Got Gripes? – part 3 of 3

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Regarding Scripture: Numbers 11.10

This week, as we conclude our series examining grumbling, we will reflect on Numbers 11-14 and make application from these passages regarding the implications of grumbling and what it means to the church.

Recall from part 1 that we mentioned how vocalized discontent is prevalent in our society. When we consider that discontent is found in Entertainment, News Reports, and the Tabloids, and that everyone everywhere has the earnest need to make their criticisms known about everything, is it any wonder that we see discontent within the church? Whether we like it or not, we are influenced by the society in which we live. Because of this, well meaning Christians believe they have well-established grounds, and First Amendment protection for expressing well-constructed, well-reasoned objections. The church and individual Christians often express their complaints about a variety of matters: from the grumbling of brethren not meeting expectations, to the discontent of worship; from the dissatisfaction of the preaching and singing to the candid and sometimes vehement disapproval of the shepherding. It seems that there is no end to Christians having reasonable complaints – we are, after all, “only trying to help.”

From Numbers 11-14 there are four lessons the 21st century church and Christians need to learn.

  1. Since Israel sinned by expressing discontent during their travel, each Christian and the church should learn that we have no right to gripe about the travels of life (Numbers 11.1-3).
  2. Since Israel sinned by being discontent with the blessing of manna, Christians and the church should learn that we have no right to gripe about God’s blessings; and we have no right to be discontent if those blessings do not meet our expectations or standards (Numbers 11.4-35).
  3. Since Miriam and Aaron sinned by complaining against Moses, each Christian and the church should learn that we have no right to express our discontent with God’s organizational structure; or the men who serve within that structure (Numbers 12).
  4. Since Israel sinned by expressing their discontent at the difficulty of taking righteousness into an unrighteous land, each Christian and the church should learn that we have no right to grumble at the difficulty of taking the Gospel into a lost and dying world (Numbers 13-14).

As examined in parts 1 and 2, the penalty for murmuring (no matter the definition: complaining, disputing, grumbling, griping, or if one pleases – giving their well-reasoned objections – consider the ten spies) against God – His wisdom and/or His structure – was death.1 When we add the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 7.21-23, Christians must conclude that complaining is against the Lord’s will. Knowing this, a Christian could successfully live their life doing work for the Lord, yet grumble (against God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, the church’s leadership, the members, the mission, and/or any other aspect of the church) and on the Day of Judgment be told, “depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” When a Christian expresses discontent against any aspect of the church, the heart of the complaint is stating that God is not wise enough to: one, organize His chosen people; and two, allow certain men to rise to positions in order to lead His chosen. We must ask: Do we know more than God? Are we wiser than God? If we grumble about God and His church then the answer should be a sobering, yet unfortunate self-empowering yes; and in so answering we have ignored Romans 13.1 and failed to understand 1 Corinthians 1.25.

Brethren, we need to stop the discontent at the source and that is our private complaining. Since Israel’s private complaining2 ignited God’s anger then, we need to learn that our private complaining will ignite God’s anger now. Furthermore, private murmuring (whether with our spouse or family and within our house) seldom remains private, it usually becomes public; and public discontent is like cancer – it has the potential to completely destroy unless eradicated. Criticism does little or nothing for the effort(s) of conquering sin. Complaining and grumbling often demoralize, demean, and devalue individual Christians and the church and ultimately run the risk of quenching the Spirit. This is not to be done.3 As we close our series, there are issues, problems and sins in the church, both locally and universally, and there always will be – because we are all human. Christians might feel good when they express their discontent, but feeling good is not the same as doing good.

Recalling our study of Numbers 11-14, looking at David, the apostle Paul, and a couple of other passages, we should notice that God’s people will suffer hardship, but they are not to express discontent. As we look at David, we should notice that he accepted Saul as king, but more importantly, believed Saul to be anointed (meaning allowed to be in power) by God.4 At this point in time, Saul had become a very froward man and sought to kill David, yet David refused to act against Saul.5 In fact, at news of Saul’s death, David ordered the execution of the man who claimed to have killed Jehovah’s anointed.6 Why did David react so? Because David knew that no one has the right to go against God’s appointed leader, because only three things can remove God’s appointed leader(s): 1) God, Himself; 2) natural death; or 3) war.7 It is worth considering that perhaps David’s obedience and submission to a wicked man who served in a God appointed position is one of the reasons why David is considered a man after God’s own heart.8

With New Testament writings, Christians learn that a delicate balance exists between obedience and blind following, this is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Since all Christians, including elders, are human, it is possible that sin might exist in an eldership of the Lord’s people. If sin should exist, Scriptures do not permit the sin to go unaddressed.9 Therefore, if it becomes necessary to rebuke an elder, Christians need to be absolutely certain that he is guilty of sin, and the New Testament identifies several examples.10 Consequently, if a Christian grumbles against an elder because of the non-sinful way he acts, leads, and/or speaks, then it is the grumbling Christian who has sinned. This means, whether we like it or not, elders have the freedom to do things we may not prefer, and do not have to acquiesce to the flock’s statement of “that’s not how I’d do it”. Furthermore, if the flock believes an elder has failed to meet their standards for leadership, or if they perceive him as failing to grow in his abilities to shepherd, or even if they perceive him as unwise, God has provided no scriptural authority for the flock to express their discontent.

Lastly, we learn from Paul in Philippians 1.15-18, that Christians should be thankful and rejoice even when wrongfully motivated men occupy positions in God’s ordained leadership. If the apostle Paul, a Holy Spirit inspired man, did not take occasion to voice his grumblings, then how can 21st century Christians? We need to understand that voicing our discontent may make us feel good, but feeling good does not necessarily equal doing good. The Scriptures demand that Christians do good regardless of how we feel. May we all aspire to imitate these characteristics of David and Paul that we may “do all things without murmurings and disputings”11 and that we may “Neither murmur …, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.”12

1 instances of death – Numbers 11.1, 34; 12.10, 12; 14.28-29
2 Numbers 11.10
3 I Thessalonians 5.19
4 I Samuel 24.6, 10
5 I Samuel 26.9, 11, 16, 23
6 II Samuel 1.1-16
7 I Samuel 26.10
8 Acts 13.22
9 a part of handling sin within the leadership – I Timothy 5.17-20
10 lists providing examples of sin – Romans 1.28-31; I Corinthians 6.9-10; Galatians 5.19-21
11 Philippians 2.14
12 I Corinthians 10.10