Why Keep Harping on Grumbling? I mean, seriously…

rainIn the church where I serve as pastor, we’ve been talking quite a bit lately about grumbling. Not so much because there is a lot of grumbling (though I am sure we have our fair share) but because we preached through Exodus during the summer, and a few weeks ago we hit 1 Corinthians 10:10. And in those Scriptures, we encounter the sin of grumbling. And big-time warnings against it!

So what is grumbling and why all the fuss? BDAG defines the Greek word translated grumble as speaking in low tones of disapprobation or to complain against someone or to murmur. Merriam-Webster says it is a mutter of discontent.

Grumbling can be the natural and sinful response to pretty much anything we do not like or agree with.

Grumbling can be audible, or it can be an attitude in the heart. When it is vocalized, it is spoken in low, muted tones (literally or metaphorically) because grumblers don’t want everyone to know they are grumbling. It can be directed against a person, such as a spouse; or a group of people like a church. Grumbling is often against a situation or circumstance. We even grumble against God (honestly, I think all grumbling is ultimately against God, but I’ll leave that deep thought for another post)! Grumbling can be the natural and sinful response to pretty much anything we do not like or agree with.

The word comes up in the New Testament 11 times, and every time it is in a negative light. Here is a sample:

Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing…”

1 Corinthians 10:10, “nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”

James 5:9, “do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged…”

1 Peter 4:9, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

What, pray tell, is the big deal? Can’t we complain a little once in a while? Why such a sweeping – and repeated – prohibition against grumbling?

Here are three brief reasons for why we should view grumbling as the serious sin that it is, and run from it.

First, grumbling poses a real threat to the unity of a church. Of the 11 times the word grumbling occurs in the New Testament, at least 4 of them have to do, at least indirectly, with church unity (all the ones quoted above). Of course, maintaining unity has always been an issue in the church for many reasons. But one really quick method to directly harm unity is simply to grumble against one another and/or against the leadership.

Second, grumbling dims the light we are called to shine in this “crooked and perverse generation”. That is an implication from Philippians 2:14. Since doing all things without grumbling leads to shining as a light, it follows that grumbling dims that light. To put that another way: grumbling mutes the gospel. It is a very serious thing!

Third, grumbling demonstrates a lack of faith in God. In 1 Corinthians 10:10, the context points to Israel in the Wilderness “putting Christ to the test” by complaining against Moses and grumbling against God because of their situation, and the way God was providing for Israel. Instead of trusting God in their trails, they complained and muttered their discontent. Grumbling is the opposite of faith. In fact, it demonstrates a heart-level belief that God is doing something wrong in your life.

So, brothers and sisters, let us resolve to not be grumblers. For the unity of the church, for her testimony to this lost world and to show that we believe that God is good, let’s do all things without grumbling or disputing. 

Adoniram Judson: Devoted For Life

I have a stack of books from the summer that I plan to review here. Some I need to review as an obligation to Baker Books. But most are just great books that I want to pass on to other readers (that would be you!).

The latter is the case with Adoniram Judson: Devoted For Life, by Vance Christie. Christie has done a bang-up job presenting the life and ministry of Judson. I hadn’t read much on Judson before this book, and now I feel pretty familiar with him and his life. A small, well-researched and well-written biography did that. So kudos to Vance Christie for a work well done.

But a biography can only be as interesting and helpful as the subject of the biography. There is a reason no one is writing biographies on that angry guy who lives down the road and never has people over. Nothing to see here, folks, keep it moving.

Not so with Adoniram Judson. He lived an extraordinary life full of passion, sacrifice, and adventure. Judson was one of America’s first missionaries (there is a slight debate going as to whether he was America’s very first missionary, but who cares). He served for almost 40 years in Asia, mostly as a missionary to Burman people groups.

I think it would be fair to summarize Judson’s life with three words. Judson was convictional. He was devoted. And Judson suffered.

Convictional

On a sea voyage to Asia with his wife, Judson began to study what the Bible teaches about baptism. When his ship set sail, he was a Congregationalist and fully a pedobaptist (supporter of infant baptism). By the time his ship came into port 114-days later, Judson was a convinced credobaptist (only those who confess faith in Jesus should be baptized). And it was the Bible that made the difference. Judson wrestled with the Scriptures and, in the end, he yielded to them. And that is why the first American missionary was a Baptist.

This is just one example of how convictional Judson lived, often at significant cost to himself. Becoming a credobaptist was a really big deal, requiring a restructuring of his missions support and resulting in many strained relationships back home. But Judson would submit to the Scriptures, no matter the cost. There is certainly a lesson to be learned in that, no matter what you think about baptism.

Devoted

The subtitle of the book is ‘Devoted for Life’ and that is because Judson believed that “the motto for every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be ‘Devoted for Life.’” Granted, lots of eager missionary candidates talk like that, but Judson proved the motto with his life.

Judson once wrote, “I will not leave Burma until the cross of Christ is planted everywhere.” There were many, many times when leaving would have been far easier than staying, and when no one would have questioned him for quitting. But Judson stayed to keep planting the cross of Christ everywhere. Oh, what a challenge that is to me!

Suffered

To say Judson suffered feels almost trite. His entire ministry was marked by suffering. He knew prison, beatings, torture; he felt grief for children and spouses who died too early. In the end, Judson was widowed 3 times. He tasted rejection, poverty, and illness. His life and ministry were marked by acute suffering.

And yet, he never gave up. He trusted in God’s providence in his life and served him in suffering, rather than trying to escape it.

Interestingly, I read this book while enduring a very small trial which I can’t really call suffering. That little trial made me want to give up on ministry. Oh, how I was challenged and convicted by the life of Judson to persevere and to run the race and to suffer when God brings suffering!

Read This Book!

This is a worthy read. Life is so short, and we have only one shot at it. The life of Adoniram Judson is full of lessons that can help us do this life well. Lessons on running the race convictionally, lessons on living fully devoted to Jesus Christ, and lessons on suffering. Judson’s life was a good teacher. And would that we would be good students!

One last thing. In the church that I serve as pastor, almost every Sunday there are many refugees from Burma who attend the gatherings. Most are from the Karen people and grew up with Christian parents. They can trace their Christian heritage right back to a man who sailed away from America’s shore in 1812 and devoted his life to planting the cross of Christ everywhere in Burma. In fact, many bring their Judson Bibles to church with them.

Let us praise God for the life and legacy of Adoniram Judson. And resolve to not waste our own lives. Order your copy of Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life at Amazon.com.