This is the first of two articles on the topic of the dangers of discontentment. This article shows that grumbling and a lack of contentment is contrary to holiness and reveals rebellion against God.

2009. 6 pages. Transcribed by Diana Bouwman. Transcription started at 5:15 and stopped at 30:50.

The Dangers of a Murmuring, Discontented Spirit I The Mystery of Contentment Series: Part 3

Read Philippians 2:12-18

Are you characterized by a grumbling, complaining spirit? Would others see you as being characterized by a grumbling and complaining spirit? A story is told of a monk named Brother John. Brother John entered a monastery, and this particular monastery was a monastery of silence. When Brother John entered the monastery of silence, the abbot said to him, “Brother John, this is a silent monastery. You are welcome here as long as you like, but you may not speak until I direct you to do so.” Brother John lived in the monastery for five years before the Abbot said to him, “Brother John, you have been here five years now. You may speak two words.” Brother John said, “Hard bed.” “I am sorry to hear that,” the Abbot said. “We will get you a better bed.” After another five years, Brother John was called by the abbot. “You may say another two words, Brother John.” “Cold food” said Brother John. And the Abbot assured him that the food would be better in the future. On his fifteenth anniversary at the monastery, the abbot again called Brother John into his office and said, “Two words you may say today.” Brother John said, “I quit.” The abbot replied, “It is probably best. You have done nothing but complain since you got here.”

Are you characterized by a complaining spirit? That is the question this morning. All of us, more or less, know what it means to grumble or complain. Some of us more than less! And we oftentimes excuse our grumbling, or we excuse our complaining. “It is somebody else's fault.” “Somebody else has put me in this position or in these circumstances in life.” In our age it is common to say it is our parents' fault. Our parents have caused us to be in the situation that brings about this grumbling. We blame our circumstances. We blame our personality: “I am just a grumpy person.” We have our excuses, and we often times do not take our grumbling and complaining spirit seriously.

But Scripture does. The Word of God tells us that a grumbling, complaining spirit is serious business. We have seen in previous weeks that contentment is the work of God's grace in our hearts. Well, if contentment is the evidence of God's grace in our hearts, then what does discontent reveal? At the very least, it reveals a deeper spiritual problem. It reveals trouble in the soul. Paul here in Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning” (the ESVUK reads). This could be translated in this way: “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” It is a similar kind of idea. We are to do all things without grumbling.

I like the Greek word that is actually used here. The Greek word here is “gongysmos.” “Gongysmos,” like our word “murmur,” is what we call an onomatopoeia. What is that? The word itself sounds like what it is, or sounds like what it produces. Gongysmos…what does that sound like? Grumbling. Like our word murmur. That is what it sounds like when there is murmuring in the camp. But more significant about this particular Greek word than simply that it is onomatopoeia, it is that it is a word that was consistently used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament to refer to the grumbling and the complaining of the Israelites. The grumbling and complaining of God’s people in the wilderness. Paul is essentially telling the Philippians here (and us as well) that we are not to grumble and complain like the Israelites. We are not to be grumblers. We are not to be complainers. We are not to have a discontented spirit. God calls us to be content.

Now, when Paul says here “Do all things without grumbling or complaining,” let me first share with you a couple of things that I believe he does not mean. The first is this: When Paul says we are not to grumble, this does not mean that we are never to share our struggles with one another. In fact, I believe in the body of Christ we are to do that very thing. And Paul is the perfect model of this. Paul not only can say, “I have learned to be content,” but he can also share his own struggles with his brothers and with his churches. It is okay to do that – to talk about what we are going through and to talk about our problems. Of course, a lot of us are hesitant to do that because we do not want to sound like complainers, right? But let me give you permission. We are going to talk about proper complaining and improper complaining in a minute, but let me give you permission. Share your struggles with one another. Talk to one another, so that we can share your burden with you. That is the first thing that this does not mean.

The second thing that this does not mean is it does not mean that we are never to raise a reverent complaint to God. It does not mean that we are never to raise a reverent complaint to God. How do I know that? Because the Bible does it. The Bible has writers who “complain.” They raise a proper complaint to God. The psalmists do it. In fact, if you read through the first thirteen Psalms, you will see that at least three of them are what we can call Psalms of complaint. Look at Habakkuk, the prophet. The book of Habakkuk in the Bible is largely made up of complaint. The prophet first of all complains about the sin of Israel, and secondly he complains about God bringing the Chaldeans to come in and bring judgment on them, disciplining them for their sin. He complains; he raises a reverent complaint to God.

Now, there is legitimate and illegitimate complaining. What are some things we need to examine here? Frequency: How often do we complain? The intensity of it and the nature of the intensity of our complaining: Is it a trusting and faithful complaining, or is it a demanding complaining? “God, change my circumstances now!” Or do we let God be God in the midst of it. One of the things that you see as you read the biblical writers, as they raise their complaints, is they are letting God be God. They are taking their complaint to a place ultimately where it needs to go, but they are saying, “God, you are in control, and I submit to your sovereign will.” That is the biblical picture.

But let's come back to this inappropriate grumbling and complaining. I want to focus our attention on three verses: Philippians 2:14-16. I want to see three things. The first is going to be a little bit longer than the other two.

Murmuring Reveals Corruption in the Heart🔗

The first thing that we see from this passage is that murmuring, or grumbling, reveals corruption in the heart. Paul says:

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. Philippians 2:14-15a, ESVUK

Notice that word “that.” “Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be innocent, blameless, without blemish.” In other words, how are we to be innocent and blameless and without blemish in the sight of God? It is to do all things without grumbling and complaining. Our being without blemish depends on it. How easily we excuse our grumbling and complaining spirit, and yet God tells us here that being blameless in His sight and being pure in His sight depends on our not having this kind of grumbling and complaining spirit. It refers to our disposition and the manner of our obedience. “Do all things without grumbling and complaining.” You know how easy it is to do the right thing but to do it with the wrong spirit, right? We see it sometimes in our kids. We say, “Take out the trash,” and they do it [with a grumbling spirit]. And it is more problematic when we see it in ourselves.

In verse 16 Paul goes on (by the way, verses 14-16 in the ESV and in the Greek are all one sentence). The main part is “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” And then there are some things under that that all point back to that main point, the main command. The first is in verse 15:

That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God.Philippians 2:15a, ESVUK

Go on to verse 16:

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 labour in vain. Philippians 2:16, ESVUK, emphasis added

See that? “Do all things without grumbling or complaining…so that in the day of Christ” (that is, on that last day when Christ comes again) “I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.” What is Paul talking about there? He says, “When Christ comes again, I want to have the assurance and I want to know for a fact that you are part of the glorious bride of Christ.” To put it differently, Paul is saying here that your salvation depends on this. Do you see that? Do all things without grumbling and complaining, because it is an eternal issue with eternal consequences. That is the point!

A Grumbling Spirit Is Contrary to Holiness🔗

Grumbling and complaining, in other words, is contrary to that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). A grumbling spirit will not attain the kingdom of God. You might say, “Wait a minute! Sovereign grace…we preach grace…this sounds a lot like works. Do I earn my way into heaven because I get rid of my grumbling and complaining?” Of course not! Paul's teachings and the writings of the Bible are all about grace. We are not saved by what we do, but by what God does. Paul has already told the Philippians back in Philippians 1:6 that “he who began a good work in you will complete it in the day of Christ.” It is all of God! But of course, we have responsibility in the midst of this. As Paul has earlier said, we are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We have a responsibility. We are to put sin to death. We are to put grumbling and complaining to death. Ultimately, a discontented, murmuring spirit reveals a lack of grace in our hearts. It is the enemy of our souls.

A Grumbling Spirit Is Ungodliness🔗

And this is in line with the rest of the teaching of Scripture. Turn with me forward in your Bibles to the book of Jude, the second last book of the Bible.

Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgement on all and to convict all the ungodly of their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Jude 14b-15, ESV

You see that repetition again and again and again: the ungodly. God is coming to execute judgment. This passage is about God's judgment. Who will He bring it on? “All the ungodly of their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Jude here wants to emphasize that these people that God brings judgment on are ungodly. They are without God. But look at how he goes on to describe them:

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage. Jude 16, ESV

Thomas Watson, the Puritan writer, has a famous work entitled The Godly Man's Picture. Well, what we have here is the ungodly man's picture. And one of the first things that Jude tells us about the ungodly is they are grumblers and malcontents. Grumbling and discontent is the enemy of our souls. A grumbling, discontented spirit does not attain the kingdom of God. 

A Grumbling Spirit Is Rebellion against God🔗

Turn back to the Old Testament. Let's go back to the book of Numbers 16. I basically want you to see from this passage that in God's eyes grumbling is rebellion. In Numbers 16 we have the rebellion of Korah, and those who were associated with him were all put to death. Korah, his family and those associated were all put to death. And then we read in Numbers 16:

But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” Numbers 16:41, ESV

They grumbled. We move on into Numbers 17, the famous passage where we see the budding of Aaron's staff. This is a way that God says, “I am going to reveal who my leaders are.”

And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you. Numbers 17:5, ESV

So God is doing this to cease their grumbling. 

And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Numbers 17:10, ESV

Do you see the connection there? These grumblers are rebels. When we have a grumbling, discontented spirit, we are in rebellion against God. Or as Jeremiah Burroughs put it: “Grumbling in a kingdom are the seeds of sedition.” So our grumbling is our rebellion against God.

The Discontent Person Will Be Judged🔗

Think back to earlier in the books of Moses. We are not going to turn there, but think back to Exodus 15-17. God has just delivered His people. He has brought them through the Red Sea. They have seen His power and His might. They have seen God's judgment on the Egyptians as He brought the sea over them. And then immediately after that, at the end of Exodus 15, what do they do? They grumble and they complain. They say, “We do not have water,” and God provides water for them to drink. What happens in the next episode? In Exodus 16 once again they grumble and complain. “We need food,” and God provides food. In Exodus 17, what do they do? You got it! They complain. “We do not have water to drink.” And it is in that episode in Exodus 17 that God says to Moses, “I will go before you, and I will stand on a rock, and Moses, you come with your staff and you strike the rock, and water will come forth from the rock.”

God provides water for the people. We see that clearly in the passage. But one thing that we do not often see is that when God stands on the rock, God is identifying with the rock. When Moses comes and Moses strikes the rock, what is Moses in essence doing? He is striking God Himself. God takes the blow for His people. God takes the punishment for His people. And of course, Paul can later say in 1 Corinthians 10:4, that Rock was Christ: A foreshadowing of Christ, who would die on the cross for the sin of His people. God here in effect provides atonement, taking the blow and taking the punishment that His people deserve. In other words, grumbling and complaining is so serious that in a short period of time God says, “I must provide atonement for my people, otherwise I will have to wipe them out.” So God says, “I will take the blow. I will take the punishment.”

Do you see how serious grumbling and complaining is? You see the dangers of a discontented spirit? Now, I do not know about you, but when I think about my own life and my own grumbling and discontent, it falls far short of the Israelites. The Israelites were in the wilderness. The Israelites were in a place where they needed water to survive. You cannot last very long in the wilderness without water. They needed food. And they grumbled and they complained. And in some sense, we can understand that. In one sense we cannot, because they have just seen what God has done, but in another sense, these are drastic circumstances that they are facing. What is your grumbling and complaining and discontent about? I once did spiritual inventory on myself when I was studying this topic a while back, and came up with a list of things that I had grumbled and complained and been discontent about that week. It came nowhere near this level. Sitting in traffic, kids being too loud when I was trying to work in the office, etc. Our grumbling and our discontent is more on the level of inconveniences and comforts. It certainly falls short of the life issues that the Israelites were facing.

And yet God says, “Do not grumble. It is so serious that I need to wipe you out or provide atonement for your sin,” which God did. We need to remember in our grumbling and complaining that our external circumstances do not cause our discontent; it reveals the discontent in our hearts. 

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