The Destructive Power of Grumbling and Complaining

A thankful life is a clean, blessed, expansive life. A complaining life is a stifling, negative, constricting life. Which will you choose?

By Michael Brown Published on November 23, 2017

What kept the children of Israel out of the promised land after being miraculously delivered from Egypt? It was a spirit of rebellion, which was fueled by an attitude of unbelief, which in turn was fueled by a persistent habit of grumbling and complaining. And so, one whole generation of Israelites wandered aimlessly in the desert for 40 years because, rather than being worshipful and thankful, they chose instead to grumble and complain. Can we learn from their mistakes?

A Pattern of Complaining

Looking back to the book of Numbers, we see this pattern unfold clearly in the space of four chapters.

In Numbers 11 the children of Israel grumble and complain about the food the Lord was supplying for them.

In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam grumble and complain about the woman their brother Moses married.

In Numbers 13, 10 of the 12 Israelite leaders come back from spying out the promised land full of unbelief and fear. (For the record, can you remember any of the names of the 10 spies who brought the negative report? I didn’t think so! But we all know the names of the two who came back with a positive report: Joshua and Caleb.)

In Numbers 14, the children of Israel are in total rebellion, refusing to go into the promised land and instead wanting to go back to Egypt. Their steady history of grumbling and complaining paved the way!

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Just look at these representative verses, all describing Israel’s behavior after God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt: “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Exod 15:24) “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exod 16:2). “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites” (God speaking; Exod 16:12). “But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses” (Exod. 17:3). “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Num. 14:2). “I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites” (God speaking; Num. 17:5). “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.’” (Moses looking back 40 years later; Deut. 1:27).

And these verses provide just a sampling of Israel’s steady habit of grumbling and complaining. Nothing was good enough. The past was better than the present. Something was always wrong. “Waah, waah, waah! We’re not happy! Moses, do something about it!” How immature and babyish it is to constantly grumble and complain.

What the Bible Says

Here’s a summary of what the Scriptures teach us about grumblers and complainers:

  1. Grumblers and complainers open the door to unbelief, which leads to rebellion
  2. Grumblers and complainers never make a quality faith decision to address and overcome present problems and obstacles by the power of the Spirit and Word
  3. Grumblers and complainers are unthankful and unappreciative
  4. Grumblers and complainers are faultfinders and tear down rather than build up
  5. Grumblers and complainers are joyless and therefore question the joy of others (they project their own misery on others!)
  6. Grumblers and complainers are never content with the present; yesterday was always better; today needs to change (of course, they quickly forget their attitude to yesterday when yesterday was today!)
  7. Grumblers and complainers qualify as “fools” according to the standards or Proverbs!

Now, contrast grumblers and complainers with those who are thankful to God and full of praise:

  1. Grumblers and complainers are faith-killers, joy-stealers, Spirit-quenchers, and blessing-diminishers
  2. Praisers and worshipers are faith-builders, joy-getters, Spirit-movers, and blessing-increasers
  3. Praise brings God’s presence; grumbling chases it away
  4. Praise lifts us up; grumbling brings us down

As we enter this Thanksgiving season, let’s take Paul’s words to heart: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing … and be thankful” (Phil. 2:14; Col 3:15). Not only will those around you feel the change of atmosphere, but you will feel it as well.

A thankful life is a clean, blessed, expansive life. A complaining life is a stifling, negative, constricting life. Which will you choose? I say: Be thankful!

(For those wanting to do some study, here’s a list of New Testament passages calling us to be thankful: Eph 5:3-4, 19-20; Phil 4:6; Col 1:10-12; 2:6-7; 3:15-17; 4:2; 1 Thes 5:16-18; 1 Tim 2:1-2. And don’t forget Luke 17:11-19.)

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  • Murball

    It totally amazes me how thankfulness is the remedy that God gave us to combat our self-absorbed, sinful, rebellious, grumbling and complaining nature in a world corrupted by sin and death and under the sway of the devil. Everything is literally working against us but thankfullness towards God works for us. It makes perfect sense that it’s God’s will for us to be thankful in everything.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Great column, Dr. Brown! Well done!

  • Patmos

    Absolutely. The consequences of not believing are laid out there by that generation not making it into the promised land.

    “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” -Hebrews 4:11

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