43. Stop Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  43. Stop Grumbling!

Jn 6:43   Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered  

So in v.41 we saw the crowd grumbling because of Jesus speaking about coming down from heaven and then in v.42 the fuller explanation, that they thought they knew his background so the whole thing didn’t make sense. Now we have Jesus telling them off for this grumbling.

We noted in v.41 that grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator, but Jesus is going to give a completely different reason from the one we might give for their grumbling, but we’ll have to wait until the next verse for that.

We did consider previously how grumbling is the evidence of a bad attitude which we often see or hear about at the end of Sunday morning’s when the preacher doesn’t live up to expectations, but here we face something different: the challenging Jesus.

We are living in a period where we so often try to focus on God’s love but the trouble with that (and I started placing this emphasis over twenty years ago) is that it can almost sound like God tolerates whatever we do. I know I have said many times in the past, “God loves you exactly like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” Very often we have tended to major on the first half of that mantra about God loving you exactly as you are, particularly to help those with low self-esteem or those who feel beaten up by their failures or the hard knocks of life. And it is true. We see it in the way Jesus took on board the disciples, the way he treated Zacchaeus and the way he accepted tax collectors and ‘sinners’.

But the second part of that mantra is equally important, that God desires more for each of us, so that we are able to receive yet more of His love, but that comes not by staying as we are, immature and childish with little understanding, but by Him changing us and it is at this point that we encounter the challenging or correcting Jesus.  To the woman caught in adultery it was, “Go, leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:11) To Zacchaeus it was ‘come and invite me into your life’. (Lk 19:5). With Nicodemus he challenged his inability to understand (Jn 3:10).  Again and again we find Jesus challenging belief, looking for faith in the people before him and what he did then he does with us today. Remember the apostle Paul said the Scriptures are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting,” (2 Tim 3:16). Teaching sounds fine but ‘rebuking’ means reprimanding, censoring, scolding, while ‘correcting’ means putting right, changing to get it right, changing from wrong to right.  Jesus does all this with us. Are you OK with that?

41. Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  41. Grumbling

Jn 6:41     At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 

Watch people at the end of a service where there has been preaching. How do they leave? Are they animated, full of ‘the word’ they have taken in, absorbed and been changed by, or do they leave with long faces muttering about ‘complicated teaching’ or ‘rubbish preaching’?

It’s a funny thing but Jesus didn’t seem to go out of his way to help people understand what he was teaching, in fact, quite to the contrary, sometimes it seems he was being purposely obtuse. He used parables and then didn’t explain them – except to those closest to him, when they were in private (e.g. Mk 4:1-11). Indeed he quoted Isaiah, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (Mk 4:12). In other words he did not want surface, shallow or unreal repentance, he wanted real heart-moving changes that came to those who truly sought to be close to him.

In our present reading, Jesus made a very simple statement – “I am the source of life that has come from heaven to you” – and the Jews with their hostile hearts just couldn’t see that. We often say that sin blinds (e.g. 2 Cor 4:4. 1 Jn 2:11, Rev 3:17). A truly humble, searching heart might have responded, “Lord, please forgive my obtuseness but can you explain further what that means? Are you equating yourself with the manna that God gave in Moses’ day? And what do you mean when you said you have down from heaven? Do you simply mean you have been sent by God or is there some deeper meaning?” But they didn’t; they just grumbled.

Now grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator. When people leave on Sunday morning in this frame of mind, it is always possible that the preacher was having a bad day, but even then it is still possible to get some crumbs from what was said. People sometimes say, “Well, I find it difficult to concentrate.” Well take notes, that helps anchor your mind on what is being said and helps you take it in and be fed by it. If the teaching is complex (and sometimes the Bible is complex) and you find it difficult to take in and understand what is being said, make a note to yourself to go away, pray over it and ask the Lord for understanding. If it is a small church (not so easy to do in a large church) talk to the preacher afterwards and ask for further explanation; maybe there are other people who would value further help over coffee afterwards. But grumble? No, that simply reveals a bad heart, just like these Jews before Jesus. Let’s not be that.

50. God, the Judge

Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge

Jas 5:9    Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.

The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’.  Is it possible for salvation to be lost?  I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.

The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin.  Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.

But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t!  Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’?  Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).  He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing.  Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us.  The writer to the Hebrews understood this: My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote,No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!

We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today.  God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask?  Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert (Heb 3:6-8).  There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it.  Many of them died (Num 11:1-3).  Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15).  Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29).  Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.

So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go.  He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.

We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32).  The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him.  He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.

When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.

There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.


Resources seem Inadequate

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.8

Num 11:13 Where can I get meat for all these people?

In economics, the ‘economic problem’ is often expressed as ‘how to use our limited resources’. For most people that is the ongoing problem of life, how can I get by with limited resources? Living in the most affluent period of history yet, we no longer worry about needs, but more about wants. The accepted standard of living in the West in the twenty-first century is dramatically higher than anywhere else in the world or anywhere in previous history. Yet we still worry. How can I provide for my family is still a concern of many parents. The welfare state buffers us from starvation, yet there is still the need to stretch the limited resources. It is a common problem for the human race. Spiritual leaders find it a spiritual problem as well, for a Christian congregation is a naturally hungry people and leaders have to find the resources from the Lord to ‘feed’ the people otherwise their spiritual experience will be one of spiritual poverty rather than spiritual blessing. But is also applies to us as individuals. We go through a time when we begin to feel spiritually ‘dry’ or spiritually ‘barren’ and we realise we are not taking in, and the Christian life loses its zest and becomes ordinary, boring, humdrum and lifeless. We need ‘feeding’ we realise. Where can I get ‘spiritual food’?

For Moses the problem is again not one of need but wants. The people are in the desert being led by God and the Lord has provided manna for them. It is clearly a miraculous provision. It appears every morning for six days each week. They can collect sufficient for the next twenty four hours. If they collect more it goes off. Except on the sixth day when they can collect two day’s worth because on the Sabbath the Lord was not providing it – but this time every week, the extra amount did not go off! This happened week in, week out. It was a supernatural provision. It met their needs, but ‘needs’ didn’t seem enough. The people cried out for something more. They wanted meat. We read, “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!(Num 11:4-6). Now what is bad about this is that this is history repeating itself. On the journey from Egypt to Sinai the Lord had provided the manna and quail (see Ex 16) after the people had grumbled, but at least that had been the early days of their experiences with the Lord. We are now a year later (see Num 10:11 ) and they have experienced the Lord at Sinai. They are now three days travel from Sinai towards the Promised Land (see Num 10:33) when they start grumbling again.

It’s important to remember this: they had had experience of the Lord delivering them from Egypt, they had had experience of the Lord providing for them on the journey to Sinai, they had had the incredible experience of the Lord at Sinai, and with all that experience, they should have learnt by now that you don’t have to grumble about God’s provision – He is a provider!!!! God is a provider!!! Simply ask Him! But don’t grumble; that’s an indication of a bad attitude. So a question to be asked here is, when you are asking of the Lord, what is your attitude? Is your asking more of a demanding that is an expression of your grumbling, or is it the childlike request of the little child asking of their Father?

The Lord has already brought discipline on Israel in the form of fire that burnt up the outskirts of the camp. That was simply a gentle warning, but now with this ongoing bad attitude, we read, “The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (Num 11:10). This people should not be responding like this. The Lord has every reason to be upset, and His upset makes Moses concerned. He can see the Lord wanting to destroy this people again. However his pleas to the Lord have a certain self-concern about them: “He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? (i.e. me!) What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me ? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, `Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me . If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Num 11:11-15). However the Lord does not scold him. Perhaps it is a recognition by Moses that he is not the answer to Israel ‘s problems, the Lord is. It’s a place every leader has to come to!

What was the Lord’s answer? It was a twofold answer. The first part was to put His spirit on seventy elders to share the load of leadership (Num 11:16,17, 24-30) and the second part was to provide quail in super-abundance (Num 11:18-23, 31-33). Thus the Lord showed He could provide leadership and food to meet their desires.

The lessons here? First, make sure you have a right attitude towards the Lord at all times. Second, realize that as your loving heavenly Father He will provide for all your needs. That may not mean all your wants, but he will always provide for all your needs. Can we remember these things?