Topical January 12, 2003
Ideas for this message were contributed by Pastor Timothy Valentino, Fleetwood Bible Church, PA, in Complaint Denied, Today's Christian Preacher, Gospel Fellowship Assoc., spring 2002, vol. 9, num. 4, pp. 12-14.
(Connect this message with Joan's job in H.R. and Jesus' challenge in H.R. with all of us, Patty's testimony and last week's message about "Honoring God".
ILLUS.: The story is told of a man who joined a monastery where, in addition to the vows of celibacy and poverty, he was required to make a vow of silence. According to the rules of the monastery, the man was allowed to speak only two words a year and to utter them only during his annual review in front of the evaluation board. The new monk served his first year in absolute silence. At the year's end when his performance was being evaluated, he was permitted to speak. The two words he uttered were, "Food cold." The monk served his second year in absolute silence. At that year's end, his two words to the evaluation board were, "Bed hard." The man then served his third year in absolute silence. At the end of the year when he showed up for his final review, his two words were "I quit." The monastery leader responded, "Your decision doesn't surprise us. After all, you've done nothing but complain since you got here."
If only our complaining were limited to just two words per year. How much quieter life would be!
"Do all things without murmuring," said Paul in Php. 2:14. Is that really possible? Can a believer truly live a complaint-free life?
Sounds impossible, doesn't it? Yet God's commands are not up for negotiation.
What is complaining?
Believers who want to take Paul's words seriously first need to know what complaining is.
Simply stated, complaining is giving expression to one's self-centered discontentment.
It's a heart murmur with vocal chords.
Sometimes our complaining takes on less verbal forms too: a rolling of the eyes; a gnashing of the teeth; huffing and puffing; stomping off; or body language that conveys defiance, disrespect, or disapproval.
I don't need to give you examples of complaining. You've all been around at home, at church, at work. You've seen it. You've done it from time to time yourself - and so have I.
To give examples of complaining would only stir more complaining. That's the way this insidious enemy works. It would only add more fuel to the fire as people wonder, "Well, I wonder if that's legitimate complaint after all? I think there is a certain point there. In fact, I think ---." And we subconsciously add our own two-cent's worth to this mental mirage – this spiritual sluice-trough – that siphons off our energy and attention from matters of real importance, like performing the positive ministry of building people up rather than tearing them down.
It should be pointed out that complaining is not the same as grieving.
The Bible clearly invites us to mourn when it is time to mourn.
Neither is complaining the same as speaking out against injustice, danger, or heresy, or handling legitimate problems – in the right way.
The Bible gives us guidelines on when and how to do that.
“ In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 NIVUS)
Complaining is not even vocalizing the deep distresses of heart and soul when life is difficult, provided we do so in a biblical manner. The Psalms are loaded with such laments.
Complaining is much more sinister because it involves the assertion of self to secure one's comfort, way, or satisfaction at the expense of others rather than the denial of self to promote God's glory.
How should we effectively express dissatisfaction or disapproval? By suggesting to the one involved what we would like to see, and why we would like to see it, rather than telling either that person or someone else what we don't like, and why we don't like it. And, of course, don't be a tale-bearer of other people's complaints. All this, of course, after we have done a serious soul-search to discover whether what we have to say is really legitimate and helpful. If someone complains to you about someone else, tell them gently to go talk to the one they are talking about.
It is significant that Paul, in Php. 2:14-16, denounced complaining while shackled in prison – not exactly the best of circumstances.
For Paul, complaining was not a legitimate response, even to the lousy accommodations of a wicked world.
Recognizing God's sovereignty in his circumstance, Paul viewed himself primarily as a prisoner of the Lord, not as a prisoner of Rome.
Thus, he must have reasoned that since he was imprisoned, it was because God wanted the people around him to hear the Gospel.
He had the choice of either telling them his own bad news through complaining or telling them God's good news through witnessing about Christ.
Paul chose the latter, in part because he discovered an important key to victorious living.
Most people think they will stop complaining when they finally get happy.
Paul indicates that people will get happy when they finally stop complaining! The difference is profound.
Paul implies in Php. 2:14-16 that complaining Christians look and sound like the depraved generation of which they are a part!
That's a serious charge, but the stakes are high.
What unbeliever would want to accept Christ into his life if Christ apparently made no difference in the life of a Christian?
Walk it off!
Paul's admonition to avoid complaining is rooted in his understanding of the OT.
One of the saddest cases of God's people complaining is recorded in Num. 14, where God said to those who complained:
“ In this desert your bodies will fall— every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Numbers 14:29-30 NIVUS)
What a tragedy! Israel complained about their leaders, their food supply, and the difficult challenge to occupy Canaan.
God was fed up with such relentless carping.
In fact, according to Deut. 1:2, it should have taken the Israelites less than two weeks to travel from where they had received the Ten Commandments to the edge of the Promised Land.
As it turned out, their trip took forty years. It was God's way of telling them to "walk it off"!
The end result was that many died in the wilderness and thereby were denied entrance into the land.
Why such a harsh judgement? From God's perspective, to complain is to doubt his promises and provisions.
To complain is to slander his sovereignty and assault his lordship.
To complain is to accuse God of being a bad Father!
Like Father, like Son.
It stands to reason that if God, as recorded in the OT, was so intensely opposed to complaining, then we might expect his Son, Jesus Christ, to be equally serious about it in the NT.
After all, Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." Like Father, like Son.
Sure enough, the NT indicates that Jesus was every bit as intolerant of complaining as was his Father in the OT.
In fact, Jesus repeatedly sets himself against one of the most menacing types of complaining – people complaining about other people. And Jesus responds the same way every time.
Jesus and the "complainers".
Jesus actually fielded complaints against five different types of people: the fortunate, the insensitive, the unspiritual, the outsider, and the wicked.
When all the complaint stories are studied together, several truths emerge about how Jesus handled complaints about other people.
Let us take a look at how he handled them.
How did Jesus handle complaints about other people?
I. Cycle One: Complaints about people that have or want more than we have.
The heir's complaint about his brother who would not be fair with the inheritance (Luke 12:13-21)
The man in the crowd wanted Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus responded that he was not the judge between them. Then he told the man to be on guard against greed since a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he went on to tell him a parable about a rich fool who had such a bounty from his crops that he tore down his perfectly good barns to build bigger ones to store them in so he would have no future worries. But he did not realize that God was calling his very life to account that night. What then is the good of all he had stored for himself? The point Jesus makes about this man's complaint is that his first concern should not be to store things up for himself that he doesn't need, but to be rich toward God. When having opportunity to speak to Jesus, the man was more concerned about settling the score with his brother, who was cheating him, than with God, whom he himself was cheating. He wanted the world more than the Lord. Complaint denied!
Peter's complaint about John whom Jesus implied would not be martyred (John 21:20-25)
After Peter failed Jesus at the cross by denying him, Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection to ask him whether he loved him, tell him to follow him and feed his sheep, tell him that he would be martyred, and thereby reinstated him through this discipline of inquiry, teaching, and prophecy. But Peter had a concern about what Jesus would tell John to do, one who had not denied him. Jesus essentially told Peter that this was none of his business. Peter was to do what Jesus told him to do without comparison to others. Each of us has a unique situation that is only the Lord's business with us and none other. Complaint denied!
The ten disciples' complaint about the other two disciples who wanted honor (Matthew 20:20-28)
James and John, with their mother, came to Jesus to ask for positions of honor in his kingdom to come. Jesus asked them if they really knew what they were asking since there was the hardship involved of following him in the experience of the cross (this is what he meant although he was not this specific in explanation). They said it was OK with them to which Jesus said that indeed they would suffer with him and for him – specifically to "drink from his cup". But then he said that it was not up to him to grant it. It was the Father's place and the places he assigned would go to those whom he willed. But then the other disciples grew indignant and complained about this bold request. Why should James and John think that they should get this honor, but of course the rest of the disciples wanted it too. This gave Jesus an opportunity to teach them about the greater value of desiring servanthood over honor and authority – indeed the latter comes through the former. The example was Jesus himself who came to serve before he would rule. Complaint denied!
The hired worker's complaint about the landowner who gave equally to all (Matthew 20:1-16)
Jesus makes the point in this parable about the workers in the vineyard that whether someone comes sooner or later into the kingdom of God, whether someone works for the Master long or short, it is God's kingdom to do with as he pleases, and his subjects are his to reward as he pleases. The important point is that they come into the kingdom, and we have no right to complain by comparing ourselves to others who do more or less than we do. Each of us is responsible to God for his sovereign and specific requirements to us. All this was in response to Peter who was wondering what about those of themselves, the disciples, who had left everything to follow him. Complaint denied!
II. Cycle Two: Complaints about people that seem insensitive toward us.
Martha's complaint about Mary who wouldn't help (Luke 10:38-42)
When Jesus came to stay at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Martha was concerned to make just all the right preparations to host him, but alas, her sister, Mary, just sat at Jesus' feet listening to his teaching. This caused consternation to Martha who complained to the Lord that he instruct Mary to help her with all the work. Jesus put the value of learning from him before the value of hosting him and refused to redirect away from the rightful place of her heart. He would not always be with them. Perhaps Martha needed to stop trying to impress Jesus and rather, like Mary, be impressed by him and his teaching. Complaint denied!
The invalid's complaint about those who ignored him at the pool (John 5:1-8, 14)
When Jesus visited Jerusalem he found an invalid lying near a pool that had a reputation for occasional miraculous healing that was situated near the Sheep Gate. The man had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well, he answered that whenever the waters were miraculously stirred, others would get there ahead of him. His response to Jesus' question was a complaint about others rather than a simple response that he would like to be healed. Jesus did not address his complaint but simply told him, without revealing himself, to pick up his mat and walk. The invalid was supposed to focus on the solution and not the problem. Jesus found him later in the temple, revealed who he was, and told him to stop sinning or perhaps something worse would happen to him. Could it have been that the man was disabled by his attitude? Complaint denied!
III. Cycle Three: Complaints about people that seem less spiritual that we are.
John's disciples' complaint about the disciples of Jesus not fasting (Matthew 9:14-17)
John Baptist's disciples complained to Jesus that they fasted, but his own disciples did not. Jesus told them there would be time enough for fasting when he would be taken from them, but for now it was a time of joy in learning from him rather than mourning for him. He put their self-righteous and legalistic concern in the proper perspective toward himself as the Messiah. It was time to think in a new way of relationship to God. Complaint denied!
The Pharisees' complaint to the disciples about the company Jesus kept (Luke 5:27-32)
Jesus asked Levi, the tax collector, to follow him. Levi was so delighted in the Lord that he held a great banquet in honor of Jesus who loved him so much. Of course, he invited his sinner tax collector friends to be there too. The Pharisees complained about this kind of company that Jesus kept. Jesus put a right perspective on their complaint by explaining that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. He was there to lead them to repentance, like Levi. Complaint denied! It makes you wonder who the sick really are. Perhaps the Pharisees were not as spiritual as they thought.
Judas Iscariot's complaint about Mary's act of devotion to Jesus (John 12:1-8)
Jesus was once again in the house of Mary and Martha prior to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to be crucified. They were giving a dinner in his honor, and of course, Martha was once again serving while Mary was carrying out an act of extreme devotion by pouring very expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. She continued that devotion by then wiping his feet with her own long hair. Judas, the money handler for the disciples, complained that the cost of this perfume would have done nicely to help the poor instead of wasting it like this. Jesus did not deny the needs of the poor, but attempted to correct Judas' perspective with the truth that he would not always be with him, since the perfume was actually intended for the day of his burial. It was just that Mary wanted to show her devotion now while Jesus was still alive. This devotion was more than what Judas intended with his 'holier than thou' complaint, since his concern was not really for the poor but to help himself to the money instead. Complaint denied!
IV. Cycle Four: Complaints about people that are outside our own group.
John's complaint about the unknown exorcist using Jesus' name (Luke 9:49-50)
John complained to Jesus about a man who was driving out demons in his name who was not one of the disciples. He said they tried to stop him. But Jesus told him that whoever is not against the disciples work is actually for them. It mattered not if he was one of them, only that the Lord's work was being done and that he receive the glory from it. Complaint denied! Who's glory are we after when we do the Lord's work?
James and John's complaint about the Samaritans refusing to host them (Luke 9:51-56)
When Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem in order to be crucified, he sent messengers on ahead of him to a Samaritan village to make preparations for his arrival. But the people there did not welcome the prospect of his coming there. James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the place, but Jesus rebuked them. Complaint denied! The Samaritans opposed the Jews and so they didn't like the prospect of hosting anyone who would be heading toward Jerusalem. Jesus purpose now was not to destroy but to save those who oppose him. He has also given that purpose to us.
V. Cycle Five: Complaints about people that seem more wicked than ourselves.
The Jews' complaint about Pilate abusing them and their religion (Luke 13:1-9)
It is true that Pilate, as the Roman governor of Judah, did some wicked things, like mixing the blood of the people he governed and killed with the sacrifices they were making to God – an unholy thing. But Jesus responded to the complaint of the people by drawing their attention away from their abuse by the government toward the reality of their own spiritual condition. The truth was that none of us know when we will perish, so we must repent now before it is too late. All are guilty before God. Then he told a parable about a fig tree (the Jewish nation) that should have born fruit in the three years of ministry that Jesus had among them on the earth, but it had remained barren. So the man who went to find fruit on the fig tree (Jesus) talked to the man (God) who tended it and demanded that it be cut down. But God said to leave it for another year while he fertilized and cultivated it to see if it would bear fruit then. Jesus taught this to show that there would be a time of grace for even the wicked to repent. Complaint denied! We must make sure we are right with God ourselves.
The Pharisees' complaint about the adulterous woman (John 8:1-9)
When the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus to test him about what he might say concerning the Law of Moses to stone her, he told them that any who were without sin could cast the first stone. This effectively dispersed the crowd since Jesus brought the question of their own wickedness down on their own heads. Complaint denied! Jesus did not condemn her either, but he didn't let her go without first confronting her sin and telling her to leave it. His purpose is not to destroy the wicked but to save them if possible.
The man's complaint about his younger brother in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:25-32)
When the lost son returned to the delight of his father, it was not to the delight of the older brother who had remained faithful at home and was angry at the party being given in honor of his brother's return. He complained to his father that no such party had ever been given in honor of him remaining faithful all these years. To this the father replied that the older son had the benefit of all he had, and all he had belonged to him, but that the younger son was lost and now found, was dead and now alive. To this the older son should be glad with the father. Complaint denied! The wickedness of his own heart was exposed.
Are you a complainer? Have you ever complained about people who were more fortunate than you, insensitive toward you, less spiritual than you, outside your group, or just plain wicked?
In light of the biblical evidence, believers must understand that such complaining does not enjoy the sanction of heaven.
Jesus himself rejected these types of complaints and often used them as boomerangs to spiritually challenge the complainer.
As it was in the days when Jesus walked the earth, so it is today.
Desiring that his followers in this generation "do all things without complaining," Jesus, in love, often tells us: Complaint denied!
Blessedly, the Scriptures go beyond pointing out our faults; they also show us the better way.
How does a person eliminate complaining from his mouth? Is it just a matter of sticking a sock in it?
Absolutely not! God uniquely deals with each of his children at the heart level.
A liar does not cease to be a liar only when he stops telling lies; he ceases to be a liar when he starts telling the truth.
Likewise, a complainer does not cease to be a complainer when he stops complaining; he ceases to be a complainer when he starts giving thanks as a way of life – like being thankful for others.
Now, this doesn't mean that there aren't things that often need straightening out, but Christian gratitude for others must be cultivated in order to conquer complaining.
Ultimately, we must recognize that Jesus himself was not a complainer. He was a worshipper.
And if we would worship God acceptably in spirit and in truth we must do so in the sense of community that only comes about when we are at peace with each other.
“ If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18 NIVUS)
“ Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:28 NIVUS)
These things are God's will for us.
How did Jesus handle complaints about other people?
Essentially, Jesus responded to every person's complaint about other people with a simple and sobering rebuke: Complaint denied!
Jesus never gave the complainer the satisfaction he was looking for.
Jesus never allowed the complainer to persist in his complaining.
Jesus never tolerated an excessive discrediting of another person's character – even of the ungodly.
Jesus often turned the tables and offered a penetrating insight about the complainer's own heart.
Jesus sometimes even issued a spiritual warning to the complainer himself.
Complaining damages much more than it can repair because it offers no solutions.
It only exposes our own weakness to expose the weaknesses in others. Our mutual sins seem to work against us so often.
Christ denies our complaints against others and demands that we first examine what complaints he might have against us.
“ How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:42 NIVUS)
Once we re-examine our own fallen nature we are much more able to effectively deal with the perceived or actual problem with another person, since we now do so in humility that comes from holy insight.
“ We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2 NIVUS)
In the end it is better to stand with someone than to sit on him.
“ Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIVUS)
Jesus was a master at human relations. He came to relate humans to one another – by relating humans to God. Will you let him help you?