Complaining has a very long history. Adam complained to God about giving Him Eve who gave Him of the forbidden tree (Gen 3:12). Complaining was characteristic of the children of Israel even though their covenant Lord God had delivered them out of bondage to their Egyptian slave masters as promised: I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. “Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burden of the Egyptians” (NKJV, Ex.6:7).
They complained a lot in the wilderness as Moses records, about their circumstances: food and water, leadership, the prospect of battling those daunting giants in the promised land. Their complaining was really against their deliverer God and demonstrated a lack of trust in God’s promise to be their God. Look at what Moses said: “They tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?”’ (Ex.17:7). That was a rebellious outburst that sheds light on the nature of complaining against God. Isn’t it really a perversion of “we are the Lord’s”, to instead: “The Lord is ours”. Isn’t the Israelites’ outburst voicing this attitude: God is among us if He does for us as we want Him to, and if He doesn’t provide as we want, well, then, He’s not among us. Not an attitude of thankfulness to God for their deliverance and not an attitude of patent anticipation of entering the promised land. Not an attitude of trust in God’s power and faithfulness, as He had demonstrated, to provide what they needed and to overcome their enemies.
“Is the Lord among us or not?” Indeed, He was with His people, not only providing water to refresh their physical bodies, but supplied them spiritual drink from the rock that the apostle Paul tells us was Christ (I Cor.10:4). Complaining, murmuring against, tempting, or as the Lord also calls it, rejecting God (Num. 14:23), not heeding His voice, brought God’s displeasure upon the rebellious wilderness generation. “Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, except Caleb…and Joshua…for they have wholly followed the Lord. So the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness 40 years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone” (Nu.32:11-13). First Corinthhians 10, now addressing the church of the last days, led by the captain of our salvation, Jesus, on its pilgrimage to possess the true promised land, the new heavens and new earth, tells us that the Lord’s displeasure against the Israelites in the wilderness happened as examples to us, written for our admonition. And complaining is included!
Would any of us Christians, with a straight face, say that we have, and are doing, and expect in this present life to be doing all things without complaining and disputing as is our calling from Phil 2:14? Complaining is missing the mark for us disciples of Christ. As we are repenting believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, abiding in Him, our (it should make us sorrowful) complaining, murmuring, grumbling, our at- times spirit of discontent, our dissatisfaction with any aspect or moment of God’s providence, even ingratitude, will not keep us from possessing the promised land, because “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom.8:1).
But complaining is certainly not a fruit of the Spirit. Complaining does not comport with love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Now there are many things going on in the present world that are not pleasing to the Lord, and therefore should be displeasing to us who revere Him. We are able to discern evil based on God’s Word. Confronting evil with righteousness is not the same as complaining. Taking action, in word and deed, in the service of others, to advocate for justice, mercy, humility before God (see Micah 6:8) is pleasing to the Lord, but complaining and grumbling is not only displeasing to the Lord, but detrimental to witnessing Christ. Christ tells us via His apostle Paul (Phil.2:15) not to be complainers for the sake of “becoming 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.”
If we Christians are grumbling, murmuring, complaining about our circumstances, that’s us not shining as lights. Malcontentment is not being satisfied with what we have; it is rooted in covetousness and is conduct not worthy of the gospel of Christ. As Hebrews 13 encourages us who have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you
have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Your Editor is very familiar with complaining because I’m prone to it and find myself doing so much to my sorrow, thankful that God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, will deliver me from this body of death.
The circumstances that tempt to complaining may be: Well, you know best what “pushes your buttons”, but common and understandable ones are impactful personal health issues or those of loved ones, issues that hinder the unity, fellowship, or witness of the church, local or broader, persecution of whatever form, incompetence, irresponsibility, etc. In my case, at least, it’s also frustratingly non-user-friendly devices and unresponsive customer service and traffic!
But then, self-control, a fruit of the Spirit, hopefully kicks in when tempted to complain as we remind ourselves of the gospel we have received with power and in the joy of the Holy Spirit ( I Thess.1), and we quiet our minds and rest in God who does all things well ( Mark 7:37), and is even now making all things ( even this tempting- to -grumbling circumstance!) work together for my ultimate good (Rom.8:28).
As Jeremiah Burroughs wrote in his book: “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”, “contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition…It is a work of the Spirit ‘indoors’. It is a box of precious ointment, very comforting and useful to troubled hearts in times of troubled conditions… Certainly our CONTENTMENT does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions.”
Let our Christian witness be not as complainers, but as contented with God’s Fatherly providential care for us. Let us do all things without complaining and show that we are indeed, among a crooked and perverse generation, shining as lights in the world.