Why Keep Free from Murmuring?
“SOME people never seem to be satisfied.” How often have you heard that statement? It is true that in these critical times many have a murmuring attitude. They have doubts and questionings about nearly everything. But is it wise for a Christian to allow such an attitude to develop? The apostle Paul evidently did not think so, for in writing to the Philippian congregation he said: “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish.”—Phil. 2:14, 15.
These words of Paul bring questions to mind. Just how serious can murmuring become? Can it affect my relationship with others? With the congregation? What does Jehovah think of me if I have a murmuring attitude? What can I do to avoid this spirit?
That murmuring is to be taken seriously can be understood from what Paul had to say about it in his first letter to fellow believers at Corinth. The apostle said: “Neither be murmurers, just as some of them [the Israelites] murmured, only to perish by the destroyer.” (1 Cor. 10:10) Consider, for example, the time when Moses sent 12 men, one from each tribe of Israel, to spy out the land that Jehovah had promised to them for an inheritance. This was shortly after the Israelites had left Egypt and were in the wilderness. When these 12 spies returned to the Israelite camp, only two of them, Joshua and Caleb, gave a favorable report, urging the people to act courageously and enter the land. The other 10 painted a discouraging picture. They referred to the region as a “land that eats up its inhabitants,” and said: “All the people whom we saw in the midst of it are men of extraordinary size.”—Num. 13:32.
At this, the faithless Israelites “began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, and all the assembly began to say against them: ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! And why is Jehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword?’” Yes, they were murmuring against Jehovah! Because of this all of those men 20 years of age and over, with the exception of Joshua, Caleb and the Levites, perished in the wilderness. They never were allowed to enter the Promised Land. (Num. 14:2, 3, 26-30) What a price to pay for their murmuring!
This illustrates what can happen to an entire complaining nation. Other examples show that it is just as serious for individuals to murmur against Jehovah. Consider the case of Miriam, the sister of Moses. On one occasion she, along with her brother Aaron, murmured, asking: “Is it just by Moses alone that Jehovah has spoken? Is it not by us also that he has spoken?” Significantly, the account adds: “And Jehovah was listening.” (Num. 12:1, 2) What was the result? Miriam, who evidently took the lead in this complaint, was humiliated by God. How? By being afflicted with leprosy and having to remain outside the camp for seven days until she was cleansed.—Num. 12:9-15.
WHERE DOES MURMURING LEAD?
We can learn much from these examples. But you may wonder why murmuring is so serious. Well, murmuring is not simply a just complaint about some wrongdoing. It is an expression of dissatisfaction or discontent and often is caused by placing too much emphasis on oneself. A person who complains in this manner attaches too much importance to his own feelings or position, drawing attention to himself rather than to God. This causes dissension among spiritual brothers and, if not checked, leads to divisions in the congregation.—1 Cor. 1:10-13.
This is so because a murmurer never keeps his complaints to himself. He invariably involves others. Why? Doubtless because he hopes that they, too, will become dissatisfied and will sympathize with him.
It is so easy for this to happen. Suppose, for instance, that a Christian starts to complain to you about a certain appointed elder in the congregation. He criticizes the way the elder, or overseer, handles his parts on the platform, or the way he cares for certain congregation duties. If you listen to the complainer, you can begin to think as he does. Then, as you observe the elder, you could be saying to yourself: ‘Now that I think of it, what my friend says about this elder is true. I never thought of it that way before.’ That is just what the murmurer wants you to think. Until the seed of discontent was planted in your mind, the elder’s activities did not bother you. But now they do bother you. Why, eventually nothing that he does is right in your sight! So you, too, begin to develop a spirit of complaint. Obviously, this is not fitting in a congregation of Jehovah’s people.
But there is something more to consider. Continuous murmuring often leads to other undesirable traits, such as slander and reviling, which can seriously affect our relationship with Jehovah. (1 Cor. 6:10) When the Israelites murmured against Moses, how did God view this? Jehovah pointedly asked: “How long will this evil assembly have this murmuring that they are carrying on against me?” (Num. 14:27) To Jehovah this was a rebellious complaint against his divine leadership! That was serious!
The disciple Jude wrote about murmurers who had made their way into the early Christian congregation. They were individuals who were “disregarding lordship and speaking abusively of glorious ones,” or responsible men in the congregation. Certainly, these murmurers did not have divine approval and the faithful Christian of today wisely shuns their wicked course.—Jude 8, 16.
ARE COMPLAINTS ALWAYS OBJECTIONABLE?
Certainly, then, a murmuring spirit and the constant voicing of unfounded complaints must be avoided by a person desiring to please Jehovah. But does this mean that all complaints are unwarranted, objectionable and displeasing to God?
No. According to the Scriptures, “Jehovah said: ‘The cry of complaint about Sodom and Gomorrah, yes, it is loud, and their sin, yes, it is very heavy.’” God did not ignore that “cry of complaint.” Rather, he looked into the matter, saying: “I am quite determined to go down that I may see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it that has come to me, and, if not, I can get to know it.” (Gen. 18:20, 21) Jehovah found that the loud “cry of complaint” was warranted, and he therefore destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.—Gen. 19:24, 25.
Yes, complaints can be proper at times. Hence, appointed Christian elders should not view all complaints as being unwarranted and objectionable. Jesus’ apostles did not take that position. In Jerusalem, shortly after Pentecost of 33 C.E., “a murmuring arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.” Consequently, “the twelve” looked into the matter and corrected the situation by appointing “seven certified men” over the “necessary business” of food distribution.—Acts 6:1-6.
Christian elders today need to realize that injustices or other wrongs may give rise to some legitimate complaint. They cannot properly take the view that everything done is bound to be right and that nothing should ever be subject to any criticism whatsoever. Proverbs 21:13 fittingly says: “As for anyone stopping up his ear from the complaining cry of the lowly one, he himself also will call and not be answered.”
Appointed elders themselves must avoid having a complaining spirit toward their fellow believers. Rather than criticizing and never being satisfied with what is done by their Christian brothers and sisters, overseers need to be encouraging, upbuilding. (1 Cor. 8:1) This will go a long way in combating any possible spirit of complaint within the congregation.—Compare 2 Timothy 4:22.
SHOW LOVE IN IMITATION OF CHRIST
It is important that we dispel any spirit of complaint, for such an attitude can lead only to disaster. Rather than allowing ourselves to become murmurers, how much better it is to display the quality of love! Murmurers and complainers cannot at the same time be following the commandment to love their neighbors. (Matt. 22:39) Murmuring does harm to the murmurer as well as to the one spoken against. Love does good to all. (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:4-8) So why not follow the ‘kingly law of love’?—Jas. 2:8.
Rather than listening to those who grumble and complain, we would do well to keep in mind the humble attitude of Christ Jesus. “Although he was existing in God’s form, [Jesus] gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God.” Instead, “he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake.” What a fine example for us to follow! No rebelling there at the way things were done!—Phil. 2:5-8.
To the contrary, Jesus displayed deep loyalty to his heavenly Father. He also showed great concern when others were stumbled. On one occasion, Jesus said to his disciples: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come. Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come! It would be of more advantage to him if a millstone were suspended from his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to stumble one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1, 2) Can you imagine Jesus showing such compassion for others and at the same time being a murmurer?
Jesus was greatly rewarded for his loyal obedience to his Father as well as his loving concern for others. By means of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven he was exalted above every other created thing. (Phil. 2:9-11) While on earth, he was able to understand the frailties and problems of fallen man. Now, in his exalted position, Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” and come to our aid. (Heb. 2:18; 4:15) We, too, can be assured of many blessings by continuing to show loving concern for others, not complaining against them.
What, then, must we conclude? That a murmuring and complaining spirit results in dissatisfaction and discontent. This can even lead to rebellion against God. Do you want that to happen to you? Or, is it your desire to live a life that is rich and satisfying, knowing that you have the blessing and approval of the heavenly Creator? Surely, you desire his favor. So, “keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world.”—Phil. 2:14, 15.