You could start a gossip club for moaners and create an entire clan of complainers. Happens all the time. Can you think of any?
The thing is, though, that the Word of God expressly warns us against muttering. Yes it does.
There’s a marvellous Greek word, gogguzo, which illustrates this perfectly. It means to murmur, grumble or say anything against something or someone in a low tone; of those who confer secretly together; or of those who discontentedly complain.
Ah, the valley of discontentment. Who’s ever been there? I guess everyone allows themselves a moan from time to time. But should we stay there? Should we make a habit, or a lifestyle, or even a career out of complaining about others? Not according to the Word.
1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.
God promotes hospitality and generosity over grumbling, murmuring and complaining. Here the Greek word is gogguzo. But what happens to those who decide to defy God and complain about others?
A nation of complainers
Moses’ Israel, for instance, was a nation of complainers. Even when it was so obvious that God was for them and was miraculously helping them out of slavery and bondage they found things to moan about. God said of them, “How long must I put up with this evil generation who complain about me?”
Israel’s negative perspective kept an entire generation out of the promised land, because they even complained when God gave them the opportunity of victory.
They were supposed to overcome idol worshipping tribes, but they saw them as giants, and themselves as grasshoppers. God promised them the land but their negative imagination defeated them before they even started.
Numbers 14:36-37 Now the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation complain against him by bringing a bad report of the land, those very men who brought the evil report about the land, died by the plague before the Lord.
We could say, then, that murmuring tends to deflate faith. Constantly seeking and seeing the worse case scenario creates a negative world view and stifles enterprise, causes people to miss glorious, God-given opportunities, and, worse of all, God takes fervent issue with complainers.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
In this passage, Paul points out five issues to which God took exception: lust after evil things, idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. It’s amazing that complaining is such an evil thing in the sight of God.
Complaining brings a plague
On another occasion when Israel complained about their lot—not for the first time—God sent a plague of serpents which killed those who moaned about him. Murmuring is clearly a no-no as far as God is concerned. He hates it.
Complaining, then, tends to destruction. To deal with the issue, Moses was told to make a pole with a brass serpent which he lifted up before the afflicted people, so that whoever gazed upon the serpent on the pole would be delivered from the serpents.
This is a type of Christ on the cross, of course. He has delivered us from the destructive nature of sin. He became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God in him.
He has taken us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God, where we are empowered to live according to a higher standard. We now live by faith, not by sight. We speak the Word with confidence. We no longer complain. We have no reason to complain. We only have cause to rejoice.
Moaning about the Body
It’s easy to agree that we should not complain about God, but the Word also counsels against complaining about our brethren. It says we should not judge them before the time. We are called to encourage one another to love and good works in Christ.
James 5:9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
Do not grumble. A different word here—stenazo, but it means a similar thing, to murmur, to complain, or bear a grudge.
Grumbling against one another leads to condemnation, and the Judge is God. He is standing at the door. I think that counts as a warning.
He doesn’t say we can occasionally grumble, or we are excused if we stumble and inadvertently grumble. He says do not grumble.
James 4:11-12 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
Another word, here, for speaking evil of a person—katalaleo. It means to slander, to defame. It is literally talking down at a person, or against them. It means to traduce, to talk against, to criminate, to backbite.
If you speak evil of a person, you are judging them, and, in so doing, you judge the law, you make yourself a judge. But there is only one Lawgiver, James tells us, who is able to save and to destroy. You are not the Judge, so who are you to judge?
James goes on to remind us that the tongue is a fire. It is destructive and invasive. It spreads like wildfire. With it we bless God and curse people, and all in the same breath. This ought not be so.
By our words we are condemned or saved
And what of the written word? Those things we publicly announce concerning others? How many things have we ever written in haste that we would take back today?
What kind of complaints and murmurings have we committed to the written word that condemn us? Lord help us and forgive us for the speaches and pages that complain about others.
Here’s a sobering thought: when Israel reconsidered their folly in following the ten spies who counselled against entering the promised land, they came to Moses and said, “OK, we’ll go in and take the land as God commanded us.” They admitted their sin of faithlessness and complaint and even repented.
But it was too late. God had spoken. The Judge had already acted on their first rejection of his instruction. He went along with their complaint, took them at their word, and acted accordingly. He repaid them for the rejection with his own rejection of their entire generation.
Clearly we need to take complaints against God and his people more seriously. We cannot even be flippant about our opinion of other believers, or even what they believe.
If we seek to correct an error in another person’s walk we need to first sort our own crooked paths, and, if we truly consider that we are clear to proceed, we should do so with all humility and circumspection, lest we be judged for our judgement. And we should never do so in a complaining or backbiting manner.
We do not have the license to destroy another person, or put them down, or crush them, or falsely accuse them, no matter what we think they have said or done. We are called to lift people, not put them down. Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And we should always remember that God certainly takes complaining seriously.
Murmuring, backbiting and gossip is habit forming. It spreads a wicked fire. It is a bad thing to do. It is even worse to form a gogguzo club and encourage others to join in. God’s face is set like flint against it and we place ourselves on dangerous ground when we enter into it. Sowing discord amongst the brethren takes us outside God’s will.
Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.