God created us in His image—with a mind to know Him, a heart to love Him, and a will to obey Him—in order that we might enjoy a living, personal relationship with Him. Hence, the Christian life is not a lifestyle, but fellowship with a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.This Person, to whom we are joined by faith in Him, is to have the preeminence in our life—not prominence, one among many, but preeminence—there is no one else! Thus, our very being is to be captivated by Him and enthralled with the altogether Lovely One. And our lives are to be revealing and reflecting Him.
However, there is one particular attitude that will poison our love for Christ and erode our walk with Him. This disposition of heart, perhaps more than any other, hinders our testimony and diminishes our light, which is designed to be a witness, illuminating the Person of Christ. It perverts the image of Christ in our lives and misrepresents the manifestation of God through our lives. This mindset produces the same spiritual effect as pouring acid on the surface of a bright, new, shiny metal—eating through it, marring the finish, and impairing the reflection. Like a cancer, it continues growing and festering—the tentacles reaching deep within the recesses of our lives. And this conduct, which maligns and defames the goodness of God’s character, is detrimental to His name and reputation. The Word of God declares that it is this attitude that is the first indication of turning away from God.
The attitude is easily identifiable because it is clearly displayed; but we rarely recognize it and acknowledge it for what it is. Instead, we call it by other names in order to excuse it, rationalize it, and justify it, but God is grieved and He calls it sin.
What is it that is so displeasing to God, devastating to our relationship with God, damaging to our fellowship with God and others, as well as distorting our witness as lights revealing Christ? The one attitude that hinders our love for Christ, prevents Christ from having the place of preeminence in our lives, and begins the believer’s turning away from God is not unbelief, anger, disobedience, or rebellion—rather, it is murmuring!
We grumble about many things: We murmur about the food, the weather, taxes, politicians, the media, the temperature (inside and out), our paycheck, the people around us, our inadequate surroundings, poor workmanship, incompetent service, traffic, time (it is either going too fast or too slow), and the decisions made by those in authority, [and even] church services and sermons!
Of course, this list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it complete—it is just the “tip of the iceberg!” One lady commented that if she could not murmur, she would have nothing to talk about!
The first indication of turning away from God is an unthankful heart (Rom:1:21), expressed by murmuring, complaining, and grumbling. A thankful heart demonstrates satisfaction, indicating we are resting in the Lord.
The Word and Work of God
God’s Word to us, and His work in us and through us, is completely contrary and diametrically disparate to murmuring.
God’s Word to Us
God is quite clear and very specific when He urges believers, “Do all things without murmurings” (Phil:2:14). This is not optional. God did not say that this is a nice idea or a good suggestion. This is a command of God…. This imperative pertains to all things. God did not say that we are to do some things, most things, the majority of things, nor do as many things as you possibly can without complaining. Rather, God had in mind, “ALL!” I have done extensive research and a thorough examination of the Greek word translated “all” in English, and it means “all”—everything! We do not need to study the original languages to obey God’s Word.
God’s Work in Us
Murmuring expresses disapproval and even rejection of God’s work in us. In the verse preceding the exhortation, “Do all things without murmurings,” God declared, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil:2:13). In the previous chapter, the redeemed are reminded, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil:1:6)—not referring to our work for Christ, but His work in us. Hence, complaining communicates, “God, I don’t like it!” We are conveying to God that if we had the same power and authority that He has, we would be arranging and designing our life quite differently from the way He is doing it! “We are His [God’s] workmanship” (Eph:2:10)—not our own!
God is the One who works in the life of the believer to conform him to the image of Christ (Rom:8:29). The Person of Christ is described by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal:5:22-23). Its nine elements can be personified in two words: Jesus Christ. Christ does not give us the fruit of the Spirit, rather He is the fruit of the Spirit, and His nature is the antithesis of murmuring. Is grumbling an evidence of Christ’s joy? Is murmuring proof of Christ’s peace? The character of Christ—longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance (self-control)—are all the opposite of a murmuring heart.
Christ redeemed us in order to reproduce His life in us so that the world would see the Savior revealed through the saint. My life is to be a reflection of who Christ is, not who I am. The word “Christian” means “to be characterized by Christ.” (The suffix, “ian” signifies to be exemplified by that thing or that one, such as a politician is one typified by politics.) The believer should not be murmuring because the Lord Jesus Christ does not murmur!
God’s Work through Us
Murmuring not only repudiates God’s work in us, but it also tarnishes God’s work through us. Following the admonition that the redeemed are not to be characterized by murmuring, God explained, “that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil:2:15). Murmuring will dim and diminish the believer’s witness and testimony.
“Shine as Lights”
To “shine as lights” signals that the believer’s life is revealing Christ to the world. When God stated, “Work out your own salvation” (v 12), He was not directing the believer to finish the work that God began. Nor are we to adopt the attitude, “Jesus, thank You for saving me and putting me on the right path, going in the right direction, but I can take it from here! I’ll just call on You for the things I am not able to handle!” In the next verse, to preclude that understanding, God emphatically proclaimed, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The phrase, “work out” carries the idea, “to have translated into a visible form.” God simply reiterated to the believer that the salvation received and implanted through faith in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, now be “worked out”—be made visible—by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Christ would be manifested in those who have trusted Him in order that others would come to faith in Him. This is to be realized “with fear and trembling”—not what the Lord will do to a Christian if he does not act properly, but what the Christian does to the Lord when he murmurs—blemishes the name of the Lord.
The believer in Jesus Christ is to be “blameless.” The word…literally means “unmixed, unadulterated, undiluted.” In the first century, wine merchants advertised their wine as blameless—not watered-down or weakened, but of the highest quality. Jewelers presented their ornaments as blameless—certifying that they were pure metal, with no alloy added to lessen their value. Murmuring pollutes and dilutes the character of Christ.
“Harmless” is to be a distinguishing trait of the Christian. The word denotes that “it does not hurt” and that it is “of such character that all the poison is removed.” In other words, that which offends, hurts, angers, and causes reaction has been rooted out.
“Sons of God”
The identity of the believer is referred to in the phrase, “sons of God.” The expression, “son of” or “sons of” is an idiom used throughout Scripture that means, “to be identified with.” The defining mark of the Christian is not activity but identity. The redeemed are to be identified with the Redeemer. The “sons of God” are not to be murmuring because the Son of God does not murmur.
The redeemed of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel, came sweeping into the Land of Promise as God’s torch—to bring the light of God into the midst of darkness. But that light was severely diminished amongst the peoples of the land because of the Israelites’ murmuring. Above all else, that which characterized Israel was murmuring and complaining—the besetting sin of those blood-bought believers.
The Words and Works of Man
To comprehend the grievousness and seriousness of murmuring, God uses Israel, His redeemed people, as the example (1 Cor:10:6-10). In summarizing their history, He depicted their failures: “We should not lust after evil things, as they [Israel] also lusted…neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them…neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed…neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted…neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured.”
Much can be learned about God’s estimation of an attitude or action by that with which it keeps company. Murmuring is part of the same category of sins as evil desires, idolatry, immorality, and tempting Christ—the sum of them all is idolatry (v 14), which is simply serving self.
To remind believers today of God’s displeasure with murmuring, God recorded its consequences and causes. And, so that we may live a life well pleasing to Him, He also articulated its cure.
Consequences of Murmuring
Israel unmistakably illustrated the consequence of murmuring. Their murmuring is usually associated with the wilderness wanderings, but their complaining began even before they left Egypt….
In obedience to God, Moses [desired] to do God’s will, but when the leadership of Israel murmured against him, Moses questioned God’s will for his life and became discouraged. (See Exodus 3-5)
Murmuring discourages others by taking the focus off of Christ and fixing it upon the circumstances. Murmuring directs our hearts away from the Savior and deposits it on the situation. Early in our married life, I often came home complaining to my wife about the day’s problems and vexations. Within seconds, I witnessed my cheerful, radiant wife wilt with the onslaught of murmuring, which always leads to discouragement.
A second consequence of murmuring is exposed in the confrontation with Moses. As a result of Israel’s complaining and grumbling, Moses murmured. Murmuring is contagious—it breeds more murmuring. Murmuring does not stop or stay with one person. But again, similar to cancer, it infects other parts of the body (i.e., the Body of Christ) as well as going deep within our own vital organs, and like an infectious disease, spreads rapidly in epidemic proportions.
The first two consequences of murmuring are directed at man—it discourages others and it promotes more murmuring. But the third consequence is far more severe—for it greatly grieves God and brings about God’s deep displeasure, disapproval, and disfavor.
God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but that did not stop their murmuring. These murmurers found something else about which to complain, “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:…Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth unto this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:2-3).
Experiencing freedom for the first time in over four hundred years, Israel murmured because they were hungry. God could have prevented them from being hungry…. But He purposely let them get hungry. Why? They needed to feel the hunger pains so they would realize their need of Him! God desires that the redeemed of the Lord recognize their continuous, daily need of Him.
Beloved, sometimes our loving Heavenly Father brings us to that place, through some circumstance that is painful, stressful, distasteful even agonizing—that we may come to our wits’ end and the end of ourselves in order to comprehend the truth that without Christ we can do nothing and we are nothing! It is only when we truly grasp our need of and dependence upon Him that we will turn to Christ in that need. The Word of God graciously encourages us, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps:91:1). The “secret place of the Most High” is the difficulties, trials, and sufferings of life in which we learn to abide in Christ—drawing all that we need to sustain, support, and nourish us from Him.
Is Christ alone sufficient? Would we be complete and content with only Him? Perhaps God’s greatest desire for us is to recognize our need of Him and find our sufficiency in Him.
The cure for murmuring is to allow Him who has begun the good work to complete that good work (Phil:1:6, Heb:12:2). There is no formula to follow, no procedure to perform, no method to learn, no principles to practice, no steps of action to take, no list of rules to observe, no laws to obey, no commitments to make, no accountability groups to form, and no commands to keep.
The Scriptures declare that as we behold the glory of the Lord, we are changed into His image (2 Cor:3:18). To “behold” does not suggest a casual glance and then revert to our previous interest. Rather, it urges sustained, riveted, fixed attention upon this Person—single-mindedness. The Greeks approached Philip with just one request, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (Jn:12:21). As we behold Christ, we are transformed into His likeness (One who does not murmur!). Beholding produces the transforming. Our true occupation should be preoccupation with Christ Himself.
Let us reflect on the goodness of God and declare with the psalmist, “I have tasted the Lord, and He is good!”