Keeping Free from the Spirit of Complaint
“Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments.”—Phil. 2:14.
1, 2. What conditions exist world wide today, and how do many people react to them?
TODAY we live in “critical times hard to deal with.” International, national and individual problems arise daily and often seem insurmountable. We have been witnesses to bloody wars, famines, deadly epidemics, juvenile and adult crime and pitiful poverty. True to the prophetic words of the Bible writer Paul, men have become “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.”—2 Tim. 3:1-4.
2 The reaction to these conditions varies with the individual. Many of those who observe this wicked state of affairs blame God for the things happening. They feel that he is slow to act to remedy the situation and so they complain, saying in effect: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” (2 Pet. 3:4) Jude, the half brother of Jesus, says that “these men are murmurers, complainers about their lot in life.”—Jude 16.
3. How do righteous-hearted persons reason on world conditions, and with what favorable results to themselves?
3 Sincere, righteous-hearted persons, however, reason as did the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:38, 39: “From the mouth of the Most High bad things and what is good do not go forth. How can a living man indulge in complaints, an able-bodied man on account of his sin?” True, these people are “sighing and groaning” because of the detestable things going on around them, but, instead of blaming God, they humbly say along with Jeremiah: “Do let us search out our ways and explore them, and do let us return clear to Jehovah. We ourselves have transgressed, and we have behaved rebelliously.” (Ezek. 9:4; Lam. 3:40, 42) They cry to Jehovah for salvation, and in his bountiful loving-kindness he hears their cry for help and delivers them from the present evil system of things, bringing them into spiritually “well-watered resting places” in association with his Christian witnesses.—Ps. 23:2.
4. Give several reasons why Jehovah’s witnesses today are a contented people.
4 These true Christians have every reason to be happy and contented. Although living in 199 different lands, speaking many different languages and coming from various backgrounds, they are living at peace and unity, hundreds of thousands of them! They enjoy a close, precious relationship with their God and a clear understanding of his will. This understanding frees them from the heartaches and misery of those still part of the present wicked system and they optimistically look forward to a righteous new order of things in the very near future. Happily expressing this joy, they spend much of their time encouraging others, visiting them in their homes, cheering up those who are downhearted and urging them: “Become reconciled to God.”—2 Cor. 5:20.
5. (a) What questions arise in view of the spiritual prosperity of God’s people, and what three reasons are given in answer? (b) What is necessary in order to keep free from the spirit of complaint?
5 In view of this happy spiritual condition existing among Jehovah’s people, why was it necessary for the apostle Paul to write to early Christians in Philippi, “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments”? Why is it necessary for The Watchtower to discuss this subject and give counsel on it? It is necessary because these Christians, while free spiritually, are still imperfect and subject to the weak fleshly tendencies inherited from Adam. They are also still living in the present wicked system of things and, if they do not exercise care, they can become influenced by the “spirit of the world,” included in which is the spirit of complaint. In addition, each year tens of thousands of persons associate themselves with Jehovah’s witnesses, having only recently left behind the many unwholesome traits common to this wicked world. To become fully free from the spirit of complaint will require time and effort for these individuals, along with Jehovah’s help and guidance. Once free, each individual Christian must wage a continuous, progressive fight to keep free, as is indicated by the words, “Keep doing all things free from murmurings.”—Phil. 2:14; 1 Cor. 2:12.
ITS CAUSES AND EFFECTS
6. What things do we need to know to help us keep free from the spirit of complaint?
6 In order for us to keep free from the spirit of complaint and dispel it in the Christian congregation, we need to be able to recognize it in its various forms as it may arise in daily life and in association with our brothers. We should know something, too, of the things that lead to a complaining spirit and of its destructive effects. This is important, since, in many cases, those who complain do not even realize it themselves or do not fully appreciate its harmful consequences.
7. How is complaining defined, and in what ways may it be expressed?
7 To complain is defined in one dictionary* as “to give utterance to grief, pain, discontent, censure, regret, etc.; to lament; murmur.” Thus it can be seen that a complaint is an expression of an inner feeling of discontent, irritation or pain. This outward expression of one’s grievances is usually done by means of the tongue, although at times a gesture of disgust or a sour facial expression may also serve to convey your feelings to other people. Actions often speak louder than words, and people are quick to sense a disgruntled spirit even if no actual words of complaint are uttered.
8. (a) What did James write about the difficulty of controlling the tongue? (b) How may complainers not use these words of James, but how can an unintentional transgressor take comfort from them?
8 There is not one son of Adam who has not sinned with his tongue. Because of this Jesus’ disciple James wrote, in James 3:2, 8-10: “For we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body. . . . the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed. An unruly injurious thing, it is full of death-dealing poison. With it we bless Jehovah, even the Father, and yet with it we curse men who have come into existence ‘in the likeness of God.’ Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing.” However, let no one use these words as an excuse for possessing the spirit of complaint, for James continues: “It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way.” While it is true that we all sin at times, yet habitually to make a practice of sinning with our tongue to the extent of actually becoming a complainer, that is, one having the spirit of complaint, is something not compatible with true Christianity. On the other hand, we can take comfort from James’ words if we sin unintentionally while striving hard to overcome our fleshly tendency in this regard.
9. As indicated in Jesus’ words at Matthew 12:34, what is even more vital than control of the tongue, and why?
9 Jesus stated an indisputable fact when he said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34) Thus, while it is important to control the tongue and prevent it from speaking complainingly, it is even more important to control the thoughts that lead one to complain. The tongue utters only what is in the mind and heart of an individual, thus giving verbal expression to it. What kind of thoughts can lead a person to complain?
10, 11. (a) Give some possible reasons why people complain. (b) What, basically, is the root cause for a complaining attitude?
10 Pride may be one cause for complaining. A person may think too highly of himself and, in order to build up his own ego and his stature with his brothers, he may resort to criticizing the faults of others. In this way he draws attention to the fact that he does not have these particular faults to the same extent. Another may be impatient because his brothers are not as quick to grasp things as he or become irritated at what he considers to be their weaknesses. Others who suffer some unusual hardship may feel self-pity when comparing their condition with other brothers in the congregation and thus may complain because of this. A desire for greater efficiency may cause some to complain, feeling perhaps that they could do the job better than the one who is appointed to serve.
11 However, after our analyzing only a few of the many possible reasons why brothers complain, one fact stands out clearly: It is caused in all cases by putting too much emphasis on self, by attaching too much importance to one’s own feelings or position. It is thus an expression of selfishness, which is the opposite of love.
12. How did the one who became Satan develop a complaining spirit, and with what consequences?
12 In this regard it is good to reflect on how the one who became Satan the Devil came to be dissatisfied with his very privileged position of oversight. The Bible tells why, saying to the king of Tyre who betrayed the spirit of the Devil: “Your heart became haughty because of your beauty. You brought your wisdom to ruin on account of your beaming splendor.” (Ezek. 28:17) His proud desire to be the ruler of the universe caused him to rebel against the Sovereign Jehovah. He began to think too highly of himself and thus developed a complaining spirit, which soon expressed itself in action, leading to much misery and unhappiness for the human race.
13. Show the effect that complaining has (a) on the one spoken against, (b) on the one who hears it, (c) on a new or weaker brother and (d) when directed against the organization.
13 While not all complaints have such disastrous consequences, yet even the least expression of discontent brings harmful results. If the complaint is against a brother or sister, then it will tend to lower the reputation of that one in the eyes of the one to whom you are talking. It focuses attention on things that are weak and it is thus negative and discouraging. If spoken to a weak or new brother, it may make him so disillusioned that he could become badly weakened in faith and trust in his brothers. If spoken against the organization of God or its appointed representatives, it has an even more harmful effect, that of undermining confidence in the organizational arrangements, hence weakening faith in Jehovah himself.
14. What effect does a complaining tongue have on the entire congregation? Use Proverbs 21:19 to illustrate your answer.
14 Even if one is not stumbled or seriously affected spiritually by listening to a complaining tongue, due to his being mature and so recognizing it and putting it out of mind, still it is not pleasant to be around a complaining person. Complaining has the same effect as putting sand into a well-oiled machine. It puts a damper on the joy of the congregation. It is as if a dark cloud has suddenly appeared on the horizon. It has the same effect on brothers as a contentious wife has on her husband, as recorded in Proverbs 21:19: “Better is it to dwell in a wilderness land than with a contentious wife along with vexation.”
15. How is the complaining one himself affected?
15 Besides the demoralizing effect on those who listen to his complaining, the one uttering the grievance is himself adversely affected. He is discontented, unhappy, and in many cases suffers guilt of conscience after uttering his complaint. Truly, the wise man spoke well when he said under inspiration: “He that is keeping his mouth and his tongue is keeping his soul from distresses.”—Prov. 21:23.
“GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MENTAL POWERS”
16. Whose help did Paul show we should seek in order to guard our hearts and mental powers, and on what should our thoughts be focused?
16 Since complaints originate in the heart and mind, it is essential that our thoughts be properly controlled and directed to upbuilding and encouraging matters. The apostle Paul showed that Jehovah’s help must be sought in order to do this, saying: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” Yes, if you ‘have a weakness in this regard, do not hesitate to ask for Jehovah’s help to overcome it. Such earnest petitions will be heard by Jehovah and he will grant you peace and contentment of mind to replace a complaining, dissatisfied spirit. Paul, however, goes on to show that the individual must work hard in harmony with his prayers, saying: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”—Phil. 4:6-8.
17. (a) Why does it require a continuous fight to apply Paul’s words at Philippians 4:8? (b) What should we do when we begin to feel irritation at our brothers’ faults?
17 In this way Paul emphasizes that the individual must exercise control, not only over his tongue, but also over his very thoughts, concentrating on good, virtuous and lovable things in our brothers. The tendency of the fallen flesh is to see the weaknesses of an individual first, which often blinds one to the many fine, lovable and praiseworthy qualities that he possesses. And, since it is so easy to find weak points in any one of us, it is thus not difficult for the complaining spirit to find fuel to keep itself burning. That is why we have a continuous fight to keep our thoughts under control. When we note something that makes us feel jealousy or irritation, we should try to put it out of our mind immediately and think of the good qualities instead. This will not be easy at the beginning, but, by working at it with Jehovah’s help, you will find that you will develop a closer relationship with your brothers and a deeper appreciation of their devotion to Jehovah, and, of course, you yourself will be a much happier person to be around.
18. (a) What mistake is the complaining one making, according to Paul’s words to the Corinthians and to the Romans? (b) So who find it easier to overcome a complaining attitude?
18 One who complains puts emphasis on the flesh and its weaknesses and is thus acting like a spiritual babe in that particular regard. Instead of looking at the heart devotion and love shown by his brothers, he looks at the fallen, sinful flesh. The congregation at Corinth was also guilty of this, and so Paul wrote to them: “I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ. . . . For whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do?” (1 Cor. 3:1, 3) In Romans 8:5, he gives the reason why this is true, saying: “For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those in accord with the spirit on the things of the spirit.” Therefore, one who keeps filled with God’s holy spirit by regular Bible study, meeting attendance, prayer and active service to Jehovah will find it less difficult to overcome a complaining tendency than will one who is irregular in these spiritual activities.
19. Into what two general categories do complaints fall?
19 In analyzing this matter of complaining, we can divide it into two general categories: (1) Complaints against individuals and (2) complaints of a more serious nature involving Jehovah’s organization or his purposes. We will take up the matter of personal complaints first, and the succeeding Watchtower article will discuss the second aspect.
20. What causes by far the majority of personal complaints, and are they generally premeditated?
20 By far the majority of complaints against individuals are caused by minor misunderstandings or personality conflicts. A sister who is quiet and reserved may become irritated at another sister who is far more outspoken in her manner, and she may express this irritation to others. Personal habits, customs and actions may be acceptable to some, but to others they may be very annoying, causing them to complain at times. Most of these complaints are not premeditated, but, rather, are provoked on the spur of the moment by some little, annoying thing that occurs. They are often spoken hastily and frequently are regretted later. What can be done to keep free from this kind of complaining?
21. How should we view these minor failings on the part of our brothers, especially in the light of Jesus’ words at Matthew 6:14, 15?
21 First, it is essential that we recognize these complaints for what they are: petty, unimportant, even childish in many cases. There is no real ground for complaint, but it is just that a certain brother or sister does not do things the way you feel they should be done. It will help us, too, to consider seriously how Jehovah views these “weaknesses” of our brothers, realizing that he is willing to overlook and forgive them. Does not Jehovah freely forgive you in spite of your many failings? Do you not make allowances for your own shortcomings, asking Jehovah for forgiveness over and over again, perhaps for the same weakness? A prerequisite for gaining Jehovah’s forgiveness is that we forgive others, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 6:14, 15: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
22. Show how complaining about minor shortcomings betrays a lack of love.
22 Really, then, we would be showing a lack of love and forgiveness if we held such minor failings against our brothers and magnified them by bringing them to the attention of others. That would certainly not be in imitation of our heavenly Father. In describing love God’s Word says: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love . . . does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.” “Love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5; 1 Pet. 4:8, 9) In view of this, it is not hard to understand why we are counseled to keep on “putting up with one another in love.”—Eph. 4:2.
23. What, then, should be done about these minor grievances?
23 Thus, if we are not to “keep account of the injury,” it is our Christian obligation to forget these minor grievances that arise, putting them out of our mind completely. Do not let them grow to unreasonable proportions, but cut them off early, before they have time to take root and flourish. Quench the spirit of complaint and prevent much unhappiness for yourself and others.
24. How did Jesus say more serious personal complaints should be handled?
24 There may be times, however, when a brother or sister really does have a cause for complaint against another. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, a brother may have done something that has hurt you in some way and, because of its nature, you are unable to forget it and put it out of your mind. You may find that it is disturbing you considerably and is even affecting your service to Jehovah. It is for just such occurrences that Jesus gave his very sound advice at Matthew 18:15: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
25. (a) What should never be done by one having a serious complaint against his brother, and why? (b) Show why following the counsel at Matthew 18:15 is very wise.
25 Even if you do have grounds for complaint, never should this be spread abroad in the congregation by your complaining about the brother’s action to others. This will not make for peace but will disturb the entire congregation, possibly even creating a division among the brothers. It will certainly not be of help to the offending party, who will undoubtedly hear your complaint secondhand from others. Complaining will only make matters worse instead of healing the breach, as the proverb shows: “He that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.” (Prov. 17:9) No, a complaining attitude will not help anyone. The correct way is to approach the brother in private and discuss the matter calmly and peacefully with him. You may find that he did not even realize he had hurt you and, if this is the case, imagine how happy he will be that you approached him directly instead of spreading a complaint within the congregation!
26, 27. (a) What obligation rests on the one offended when his brother asks for forgiveness, and how far-reaching is it? (b) Show how Paul’s counsel at Colossians 3:12-14 will help in all cases of personal complaints.
26 When your brother humbly asks for your forgiveness, it is your obligation to accept his apology and forgive him, just as your heavenly Father forgives you. Love is a debt that is never completely paid off. (Rom. 13:8) Thus, when the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “How many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?”, Jesus answered: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18:21, 22) By being generous with our love, mercy and forgiveness in relation to our brothers, we will reap in return much joy and happiness and will be able to keep free from the corrosive, divisive spirit of complaint. By having a deep appreciation for Jehovah and a love for him and our brothers we will be able to fix our minds on the “more important things” that will affect our future life instead of the many petty things that characterize the present imperfect system of things.—Phil. 1:10.
27 In concluding this discussion, let us listen carefully to and diligently apply the words of Paul many years ago to the Colossians. If we do, we will be greatly helped to keep free from all kinds of personal complaints. Paul urged: “Accordingly, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:12-14.
Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2d edition.