My best friend and I bent our heads together and grumbled back and forth across the lunch table. We didn’t like a few things about our youth group, and in all our fifteen-year-old wisdom we were sure we knew how to set things right. The music, the calendar, the leadership—our complaints flew fast and furious until a comment from the non-churchgoing friend next to us brought us up short.
“Wow,” she said. “You sure have a lot of problems at church.”
Grumbling has a seductive power. It forms an instant—but false—sense of camaraderie. Exhaust your library of small talk topics? Find something to complain about. Get a couple people to join you in your complaints, and it suddenly feels like solidarity. If you’re not united around something, at least you’re united against something. It can give you an emotional high, but it’s like gold plating over rotten wood—hollow, unstable, and easily broken. Communities built on outrage eventually devour themselves from within.
In Philippians, Paul warns us to “do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Philippians 2:14, NIV). That word Paul uses here for “grumbling” isn’t the normal New Testament word for grumbling or complaining. It’s the same word Greek translations of the Old Testament use to describe the Israelites’ grumbling in the wilderness. They grumbled there wasn’t anything to eat. They grumbled that what God had provided wasn’t good enough. They grumbled against Moses, and they grumbled against God. Eventually their grumbling cost an entire generation their inheritance (Numbers 14:1-4, 26-35).
Our grumbling risks our own inheritance as well. Paul says when we resist grumbling “then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16, NIV). Grace shines brightly in an outrage filled world. When we resist the temptation to indulge in grumbling’s temporary satisfaction, we can find genuine connection and work together to find real solutions.
That doesn’t mean we are to ignore problems or stick our heads in the sand. But we are called to use our words well. Speak truth. Correct with grace. Let the Spirit of God guide our words to meet the need of the moment, building up rather than tearing down. And always, always, hold fast to the word of life as both anchor and plumb line for the soul.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but I’m trying. I want thanksgiving and to be my default, not complaining. I want to build relationships on grace, not outrage. When I speak, I want my words to shine.
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