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The Sin of Murmuring

Truth in Love 337

Grumbling never travels alone. It can become a domino effect and lead us to other sins.

Nov 15, 2021

Dale Johnson: I’m so grateful for this time of year, the changing of seasons and the changing of the colors of the leaves. It’s so refreshing to me. I don’t know how you all take it, but I love this time of year and my heart always definitely starts to turn into this attitude of thanksgiving, looking back over the year and being grateful for the things the Lord has done. I’m excited. This week, we have with us on the podcast my former pastor, Dr. Stephen Yuille is with us. He now leads up at Heritage Bible College and Seminary. He’s the vice president of academics there, which is up in Ontario, Canada. I’m so grateful for his ministry, personally, to me during the days that my family sat under his ministry and so grateful for the man that he is in the way that he loves the Lord and loves the Scriptures. A few other things about him. He’s married to Allison. He’s been an ACBC member for several years. He also teaches at Southern Seminary. Many of you may have run across Dr. Yuille through his ministry at Southern. I’m just so grateful for this brother and his love for the Lord, his love for people, the way that he shepherds people in his teaching. He’s a very gifted teacher. But also, he has a love for the Puritans and I really appreciate that. I want to talk to him about some of those resources even today as we talk about this issue of murmuring.

Dr. Yuille, it is really interesting. As we get to this time of year we sort of see these two extremes of, yeah, we have a heart that wants to be grateful. We want to look back at the things the Lord has done, but sometimes we find ourself grumbling and complaining and murmuring, as as it were. And this is something that’s quite antithetical. It is an opportunity cost of choosing to be content in the things the Lord has given us or to be grateful, or we find ourself definitely grumbling and complaining. I want you to talk for just a second about what we see, maybe, as this rise in grumbling, murmuring, complaining, or even made righteous as we say, man, I’m just venting and we think that is a good thing. What do you make of this rise in this murmuring? 

Stephen Yuille: Well, it’s good to be with you. It is a fascinating topic, a fascinating discussion. Has there been a rise in grumbling, venting, of late? It’s hard to tell. I think part of the issue might be social media. It gives such an opportunity for people to say what they’re thinking, which they did not have but ten years ago, and even the medium itself, I think, can lend itself to exasperation and compiling the problem. Yeah, I mean, we live in unsettling days. We live in unsettling times. Some have said we live in revolutionary times. There’s lots of change swirling around us and lots of things occupying our attention and vying for supremacy in our lives, and when we find ourselves not focused on the Lord and we find ourselves not consciously practicing thanksgiving, our default position will be grumbling. It is something we all struggle with. Thomas Manton—you referenced the Puritans earlier—he described it as the scum of discontent and the vent of impatience. Those are pretty stark descriptions, but it is a reality that we can’t deny. I think it is just something we struggle with is—what it means to live daily in a posture of praise and thanksgiving, as opposed to being overwhelmed by our circumstances and falling prey to the temperature of the society around us. 

Dale Johnson: That is so true. This is one of the sins, I think, for us in the modern church, where we have a tendency to recognize it when other folks are struggling with it and sometimes we’re not honest with ourselves when we see ourselves being discontent about the things that are around us and we have a tendency to sort of justify these ideas. I think that in and of itself is certainly self-deception and I think it’s something we have to be aware of. So, I think it’s good for us to maybe pause and just ask, first of all, what is it? What causes this issue of murmuring and discontentment? What makes it so serious? I think that will help us recognize a little bit more when we find ourselves doing this, not passing this off as, you know, someone else’s sin. So what are these things? What causes it? What is it? And why is it such a serious deal? 

Stephen Yuille: Well, in terms of causality, I think there’s a lot going on. From my reading, the Puritans are a great resource on this. They speak to it in numerous works. They recognize it as a real problem in their own day, so they do provide invaluable insights. As I’ve gleaned from them—and I agree with them, they seem to narrow it down to five major causes. I mean, the first is pride, the first sin we put on at the fall. When we set too high of a price upon ourselves, we are going to struggle with a measure of discontent which will invariably lead to grumbling.

Impatience. I don’t know about you, but I resent inconveniences. We expect things now and we expect things to work always and impatience can really foster then that spirit of murmuring. Presumption is something else they point to. We tend to think we deserve more or at least deserve better. So, if that is our starting point, if that is our basic operating system whereby we presume that we deserve better or deserve more when that desire is crossed, that expectation isn’t met, it’s going to lead to grumbling. Greed is a fourth factor at play, certainly, when we desire something too much.

Number five is actually the greatest. This is the one the Puritans would point to as the chief cause of grumbling. It’s just simply unbelief. We have lost sight of the promises of God. We’ve lost sight of His particular providence, His care in our lives, and lost sight of his wise fatherly disposal in every circumstance of life. So where that seed, even if it’s just in germinal form, takes root of unbelief and the eyes are turned away from our Heavenly Father, the Puritans were adamant that grumbling will not be far behind. It was so precarious. They spoke from their personal experience, but also speaking pastorally. They saw it as a dangerous thing because it does ultimately reveal the condition of the heart. It tells us something isn’t right. We’ve lost perspective. It’s no longer biblical truth that’s in informing our judgment. They would have affirmed that grumbling indicates, to some degree, we’ve lost sight of God’s matchless grace. If grumbling is replacing thanksgiving, then obviously God’s grace and mercy have been minimized to some extent in our experience. And they really saw grumbling as dangerous and leading to other sins because ultimately it impedes sight. Grumbling causes tunnel vision. You know it and I know it. When we get into that kind of attitude of heart where we’re grumbling or murmuring and we become so fixated on our current circumstances, we can quickly lose sight of what’s going on around us, quickly lose perspective as to what’s important and what isn’t important.

So, I mean, in terms of causes, I think it’s pretty straightforward, but yeah, really culminating in unbelief and certainly why this is something that should occupy our attention. We should give it some concern and serious thought as grumbling never travels alone. It always has sisters in tow—things like bitterness and resentment, malice and anger, and it can really become a domino effect and lead us to other sins.

Dale Johnson: One of the things that you mentioned is, unfortunately, we’re very well acquainted with these types of causes, even in our own life. We’re very well acquainted, in your illustration, with some of these sisters as well and those sisters often indicate, when we’re bitter, that there is a seed of discontentment somewhere, that we’re lacking gratitude. We’re lacking perspective from God on his promises and how they matter right now in this particular situation, whatever we’re facing. Now we’re not the first people—and this is a human problem—we’re not the first people to deal with this issue. I mean, we look back at the apostle Paul, for example, and he’s learning this process of how to be content in whatever situation he finds him in. I find that encouraging. He learned this process. So, we can’t take a snapshot of our lives. But even further back than that, we hear this idea of grumbling certainly with the children of Israel, the Israelites. They certainly were known for grumbling, particularly in the wilderness. Why would you say that they grumbled so much and what are some of the things that we can glean from them and learn from some of their mistakes in the ways in which they grumbled? 

Stephen Yuille: Yeah, I’ve referenced it already. It was unbelief. I mean, we read that. It’s confirmed two or three times in Psalm 78 that despite God’s wonders, the Israelites did not believe. So despite everything they witnessed, the plagues in Egypt, the traversing of the sea, the theophany on Mount Sinai, and everything else that they were exposed to and all the wonders that they saw, they did not believe God’s promises, what He intended for them and the plan He had for them. You know, Cain, in the Promised Land, they were so fixated on their circumstances and the struggles before them that they wavered. They wavered in faith. Thomas Manton, one of the old Puritans, he put it this way, the Israelites could not believe that the wilderness was the way to Canaan. They could not believe that the wilderness was the way to Canaan. We need to learn from that, learn from their example. Paul tells us to do so. 1 Corinthians 10:10, we must not grumble as some of them did. Do we really believe that the wilderness is the way to Canaan? Do we really believe that the cross comes before the crown? Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that suffering precedes glory and that sacrifice is the way to reward? So learning from the Israelites and this obstinacy, obviously, that was so prevalent among them, but at the root of it all as with so many of our problems, Scripture identifies it as unbelief. They just did not believe God’s word. They did not believe God’s promises therefore it was inconceivable to them that His sojourn that was arduous, so difficult and so daunting in so many ways, could be a good thing. They weren’t fixed on the ultimate goal and the ultimate reward, and that’s invaluable for us. I think that’s behind Paul’s exhortation unto the Corinthians to learn from the Israelites’ example and to make sure our faith is firmly rooted on God, His word, and His promises.

Dale Johnson: You know, even as we hear this, it’s sort of difficult to hear because I think we’re face to face with reality of, we see ourselves in the Israelites. We see ourselves as these types of human beings in how much we struggle, and what a call for us to be vigilant, to guard our heart from these types of grumblings, these types of complainings, these issues of impatient or being myopic and not seeing the promises of God and seeing the circumstances as more viable. I think these things are difficult. I want to sort of turn the corner and talk about, okay, we understand we’re dealing with this struggle of murmuring, of complaining, of grumbling and we see ourselves. This is not somebody else’s problem. We see ourselves.

I have a lot of students who will come up and say, Dr. Johnson, I hear some of the things you’re saying. I want to see this in action. Can I come and sit in and listen to you counsel? I want to see sort of how this works and it has sort of gotten me intrigued as I’m listening to you describe this, Stephen, as you talk about the Puritans and how well they saw these things. Man, if we could sit in and listen to a counseling session, if we could observe maybe the way that they would handle one of their parishioners who is struggling with this sin of grumbling and complaining, how would the Puritans deal with these guys? I mean, how would they counsel them? How would they disciple them? How would they have advised or guided someone who grumbled in their midst? How would you describe that? 

Stephen Yuille: That is a fabulous question. I don’t think I’m going to be guilty here of an over simplification, but it is definitely a simplification. As I have read them and gleaned from them, I can almost imagine a Puritan pastor sitting with someone in the context of catechizing them and dealing with this issue of murmuring and grumbling, and as I have gleaned, and I sort of try to lean in and imagine what it would be like, I sort of boil it all down to four key points. Again, a simplification, just so that our listeners are clear on this, a simplification but not an over simplification.

I think a Puritan pastor would begin by saying, look, we need to look around. We need to look around. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, a mixed multitude also went up with them and the murmuring and the grumbling on the part of that mixed multitude that infiltrated the Israelites and influenced them deeply—you know, we know that when whispering ceases, the fire goes out. I think a Puritan pastor would really emphasize the need to not listen to the rabble in our day—grumblers, malcontents, as Jude describes them. We need a better filter, I think, spam filter, when it comes to our minds and our hearts, what we’re listening to, what we’re taking in. So many negative voices—great discontent, malcontent in our society— well, that’s our daily diet. If our daily diet is social media and the talking heads, that’s invariably going to have a very detrimental effect on us.

I think the second thing a Puritan pastor would really emphasize is the need to look back because the Israelites forgot so quickly, right? I mean, there were a lot of inconveniences in the wilderness. We know that when we go back and we read, you know, book of Exodus, the book of Numbers, but when we really look hard, I mean, those inconveniences that the Israelites went through in the wilderness were nothing to what they suffered in the land of Egypt. I mean, they lost a generation of baby boys. When you compare their suffering in Egypt versus their suffering in the wilderness, you can’t compare the two. A Puritan pastor would really emphasize that. The need to remember the gospel. The need to celebrate God’s miraculous provision. I think it was Thomas Manton who said, a good memory is a help to thankfulness. Reciting, rehearsing, and remembering what God has done for us, and thinking back to what we have been saved from, what we have been saved to.

The third word of counsel a Puritan pastor I think would give you, and he wouldn’t use this language, this would be the gist of his intent, is how important it is to look ahead. The Israelites spent so much time dwelling on the past. Oh, that we had died in Egypt when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full. Where should they have been looking? They should have been fixed on God’s promise and especially His promise to bring them up out of the land of affliction to a land flowing with milk and honey, and that’s an invaluable lesson for us, that we are to hope for what we do not see. We eagerly await for it, Paul says, in Romans 8, with perseverance. So, rather than yearning for Egypt, longing for what God has promised, and cultivating Heavenly mindedness in the life of expectancy.

Then the fourth word of counsel which I think would eclipse them all is, they really would have emphasized the need to look to Christ and to daily fix our eyes upon him. It is fascinating in Philippians 2, Paul gives that tremendous Christological section when he describes who the Lord Jesus is and the wonder of the incarnation. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, took the form of a man, and suffered and was obedient even to the point of death. I mean, that is one of the highlights of the New Testament, a glorious description of the Lord Jesus, and it has always fascinated me that having taken us to the mountain peak there, the very next thing he says is do all things without grumbling. What’s the connection between the two? How can he give us Christology so deep and so rich and so profound and then the very first thing out of his mouth is, do all things without grumbling. There is an immediate relationship between who Christ is, what Christ has done, our appreciation of Him, and us putting into practice what it means to be a Christ-follower, cultivating Christ-likeness as made evident in this one particular area, what it means to really mortify a grumbling or murmuring spirit. It’s only possible to do so when we’re living, basking, if you like, in the glory of the Lord Jesus and living in the shadow of the cross.

Dale Johnson: I just want us to digest these things and I want us to sort of revisit. So I hope if you’re listening, you’ve been able to slow it down—on a podcast if you can slow the wording down—and just really take in some of the things that Dr. Yuille is helping us to understand. I think this is important, if we want to pursue contentment, there are some things we have to get rid of. I think this is important and I want us to turn our direction in that way toward contentment. That’s the goal, but there are some things we have to get rid of. Dr. Yuille, this has been very, very helpful. It was fun sitting in on the counseling session, as we could imagine it, with the Puritans. Brother, thank you for your time. Thank you for using the things the Lord has taught you to instruct us. 

Stephen Yuille: Oh, as always, my pleasure Dale.