The Spirit of Murmuring (Grumbling) Reveals a Spirit of Discontent

The Spirit of Murmuring (Grumbling) Reveals a Spirit of Discontent

The Spirit of Murmuring (Grumbling) Reveals a Spirit of Discontent
Recently, I read a most timely book*. Though it was written in 1645, during a time when Christians were suffering great persecution from the Roman Catholic Church, it has been most helpful to me. Every believer experiences light afflictions from time to time. We call them “light” because that’s what they are compared to the far greater glory yet to be revealed in us (2 Corinthians 4:17). Sometimes our afflictions are a chastisement for sin but often they’re just how the Lord works his sanctifying grace in us. Over the years Jeremiah Burroughs’ book has helped countless Christians face their afflictions with the understanding that all that happens in their lives is according to God’s good purpose for them. It doesn’t make the suffering any less painful, but has helped in not letting the afflictions become a cause to stumble in our faith.
Moreover, learning to be content in the Lord through our difficult trials has been the greatest challenge that I believe we must learn in our Christian lives. Though in this life we will not by any stretch come to a state of full contentment, this “jewel” in the Christian life is indeed “rare” since the struggle against a spirit of discontent in all of us is on-going. We grumble and complain against almost anything that goes against how we think things ought to be, whether it’s circumstances or other people that God, in His providence, brings into our lives. There many circumstances that we do not have control over. They make our lives uncomfortable or uneasy, whether that involves persecution or oppression from unbelievers (which is what the original readers of Burroughs’ book were experiencing) or other trials. Many circumstances that we complain about also involve the areas of work, finances, health, state of affairs in our country or even our churches. Even the outcome of a football game stirs up discontent – “Maybe I should support another more ‘winning’ team.” We complain about other people; we don’t like their personality, or the way they conduct themselves (though they are not living in unrepentant sin); we don’t like the way a person performs their tasks in their labors.
Within many churches there is much discontent amongst the saints in Christ. This sinful spirit is a pervasive problem. We see it when people find fault with others. We see it when they are discontent that those visiting the church are not actually joining the church. We see it when there isn’t enough work being shared by the other members. Yet we find these facts just about any church we attend. Beloved in the Lord, it is one thing when the ungodly murmur (grumble) and complain. We would expect a discontented spirit possessing an unbeliever. However, when those who profess faith in Christ complain they possess a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ that dwells in him or her (Philippians 2:14-15). Yet it must be kept in mind that just because a person is saved and has died to sin being delivered from the dominion of sin having been baptized into Christ, he nevertheless still wrestles with the sin that remains present with him that battles against the Spirit of Christ and His righteousness (Romans 6:6; 7:20-21; Galatians 5:17). And oftentimes, the old man (the sin that dwells in our members) wins the battle, whether we are aware of it or not. This leads to the subject of this article concerning murmuring and complaining, which is drawn from a very small but powerful section of Jeremiah Burroughs’ book on contentment.
He writes, “As contentment argues much grace, and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruption in your heart” (p. 79). The vile corruption of the heart is a discontented heart that is manifested in murmuring and complaining. The power of this statement is seen in the Epistle of Jude.
In Jude, verse 14 and 15, we read, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1:14-15, NKJV).
In the verses quoted here we are told of the condition of the ungodly, which is a state of discontent. We are told that the ungodly live their lives in an ungodly way, and in their ungodly conversation they speak against the Lord. It is to these ungodly people the Lord will come with “ten thousands of His saints” to execute His eternal punishment, having convicted them (found them guilty) of their wickedness. Now, when we think about ungodly people we might think that it is easy to identify them by their behavior. They are drunkards, thieves, murderers, adulterers and fornicators. Or we identify the ungodly by the words they speak. They are those who are using foul language, speaking blasphemies against God and even denying His very existence. And in thinking only in this way, you might think to yourself that since you do not act that way or speak with such disrespect toward the Lord, these verses are not talking about you. As a believer in Christ this would be considered irreprehensible conduct and inconsistent with those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and implanted with the love of God in their hearts. However, we must consider the next verse in Jude that describes these ungodly people that is different than what we might think, and which is oftentimes overlooked or just simply ignored.
We read in verse 16, “These are grumblers, complainers . . .” In this verse those who are identified as ungodly are “grumblers,” or “murmurers” (King James Version) and complainers. When believers engage in murmuring and complaining, are they not conducting themselves in the same way as the ungodly? According to Scripture, they absolutely are! In murmuring or grumbling we are expressing discontent in our circumstances, or as it has been defined, “grumbling is a species of immoderate complaint about one’s allotted circumstances.” How many of us have grumbled about our circumstances? In that moment, are we not exercising a rebellious spirit against God’s Providence? For example, have we not complained against another person, as though our discontent is caused by that person? How often do we see in churches jealousy and envy, strife and contention being stirred up by the insatiable grumbling and complaining by one or a few of its members? Whole churches have been torn apart because a discontented spirit has penetrated their midst producing much grumbling and complaining about setbacks or situations going on in the congregation. And more often than not, our grumbling is aimed against one another; whether it is against another layperson, a deacon, an elder, or the pastor. We see this sin in words such as, “I don’t like the way so and so does this thing or that.” “If only the pastor would be or do such and such, we would see the church grow faster, or we would not be losing so many members.” Though the person being complained against doesn’t believe in any heresy, nor lives in unrepentant sin, a spirit of murmuring and complaining will raise up the weaknesses of that person and his personality as being reason enough to not like him and to complain to others about that person in a way that is demeaning and disrespectful. And so goes the grumbling and complaining that stirs up a spirit of contention and discontent within the church.
Each of us who are in Christ need to honestly and humbly examine our own hearts, to see whether we have a spirit of murmuring and complaining (it is an exam that I have found that I need to take daily; and flunk often). You may think that you are not as bad as others, because you do not get drunk or swear as others do, but you are acting just as ungodly when you murmur and complain against God and one another. Burroughs writes, “It is true there is no sin but some seeds and remainders of it are in those who are godly; but when men are under the power of this sin of murmuring, it convicts them as ungodly, as well as if they were under the power of drunkenness, or whoredom, or any other sin. God will look upon you as ungodly for this sin as well as for any sin whatever. This one Scripture should make the heart shake at the thought of the sin of murmuring” (p. 80).
Does this thought not shake your heart? It should; it should bring you to your knees in the fear of the Lord. Are you guilty of this sin? If you are (and there are not many, if any, who can honestly say they are not), then you are in rebellion against God, against His Providence. Drawing from Numbers 16:41 and 17:10 Burroughs writes, “. . . you are this day charged by the Lord as being guilty of rebellion against God, and God expects that when you go home, you should humble your souls before Him for this sin, that you should charge your souls for being guilty of rebellion against God.
“Many of you may say, I never thought that I was a rebel against God before, I thought that I had many infirmities, but now I see the Scripture speaks of sin in a different way than men do; the Scripture makes men, though only murmurers, to be rebels against God. Oh, this rebellious heart that I have against the Lord, which has manifested itself in this way of murmuring against the Lord!” (p. 81).
What a powerful message for us all to consider the next time we become discontented and are tempted to murmur and complain about this person or that person, just because he or she isn’t confirming to the standards we have set (remember, the Pharisees believed strongly that Jesus did not fit into their idea of what the Messiah would be like). Let’s consider carefully that when we murmur and complain against a man who is called to an office of the church, we are rebelling against those whom the Lord has called to that office and are, according to Scripture, rebelling against God Himself, judging His call of the man to be in error. This small section of the book cuts to the core of this very vile sin, which is oftentimes ignored as though it is not that big a deal – but the Lord says it is a big deal! The truth is that we have many areas to examine in our lives to root ouot the sin of grumbling. Whether it is dealing with God’s harsh providences in our lives (like sickness, accident, financial woe) or dealing with circumstances in our church, reflect upon the doctrine of God’s Providence as it is taught in Heidelberg Catechism #27 and #28. That should help tremendously.
And because it is such a subtle sin many people will not recognize it. Only by the Holy Spirit working grace in your hearts will you come to understand the gravity of this sin. Let’s therefore come to the Lord seeking His grace to reveal to us our own sinful spirit of discontent, and with a repentant heart rest in His goodness and grace that is evidenced in His Providence, trusting Him alone knowing that He will work all things to our good, to our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone obtained for His elect the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, salvation and everlasting life. If we will do that then we will begin to learn to be content in the ways the Lord is showing us His faithfulness and providence. Moreover, we will begin to embrace one another in Christ’s love and from a contented heart cease from murmuring and complaining and truly glorify God in all that we say and do through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!
Rev. Richard Stetler
Acton, California
Box 1. Jeremiah Burroughs, “As contentment argues much grace, and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruption in your heart” (p. 79).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email