Contentment: Part 3 - Grumbling

In case you missed the first entry here, I wanted to write a couple of blogs as a follow up on my Summer Conference seminar on contentment.  I’ve been greatly encouraged and convicted in my reading and teaching on this topic.  Contentment is a category of the Christian life that inadvertently touches a whole host of other areas.  One of them that we rarely consider is grumbling.  In many ways grumbling and complaining seem like such elementary topics that one would only expect to hear it discussed in a children’s class.  However, the New Testament writers are keen to point out the dangers of a grumbling spirit and it should serve as a warning for all of us.

In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul looks back on a particular era of Old Testament history that was marked by discontentment and grumbling.  There are few moments in salvation history so poignant as God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  God led his people in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  He ensured their successful journey by parting the Red Sea and so providing safe passage out of Egypt and away from Pharaoh’s pursuing army.  God’s people were eye witnesses of the hand of God in working many signs and wonders for their own deliverance.  Yet, in 1 Corinthians 10, we read that with most of them God was not pleased.  What could cause such an indictment?  Idolatry and sexual immorality were certainly part of the problem (1 Cor 10:6-9).  In their sin and unbelief, the Israelites were guilty of these two offenses.  But then in the same section, along with the sins of sexual immorality and idolatry, comes another charge, we must not “grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”  1 Cor 10:10.  They grumbled.

Grumbling and complaining doesn’t seem like that big of a deal in our day.  In fact we often laugh with those whose quick wit and humor are defined by grumbling.  However, with a little more thought, there’s more to grumbling than what we see at first glance.  At it’s core, a grumbling spirit comes from a heart of unbelief.  Unbelief that God is not good, that His sovereign plan for my life doesn’t meet my approval, and in my frustration I want to make sure everyone around me knows how I feel.  At it’s heart, a grumbling spirit is dangerous because it reveals a belief that we know better than God.  This doesn’t mean that there are no hard afflictions in life, or trials to endure.  Certainly we all experience them!  But our response in them and to them reveals our core convictions about the nature of God and His relationship to us.  What if in the midst of hardship and affliction, we were absolutely convinced that this comes from the goodness of God and that He will continue to meet all of our need?  The pain wouldn’t suddenly disappear.  However, the frustration that causes us to constantly complain and grumble would give way to a life marked by faith and belief.  As usual, Jeremiah Burroughs captures the danger well when he writes, “Murmuring is but as the smoke of the fire: there is first a smoke and smouldering before the flame breaks forth; and so before open rebellion in a kingdom there is first a smoke of murmuring, and then it breaks forth into open rebellion.” Pg. 140.  May God give us the grace to be a people marked by trust and faith rather than grumbling and murmuring.