Allow Me to Vent: How Not to Be a Grumbling Israelite

Another Thanksgiving is in the books, placing us firmly in the midst of the holiday season. Although Christmas/Advent is my favorite time of year, I will likely receive your solemn nod of agreement when I say that these days never go as smoothly or joyfully as planned.

Now we could point to a multitude of reasons behind these holiday hiccups, yet the chief among them is often friends and family. Apart from the worshipful significance of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, the next greatest joy of these holidays is gathering with friends and family, yet ironically, those gatherings also often lead to many holiday frustrations. The mingling of such gladness and frustration should not be as surprising to us as it so often is. The Holy Spirit did not inspire the words of 1 Peter 4:9 for nothing: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

Alexander Strauch says what all who show hospitality know to be true:

Certainly the ministry (and corresponding inconveniences) of hospitality can easily rattle our grumbling bones. Hospitality demands old-fashioned hard work. It may be costly and is often inconvenient. It is time consuming. It places a strain on the family. Sometimes guests abuse their Christian brothers’ and sisters’ hospitality. And during times of persecution, hospitality can even be dangerous.[1]

It is entirely natural to grumble under such work, but as Christians, we are called to kill our old, sinful nature and to put on the nature of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, while grumbling may be natural, it is nonetheless a sin.

Indeed, the great case study on the sin of grumbling is the people of Israel in the wilderness. At the end of the same chapter where the Israelites sang the first recorded psalm of praise to the LORD for drowning Pharaoh and parting the sea, they begin their grumbling. “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink'” (Exodus 15:24)? And their grumbling continued throughout their wilderness journey and wandering. Lest we dismiss grumbling as harmless, hear the words of 1 Corinthians 10:6-12:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Grumbling, like all other sins, brings judgment and destruction. Yet the danger with grumbling is that, again, it comes naturally to us all as well as being so easy to excuse and even justify. For example, have you ever began to complain by saying something like “I just need to vent for a minute”? Or maybe you end by saying facetiously, “Sorry for the rant!” What is really being said is, “Grant me moral immunity to grumble for a moment.”

But that is not how sin works! There are never moments when sin becomes temporarily excusable. Grumbling is always sin, even when it is bookended by big smiles and lots of “my pleasure!”

But it is one thing to point out a problem and another thing entirely to propose a solution. Grumbling, and justifying our grumbling, is a problem, so what is the solution?

First of all, we must set our eyes on Christ and do to all things to His glory. Jesus notably did not grumble after a long day of teaching the multitude whenever they followed Him in the wilderness; instead, He fed more than five thousand of them. Of course, the supreme example is Christ’s descent to the cross, which He did without a single grumble or complaint. In Philippians 2:3-5, Paul tells us to have the same mind as Christ by serving others with all joy.

Second, let me clarify that I am not dismissing the benefits of debriefing frustrations with your spouse or a close friend. But like so many things in this life, we must ask where our intent lies. If we simply want a guilt-free moment to complain, then we are guilty of the sin of grumbling and also guilty of attempting to justify our sin rather than stomping on its head. However, if we are airing our frustrations in confession of failing to love like Christ and to elicit the prayers and encouragement of a brother or sister in Christ, then we are actually waging war against the sin of grumbling.

The next time we need to “vent” for a moment, let us consider the sin the grumbling as well as the example of our Lord. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not justify or excuse our sin, even the seemingly little ones, but let us put it to death as we put on the mind of Christ.


[1] Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands, 38.

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