Exodus 16-18: Complaints

GrumpyAllow me a moment to comment on something that is a touchy subject in churches, and is, therefore, something that is not spoken of very often.  I think it is not spoken of very often because leaders (pastors) are afraid of insulting people and so they just allow it to happen.  The subject is complaining.  Speaking from a personal perspective, the thing that gets me down the fastest in leadership is people complaining.  It is so negative, so demoralizing, and to be completely frank, very selfish.  Because most of the time when people complain, they complain about things that they are unhappy with.  People complain about how the church is not meeting their needs, or not running a ministry they want or not running a ministry in the way they think it should be run.  People complain about music, service length, and church programs that they don’t even participate in.

I would be overjoyed if people came to me to complain about the fact that the church is not seeing enough people come to saving knowledge of Jesus.  Come and complain to me that the church is not meeting to pray enough for our community or to find out how God wants to use us.  I would be happy if people came to complain about the church being too full.  I would love it if the seniors came to me to complain that the needs of the youth are not being sufficiently met, or vice-versa.  But those things don’t happen.  The seniors complain that their needs aren’t being met.  The youth complain that the church is too senior oriented.  The young families complain that the kids programs aren’t full enough and the volunteers complain because 20% of the people do 80% of the work.

The other thing that bothers me about complaining is that it often happens in the background, like some annoying buzz that you can’t quite find the source of.  Moses is lucky in these chapters from a leadership perspective; at least people came to him with their complaints.  Most of the time, I find out that people are unhappy second, third or even fourth-hand.

I’m speaking in generalities about church life and ministry here; PEMC is not full of complaining, grumbling people.  But every church has a few who like to point out what they are unhappy about and sometimes those people look pretty hard to find something to be unhappy about.  Most pastors I talk to are frustrated by this type of behaviour.

And it is behaviour that Jesus does not want us to participate in.  He berates the Jewish leaders for grumbling about his teaching and he berates his disciples for grumbling about how hard his teaching was, both in John 6.

Paul writes about grumbling:

  • Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:10 And do not grumble, as some of them (the Israelites during Moses’ time) did—and were killed by the destroying angel. (Italics mine)

As you read about these times when the Israelites complained about their circumstance and grumbled against Moses as their leader, consider God’s response to them.  Most often God gets really, really angry and even threatens to destroy them more than once.  God is not happy when his people complain.  It shows the true motivations of our hearts.  Take a second to consider what you complain about and what that might say about your heart.  Complaining leads to nothing but fighting and quarreling because it grows out of the unfulfilled desires of our hearts, James 4:1-2 talks about these things.

In and through it all, I think Moses’ response is really appropriate.  He asks the Israelites why they are testing the Lord and why they are complaining against God.  I think when people complain they do not take into consideration who they are really complaining to or about.  God gives us the provision we need.  So when we complain we are really complaining at God as provider.

The cure for a complaining spirit is very simple: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)  When you focus on God’s blessings, on his provision and making gratitude what He provides a habit in your heart and mind, your desire to complain will decrease.  This is one of the transformations that Paul mentions at the beginning of Romans 12.

One final thing to consider: grumbling is not listed in Galatians 5 as one of the fruits of the Spirit; in fact it works against a couple of the characteristics listed there (like love, peace, joy and self-control).  So it is probably something we don’t want to be cultivating in our lives.

Happy reading.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Exodus 19-21

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