Westside church of Christ - Irving, Texas

Murmuring and Complaining

by Mark Roberts

""And the people complained against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'"" (Exo. 15:23-24).

It was not the last time Israel would grumble about Moses, his leadership, or the provisions for their time in the wilderness. In what becomes an all too predictable pattern Israel whines and fusses about nearly everything. Murmuring becomes their hallmark.

Alas, spiritual Israel often identifies to closely with its physical namesake. Murmuring and complaining go on today among God's people. Among the habits of ineffective Christians this issue of Abundant Life focuses upon this habit may be the most common, and even the most destructive. A failure to pray affects me, but when I moan and whine I have the potential to affect others. Let's learn why people murmur and complain, why it offends God, and how to overcome it.

The hard truth is that people murmur and complain because they have far too high an estimate of themselves. Their own self-importance has become inflated to the point where when things don't go the way they wanted they are not afraid to say something about it. I am important, I deserve, I need - the big ""I"" is the heart of all complaining. This is an easy point to demonstrate. When is the last time you complained that you did not have a chauffeured limousine to pick you up for church services? Probably never, because we do not believe we are entitled to a limo, nor do we expect one. However, if your car broke down and you had to walk the last half mile to church you might complain bitterly to anyone who would listen. Interestingly, brethren in Africa regularly walk much longer distances to services without giving it a second thought. It is all about your expectations and what you think you deserve, isn't it? ""These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts (desires -MR) . . . ."" (Jude 1:16).

Complaining of this sort offends God deeply. Psalm 95 explains why. In this review of Israel's history the psalmist says ""When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways"" (Psalms 95:9-10). Israel's non-stop complaining revealed their hearts were not right. The Hebrew writer quotes this very psalm to warn us today of ""an evil heart of unbelief"" (3:12), showing how God still recognizes murmuring as a heart problem. What the complainer says out loud is simply a reflection of a heart that is corrupted (see Matthew 12:34). When I complain it may reveal any of a number of spiritual heart failures. My complaints may show that I am not happy with God's order of things (as the complaints of Korah and Dathan show, Num. 16:3ff). Whining may announce that I am not satisfied with God's blessings in this moment (as the complaint against manna showed, Num. 11:4). Grumbling may indicate I am unhappy I didn't get my way (1 Kings 21:3-4), or it may show that while I am obeying God in form I am doing so only under duress and unhappily (see 1 Peter 4:9). All of these betray a lack of trust in God, His ways, His timing, His blessings and His wisdom. Perpetual murmuring shows something deeply wrong in my spirituality.

It is not hard to remedy grumbling. First, I must acknowledge my own ego problem. Am I too self-centered or too determined to have my own way? Do I expect too much from God or others? Second, I must learn to think before I speak. Is what I am saying positive, edifying, and designed to build up? Third, I must learn to count my blessings. When I am in the midst of such abundance how can I whine about what is missing?

Show me a complaining Christian and I will show you an ineffective, unhappy saint. We cannot be an example to non-Christians and a help to our brethren when we are constantly directing everyone's attention to how miserable I am. Let's watch what we say - it may be saying more about us than we realize! ""Do all things without complaining"" (Phil 2:14).