A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”
The monk replied, “Food bad.”
After another 10 years the monk again had an opportunity to voice his thoughts and he said to his superior, “Bed hard.”
Another 10 years passed by and again he was called before his superior. What asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.”
To which the superior replied, “That doesn’t surprise me a bit, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
We are prone to grumble and complain…such is the universal condition of men in sin. Adults grumble. Teens grumble. Children grumble. Poor people grumble. Rich people grumble too. We grumble about all kinds of things—our work, the weather, our food, the government, the cost of things, our illnesses, how we are treated, etc. etc. For some, grumbling is as natural a thing as breathing. Some have a special gift when it comes to grumbling and complaining. But grumbling is not a spiritual gift.
What is grumbling? Philippians 2:14 uses two terms to describe this kind of behavior.
Grumbling is from the Greek term “gongusmos,” which means “to mutter, murmur, grumble, say anything in a low tone.” The word is an onomatopoeic word, which means the sound of the word is akin to its meaning.
Disputing is from the Greek term “dialogismos” and is related to our English word “dialog.” It speaks to an inward reasoning that differs with others and leads to arguments and such. Our English word is defined as engaging in an argument.
The two terms are related. The disputing term speaks to our thinking, in which we find ourselves in disagreement with God or others, the grumbling term has to do with the expression of those complaints.
The Scriptures are filled with examples of this kind of behavior:
In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus told a parable in which He compared the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who owned a vineyard. He hired laborers to take care of his vineyard. Though differing groups of laborers were hired at different times of the same day, they all received the same amount of pay. So, the ones who were hired first “grumbled at the landowner” and went on to express their displeasure (Cf. Matthew 20:11).
The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus’ disciples when they saw Jesus reclining at the table with tax-gatherers and sinners (Cf. Luke 5:30).
Some of Jesus’ followers grumbled in response to Jesus’ teaching that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they were to gain eternal life (Cf. John 6:54-61).
“Grumble” is the same word used in the Greek version of the OT of the murmuring of Israel. Exodus 16:2-3, “And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, “What that we would have died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread in full; for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger.”
This passage serves as a good case study when it comes to this issue. What were those people grumbling and disputing about? That problem started with a lack of food to eat. Instead of trusting God and asking of Him, they began to think about how unfairly they were being treated. They thought they deserved far better than what they were getting. They complained to Moses and Aaron, though their complaints were ultimately directed to God Himself.
Their example encompasses the kind of behavior that is spoken of in Philippians 2:14. Disputing is a reasoning in our minds that tends to disagreement with God about His dealings with us. Grumbling is the expression of such thoughts either to God or to others.
MESSAGE: Why not grumble?
- Because grumbling is a sin
It is sinful to grumble and dispute.
Grumbling and disputing is sinful behavior. Both terms here are present tense imperatives.
Your Creator God. The One who sent His Son to die for your sins. The One who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure. The One who had adopted you. Who has privileged you to be called a child of God. The One who is richly supplying all your needs and watching over the affairs of your life. This God is speaking to you, His child, saying, “Do all things without grumbling and disputing.” And to do otherwise is to sin.
Not only is it sinful to grumble and dispute, it is at the heart of our sin problem. It is good to remind ourselves how this whole sin problem started. Adam and Eve were doing well in the garden of Eden until the Devil came along. And then he planted a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind. They had everything they needed and enjoyed perfect fellowship with God, but then the Devil suggested to Eve that God was holding out on them. If she were only to take of the apple and eat, then she too would be like God. So, she and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and sin entered into the world. And ever since men have been born into the world as sinners, possessing in sin an inherent distrust and rebellion against God.
Grumbling and disputing—in whatever it is about—is directed ultimately towards God. It is either a distrust in Him or an expression of displeasure when it comes to His dealings with us. That’s not to say that there is no place for communicating with God when it comes to such things, but there is a better way to do that. Later in the epistle Paul speaks to this in Philippians 4:6. Instead of grumbling and disputing or being anxious, we should pray, and we should pray with an attitude of thankfulness. We go to Him in humble faith, never demanding our supposed “rights,” but reminding ourselves that God doesn’t owe us a thing—He’s been very gracious to us in saving us. That’s why Lamentations 3:39 says, “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?” We are all doing better than we deserve. And instead of grumbling and disputing we should be “overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:7).
Grumbling and disputing is always a sin.
Note the command—“Do ALL things without grumbling and disputing.” It does not say do some things. Nor does it say do most things. It says ALL things and ALL means ALL.
In this respect it’s kind of like some other commands. “Never take your own revenge” (Romans 12:19). “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
This applies to all of us. Children are to obey their parents without grumbling and disputing. That means doing your chores in a glad-hearted manner. And it matters not if other children grumble when they are asked to do such things. The child of God is called to higher plane of living.
Employees are to do their jobs without grumbling and disputing. I served in the US Navy for six years in the submarine service. A submarine is arguably one of the worst environments to put a human being. And submariners are amongst the worst most proficient grumblers. One day a friend of mine and me—making note of this fact—purposed to go through our day without complaining about anything. No complaining about unreasonable officers. No complaining about the lack of sleep. No complaining about the bad food. No complaining about the boring and tedious watches. Needless to say, we didn’t make it through the whole day. But as God’s children, God’s purpose for us is that we rise about the temptation to grumble about our circumstances.
We Americans are especially adept at grumbling. And it is an incredible to consider how good we are at it. Though we live in arguably the most prosperous country in the world and in the history of the world, you could hardly tell by the way that we behave. You’d think, by the manner in which we are given to such things, that we were in some kind of severe distress. But for the most part we Americans are well-fed and well-clothed and well-provided for. I’m thinking that most of the world would be glad to walk in our shoes. Yet we grumble and dispute and complain about things all the time.
We are to serve the Lord without grumbling and disputing. According to Romans 12:1-2 we are to present out bodies a living and holy sacrifice unto Him. Our giving, our serving, our witnessing, our work is all to be done cheerfully, giving thanks to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity and privilege of serving Him. Our example is the Lord Jesus Himself. Where do we find Him grumbling or disputing?
We shouldn’t frankly grumble about anything. God is sovereignly overseeing the affairs of your life. He causes all things to work together for good. You can always trust Him.
It is a serious sin.
We tend to think of grumbling as a minor thing, but we shouldn’t.
In Numbers chapter 16 we read of a man named Korah and his followers. They were unhappy in their circumstances and displeased with Moses and Aaron. So Korah tried to usurp Moses in his leadership. And do you know what happened? God judged them. He caused the earth to swallow them up. Then others grumbled against Moses, faulting him for their death. So, God sent a plague than eventually took the lives of 15,000 people. This grumbling is serious stuff.
But oh, you say, this is a different dispensation, God is not as much concerned about such things today. But Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth: “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved…And do not be idolaters…Nor let us act immorally…Nor let us try the Lord…Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example and were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).
God hates grumbling and disputing. It’s a sin. We need to think about it as such.
- Because grumbling stifles our growth in Christ
Look at verse 14 in its context.
The context before: God is at work in you both to will and work for his good pleasure. God is working out your salvation. He’s doing everything necessary, our part is to trust Him and obey.
The context after: God has called as His children to bear witness of the Lord Jesus. We can hardly expect to do a good job bearing witness of Jesus if we are busy grumbling and disputing all the time.
Grumbling and disputing works against our spiritual growth because it is the wrong response to God in the trials that we face.
The fact is that we all face trials of various kinds. Trials in the life of unbeliever work for no good purpose unless they are used of God to lead that person to a saving knowledge of Jesus. But it is different when it comes to trials in the life of the believer. Our Sovereign God uses the trials that we face to grow us up into Christ-like maturity. James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7.
Now, generally speaking, we can respond to any trial that we face in one of two ways. We can either trust God or give way to temptation. We either trust God in the trial or we respond in giving way to temptation in a variety of sinful ways. And amongst those various responses is this common response—we grumble.
Now here’s the problem. God loves you. He has called you. You are His child. He is patiently working in you to will and to work for His good pleasure. We can be confident that He will complete the work that He has started in us. In the meantime, there is the work He is doing in making us to be like Christ. That is not a simple thing. The Spirit of God applies the Word of God to our hearts and through trials He works to grow us up into Christ-like maturity.
Philippians 2:13 is a sovereignty of God verse. God is sovereignly orchestrating the affairs of your life. He’s got it all in control. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13. God is intimately involved in the affairs of your life. So much so that He won’t allow any trial or temptation to enter your life that is beyond what you can handle. He is faithful in that. You can count on Him to not allow anything to happen in your life that is beyond your capacity to bear—in dependence on the Spirit and His all-sufficient grace. He will provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
He is at work in you. He’s the Master Potter. You are the clay. As with the days of your life, round and round goes the wheel. And there’s the gentle yet firm work of the Spirit, as fingers working the clay. And through the trials of life He patiently works to conform you to the image of Christ. It is not a simple thing. It is not an easy thing. It’s going to take some radical inside-out rearranging. Those difficulties and trials are all a part of that. You are the clay. Imagine a piece of clay murmuring and disputing with its potter. Why should we not gladly cooperate and submit to the work of the All-Wise and All-Loving Master Potter? F. B. Meyer, “Whenever, therefore, you are in doubt as to the meaning of certain circumstances through which you are called to pass, and which are strange and inexplicable, be still; refrain from murmuring or repining ; hush the many voices that would speak within ; and listen until there is borne in on your soul a persuasion of God’s purpose; and let his Spirit within co-operate with the circumstance without.”
Here’s the ultimate problem with grumbling and disputing. You aren’t going to win any arguments that you have with God. Jonah is a good example of this. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah said no, I’m not going. Who won that argument? Jonah went to Nineveh but in his dispute with God he ended up going the hard way—through the belly of a whale!
“Dealing with difficult situations,” by Andrew Murray:
- Realize that God brought me here. It is by His will I am in this place: in that fact I will rest.
- Realize that He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
- Realize that He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons that He intends me to learn, and working in me that grace He means to bestow.
- In His good time, He can bring me out again – how and when – He knows.
A young man who was trying to establish himself as a peach grower had worked hard and invested all his money in a peach orchard. It blossomed wonderfully but then came a killing frost. He didn’t go to church the next Sunday, nor the next, nor the next. His pastor went to see him to discover the reason. The young fellow said, “I’m not coming any more. Do you think I can worship a God who cares so little for me that He would let a frost kill all my peaches?” The old minister looked at him for a few minutes in silence, the kindly said, “God loves you better than He does your peaches. He knows that while peaches do better without frosts, it is impossible to grow the best men without frosts. His object is to grow men, not peaches.” We are so concerned with our immediate and temporal needs and problems, that we might fail to realize that God is at work and that He caused all things to work together for good in our lives, that we might be conformed to the image of His Son.
“Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by?”
- Because grumbling undermines our Witness for Christ
According to Acts 1:8, the mission of the church here on earth is to bear witness of Jesus. God has called us to be His ambassadors, to be as lights shining in this present darkness.
Look at Philippians 2:15—“that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” We live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. It has been that way and it will continue to be that way until Jesus’ return. We are privileged to serve God in this manner. It’s not our job to complain about the darkness, our job is to shine for Jesus. Our job is to bear witness of Him wherever we go.
God has strategically placed each one of us in positions where we might serve Him according to this purpose. When Dr. John Mitchell served as president of Multnomah Bible College one of his students came to him with a problem. He asked Dr. Mitchell to pray for him that God might provide him with a different job. It seems that he was forced to work in a difficult environment surrounded by nothing but unbelievers. He had to put up with a lot of cursing and swearing and rude language. Dr. Mitchell surprised the man in his response, saying, “I’m not going to pray that God will take you out of that place, but that God will keep you there where God has provided you a unique opportunity to bear witness for Jesus Christ.”
But maintaining a credible witness involves more than simply being able to recite the four spiritual laws. We bear witness both by our lips and our lives. And what we do in our lives is even more important than what we say with our lips. There is a conduct befitting the gospel (Cf. Philippians 1:27). There ought to be a difference in the behavior of the Christian. We are called to that: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk” (Ephesians 4:17).
This difference applies to our conduct in many ways:
- In the way that we love one another (John 13:34-35).
- In the hope we possess (1 Peter 3:15).
- In the wisdom we exercise in our conduct (Colossians 4:5).
- In our blameless and innocent, above reproach conduct (Philippians 2:15).
- And in our thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In a world that is given to grumbling and disputing, we as God’s children, are called to a very different kind of behavior. There is something very attractive and winsome to gratefulness. What does the world see in you when you are confronted by difficult circumstances? Do people see you grumbling and disputing, or do they see you trusting and thanking? You either adorn the gospel or distract from it depending on your response.
The unbeliever instinctively knows that it is inconsistent for a believer (by definition “one who trusts God”) to grumble and complain in his or her difficulties. Years ago, I came across this letter to Dear Abby: “Dear Abby, I work in the medical profession where the profession is supposed to be sympathetic and caring, right? Well, as I write this letter, a co-worker is cursing and complaining about the blanket-blank patients, the working conditions, the shortage of help, space, telephones, etc. But what really bugs me most about this woman is the fact that she is a devout churchgoer. Her conversations are always peppered with “the Lord this” and “the Lord that.” I have great difficulty understanding the inconsistencies between her professed faith and her actions. Although I am not an active member of my church, I wouldn’t treat a dog the way that this woman treats people.”
Every month some ladies from our church meet at a restaurant for a Ladies’ Lunch. They rotate the venue from month to month so that meeting is held at different locations. Some months ago, they had an especially large gathering. And the restaurant wasn’t adequately prepared for that number of diners. They didn’t have sufficient staff to cook and serve the ladies. Some had to wait as long as an hour to get their meal. But the ladies were gracious and understanding in their dealings with the waiter. They didn’t withhold their tips. And in doing that they adorned the gospel. They maintained a credible witness before the staff. What would have happened if they had grumbled and complained instead? As people are oftentimes prone to do.
If you are like me, you grumble and complain too much. We, as believers, have good reason to be thankful. By God’s grace we are all doing better than we deserve.
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).
We have good reason to be overflowing with gratitude, giving thanks in everything!
Why not grumble?
- Because grumbling is sinful!
- Because grumbling stifles your growth in Christ.
- Because grumbling silences your witness for Jesus.
“Do all things without grumbling and disputing.”