What Seemingly Benign Activity Invites Quick Judgment From God? #332

Happy Monday to you, friends! I hope you are doing well and staying safe. We here in Central California have just entered our 8th month in quarantine, and like you’ve probably heard, we now have a curfew. Which means that I have been shut in with my family for the past 8 months, and let me tell you – they are the worst. Can you believe what my complaining did to me yesterday??…ok, ok – I’m just kidding around and illustrating the topic of the podcast today. Most people, if given a list of sins to rank from best to worst would probably put ‘complaining’ somewhere in the neighborhood of going 5 miles over the speed limit, saying ‘fiddlesticks’ when you stub your toe and fudging your weight by a couple of pounds on your driver’s license. In other words, we don’t think complaining is a big deal compared to some of the other super-sins. Unfortunately, we aren’t the judge of what is a big deal and what isn’t, and it turns out that complaining is, in God’s eyes, actually a very big deal. Let’s read our James passage and find out more – but listen carefully, because it is only a short mention here.

Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!

James 5:9

I believe I have told you before that on most nights, our family reads together one chapter of the Bible from the Bible reading plan, and tonight we read James 5, and I must confess that I read and reread and emphasized James 5:9 because we have 5 children in our home, and you can probably imagine that there have been a few violations of this command over the years. Complaining is so commonplace in our culture that it sometimes just blends into the conversation with barely any notice from anybody…and this is really quite dangerous to us in a spiritual sense. First we are told not to complain. The KJV uses the verb ‘grudge,’ and the ESV says “do not grumble.” All three words capture the overall sense of the Greek word there, which is στενάζω stenázō and most directly translates to ‘groan.’ We aren’t supposed to groan about each other, and specifically, James is telling us not to groan about other Christians. (Don’t tell my kids that!) Here’s his reason: if you groan/complain/grumble about other people, then you need to remember that you WILL BE JUDGED, and you need to know, says James, that the judge is STANDING CLOSE BY. 

Why are we going to be judged for complaining, James – what in the world is the big deal? I’m just blowing off steam, man. Here are three reasons why complaining is so bad for you.

#1 Complaining severely displeases God. Let’s read Numbers 11:

Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. When the Lord heard, his anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So that place was named Taberah, because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them.

Numbers 11:1-3

Okay, that’s terrifying. Paul reminds us of the dangers of grumbling in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “And don’t grumble as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” So, we don’t grumble because God has a severe dislike for it.

2. Complaining/grumbling about others IGNORES THE FACT THAT YOU ARE JUST AS BAD, IF NOT WORSE. Remember what Jesus said, “Judge not, so you won’t be judged.” James is saying something similar here: Don’t complain about other people, so you won’t be judged…because you are just as guilty as they are, just about something slightly different. Recall back a few chapters ago: James 2:13, “13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Complaining against somebody is just like judging them. Complaining against somebody is almost the opposite of showing mercy, so if you are complaining against people frequently, you are putting yourself in a judgemental position, and you are inviting yourself and your deeds to be judged…and the judge is right at the door of those who are complainers, reminds James.

3. Complaining is very nearly the opposite of love. They will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love, says Jesus. He that doesn’t love doesn’t know God, says John. The Greatest thing to do, says Paul, is to love. And Peter says that we are to love each other above all:

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.Be hospitable to one another without complaining

1 Peter 4:8-10

Love covers over sins and forgives them. A person of Jesus that is walking in love won’t have anything to complain about, because they are aware of the requirement to forgive, and they are aware that they themselves have been forgiven, and thus they must forgive others lest they forfeit their own forgiveness. Love is patient, love is kind, love isn’t selfish or self-centered. Complaining is impatient and harsh and all about me, me, me!

Let’s close with some wise words from Spurgeon on walking in contentment and not complaining:

“I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.”—Philippians 4:11

These words show us that contentment is not a natural propensity of man. “Ill weeds grow apace.” Covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth: and so, we need not teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. If we would have wheat, we must plough and sow; if we want flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardener’s care. Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us. Paul says, “I have learned … to be content;” as much as to say, he did not know how at one time. It cost him some pains to attain to the mystery of that great truth. No doubt he sometimes thought he had learned, and then broke down. And when at last he had attained unto it, and could say, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” he was an old, grey-headed man, upon the borders of the grave—a poor prisoner shut up in Nero’s dungeon at Rome. We might well be willing to endure Paul’s infirmities, and share the cold dungeon with him, if we too might by any means attain unto his good degree. Do not indulge the notion that you can be contented with learning, or learn without discipline. It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. We know this from experience. Brother, hush that murmur, natural though it be, and continue a diligent pupil in the College of Content.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).


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