Poisoned Speech (Numbers 11:1-3)
There are days I absolutely hate Facebook. Sometimes Facebook is nothing more than a big “whine” fest–people complaining about one thing or another. The most common complaint I see is “The Job.” People–good people–will complain about their job on Facebook. With all due respect, that’s just plain dumb. An employer might see that. A coworker might see that and report it to a supervisor.
A couple weeks ago, I saw a post that really got under my skin. A friend of mine was complaining that she had to work on Saturday. I thought, “Millions of Americans would be happy to trade places.” She’s complaining about the opportunity to provide for her family. On the other hand, millions of Americans in this economy are worried about how they’ll feed the family, how they’ll pay the mortgage or how they’ll pay their medical bills. What some families wouldn’t give for the “problem” of working on Saturday!
But, if we’re honest, we all tend to complain. Tammy likes to try new recipes. Too often, she knows that I don’t like what she’s fixed–not by anything I say–but by the expression on my face. Instead of being thankful that I have a wife whose serving, instead of being thankful we have food on the table, I want to complain.
Aren’t there times that you, too, want to murmur and complain? Ladies, does your husband always remember to get his clothes in his hamper? Do you ever want to complain? Guys, does your wife always get supper on the table on time? Is it ever cold? Do you ever want to complain? Teens, do you ever want to gripe about your parents? Do they ever have these rules that make absolutely no sense?
In this morning’s text, we find some folks who were grumbling and complaining. They are taught an important lesson: “Complaining is poisoned speech.”
Complaining has no place in the life of the Christian. Paul mentions this episode and says, “[Don’t] grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor 10:10). “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14). Murmuring/complaining has no place in the life of the Christian–“Complaining is poisoned speech.”
Scripture (Numbers 11:1-3)
When the people complained, “it displeased the LORD.” Why would complaining displease the Lord?
Because, complaining is a slap in the face of God. Complaining says that all the blessings God is giving aren’t good enough and I want something more.
God blesses and blesses and blesses. In context, God had provided “big” blessings for the Israelites. He had led them out of the land of bondage and was guiding His people to the Promised Land. God is providing manna. He is meeting their needs, but it’s not good enough. They need that meat.
God gives us so very much. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Js 1:17).
Fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. As we saw with Nadab and Abihu, fire from the LORD is not a good thing. Some of the people received immediate judgment outside of the camp.
The people open their mouths again–not to grumble, but to cry out to Moses. Moses, in turn, prayed to the LORD, and the fire was quenched. Is it not amazing that as angry as God was with His people, when they cried out to Him, He stopped the plague?
God’s love is constant. He will forgive when people repent and return to Him. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Is 55:7).
God has a long, long history of turning from judgment when His people turn from sin. When the people erected the golden calf, Moses interceded on the people’s behalf and God turned from His anger (Ex 32:9-14). When the people grumbled and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, Moses prays for the people and God instructs him to build the bronze serpent so that anyone who is bitten may look at the serpent and live (Num 21:5-9).
Moses called the place where this grumbling took place “Taberah.” “Taberah” means “burning.”
It would be very nice to say that the people of Israel learned their lesson: “Complaining is poisoned speech.” You know, however, that the people complained throughout their sojourn in the wilderness. In the next paragraph, the people wept again and said: “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” The people complained when the spies brought back their report (Num 14:1-5). Over and over and over, we find the people complaining.
It would be tempting to judge them harshly. We might say, “They should have learned that lesson. I’d never complain in that situation.” Really? How often do we complain when we have a variety of food to eat and when we’re not facing a host of powerful armies on the other side of the Jordan? Let us learn and apply this lesson: “Complaining is poisoned speech.”
How do we stop complaining and grumbling?
Here are some steps:
Sometimes we complain about things we cannot control.
Do you ever complain about other people? Boss, spouse, coworkers, drivers, etc. There is nothing you can do to change their behavior. Yet, you can change the way you respond.
Instead of the negative energy of grumbling and complaining, we seek to bless. Moving from cursing to blessing is biblical. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Prov 25:21-22). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). What good can you do this week for people who cause you to complain?
Do you complain about other things outside of your control? The weather, the government, what you have to eat, etc.?
We need to remember that God is ultimately in control: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (Rev 19:6). We can pray to Him: “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).
We can remember the multitude of blessings God gives:
- God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
- “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor 16:2).
To keep from grumbling, we each need to make a list of the great blessings God has given us. Be specific. Put it in a place where you can see it often–fridge, bathroom mirror, etc. When you’re tempted to complain, go to that list and have a reminder of all that God has done.
Sometimes we complain because we need to change our behavior.
How many times do we complain about things that are our own fault? Do you complain because your spouse is often short with you? Is your spouse short tempered because of your behavior? Would you feel better about yourself and not complain so much if you changed behavior, changed attitude?
Examine your life to see what needs to be changed and work at changing it! “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5). Is there some behavior you need to change?
We absolutely must get rid of complaining and grumbling. In our text, the Jews were severely judged for complaining and grumbling. God still judges complainers. “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (Js 5:9). Jude writes about the ungodly against whom the Lord comes to execute judgment. Jude says: “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage” (Jude 16). Will God execute judgment on your because you are a complainer?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.