This is the second of two articles on the topic of the dangers of discontentment. This article shows that grumbling and a lack of contentment should not be characteristic of believers as children of God. In addition, grumbling damages our witness of the gospel to the world.

2009. 5 pages. Transcribed by Diana Bouwman. Transcription started at 3:35 and stopped at 22:30.

The Dangers of a Murmuring, Discontented Spirit II The Mystery of Contentment Series: Part 4

Read Philippians 2:12-18

A story is told of a man who was driving along on some country roads. He was riding with his dog in his truck and he was pulling a horse trailer with a horse in the back. He failed to negotiate a sharp curve, and the trailer and the truck both went over on its side. A policeman came on the scene several minutes later. He first came to the trailer with the horse in it and saw that the horse had broken its leg and was in bad shape, so to put the horse out of its misery the policeman took out his gun and shot him. Then he walked around and he saw that the dog had been thrown out of the truck. The dog too was in a great pain and agony and was not going to make it, so to put the dog out of his agony and pain the policeman also shot the dog. He went around to where the man was. The man had broken some ribs and had broken an arm and broken a leg. He was in great pain. The policeman asked him, “Sir, how are you doing?” And the man responded, “Never been better!”

The moral of this story, as it has been told, is to be thankful and be content because it could be worse. And indeed, that is what the world says. There is some truth to this. Be thankful and be content because it could always be worse. And in our times of difficulty and trial, I think all of us know the experience of thinking of someone who has it much worse off than we do. It could be worse, and so we are called to be joyful and to be content.

And yet, the Bible goes to even a deeper level. There are deeper spiritual reasons for why we need to seek and find true Christian contentment the way the apostle Paul did, who had learned to be content in every circumstance – even from prison, where he is writing this letter to the Philippians. So we need to learn to be content.

Last week we focused on Philippians 2:14-16, and we are going to come back to this passage and focus there again this morning.

Murmuring Reveals Corruption in the Heart🔗

Our first point was that a murmuring, grumbling, discontented Spirit reveals corruption in our heart. It reveals corruption. We saw that in our passage, where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” (or your Bible might read “grumbling or complaining”), “that you may be blameless and innocent” (verse 14-15). The way to be blameless and innocent before God is to do all things without grumbling or complaining and to have a contented spirit.

And Paul goes on to say in verse 16, “So that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.” What is he referring to there? He is referring ultimately to their salvation. He in a sense is saying that their salvation depends on it. A grumbling, complaining, discontented spirit is opposed to that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). So we are to pursue this.

We saw last week that a discontented Spirit reveals a lack of grace in the hearts. Discontent and grumbling and complaining is the very enemy of our souls. We need to do battle against it. Grumbling is rebellion, and rebels will be judged, the Bible tells us.

The Discontent Person Will Be Judged🔗

We saw that last week in Jude 15-16. We saw that in Numbers 16. We are not going to go back to those passages, but let's look at a couple other passages to make this point. Turn back to the Old Testament in Numbers 14:

And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upwards, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.’" Numbers 14:26-30, ESV

What does God say? “These people are grumbling against me. They have seen all that I have done for them, but they are a discontented people who are constantly grumbling and questioning my provision for them.” And God says they will be wiped out. Their children will enter into the Promised Land, but they will not. God is going to bring judgment on those who grumble and complain, He says.

You might say, “That is under the Old Testament. That is under the old covenant. What about the new?” Well, let's turn to the New Testament. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10. He is referring to the Israelites’ time in the wilderness:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written,“The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10:6-10, ESV

If I were to ask you to make a list of your top three sins, I doubt that grumbling would be even in the top ten. But notice here that Paul refers to idolatry (probably number one on most of our lists), sexual immorality, (pretty high up there on most of our lists), and grumbling. Those are the three sins that he refers to here that bring God's judgment. And he says here in 1 Corinthians 10:10 that they “were destroyed by the Destroyer.” God's Word says that He will judge the grumbler, the discontented person.

James says in James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you not be judged.” We often excuse our grumbling and our complaining, and we typically blame it on our circumstances. “If I just was not in this bad situation, I would be a lot happier and a lot more content.” I saw an interesting statistic once. It is a well-known fact that the divorce rate in this country is about 50%. It has hovered around 50% for many, many years now. There are some signs that it has dropped a little bit, but it is still somewhere in the 50% range. But what we do not often know is that the divorce rate for second marriages is in the 60% range and the divorce rate for third marriages is in the 70% range! We think that if we get out of a bad situation and get into what we think is a “better situation” we will be happy and we will be content. Well, the problem is it is not our situation that brings contentment; it is the heart. When we leave one bad situation to go to another situation, we bring that sinful heart with us. And that is the problem. That is the root of our discontent.

So we need to search for and find and pray for contentment wherever God puts us. External circumstances do not cause discontent; external circumstances serve to reveal the discontent in our hearts. A grumbling, discontented spirit is great sin. It reveals corruption. And God says, “I will judge the grumbler and the discontented person.” 

Murmuring is Beneath the Dignity of the Children of God🔗

Secondly, we see in our passage that murmuring is beneath the dignity of the children of God. Murmuring, grumbling and discontent is beneath the dignity of the children of God. In verse 15 Paul reminds them that they are the children of God. He says, “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” It is a reminder of who they are! God's children. The children of the King. All the riches of God's mercy and blessing are ours! We belong to Him. We were once His enemies in our sin, cut off from Him, but now we are His very children, His adopted sons and daughters! That is the glorious message of God's Word.

Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (2010), writes that grumbling is like the child of a king crying and stomping his feet when he loses a toy. And that is what we do. We are children of the great King. We need to remember what God has done for us. What has God done?

Ephesians 1:4 tells us he has chosen us “before the foundation of the world.” We have been chosen in Christ. God has sent Christ to die for us. God has purchased us; Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” – the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He has bought us out of our slavery to sin. You do not need to remain in your sin. You do not need to remain in your discontent. Not that we are going to perfectly attain righteousness in this world, but there is no reason why you need to remain in it. God has purchased us. God has [also] turned us away from self. In Christ we are called to surrender everything. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We want to cling to things! But God has turned us away from self. And finally, God has given to us all things. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-32, ESV

That is what God promises to do for us. He did not spare His own Son! He gave Him up freely for us! How now will He not graciously give us all that we need? Yet we say, “God, you have not given me enough. I need more. Don't you see that I need more? Give me more!” God says, “I have given you what you need for life and for godliness. Rest content in that!”

(Transcription of audio file from 16:45 to 17:03 omitted.)

John Newton – the pastor, the hymn writer, the author of Amazing Grace – once wrote:

Suppose a man was going to York to take possession of a large estate, and his chaise should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My chaise is broken! My chaise is broken!” The Works of the Rev. John Newton, 1839

Do not grumble at the slight, momentary afflictions that we face. A great inheritance is laid out for you, and God has given to you right now all that you need. Do you believe that?

Murmuring Affects our Witness for Christ🔗

Third and finally, our passage teaches us that murmuring and grumbling affects our witness for Christ. Notice how Paul turns from the inward to the outward:

…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. Philippians 2:15, ESV

What is to be the task of the Christian? It is to shine forth as lights in the world. And I think Paul is reminding them here that as you have a grumbling, complaining, discontented spirit, you are not going to shine forth the way that you should. And in fact, we also might see this outward looking focus in verse 16 as well, where he goes on say: “holding fast to the word of life.” The Greek verb there could also be translated, “holding forth the word of life,” in witness. It is not clear entirely which one it is here, but that is a possible translation. But the point here is that grumbling and complaining and discontent affects our witness.

Why? It points to self, not to Christ. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:5 that we proclaim “not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” The point is there that we can either proclaim self or we can proclaim Christ, but we cannot proclaim both. And a murmuring, discontented spirit points to self, not Christ. A witness is one who points away from self to Christ. A grumbling, discontented person is self-absorbed, and a self-absorbed person cannot be a witness for Jesus Christ. That is one reason why it affects our witness.

The second is that our complaining makes us like the world. Unbelievers, however peaceful they might seem, are inevitably discontent, because they do not have Christ. Augustine has famously said, “The heart is restless until it finds its rest in God.” The hearts of unbelievers are restless. And when they see restless and discontented Christians, they say, “Why do I want that?!” What they need to see is contentment – that peace of God that passes all understanding. That is going to shine forth the light of Christ in a discontented world. And that is what we need to pursue.

What is the antidote to this? Paul tells us at the end of our passage: It is to rejoice.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith…

In other words: “Even if I am going to be poured out in martyrdom on the top of your sacrificial faith,” or “even if I might give my life for Christ.”

…I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18, ESV

May we be a people who rejoice in the Lord.

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