I don’t expect this post to become one of my most popular. Complaining isn’t a favorite topic. We don’t enjoy listening to others complain, but we’re also uncomfortable with facing our own grumbling attitudes. But as Christians, we need to know what the Bible says about complaining.
Last year during my journey of memorizing Philippians, I got stuck on chapter 2 verse 14:
“Do everything without complaining or grumbling.”
I used to skim over this verse because it reminds me of a common command to young children. My own kids heard me say, “Stop complaining” many times.
But that single blunt verse nagged at me. God convicted me of my own grumbling attitude. I wanted to know more about God’s heart on this topic, so I dug deeper into what the Bible says about complaining.
A Short Bible Study About Complaining
Pull out your Bible and join me as we explore some Bible verses that address complaining. We’ll have a mini topical Bible study on complaining.
A quick sidenote: I used “grumbling” and “complaining” interchangeably throughout this post.
Let’s start in the Old Testament.
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11-12, ESV).”
And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink (Exodus 15:24, ESV)?”
and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord (Exodus 16:7-8, ESV).”
Before moving on, let’s review what’s going on here. God has just delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Moses is leading them through the wilderness according to God’s plan, but the people are complaining.
Life in Egypt was not good. They were slaves to a ruthless dictator who demanded the impossible from them for nothing in return. They longed for freedom, deliverance, a savior. And God delivered!
But they’ve already forgotten how bad it was in Egypt. They’re in transition, on their way to the Promised Land, but it’s much harder than they’d expected. There’s too much discomfort. So they complain.
In chapter 14, they complain and wish they were back in Egypt.
In chapter 15, they complain, forgetting about God’s miraculous and faithful provision.
In chapter 16, they complain because their hearts are full of unbelief.
4 Quick Lessons About Complaining
What can we learn so far?
- Complaining is a natural response to difficulty. It is human.
- Complaining is a symptom of a bigger issue. We complain when we forget how far we’ve come, when we forget what God has done, when we take our eyes off His character and doubt His plan for our lives.
- When we complain, we’re actually grumbling against God. When we complain about people He’s placed in our lives, we’re complaining about Him. When we complain about our circumstances, we’re complaining about Him. Consider this: When we complain about the weather, we’re complaining against God!
- God is gracious and merciful and forgives us for complaining. When His people complained yet again, He miraculously provided for them even though they didn’t deserve it.
Consequences of Complaining
And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah because the fire of the Lord burned among them.
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat (Numbers 11:1-4, ESV)!
Here we see that complaining can have serious consequences. It angers God. But again, God is gracious and merciful.
We also see that people can be slow learners. Immediately after the people experienced a horrific consequence for their sinful attitudes, they did it again!
In Numbers 12:1-6, Miriam and Aaron dislike Moses’ choice of wife and they get jealous of his role as God’s mouthpiece to the people. So they complain about it. This angers God and He calls them out and rebukes them for it and afflicts Miriam with leprosy.
Aaron recognizes their sin and repents. Moses begs God for mercy, but God requires Miriam to wait the usual 7 days of isolation before being restored to the people.
It’s becoming obvious that complaining angers God. It is a sin.
What is the Cause of Complaining?
In this story, we also see that jealousy can lead to a complaining heart. So complaining is a symptom of envy and discontentment.
We also see that, even when God is merciful, even when He forgives us, we sometimes still have to face the consequences of our actions.
The entire chapter of Numbers 16 teaches us these same lessons but in a much more dramatic story. I encourage you to read it in your Bible.
The last Old Testament passage we’ll look at today sounds too familiar after what we’ve just read.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died (Numbers 21:4-6, ESV).
Another root of complaining is impatience. When we become impatient, we’re more prone to complain. We must guard our hearts.
Job’s Complaining Wife
Our last Old Testament passage gives us a powerful insight:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10, ESV).
Job and his wife have just lost everything – their possessions, their children, their reputation, and even Job’s health. Job’s faith in God’s goodness frustrated Job’s wife. He has nothing negative to say about the Lord in all of their trials, but his wife wants Job to “curse God and die”. That sounds like some intense complaining!
But Job’s response gives us an important nugget of truth. He tells her she’s foolish and then asks, “If we’re happy to accept good things from God, shouldn’t we also accept the bad?” His point is that, if we trust God as God when we like His plan and He gives us good gifts, should we not also trust Him as God when His plan doesn’t make sense to us and is difficult to handle?
What Does the New Testament Say About Complaining?
Now let’s move on to the New Testament. What does the New Testament say about complaining?
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves (John 6:43, ESV).
This is straightforward. Jesus commanded us not to grumble or complain. Therefore, when we complain, we are disobeying Him. That means complaining is sin.
We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer (1 Corinthians 10:9-10, ESV).
Paul exhorted the Corinthians not to grumble. Why? Because “the Destroyer” destroyed some complainers. Who is the Destroyer? Satan.
Again, we see that complaining can have dire consequences. Complaining leads to destruction. It gives the enemy of our souls a foothold in our lives.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9, ESV).
Peter tells us to be hospitable without complaining. Why would he say that? Why didn’t he just say, “Show hospitality to one another”, and leave it at that? Why did he add “without grumbling”?
Could it be that showing hospitality requires sacrifice? And that we humans struggle with sacrificing our time, comfort, and convenience for the benefit of others? Could it be because our human nature is selfish?
If those things are true, and if that’s why Peter included that little mention of complaining, what does it tell us about ourselves and about the sin of complaining? It means that complaining is a symptom of our selfishness and idolatry. (Yes, comfort and convenience can be idols.)
Christians & Complaining
Let’s look at one more Bible verse about grumbling.
These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage (Jude 1:16, ESV).
Jude is talking about “ungodly people”. He’s describing them throughout this chapter, and one of the words he uses to describe them is “grumblers”. These ungodly people are characterized by complaining.
If complaining is a characteristic of the ungodly, I sure don’t want it to be used to describe me! As followers of Christ, complaining has no place in our vocabulary!
The Bible Has a Lot to Say About Complaining
Whew! We’ve covered a lot of Scripture here, but the Bible has even more to say about complaining than what we’ve read today. If complaining is a sin that you struggle with 🙋♀️, I encourage you to continue digging into God’s Word and allow the truth to set you free.
Let’s review what we learned from the Bible about complaining:
- Complaining is a natural human response to difficulty.
- Complaining angers God and is a sin.
- Complaining about anything is complaining against God.
- Complaining is a symptom of bigger issues, like unbelief, envy, selfishness, discontentment, or impatience.
- Complaining can have serious consequences and leads to destruction.
- Complaining is not befitting a follower of Jesus Christ.
- God is gracious and merciful and will forgive us for complaining when we repent.
If you’re convicted about a complaining or grumbling heart, repent. Receive God’s grace and forgiveness and ask Him to transform your heart. It probably won’t happen instantly, but if you’re willing, God will teach you to recognize when your heart is grumbling and then to choose a better response to your circumstances.
Let’s keep learning together. How can we practically guard our hearts against grumbling and complaining? Share your ideas in the comments.