November 24, 2019
INTRODUCTION – How would you feel or how you would you react, or more importantly – how would Jesus - the Head of the Church feel or respond if I started my sermon off today with comments like:
- Please turn in your Bibles to Numbers chapter 14….Dang I wish the Bible manufacturers would quit giving us these ridiculously thin pages.
- By the way, could someone open a window or two in this building. It’s really hot in here! One of these days we are going to install ceiling fans, but don’t hold your breath…you know how fast things happen in the church!
Had I started off with those comments, my guess is most of you would be startled and quite concerned; and I’m pretty confident the sense of the presence of God we experienced in our worship in song time would have pretty much gone out the window, and I know the Holy Spirit would be greatly displeased with me.
We’ve been talking about the reality of evil and how to overcome it in recent weeks.
This morning I want to share a few thoughts about how to overcome the evil of grumbling and complaining. Some of you may question using such a strong word for such a common American past-time. I mean who doesn’t grumble and complain here and there? Evil?
I want to suggest this morning that It is important when discussing evil to allow God to define it and set its parameters since He alone has never been touched or compromised by it.
The word “evil” occurs 507 times in the Bible. God has a few things to say about it.
So back to Numbers 14. The context of this chapter is Moses had just sent out twelve spies to spy out the promised land of Canaan so they could help the army of Israel strategize and prepare to enter and capture it. While all twelve of them agreed upon their return that this land was a land filled with amazing bounty, only two of them believed they could overpower and conquer its inhabitants. So in chapter 14 the people of Israel are found to have been greatly impacted by the pessimism and unbelief of these ten spies, which resulted in bitter complaining and grumbling, which would have led to mob violence toward Moses and Aaron - had not God stepped in.
What I want you to see is how God felt about their complaining. Listen to His words to Moses and Aaron in vs. 27, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me.”
In God’s mind, a complaining and grumbling people are an evil people. And no matter who they think they are grumbling towards or about, ultimately it is always towards Him, since He sovereignly allows, if not ordains every circumstance we ever encounter. That’s why God repeated the phrase “against Me” in this verse.
Grumbling and complaining is evil because it basically communicates that God is not good nor just nor wise nor a good Father nor able to bring about needed change in our circumstances; and it all originates from the evil one himself.
C. S. Lewis states it like this, “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others.”
Grumbling and complaining among the people of God is poisonous, and like leaven has the potential to leaven the whole lump of dough.
The apostle Paul, in his efforts to help the church in Corinth grow in godliness and holiness, exhorted them to learn from the bad examples of the people of Israel, who were severely punished for their turning to evil. You can see this in I Corinthians 10:6-10: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as so some of them were, as it is written, “The People Sat Down To Eat and Drink, And Stood Up To Play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”
Paul in his letter to the church in Phillipi exhorted them to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Nothing hurts our witness like grumbling and complaining among the lost as if we were orphans instead of the King’s sons and daughters.
Why do we believers who have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” still find ourselves falling into the trap of grumbling and complaining? Well let me suggest a few reasons:
1. First, some of us are in bondage to it. Some of us have grown up in families and clans wherein for generations grumbling and complaining was a normal and accepted practice. Others of us, on our own have somehow over the years allowed this evil to take root, and try as we might, we still struggle with it. So that’s one reason why we believers who have been blessed so richly by God still grumble and complain.
Another reason is:
2. We think our adverse circumstances are unique; we really think we are victims; and therefore we believe we have a license to grumble and complain. We have chosen not to believe Paul’s word when he told the church in Corinth, “No temptation has overtaken you but such that is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13
A third reason why we believers grumble and complain is because
3. We have fallen into unbelief. When we don’t stand firm in our faith that our God is good and kind and loving and just, then we succumb to unbelief, which the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 3 vs. 12 is evil, and which is the root of all grumbling and complaining. “Take care brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.”
By the way this sermon in no way is a result of people complaining against me or Josh or the church. If that is going on, I am oblivious to it.
I do want to say that I strongly sense that Jesus wants and intends to set some of us free from this bondage today or to at least get us on the right path to freedom.
So how can we be freed from the bondage of grumbling and complaining?
I’m going to start with a few measures Jesus commanded in His sermon on the mount, which was a sermon helping us to see what true righteousness looks like and how to walk in it. Then we will look at a few others from the epistles. Ultimately the whole counsel of God is the answer to overcoming any and all sin. But these six steps will be a great step in the right direction.
1. Be willing to take extreme measures if you really want free from grumbling and complaining. Jesus said to His would be disciples in Matt. 5:29,30 these sober words re: the cost of experiencing true internal transformation and freedom from sin – “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Now He obviously did not intend for us to literally, physically tear our eyes out or cut off our hands. But He used those metaphors to show the severity of actions necessary to experience victory over besetting sins.
Sadly the devil has done a great job of talking us out of taking these kinds of measures. If we are truly His sheep, and thus have a growing desire to be free from all sin, we’ve heard God’s voice (not audibly usually) telling us that we are going to have to walk away from that relationship or stop that practice or pasttime. But then the enemy of our souls comes along and says, “God wouldn’t ask you to do that?” He knows you need friends. He knows you need relaxation from stress. He wants you to be happy! So we conclude we can overcome the said sin without any extreme or radical or unusual measures. And we continue in that sin. I know. He’s suckered me more than once.
2. Be willing to focus our efforts on our own transformation. Jesus also said to His would be disciples in Matt. 7:3-5 these piercing words re: the priority of change in His kingdom “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
In Jesus’s kingdom, change always begins with ourselves, and that only happens when we see the depth and breadth of our sin as greater than those around us. For we sons and daughters of the King – when we wake up every morning and as we go through our day, our greatest concern for sin on the planet ought to be our own; our greatest efforts at bringing about change in our world ought to be efforts towards our own personal change. The answer or solution to the very real need for change we see in our families, or churches, or work places, or neighbors is always that we first go back to work on ourselves – investing more focused time on our own pursuit of godliness, holiness and purity, so we can then see clearly to help others.
The enemy loves it when we get all focused on others. He doesn’t mind at all if we get involved in the pro life movement, or the sex trade movement (that is freeing people from the sex trade), or missions, or ministering to the poor - - as long as we give little attention to the ever present log in our own eye. He knows as long as we stay busy in programs and ministries, and neglect our own personal growth and transformation, our impact will be minimal, regardless of our frenetic activity.
The third step Jesus gave in the sermon on the mount for personal transformation is
3. Be willing to Persist in prayer for our own change – Jesus said to His would be disciples in Matt. 7:7,8 these words re: the role of prayer in bringing about personal transformation, (I’m reading from The Amplified Bible, which knows the tense of these verbs in the greek and therefore translates it more accurately– “Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking (reverently) and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking it will be opened.”
No one ever makes real progress in their own personal transformation without dogged persistence in prayer for themselves.
Again the devil doesn’t mind at all if we pray for missionaries, and world poverty, and a host of other needs and crises out there, as long as we neglect to pray for our own transformation. Please note this wonderful promise for answered prayer directly follow’s Jesus’s words about dealing decisively first with the log in our own eye. I’m afraid many have not seen the connection and have missed out on this important step in overcoming our sins.
4. A fourth very necessary, daily step we believers must practice to get clean and free from the evil of complaining and grumbling is daily asking God to cleanse us from this sin and then listening to Him for whatever steps He wants us to take to be cleansed. – II Cor. 7:1 “Having therefore these promises beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and so the effects of our sins deep in our souls could be cleansed. Pursuing this cleansing on a daily basis is the normal Christian life.
5. A fifth step is putting ourselves in an environment wherein opportunities for encouragement from the brethren are ample – Heb. 3:12, 13 “Take care brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The body of Christ today desperately needs daily encouragement from those who believe God, and who know He is good, and who know He will come through. I’m going to provide opportunity for this a little later in the service.
6. The sixth and final step that I am going to touch on today is that of Confessing our sins to our brethren – Jas. 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
I believe there are few things the devil fears more than honest, humble confessing of sin from one believer to another. There is something about this practice that breaks the back or the hold of sin in our lives, especially when the one who hears the confession, in a non judgmental loving way - prays for the confessee to be healed and set free.
Prov. 28:13 says “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
May the Holy Spirit give all of us a more courageous and obedient and humble heart to confess our sins when appropriate and especially when we just can’t kick a given sin on our own.
OK. So those are some steps to dislodge the evil of grumbling and complaining and any other evil for that matter.
Now as we prepare our hearts to partake of communion together, I want us to take some time to listen to the Holy Spirit. (prayer after some silence)
Paul said to the church in Rome these words about the Holy Spirit’s role in helping us to overcome sin in our lives:
Romans 8:13 “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I believe the Holy Spirit wants to help us put this sin of grumbling and complaining to death this morning. He has communicated to me that it is important that we dig deep while we are together and not settle for less. And that He wants to speak and work through some of you according to I Corinthians 14:26, “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
He also reminded me of the story in II Kings 13:14 and following where Elisha was dying, and King Joash came to visit him, and Elisha commanded him to strike the ground with one of his arrows, and King Joash only did it three times. After which the Bible says, “So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.”
Holy Spirit show us how to finish this liberating work You have begun this morning.