What Does the Bible Say about Murmuring?

Recently, I reread the book of Numbers, but this time in one sitting. What struck me the most was its talk of murmuring, and I started to look for other occurrences of that practice in the Bible. Sure enough, I found them elsewhere in Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Writings, as well the New Testament Gospels and Epistles. Some translate the Hebrew and Greek words as “complaining” or “grumbling,” but the phenomenon is essentially the same.1

thoughtsSo what are we to make of murmuring? Is it good or bad? Well, in the biblical context, it depends. In Exodus 16, we read that the children of Israel were expressing displeasure at their desert diet, comparing it unfavorably with what they had in Egypt. In response, God didn’t destroy them for their ingratitude. Rather, in verse 12, He told Moses, “I have heard the grumbling (telenoth) of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” Instead of punishing them, He gave them manna and quail. Granted, He wasn’t pleased with their subsequent mishandling of the bounty, but at least His initial response was accommodating.

Sometimes, murmuring is a wakeup call for church leaders. We read in Acts 6:1 that, as the young church was growing, “a complaint (goggusmos) by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” In response the Twelve chose seven men, including Stephen, to tend to this problem, and the results were great.

Still, the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that murmuring is toxic and seditious. Numbers 14 is a particularly pointed example. After the people balked at entering the Promised Land, despite the positive report of Joshua and Caleb, the Lord brought down the hammer of judgment. He asked Moses and Aaron rhetorically, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.” And then He instructed them to tell the people, “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.”

So while there is a place to express dissatisfaction with church affairs, murmurers must be very careful that their dissent is holy and not merely peevish. Furthermore, they should ask themselves whether their complaints are cowardly and gossipy, fomenting insurrection without respectful, face-to-face expression of concern to the allegedly offending party. To express such unholy dissent is to join the rogues’ gallery of murmuring Pharisees in Luke 15 and 19, or the Philippians to whom Paul had to write, in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling . . .”

When we think of grave sins, our minds more readily turn to murder, larceny, adultery, and such, but we mustn’t miss the offense in murmuring. Grumbling may have a righteous source, as when a pastor doesn’t do much or when what he does is unscriptural, including his preaching. But there are honorable ways to deal with frustration (see Matthew 18), and when we initiate or join in a chorus of unhappy talk, we likely displease the Lord.

 

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Endnotes:

1 The word in Numbers appears as “murmur” in the KJV and RSV, as “grumble” in the NIV and ESV, and as “complain” in the HCSB and GNT.

Though the Hebrew words for such crankiness (lun, telenoth, ragan) sound a little punchy, the English word “murmur” builds on the sound of a chorus of discontented voices, the sort you hear in a movie when some disturbing news hits the crowd and they turn to each other expressing dismay in a torrent of indistinct utterances.

The NT Greek word which translates as “murmur” (and “complain” and “grumble”) also partakes of onomatopoeia, pronunciation mirroring the real thing (as in “boom” and “crackle”). It’s gogguzo, reflecting the hurly-burly of contentious conversation or the surge of unhappy chatter in a gaggle of observers (the word “gaggle” going back to the noise a “herd/flock” of geese makes).


New Look for BibleMesh.com

BibleMesh.URL.TagHAMILTON, Bermuda—New course offerings in conjunction with content partners Bethlehem College & Seminary and the Porterbrook Network are among the features of BibleMesh’s newly redesigned website.

Launched Sept. 24, the website also includes available scholarships for BibleMesh’s Biblical Languages Courses and new BibleMesh Biblical Theology Courses. Among the course instructors are New York pastor Tim Keller and Desiring God Ministries founder John Piper.

“We’re pleased to introduce our updated look and highlight our ministry partners on this website,” publisher Emmanuel Kampouris said. “The success of our biblical language courses has also made it possible to offer partial scholarships for our Hebrew and Greek reading level courses in conjunction with this redesign.”

In all, BibleMesh.com features more than 40 courses on topics ranging from Greek and Hebrew to missional living and biblical theology. The courses are searchable based on category, partner institution and learning level.

In addition to highlighting content partners, BibleMesh.com provides information on four other partnerships: Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Tyndale House in Cambridge, England; and the Home for Bible Translators & Scholars in Jerusalem.

Kampouris explained that BibleMesh’s tagline “trusted theological education” reflects its commitment to “partner with universities and organizations who exhibit high academic standards and are committed to the historic Christian faith.”

BibleMesh courses in development include additional levels of language learning and public square courses that apply the Bible to cultural issues.

For additional information, visit www.BibleMesh.com and email us by clicking on “Contact.”

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True Love for the Child’s Soul—J. C. Ryle

JCRylePhoto[1]Bishop of Liverpool and Victorian evangelical leader, J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was well known throughout the 20th century for his writing on spiritual and practical issues. His great aim was to encourage serious Christian living, which included responsible child raising.

Ryle maintained that those who love children wisely will not be satisfied with the world’s curriculum. Earthly custom, fashion, and indulgence do not address the greatest of the child’s concerns, eternal life in Christ. To focus on earthly matters to the neglect of spiritual instruction is a form of cruelty.

It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Parents, nurses, teachers, godfathers, godmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters,—all have an interest in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice. All of us, I suspect, can do something here, either directly or indirectly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance. . .1

Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only season for happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy,—that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.

A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is the usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short,—the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for the earth,—for God, rather than for man,—he is the parent that will be called wise at last.2

 

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Endnotes

1 J. C. Ryle, “The Duties of Parents,” in The Upper Room (1888; reprint, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 283.

2 Ibid., 290.

What Is ‘False Modesty’?

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 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.

James 1:16-17 (ESV)

In 1941 C. S. Lewis penned The Screwtape Letters, in which a seasoned demon, Screwtape, counsels his young nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt a new believer. In one letter the diabolical uncle urges Wormwood to lure a Christian into a false humility: “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.”1 Screwtape knows the “Enemy” (God) will oppose such an attack: “Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all.”2

No opinion of his own talents? Sort of. According to Lewis, the Christian should be able to build the best cathedral in the world, know it is the best cathedral in the world, and yet be just as happy to have the cathedral have been built by someone else. In other words, the Christian should be able to truly rejoice in his gifts as well as the gifts of his brother or sister in Christ. To dabble with false modesty, denying the goodness of one’s work (when Hypocrisyit is quite obvious the work is good), is to assume the appearance of a virtue one does not possess. This is hypocrisy, and it is deadly to the Christian soul.

James offers readers an explanation for why there is no room in the Christian life for this brand of hypocrisy: a perfect God is the source of every good and perfect gift. In the context of James chapter one, this is really a staggering claim since the subject matter of these opening verses has been tests, trials, and suffering. These are hardly the good gifts about which one is tempted to be falsely modest.

Nonetheless, the teaching of verse 17 is clear. God is the giver of “every” good and perfect gift. This includes the gift of regeneration (verse 18, God “brought us forth by the word of truth”), the gift of wisdom (verse 5, “[i]f any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”), and every gift in between. King David credited God as the source of every material blessing, “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Jesus told the disciples that God is not only the source of physical goods, He gives righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). Likewise, James wanted his readers to keep their eyes on the sure, reliable, and generous God. Thus, that new car and the ability to work that earned the car come from Him; He is the source of both good gifts. This is the doctrine taught by James.

Screwtape explains to young Wormwood how God would try to keep the believer from false modesty, and it has everything to do with bringing to mind the doctrine found in James 1:16-17: “The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair.”3

Thus, there is no room for false modesty. This kind of hypocrisy is simply precluded from the Christian life. The fact of the matter is the glorious God of the universe has chosen to bless His children with extraordinary gifts. Some of them have gifts of leadership, some gifts of teaching, some gifts of encouragement, some gifts of administration, and so on. Nonetheless, when a true achievement is pointed out, Christians too often reply, “No, no, it really was not that good!”—a response designed to elicit more praise. Indeed, false modesty—hypocrisy—deadens the Christian soul by subtly turning the attention to oneself and one’s talents and away from the giver of all good gifts.

 

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Endnotes:

1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; repr., San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 70.

2 Ibid., 72.

3 Ibid. Italics added.



 

8 Biblical Responses to Worry

WorryMost of us know that the Bible says not to worry. Jesus put it memorably when He said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But often that’s easier said than done. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable when finances are tight, when relationships are strained, and when there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fulfill all of life’s obligations. Does the Bible provide any specific strategies for avoiding worry? Fortunately it does. Try the following next time anxiety feels unavoidable.

Go deeper with Christ. God wants to walk with His people like He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. In fact, He “takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). In times of great worry, depend on Jesus as a personal friend and return to your first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Experiencing His friendship is often the only force more powerful than life’s overwhelming cares.

Serve others. Ministering to others can help us get away from the self-focus of worry. Despite their own “severe test of affliction,” the Corinthians experienced an “abundance of joy” by turning their energy toward assisting someone else (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Pray. Paul advised the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Sometimes the best antidote to troubled stewing over life’s problems is to translate the stewing into specific requests for the Lord.

Go to church. One reason God commands Christians to be part of a local church is that being with His people provides encouragement and “stirs” us up “to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or prayer meeting can provide a needed lift of spirit.

Sing. This can be a powerful alternative to worry. Think about the Psalms of lament where King David soothed his cares with worship songs. When his own son usurped the throne and sought to kill him, David sang, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Spend time with family. Scripture has much to say about the joys of family, whether biological (Proverbs 12:4; Psalm 127:3-5) or spiritual (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To put the subject of your worry aside momentarily and enjoy time with loved ones can markedly reduce anxiety.

Seek wholesome entertainment. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” according to Proverbs 17:22. The next time you’re anxious or stressed, try watching an uplifting movie or television show, reading a book, or attending a play. Entertainment of the wholesome variety is among God’s gifts to lighten troubled times.

Meditate on an uplifting thought. Paul told the Philippians to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The possibilities are almost limitless, and you can’t think about such things while also mulling over your stresses.

Thankfully the Bible doesn’t just give us abstract commands, but also provides concrete strategies for doing what God says. Avoiding anxiety is a case in point. The next time your stress level elevates, remember that Jesus cares about your troubled heart and provides all the strategies needed for those “who labor and are heavy laden” to experience His “rest” (Matthew 11:28).



 

In Christ, Everything; Outside Christ, Nothing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.

Psalm 16:2-4 (NIV)

Now that our next-door neighbors present us with a multitude of religious choices, the pressure to choose other faiths can be very attractive. Even more alluring is the possibility of mixing and matching; we construct our own garments of faith from the exotic cloth now available from the local religious malls. Our culture revels in diversity and do-it-yourself religion. We are told that we are narrow and intolerant if we stick to the way, the truth, and the life in Christ.

On the run from his enemies, David ran into an earlier version of this option in his day. Israel was surrounded by colorful, foreign alternatives that promised real tangible benefits socially and materially. Yet he did not budge an inch. He had discovered that his own personal faith in God was pivotal to his welfare; apart from the Lord, he had no good thing (v. 2). He knew who his heroes were; his delight was in the saints of the land (v. 3). He was not taken in by the superficial allure of alternative religion; he saw the sorrow that resulted from misplaced confidence in other gods (v. 4). He made up his mind; he would neither join in their practices nor take their names on his lips (v. 4).

Christians are totally indebted to Israel for her refusal to negotiate on her hard-won monotheism. Being tenacious in faith is not being perverse; it is a matter of standing by the truth. Faith is rooted in reality. Christ confirmed and enriched this faith by nailing it down in history with His cross and by conquering all the alternatives in His resurrection from the dead.

The great heroes have proven this faith’s worth over the years. Just to recount their lives is a source of delight and inspiration.

Abandoning the faith or mixing and matching it with bits and pieces of other religions are recipes for disaster and regret. We gladly take Christ’s name upon our lips absolutely and exclusively. His is “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

In making the case for Christ, believers cannot shirk the clear-cut choice that Christ presents. We can do so with confidence when we are secure in our own confession of the Lord and when we remember that apart from Him we have “no good thing.” Christ delivers the goods; the alternatives multiply sorrow.