Alphonse Karr provided a helpful perspective on the difference between grumbling and gratitude when he said, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” Are you in the habit of grumbling and complaining? It is almost impossible not to complain because there are so many opportunities to be dissatisfied or annoyed at something or someone. But, consider this question very carefully: Are you in the habit of grumbling and complaining? In other words, do you focus more on the rose or the thorn?
The Joyful Christian Life
We learned in a previous sermon that the pathway of joy is paved with humility and that the greatest example of humility is Jesus Christ. When we humble ourselves before God, we recognize and submit to His will and ways. A clear sign that you “walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) is that you “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14). If you are truly submitting yourself to God and have surrendered your checkbook, calendar, to-do list, etc. to Him, it is very unlikely that you will make a habit of grumbling and complaining. Why? Because you know that all you experience is part of God’s good purpose and plan for your life, that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17), and every trial is ordained by Him for your spiritual maturity (James 1:2). Therefore, a faithful Christian has no right or reason to grumble or complain. When you have confidence in the Lord’s plan for your life, you will be less likely to grumble and experience the joyful Christian life Jesus promised.
But, if you have not surrendered your life to God, you are very likely to grumble and complain. Why is this the case? Because everyone who has not surrendered themselves to God is living for themselves. The person who has not surrendered themselves to God is bound by the natural urge to maximize personal happiness. It is summarized in the maxim: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Is 22:13 & 1 Cor 15:32). If you are living for yourself, you have not surrendered your life to God, you are still seeking to maintain control over your life and your overarching motivation is personal happiness. You will have a joyless Christian life because you think that the good things you have are the result of your goodness and every difficulty keeps you from the best life you desire.
Break Free from Grumbling
We are told to “do all things without grumbling or disputing”. Grumbling (murmuring) is muted displeasure. It is bad-tempered complaining that can result in disputing with others around you. Both are sinful because they are not in keeping with peace (Heb 12:14). The grumbling and disputing may be against God or one another (or both). When aimed at God, it arises out of the belief that He is not treating you as well as you think you should be treated (e.g., God is not living up to His end of the deal). When Christians grumble, they are accusing God of mistreatment.
Christians must trust God and break free from the sin of grumbling (especially against God). We are not told to ignore troubles and trials, but to react to them in a godly way. What are some triggers for grumbling? We grumble because of laziness. We may want a “problem free” life and a Christianity that requires very little of us. We grumble because of selfishness. We want our will and preferences met. We grumble because of a desire for control. We think we know what is best for us and have trouble trusting God’s best for us.
Paul writes that we are to refuse to grumble or dispute for the purpose of being/remaining pure and blameless before God. God does not want us to sin, but to be holy. We should not grieve the Holy Spirit with our sin. Only those pure and blameless can “shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). God uses us as a witness for Christ; this is why we are here. We shine as lights amid darkness. We live in a crooked and perverse generation and we shine the gospel light in their midst. True Christians stand out among crooked and perverse people like a light stands out in a dark room. Our light is used by God to draw sinners to Christ and expose the sinfulness of sin (John 3:20).
Hold Fast to the Word of Life
How do we resist the urge to grumble and complain? We hold fast to the Word of Life! We are preserved by the Gospel as we run the race set before us (Heb 12:1) and toil in this world. Apart from Christ, everything you do is vain and empty and even “good things” can be in vain if not done for Christ. We need to cling tightly to the Gospel because we live amid “a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15). Even though we will face persecution and even death, obedience and perseverance are cause for much rejoicing. Why is holding fast, running, and toiling cause for joy? Because pleasing God is more important than pleasing yourself. John Piper said it well: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Are you in the habit of grumbling and complaining? What are you most likely to complain about? Do you complain about your job? If so, do you view your job as a blessing from God to be used for His glory or do you see your job as a means to maximize your personal happiness? Do you complain about your family? If so, do you view your family as blessings from God to be loved for their good and God’s glory or do you see your family as a burden/hindrance that keeps you from maximizing your own personal happiness? Are you in the habit of complaining about almost anything? If so, your god has become your own personal happiness and your grumbling is a natural reaction of failing to be as happy as you think you should be. You need to understand a very important point: you are not here on this planet for the purpose of maximizing your happiness, but to glorify your God and Creator. Paul said, “Be glad and rejoice with me” (Phil 2:18). Are you ready to rejoice in the Lord? Surrender all to Him! Rejoice that our Lord produces roses out of the same plants that grow thorns.