I’ve been thinking a lot about the sin of grumbling because
I’ve been doing a lot of it I’ve been reading the book of James and Philippines in tandem lately, and there are two main texts that have stood out on this issue.
James 5:8: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”
Philippians 2:14-16: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 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, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
James says, “Don’t grumble to your brothers and sisters in Christ”, and Paul says, “Don’t grumble…about anything…EVER!” Some think these two apostles disagree on works (for the record, they don’t), but they are in full agreement on the issue of grumbling. When you grumble about your day, your car, your kids, your hurts, your sufferings, your _________–you sin. Period. It’s not to be passed off as a personality defect, but to be repented of as a fallen nature defect. It’s not just venting. Its plain good ‘ole fashioned, grade A sinning.
I can’t think of grumbling without thinking of Finding Nemo (yes, another Nemo reference–blame my firstborn). Dory’s cute and gentle rebuke of Nemo’s daddy by calling him “Mr. Grumpy Gills” and singing him a cheer-up song, remind me that grumbling and grumpy-ness are evil twins.
Paul and James are after Mr. & Mrs. Grumbly Gills in their local churches. They just don’t coat it with cuteness like Dory does.
The context in James and in Philippians shows that grumbling was a problem for those particular saints at that particular time because of the reality of suffering. In both books the specific suffering they were experiencing may be the presence of persecution (Ja. 5:10-11, Phil. 1:28-30). And if you are anything like me, your grumblings are in regards to much lesser ills. Oftentimes I’m not grumbling because I’ve suffered an injustice or persecution at the hands of an oppressor or neighbor, but because the line I’m in is too doggone long or my schedule didn’t go how I wanted it to go.
The issue the Holy Spirit through his Word is trying to press home in these passages is that in the midst of any difficulty (whether persecution or much smaller difficulties), grumbling is not an option for believers. Thankfully, God doesn’t only outlaw it but gives antidotes for it.
In Philippians Paul points out that difficulties should be faced by holding onto something instead of grumbling about something. Notice Paul’s phrase in verse 16, “holding fast the word of life”. When we grumble it’s because we are holding onto our present difficulty more than God’s eternal word. All too often our emotional grip is fastened too tightly to the day’s problems, and not tight enough to God’s promises. When we grumble we are saying to God, “My heart is more affected by my problems than by your gracious person and work”.
James gives us another practical help and calls us to patience or, in layman’s terms, a good-ole-fashioned “Shut up and stop complaining.” NT scholar Douglas Moo in his commentary on this verse writes the following,
How often do we find ourselves taking out the frustrations of a difficult day on our close friends and family members! Refraining from this kind of complaining and grumbling can be seen as one aspect of patience itself: patience is linked with ‘forbearing one another’ in love in Ephesians 4:2 and is contrasted with retaliation in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15. The word stenazo, grumble or ‘groan’, is usually used absolutely; only here in the biblical Greek does it have an object (against one another). The meaning may be that believers should not grumble to others about their difficulties, or that believers should not blame others for their difficulties (cf. NEB). It is entirely possible, however, that both ideas are involved here. [James, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 170]
A grumbling person blames others about their problems and/or is continually frustrated, stressed, and angry about their difficulties and makes sure everyone knows about it. Most of the time this occurs with those we are closest to. This should not be. Test yourself: Ask your spouse or friend if they are the recipient of your grumblings.
Instead of grumbling with our mouths we called to put a muzzle on our mouths and be patient. Thankfully, James doesn’t leave us with only the negative “Quit it and be patient”, but he encourages us to follow and model those who have gone before us. He tells us to look at the prophets as models of patient sufferers, and, especially to look at Job (Ja. 5:10-11). Job was steadfast under unfathomable difficulty–discouraging wife, children’s deaths, loss of wealth, friends that persecute instead of strengthen, immense physical suffering etc–yet he continued trusting in God and God blessed him for it. James says, “You think you got issues. Look at Job. Follow his way of life and emulate him.”
The greatest model and the greatest antidote to grumbling is to look at Jesus. The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus “was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (53:7). Jesus is our model. If he didn’t open his mouth about his crucifixion, you don’t have any excuse to open your mouth and grumble about your tough circumstance. But we must go further.
More important than this is the good news that Jesus is more than a model. He is our Substitute. Jesus didn’t “open his mouth” grumbling about being innocently beaten and crucified, because he was dying in the place of every grumbler who trusts him. Jesus absorbed the wrath of God for Mr. and Mrs. Grumbly Gills like you and me in order to purify us and make us righteous. This is where our hope comes from. Jesus was crucified for every grumbling, complaining heart and mouth that trust him. He gives grumblers the joy of forgiveness and empowers them through the person of the Holy Spirit with the joy of rejoicing at all times and in difficult circumstances.