 

Burroughs, in his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, writes: “Oh, that we could but convince men and women that a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction [no matter] what the affliction! [It is] the evil of the evil, and the misery of the misery.” Here are three reasons why Christians should see grumbling and complaining as far worse than they likely do.

Christian, grumbling is below your station in Christ

In 1 Kings 21, Ahab, the king of Israel, wanted Naboth’s vineyard to plant a vegetable garden. When Naboth resisted because of the command of the Lord (v3), it says that “Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen” (v4). How ridiculous that a king of God’s people should sit in his palace on his plush bed overcome with discontentment because a poor man didn’t give him a little piece of land. “This is childish and certainly beneath a king of God’s people,” you say, “but my situation is different. I am simply not a king of God’s people.” Indeed, you are much more.  

God’s people leaving Egypt were to be kingly priests, all of them, but they grumbled and rebelled and died in the wilderness (Ex. 19:5-6). Eventually, God put His man on the throne, King David, from whom the One True King would descend. Ahab was a king, not of the Davidic line of Judah, but of the divided kingdom of Isreal. His kingship was not of the promised Davidic line. But we reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). In Christ, we are of the Davidic kingship lineage. We reign with Christ because we have been made brothers and sisters of Christ, adopted into the family of God. You are a child of the Most High God, King of kings, and Lord of lords. 

It is the difference between Edmund at the start of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and King Edmund the Just. When Jude speaks of the Lord coming with His holy ones to execute judgment on the ungodly sinners, he describes them as “grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires” (Jude 16). Grumbling is unbecoming of His kings and queens. 

Christian, grumbling swallows up your life in Christ

In Numbers 16, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, with a bunch of other knuckleheads.  Their first complaint was against Aaron as priest over the people (Num. 16:3). Then they complained about leaving the “comforts” of Egypt and questioned who God gave to lead them (Num. 16:13-14). They are even so bold as to describe slavery in Egypt in the terms God used to describe the Promised Land.

The result was that their lives were literally swallowed up by the earth. This is a picture of what discontent grumbling does. All the good things, all your life, are swallowed up by your bitterness and complaining. It kills the joy of Christ in our hearts. It blinds us to what we already have and steals away any comfort therein. It gives us nothing good in return. It undercuts our productivity in the duties God has given us. It makes what is actually bad in our lives into something much worse. You can complain and find short-lived, sinful satisfaction but when have you ever grumbled and genuinely felt better about the situation? Even worse, it brings, at best, God’s discipline on you, and at worst His wrath (Heb. 12:7-17).

It’s unthinkable to us that after being delivered from slavery in Egypt two years prior anyone would grumble in this way. Yet, how many of us were saved, or our lives and marriages were brought back from the edge of destruction by God through the preaching and work of a church? And how many a few years later are grumbling and complaining because the same church and leaders aren’t serving their family how they want or are making some decision they don’t prefer? We bite the hand that feeds us but our own life is swallowed up.

Christian, grumbling poisons the church of Christ

Grumbling poisons the church by stunting our growth in Christ and hindering our witness.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. (Php 2:12–16)

It is neither a benefit to us as individuals nor to the church as a whole to grumble and complain.  Instead, it is the first problem mentioned that would hinder our progress in salvation and witness in the world. Again, the prime example is the “crooked and twisted” wilderness generation (see Deut. 32:5). Furthermore, it poisons our love and care for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another (1 Pe 4:8–10)

Sadly, the church has given way to culture to such a degree that, so long as it is done in the prescribed avenues, this grumbling is redefined as a sort of therapeutic catharsis. It is okay, we say, that must have been very traumatic. Imagine Moses treating Korah this way, “I know you grew up enslaved, and that must have been very scary at the Red Sea with Pharoah’s army approaching… I can understand that, although I’ve humbly obeyed God, it is sometimes hard to trust my leadership.” Our grumbling doesn’t need therapy. It is a sin, a terribly infectious sin at that. We need to repent and we need someone to come between God’s wrath and us.

And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. (Nu 16:47–49)

Two Confessions

My first confession identifies the problem and admits my need. More often than I would like to admit I struggle with grumbling. I may not always be so obvious to others but it is surely there in my heart. It keeps me from gratitude toward God and, to my great sadness, has often diminished rightful joy and celebration in the church. For that, I repent and ask forgiveness from all those who have been and are at Proclaim. Especially those to whom the plague of my sour heart and discontented murmurings have spread. I write this in hopes that it will help all of us, but especially me, remember that grumbling and complaining is truly a great evil. 

The second confession is of a different kind. It is the solution. It is He who comes between the living and the dead. It is He who atones for all our sins. It is He who is the true High Priest, not of Aaron, but One who is priest forever. In John 3:14-15, Jesus says of himself, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” His death on the cross atones for repentant grumblers.

If the fiery serpents of discontentment and grumbling have bitten you. If they have poisoned your life, damaged your relationships, and killed your joy. The answer is to look to Christ. Believe in Him. He takes dead things and brings them back to life. He can resurrect relationships and He can restore joy beyond what you imagine. He is food in the wilderness that never gets old. He brings forth water from rocks so that we never thirst. He gives us grace upon grace and restores our souls. Look to Him and you shall live.