Monday, September 21, 2009

Grumbling and Complaining

9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction. . .
[1 Cor. 10:9-11]

Paul says we must not grumble. Why is grumbling so bad? Is it really a sin to complain a little when things don’t go my way or if I simply am having a bad day? Besides, aren’t some of us just wired to be “glass-half-empty” types of folks?

A friend and I were discussing this after church last Sunday, when our pastor had just preached through First Corinthians 10. Her comment was that our grumbling is a sign that we are not trusting God.

My response was that it’s really much more serious than that. It’s not that we don’t trust God, but that in our minds, God is not trustworthy. Our grumbling is evidence of our defective theology. Oh sure, we say that we trust God, and that God is trustworthy, but our actions are much more reliable indicators. And what we say when we’re not proclaiming our trust in God is more instructive about our real attitude, our real worldview, our real theology. By grumbling and complaining, we are proclaiming loudly what our God is really like.

Maybe we see him as deceitful; maybe we feel that he’s let us down too many times, maybe we see a weak and impotent god. Chances are, we see a god who’s far more human than divine. We have re-made God in our own image.

In these early verses of First Corinthians 10, Paul gives examples from the Israelites’ time in the wilderness. In Numbers 14, the Israelites grumbled and complained:


2And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 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! 3Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" 4And they said to one another, "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt."
[Numbers 14]


And why were they complaining and grumbling? They had chosen to listen to the spies who were "glass-half-empty” types, who said “the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. . .We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are" (see Number 13:25-32).
  • How quickly they had forgotten what God is like. God had already dealt with their enemies the Egyptians in a little thing called the Red Sea incident. “God can not conquer this land for us; it’s up to us and our own limited resources.” What were the spies really saying? God is not here with us; it’s up to us. We’re on our own, and we can’t win this battle. And even if God were here, He’s not strong enough to help us.
    What is God like? Is one of His attributes OMNIPRESENCE? One of His names is Immanuel, God with us.
    Is one of His attributes OMNIPOTENCE? The all-powerful God surely could conquer the Promised Land on their behalf.
  • How quickly they had forgotten the promises of God. He had promised to give them the land. “God, You said that you’d give us the land, but you lied to us! What were the Israelites really saying? God is not trustworthy; he is a liar. What is God like? Is one of His attributes FALSEHOOD or TRUTH? Christ said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.”

But Joshua remembered what God is really like:

6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, "The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. 8If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:6-9).

Joshua also understood that grumbling is a form of rebellion; he warned the people “do not rebel against the Lord.” The Lord agrees: "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me” (Numbers 14:11). God saw their heart attitude was one of disbelief in His true character.

Joshua and Caleb’s theology was better; they understood Who God was, what He is really like. “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." “He will bring us into this land . . . and the LORD is with us.”

God is able. God is trustworthy. He’s our provider and sustainer. He is sovereign. That’s why grumbling is so much worse than simply “having a bad day.” Grumbling is saying that the God that I claim to believe in, the God that I worship, isn’t really much of a God after all.

Grumbling is an offense to God’s true character.

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