We are familiar with the first several verses of I Corinthians 10 where Paul draws parallels between the events of the Old Testament and the kingdom of the New. He states that the events of the Old Testament serve as examples to us, teaching us to avoid the same temptations into which those forerunners fell. He concludes this admonition by calling those who feel confidant in themselves to beware lest they fall.
We can certainly say that we would want to avoid these temptations, and, among the sins of idolatry and lust, Paul cites grumbling as a shortcoming of physical Israel. He’s not talking about constructive criticism. In Acts 20:31, Paul cites the admonishments he provided this congregation in the past. Romans 15:14 praises the Romans’ ability to admonish one another – instructing one another with the end of improvement. What Paul is talking about is complaining, often exaggerated, and often indicative of a lack of faith.
The Grumbling of Israel
In Exodus 5, in the process of Moses working on the release of Israel from Egyptian captivity, the people complain that God’s leaders make life more difficult for them after Pharaoh’s unreasonable production demands. They go so far as to say God will judge Moses and Aaron.
Exodus 14 records Israel approaching the Red Sea after being released from Pharaoh’s bondage. However, when the Egyptian forces were drawing close in pursuit, the people turn on Moses asking him if they brought them out to their graves. They claim it better to live in slavery. Exodus 15 records the people complaining for a lack of water. The next chapter, the theme is a lack of food, and the complainers offer not solutions. They merely exaggerate their woes, and this continues throughout their journeys.
Numbers 11:1 records God consuming many of the complainers in fire, but verse 4 shows that same grumbling returning, looking backward to their days of slavery with nostalgia. Numbers 14, 16, 20, 21, chapter after chapter, the people murmur and complain. In Numbers 14:27-29, God asks how long they will continue to grumble, and this specific case leads to the forty years of wilderness wanderings.
The bottom line is that this generation demonstrates its unworthiness to inherit God’s promises through their conduct. Their grumbling, murmuring, and complaining is at the core of these behaviors.
Remembering those verses from I Corinthians, we have to ask what this means to us today as God’s people. Philippians 2:14 calls upon us to do God’s will without complaint – this in the midst of verses regarding Christ’s servitude, His mindset, and our mission to accomplish God’s will. Paul calls us to be blameless lights to the world in the example we set, and doing God’s work without grumbling is part of that example.
Romans 14:19-20 asks us to follow after things that edify and make for peace, rather than tearing down God’s work over petty matters. Do I grumble over congregational matters, over teachers, over service structure? What does it say about my heart if I am tearing down rather than building up? What example am I setting if my interactions with others consist mainly of complaints, arguments, and gripes?
Ephesians 4:11-16 speaks to the different roles people can fulfill in a congregation, and the purpose of these roles is for the perfecting and the building up of Christ’s church. Time and again, we are reinforced to edify one another. Not only was Moses, Aaron, and other Israelites discouraged by the grumbling pervasive around them; Gad was too. God brought them out of bondage to free them to serve Him, and He gives His Son in sacrifice for this same reason. Let us serve Him unselfishly, without grumbling, spiritually fit to receive His promises.
lesson by Tim Smelser