‘Keep Free From Murmurings’
“Keep doing all things free from murmurings.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:14.
1, 2. What counsel did the apostle Paul give Christians in Philippi and Corinth, and why?
IN HIS divinely inspired letter to the first-century Christian congregation in Philippi, the apostle Paul gave much commendation. He commended his fellow believers in that city for their generous and zealous spirit, and he expressed joy over their good works. Nevertheless, Paul reminded them to “keep doing all things free from murmurings.” (Philippians 2:14) Why did the apostle give this admonition?
2 Paul knew what murmuring can lead to. A few years earlier, he had reminded the congregation in Corinth that it can be dangerous to murmur. Paul pointed out that while the Israelites were in the wilderness, they had repeatedly aroused Jehovah’s anger. How? By desiring injurious things, by practicing idolatry and fornication, by putting Jehovah to the test, and by murmuring. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to learn from these examples. He wrote: “Neither be murmurers, just as some of them murmured, only to perish by the destroyer.”—1 Corinthians 10:6-11.
3. Why is the subject of murmuring of interest today?
3 As Jehovah’s present-day servants, we manifest a spirit similar to that of the congregation in Philippi. We are zealous for fine works, and we have love among ourselves. (John 13:34, 35) In view of the injury that murmuring caused among God’s people in the past, however, we have good reason to take to heart the counsel: “Keep doing all things free from murmurings.” Let us first consider examples of murmuring mentioned in the Scriptures. Then we will discuss some things we can do to prevent murmuring from causing injury today.
An Evil Assembly Murmurs Against Jehovah
4. In what way did the Israelites murmur in the wilderness?
4 The Hebrew word meaning ‘to murmur, grumble, complain, or growl’ is used in the Bible in connection with events during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. On occasion, the Israelites were discontented with their lot in life and expressed this by murmuring. For example, just a few weeks after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, “the entire assembly of the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron.” The Israelites complained about food, saying: “If only we had died by Jehovah’s hand in the land of Egypt while we were sitting by the pots of meat, while we were eating bread to satisfaction, because you have brought us out into this wilderness to put this whole congregation to death by famine.”—Exodus 16:1-3.
5. When the Israelites complained, against whom was their murmuring really directed?
5 Actually, Jehovah sustained the Israelites with what they needed in the wilderness, lovingly providing them with food and water. There was never a threat that the people of Israel would die of famine in the wilderness. In a spirit of discontent, though, they exaggerated their plight and began to murmur. Although their complaints were directed against Moses and Aaron, in Jehovah’s eyes the real target of their discontent was God himself. Moses told the Israelites: “Jehovah has heard your murmurings that you are murmuring against him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against Jehovah.”—Exodus 16:4-8.
6, 7. As shown at Numbers 14:1-3, how had the attitude of the Israelites changed?
6 Not long thereafter, the Israelites murmured once again. Moses sent 12 men to spy out the Promised Land. Ten of them returned with a bad report. The result? “All the sons of Israel 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 [Canaan] to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?’”—Numbers 14:1-3.
7 How Israel’s spirit had changed! Initial gratitude for their release from Egypt and deliverance through the Red Sea had moved them to sing praises to Jehovah. (Exodus 15:1-21) Faced with the discomforts of the wilderness and fearful of the Canaanites, however, the gratitude of God’s people was replaced by a spirit of discontent. Instead of thanking God for their freedom, they blamed him for what they wrongly viewed as deprivation. Murmuring was thus an expression of lack of proper appreciation for Jehovah’s provisions. No wonder he said: “How long will this evil assembly have this murmuring that they are carrying on against me?”—Numbers 14:27; 21:5.
Murmuring in the First Century
8, 9. Cite examples of murmuring recorded in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
8 The foregoing examples of murmuring involved groups of people apparently expressing their discontent out loud. When Jesus Christ was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths in 32 C.E., however, “there was a lot of subdued talk about him among the crowds.” (John 7:12, 13, 32) They were whispering about him, some saying that he was a good man, others saying that he was not.
9 On another occasion, Jesus and his disciples were guests at the home of Levi, or Matthew, the tax collector. “The Pharisees and their scribes began murmuring to his disciples, saying: ‘Why is it you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Luke 5:27-30) In Galilee some time later, “the Jews began to murmur at [Jesus] because he said: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” Even some of Jesus’ followers took offense at what he said and began to murmur.—John 6:41, 60, 61.
10, 11. Why did the Greek-speaking Jews murmur, and how can Christian elders benefit from the way that the complaint was handled?
10 The outcome was more positive in a case of murmuring that occurred shortly after Pentecost 33 C.E. Many newly converted disciples from outside Israel were then enjoying the hospitality of fellow believers in Judaea, but problems arose in connection with sharing what was available. The account states: “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.”—Acts 6:1.
11 These murmurers were not like the Israelites in the wilderness. The Greek-speaking Jews did not selfishly express discontent about their own lot in life. They drew attention to a failure to meet the needs of some of the widows. Moreover, the murmurers did not act as troublemakers and raise their voices against Jehovah. They directed their complaint to the apostles, who arranged for prompt action to be taken because the complaint was justified. What a good example the apostles set for Christian elders today! These spiritual shepherds are careful not to ‘stop up their ears from the complaining cry of the lowly one.’—Proverbs 21:13; Acts 6:2-6.
Beware of the Corrosive Influence of Murmuring
12, 13. (a) Illustrate the effects of murmuring. (b) What might prompt an individual to murmur?
12 Most of the Scriptural examples we have considered show that murmuring caused much damage among God’s people in the past. Therefore, we do well to think seriously about the corrosive influence it could have today. An illustration might help. Many types of metal have a natural tendency to rust. If early signs of rust are ignored, metal can rust to the point that it can no longer serve its purpose. Countless automobiles are scrapped, not because of mechanical failure, but because the metal is so rusted that the vehicles are unsafe. How can we apply this illustration to murmuring?
13 Just as certain metals tend to rust, imperfect humans have a tendency to complain. We should be on guard to detect any sign of this. Even as moisture and salty air accelerate rusting, adversity makes us more inclined to murmur. Stress can turn a minor irritation into a major grievance. As conditions in the last days of this system deteriorate, potential causes of complaint will likely increase. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Hence, one servant of Jehovah might begin to murmur against another. The cause could be a small issue, such as discontent with someone’s weaknesses, abilities, or privileges of service.
14, 15. Why should we not allow a tendency to complain to go unchecked?
14 Whatever the reason for our displeasure, if we were to allow a tendency to complain to go unchecked, it could promote in us a spirit of discontent and make us habitual murmurers. Yes, the spiritually corrosive effect of murmuring could corrupt us completely. When the Israelites murmured about life in the wilderness, they went so far as to blame Jehovah. (Exodus 16:8) May that never happen to us!
15 The tendency of metal to rust can be reduced by coating it with rustproof paint and quickly treating isolated spots of corrosion. In a similar fashion, if we detect in ourselves a tendency to complain, this can be kept under control if we give the matter prompt, prayerful attention. How?
Look at Things From Jehovah’s Point of View
16. How can a tendency to complain be overcome?
16 Murmuring focuses our mind on ourselves and our troubles and pushes into the background the blessings we enjoy as Witnesses of Jehovah. To overcome a tendency to complain, we need to keep these blessings uppermost in our mind. For instance, each of us has the wonderful privilege of bearing the personal name of Jehovah. (Isaiah 43:10) We can cultivate a close relationship with him, and we are able to speak to the “Hearer of prayer” at any time. (Psalm 65:2; James 4:8) Our life has real meaning because we understand the issue of universal sovereignty and remember that it is our privilege to maintain integrity to God. (Proverbs 27:11) We can have a regular share in preaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ enables us to have a clean conscience. (John 3:16) These are blessings we enjoy no matter what we have to endure.
17. Why should we try to view matters from Jehovah’s point of view, even if we have a valid reason for complaint?
17 Let us try to see things from Jehovah’s point of view, not just our own. “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths,” sang the psalmist David. (Psalm 25:4) If we have a valid reason for complaint, this has not escaped Jehovah’s notice. He could correct the matter immediately. So why does he at times allow adversity to continue? This could be in order to help us develop fine qualities, such as patience, endurance, faith, and long-suffering.—James 1:2-4.
18, 19. Illustrate the possible effects of our putting up with inconveniences without complaining.
18 Our putting up with inconveniences without complaining not only helps us to improve our personality but may also impress those observing our conduct. In 2003 a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses traveled by bus from Germany to attend a convention in Hungary. The bus driver was not a Witness, and he had reservations about being with the Witnesses for ten days. By the end of the trip, however, he had changed his mind completely. Why?
19 During the trip, several things went wrong. But the Witnesses never complained. The driver said that this was the best group of passengers he had ever had! In fact, he promised that the next time the Witnesses called at his home, he would invite them in and carefully listen to them. What a fine impression the passengers made by “doing all things free from murmurings”!
Forgiveness Promotes Unity
20. Why should we forgive one another?
20 What if we have a complaint against a fellow believer? If the matter is serious, we should apply the principles found in what Jesus said as recorded at Matthew 18:15-17. This will not always be necessary, though, since most grievances are minor. Why not see the situation as a chance to practice forgiveness? Paul wrote: “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.” (Colossians 3:13, 14) Can we find room in our heart to forgive? Does not Jehovah have reason to complain about us? Yet, he repeatedly shows compassion and forgiveness.
21. How might those listening to murmuring be affected?
21 Whatever the grievance may be, murmuring will not resolve matters. The Hebrew term meaning “to murmur” can also mean “to growl.” Very likely, we feel uncomfortable around a constant murmurer and try to distance ourselves from him. If we were to murmur, or growl, those listening might feel the same way. Why, they may be so uncomfortable that they want to distance themselves from us! Growling might capture someone’s attention, but it will certainly not win anyone’s heart.
22. What did one girl say about Jehovah’s Witnesses?
22 A forgiving attitude promotes unity—something cherished by Jehovah’s people. (Psalm 133:1-3) In one European land, a 17-year-old Catholic girl wrote to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to express her admiration for them. She said: “It is the only organization I know where the members are not divided by hatred, greed, intolerance, selfishness, or disunity.”
23. What will we discuss in the next article?
23 Appreciation for all the spiritual blessings we receive as worshippers of the true God, Jehovah, will help us to promote unity and avoid murmuring against others in personal matters. The next article will show how godly qualities will prevent us from engaging in an even more dangerous form of murmuring—that is, murmuring against the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization.
Do You Recall?
• What is involved in murmuring?
• How might the effects of murmuring be illustrated?
• What can help us overcome a tendency to murmur?
• How can willingness to forgive help us to refrain from murmuring?
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The Israelites actually murmured against Jehovah!
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Do you try to look at things as Jehovah does?
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Forgiveness promotes Christian unity