The Herald Weekly Vol XVI : 22

Are you a murmurer?

The dictionary defines ‘murmuring’ as “a soft, low, or indistinct sound produced by a person or group of people speaking quietly or at a distance”. It also can mean an “indistinct, whispered, or confidential complaint; a mutter.” In medicine, it refers to“ an abnormal sound, usually emanating from the heart” which sometimes indicates a serious heart condition.

The Bible mentions this word in a few incidents:

1. Numbers 14:2-3 – The children of Israel, who had left the life of bondage
and suffering in Egypt, were now tired of wandering in the wilderness. “And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?”

The Israelites murmured not only against their leaders, but were also murmuring against their God who had heard their prayers and freed them from slavery.

2. Acts 6:1- “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” These widows seem to have a legitimate reason to ‘murmur’, to complain – they felt that they were being neglected!

3. Matt 20:1-16 – Jesus told about labourers in the vineyard who murmured about working the whole day and receiving the same wages as those who had worked shorter hours.

4. Lk 5:29-32 – The scribes and Pharisees murmured against the disciples of Jesus because they ate and drank with publicans and sinners, but they were really striking out at Jesus.

5. Jn 6:41 – The Jews murmured about Jesus because He said He was the bread of life (John 6:41).

In his missionary journeys, the Apostle Paul must have met with quite a number of murmurers in the churches. The believers in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi and other places must have brought many issues to his attention. It would be beneficial if issues brought up were meant to improve things. However, these complaints often turned into murmurings and stirred up a lot of negative feelings and unhappiness.

Some of these who murmured in the churches probably had good reasons to do so: about others who were eating more than they should in church (1 Cor 11:20-22); about those who ate food offered to idols and stumbling others who were weak in the faith (1 Cor 10:27-28); about those who had or did not have gifts of the Spirit, or spoke in tongues, or did not speak in tongues (1 Cor 13); about those who followed Cephas or Apollos while others followed Paul (1 Cor 1:12)

Sadly, many people just want to complain instead of encouraging others. Instead of praising God with our lips and hearts, our eyes and ears get distracted by mistakes on the preacher’s powerpoint slides, or wrong notes played by the pianist or sung by the chairperson, or the music is too loud, or there is a typo error in the bulletin, or the flowers are wilting, and so on. Then, the tongues begin to wag. Once the tongue is let loose, there is no end of critical words, and the end result is many get so discouraged.

Paul urged the Philippian Christians to “do all things without murmurings and disputings.” (Phil 2:14). Why did Paul specifically address this issue about murmuring? Paul states that as followers of Christ, we should not murmur so that we “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; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Phil 2:15-16)

Murmuring is a sin; and if we have murmured against man, or against God, we need to confess of our sin, repent and ask God for forgiveness.

The adverse effects of murmuring:

1. Murmuring shows a lack of faith in the sovereignty of God; a testing of God through unbelief (as the children of Israel did in Ex 15:24; 16:2-12; 17:3-7)

2. Murmuring indicates a rebelliousness in the heart. The people of Israel were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mt Sinai. They did not wait to hear what God wanted to say to them. They wanted God to know what they were capable of doing without Moses.

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. (Ex 32:1).

God saw their sinful rebellion and punished them. Three thousand were slain and many died in the plague which God brought upon them because they worshipped the golden calf.

Even the very meek Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he did not obey God. “Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as He commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” The Lord was displeased with Moses’ actions: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (Numbers 20:12).

1. Murmuring shows a disrespect for God’s Word. Psalm 106:24-25 say “Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord.”

2. Murmuring shows an unhappiness and discontentment in the heart. In Matt 20:11, Jesus preached about the labourers in the vineyard. “And when they had received it (their wages), they murmured against the good man of the house…” The labourers were paid, but not happy. They compared themselves to others and ended up being greatly disgruntled by a so-called “unfair wage scheme”.

Are we sometimes like that in our work office? We get stuck in a lot of discontentment and unhappiness because we think others are not doing as much as we are, or are paid more highly than us, or are getting commendations when our efforts are overlooked. This can happen in church too – when one staff worker feels he is not remunerated fairly when compared to others, or when some servers are praised while other servers are not.

Beloved, let us be careful about bringing up issues that require attention. We should bring them up in the right spirit and with good intentions. We should avoid murmuring or complaining; but bring up matters to the right people at the right time, and for the right motive.

Let us not be known as murmurers who complain and grumble in low voices. Let us not be known as people who purposely stir up trouble in order to manipulate others for our own agendas. Rather, let us be known as people who encourage others (like Barnabas did with Paul), and promoting others instead of self (as John the Baptist pointed his followers to Jesus Christ).

Above all, let us be known as people who love God and His Word; people who are grateful and thankful to God, using our lips and hearts to praise Him for His grace and mercy shown towards us.

Pastor Bob Phee

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