Of all the sins that are grievous to the Lord (and there are plenty of them in our hearts and lives), I have recently been sensitive to the fact that we are all quick to gloss over two of the most serious–namely, ingratitude and complaining. It was these sins in particular that marked Israel’s sojourning through the wilderness. Moses tells us, in Numbers 11:1, “The people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” Unthankfulness for all the blessings–material and spiritual–with which God daily loads us is one of the most egregious of sins. Ingratitude always fosters a complaining spirit of entitlement in the hearts of men and women.
In our materialistic and comfort-driven society, we are ever in danger of dismissing the reality of the sin of complaining under the mistaken notion that we deserve the best. We expect to have electricity, central heat and air, grocery stores full of food, automobiles, entertainment galore, houses, political input, etc. We have more accouterments and privileges than any people at any time in all of human history; and, that is an exceedingly dangerous thing.
When the people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years–having been delivered from the spiritual and physical bondage in which they were enslaved in Egypt–they looked back at all of the luxuries of the world with sinfully longing in their hearts. They complained against the Lord and his servant, Moses, because they were unthankful for what the Lord had done for them. In their hearts, a desire for physical and material comforts eclipsed being able to see the greatness of the spiritual blessings which God had conferred on them.
We are no different from Israel of old. If we believe that we and our families deserve bigger homes, nicer cars, more comforts and pleasures then we have foolishly deceived our own hearts. When we complain because we don’t have what we want, we show that our hearts are longing for that which is fleeting and fading. We are too often like the man in Jesus’ parable who was consumed with building bigger barns (Luke 12:18).
This evil is especially pernicious when it creeps into the church of God. When members of the church complain and grumble because they want more than what God gives them in Christ and through the faithful ministry of the means of grace (i.e. the word, sacraments, prayer and discipline), they reveal that their hearts are just like the Israelites of old in the wilderness. When an insatiable desire for worldly prestige, provision and power in the local church takes the driver’s seat of the heart of members, innumerable damage is done. As the writer of Hebrews explained, a “root of bitterness springing up defiles many.” The discontentment spreads like wildfire when members of the church express their discontentment and unthankfulness to other members.
By way of contrast, when believers walk together in humility, thankfulness to God for the least of His mercies, and a willing acknowledgement of how undeserving we are for any good and a longing to be with Christ in glory, the opposite happens. We discover that we have nothing to complain about. There is an infectious joy and gratitude that overflows the benefit of the other members of a home or church. The cross cures us of an entitled and worldly spirit. When we see Christ crucified for us with the eyes of faith, we are drawn off of selfish ingratitude. We then learn to live a life of thanksgiving to God for all of the spiritual blessings He has bestowed on us in Christ (Eph. 1:4-13). In turn, we find that we grow in our contentment. Oh that God would cause the Gospel to produce such thankfulness and contentment in our hearts so that we might be vessels of such infectious joy and gratitude to all around us.
John Newton well captured the truth about the joy that believers have when we are content with the knowledge of Christ and the inheritance that we have awaiting us in glory, when he wrote:
Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
All their boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures
Non but Zion’s children know.