Summary: A message on the spiritual causes and cure for complaining.
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
A certain man attends his company’s Christmas party with the intention of having a good time. During the course of the evening, however, the said man consumes much too much alcohol. He awakes next morning feeling awful. He has a pounding headache. He is nauseous and achy all over. And he recalls in the sober light of day what an absolute fool he made of himself the evening before. He promises himself that if he recovers from this hangover he will never drink again.
Fast forward now a year. This same man again attends the company Christmas party. He again drinks too much, and his coworkers again have the opportunity to see him wearing their favorite lampshade. And he again awakens the next morning with regrets and pledges of amendment of life.
The term for the all too familiar phenomenon just described is selective amnesia. Selective amnesia is the incomplete recall of past experiences that favors the positive but conveniently forgets the unpleasant.
And if ever there was a people who suffered from a corporate selective amnesia it was the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. The first 3 verses of the chapter provide the necessary context for the rest of what happens in chapter 16, and reveals the first of what will be many, many other examples of the people of Israel suffering from selective amnesia.
Allow me to read the first 3 verses of Exodus chapter 16 to set the context for the message this morning.
And they ajourneyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and bSinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt. 2 Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel ccomplained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 And the children of Israel said to them, d“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, ewhen we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Now, I must tell you, this griping and complaining would be laughable if it were not so tragic.
You recall that after 4 centuries of slavery in Egypt God raised up a deliverer for the descendants of Abraham in Moses. The Lord brought plagues, and blight, and even death upon the Egyptians until pharaoh agreed to emancipate the people of Israel. In Exodus 14 the Lord miraculously dries up the Red Sea to allow His people to cross on dry ground. And He closes the Red Sea again on pharaoh and his army as they attempt to pursue Israel to return them to bondage, destroying the then most mighty military power in the world in one fell swoop. Exodus 14 ends with this in verse 31:
Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.
In Exodus chapter 15 the Lord miraculously turns the bitter and poisoned waters of Marah sweet and drinkable so that His people would be refreshed.
Everything God had done for His people thus far He had done to demonstrate that He was able to take care of them, and that He would take care of them. And yet here we find them in chapter 16, the recent recipients of so much grace, so much miraculous provision, and so much loving care, griping, murmuring, and complaining. And as I indicated previously, this grumbling was not unique; it would come to characterize the nation of Israel throughout the remainder of the Old Testament.
Let us spend a few moments this morning examining the phenomenon of complaining saints, as well as how we might correct the flaw in our own lives—both individually as believers and collectively as a church family.
To begin, complaining is a spiritual problem. It finds its origins in discontentment. Biblical commentator Matthew Henry writes:
Discontentment magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason.
And he is exactly right. When we are discontent, and think life or God owes us more than we currently enjoy, we begin griping and complaining. If we are to defeat the unsavory vice of complaining, we must catch it in its infancy here—in discontentment—and work to foster that rare and precious jewel of contentment. And contentment for the believer is the conviction that God loves us and will provide for us, and that He is in absolute control of every situation, even difficult ones.
Next, complaining is a gratitude problem. When we begin assuming our blessings as rights, and forget how much we’ve been given, and how little we actually deserve, and when we forget to thank the Lord for everything, we begin complaining. As the old revival hymn goes: “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” I can tell you now: It is impossible to be grateful and to grumble at the same time.