James said that the tongue is “a world of iniquity” (James 3:6). Indeed, there are numerous sins that can be committed by or aided with the misuse of the tongue. When one thinks of the sins that are committed with the tongue, he often thinks of things such as lying, speaking blasphemies, using profanity, and gossip. However, we rarely consider complaining to be a sin.
Americans are granted the freedom of speech, and many of us exercise this right with pride and passion. We think very little of voicing a criticism or complaint about another’s driving on the highway or service at a restaurant. We see it as our civic duty to complain about our elected officials. We feel that the price we paid for admission to a sporting event gives us the right to let the players, coaches, and umpires know if they are doing a lousy job. We even have careers that are based upon the practice of criticism (restaurant critic, movie critic, etc.). Our society abounds with criticism. For this reason, some Christians have a difficult time viewing complaining and criticizing as a sin.
Complaining is a Sin
In First Corinthians chapter ten, Paul used the negative example of the Children of Israel as a means of admonishing the Corinthians to faithful service.
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
7 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.”
8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;
10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
11 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.
1 Corinthians 10:6-11
The Children of Israel committed many sins as they made their way from Egypt, and these sins had severe consequences. We may not think much of complaining, but it is listed along with lusting after evil things, idolatry, fornication, and tempting Christ. While most Christians would never dream of lusting after evil, bowing down to an idol, fornicating, or tempting Christ, many of us are often heard complaining.
The complaining that was done by the Children of Israel was a sin that was deserving of God’s wrath. They were destroyed by the destroyer. We are told to take heed to their example and not “complain, as some of them also complained.” Thus, we can rightly understand that complaining is a sin.
The New Testament contains additional passages which condemn the sin of complaining. James warned, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9). While the Children of Israel were destroyed for complaining against God, this passage warns that we will be condemned for complaining against our brethren. The Judge is “at the door,” and He hears the way that we talk about one another. Grumbling and complaining against brethren is a sin that is worthy of condemnation.
Peter admonished Christians to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Hospitality requires a sacrifice on our part, but any good that is accomplished by our hospitality is undone by our complaints.
Paul said, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). “All things” is a very inclusive statement, leaving no area available for complaints. If a Christian who refrains from complaining is “blameless and harmless,” then what does that say about the Christian who is complaining? It is unfitting for the children of God to be complaining. When we complain like those in the world, we lose our distinctiveness (our “light” goes out) and we blend in with the rest of the world.
Jude said that the heretics of his day were characterized by grumbling and complaining. “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 16). Complaining is characteristic of those who are wicked, not those who are righteous. It is characteristic of those who God destroys, not those who receive His blessings.
Why Complaining is Such a Serious Sin
1. There is a place for legitimate complaints. A complaint arose in the early church (Acts 6:1). The Greek speaking widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of benevolence. The apostles did not condemn those who were voicing the complaint. They took steps to correct the injustice and make sure that it never happened again.
Injustices need to be exposed in order to be corrected. It is not a sin to point out faults and errors that pose a threat to the wellbeing of others. However, most complaints are not legitimate. They are efforts to vent frustrations, intimidate others, cast off blame on others, etc.
2. We are to bear with one another, not complain about and find fault with one another.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Complaining and fault finding is not conduct that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. We were “called” while we were sinners. Who are we, after we have been saved by the grace and mercy of God, to turn and find fault with our own brethren? We are to walk in humility, patiently bearing with our brethren, not complaining about them. It is impossible for brethren to maintain unity while they are casting complaints against one another.
3. We are to walk in love towards one another.
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
We are to “love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22), not find fault with one another. It is impossible to complain sinfully about our brethren if we are walking in love towards them. Love, by its very nature, does not lend itself to complaining.
“Love suffers long and is kind,” but complainers are not. “Love does not envy,” but complainers are often envious of others. “Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up,” but complainers desire to draw attention to themselves. Love “does not behave rudely,” but complainers do not hesitate to be rude in making their point to others. Love “does not seek its own,” but complainers are often self-focused. Love “is not provoked,” but complaints come from those who are easily provoked. Love “thinks no evil,” but complainers often see evil motives and intentions in everything that is done by others, and they keep a record of evil deeds done by others to use in future complaints. Love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” Complainers never rejoice about anything. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Complainers are not willing to give their brethren the benefit of the doubt (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
4. Complaining against God is an offense to God; it is a great sin! Complaining denies God of His sovereignty and make us His judge. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Romans 9:20-21). Complaining denies God’s care and provision for our physical lives (Mark 4:38, Matthew 6:32, 7:11).
None of us is in a position to complain against God, His ways, or His law. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God gives us life and breath and all good things (Acts 17:25, James 1:17). His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
5. Complaining takes the place of prayer. The time that we wasted hopelessly complaining about our problems is time that we could have spent in prayer unto God. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16), but complaining never accomplished anything.
6. We are to count our blessings, not voice our complaints. We have many spiritual blessings in Christ. We are adopted as children of God, we receive the forgiveness of our sins, and we stand to obtain an eternal inheritance in Heaven (Ephesians 1:3, 5, 7, 11). God has promised that we have His continual care. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Paul says that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). When was the last time that you heard a conqueror complain? If we would spend more time counting our blessings, we would have less time to complain and would find less things about which to complain.
7. We are to learn to be content, not complain.
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul said, “I can do all things,” but many of us seem to complain about all things. We need to learn to be grateful for what we have, as opposed to complaining about what we do not have.
8. Complaining does not advance the cause of Christ. In fact, it distracts from the cause of Christ. In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul said that we are to do all things without complaining and disputing. By doing so, we become blameless, harmless, and without fault, shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. However, when we complain, that light goes out. There is no longer a beacon drawing men unto Christ. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help the church to grow is to stop complaining about how the church is not growing.
Complaining discourages brethren. The complaints of the Israelites made Moses want to die (Numbers 11:11-15). How many elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and preachers have wanted to step down because of the continual complaints of their brethren? One of the most discouraging facts about complaining is that complainers rarely do anything other than complain. When given the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the cause of Christ, they often don’t – either because they do not know how, or they are not willing to subject themselves to the criticism of others.
9. We need to get busy. God did not call us to complain, but to work (Ephesians 2:10). If we have the time and energy to complain, we have time and energy to do things that are constructive and productive – things that will bring glory unto God. Remember the old saying: “The person rowing the boat is too busy to rock it!”
Conclusion. Complaining does not accomplish any good for our spiritual lives or for the cause of Christ. It brings down efforts, stifles enthusiasm, causes dissatisfaction, discontent, and division. Complaints directed toward God are a sin on par with idolatry and fornication. Christians are not to grumble against one another lest we be condemned. Instead, we are to do all things without complaining and disputing. Let us strive to be more like Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, and less like the complaining Children of Israel who failed to enter the Promised Land.