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Then Moses said, "This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to satisfy, for the Lord hears your murmurings which you murmur against Him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." — Exodus 16:8

Watch the Murmuring

The generation of Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt were notorious complainers. They were filled with murmuring. Their complaining spirit was part of the reason God judged them. We can learn from them what not to do on this front.

Can you imagine what life would be like if suddenly all murmuring, grumbling, complaining, disputing, arguing, and disputations were removed from our lives, our churches, our homes, and our meetings? What a difference it would make. It would transform our daily lives. We have the privilege to cheerfully yield to God’s will. As Paul says, “God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This means that there should be a cheerful yielding of ourselves to that will.

Murmurings and disputings are seen against God throughout the Bible. Sometimes we are murmuring at the will of God. When God’s Spirit speaks to us through His Word, how many times do we murmur against that? As we begin to murmur, God’s Spirit points a finger and says, “This is a habit that you should give up. You ought not to be doing this. It is bad for you.” The response? Murmurmurmur. And then we begin to dispute with God, and we begin to argue with Him about doing this kind of thing.

He tells you that you ought to watch your weight. Murmurmurmur. You ought to give up smoking, because you are destroying the temple of God. Murmurmurmur. You ought to tithe. Murmurmurmur. “Well, God, I can hardly pay my bills now.” You should be a witness for Christ. Murmurmurmur.

And so we are murmuring and disputing against God, and God says to us that we should do all of His will without murmuring and without disputing. He is calling for a cheerful submission and a glad obedience to His will as He is working it in our lives. We are to work it out without murmurings and disputings.

Paul says in Philippians 2:14–18: “Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may be blameless and harmless, sons of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine as lights in the world. Hold forth the word of life that I may rejoice on the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Yes, and even if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I take delight and rejoice with you all. For this reason you also take delight and rejoice with me.”

Murmur is an example of onomatopoeia—it is a word that sounds like what it means: murmur, murmur, murmur, murmur. It imitates the sound of something, and it is used in Scripture a number of times. It basically means “to mutter, to grumble in a low tone.”

Let’s look at a couple of ways that it’s used. In Matthew 20:11 we see its first use in the New Testament. It is talking about the laborers in Christ’s vineyard who all received the same wage. Well, some had thought they would get more, although they had agreed to the amount paid, but “when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner.” In other versions of the Bible the word is translated not only as grumbling, but also as complaining, murmuring, and discontent. And you certainly can get the flavor of that here.

In Luke 5:30 we see the word appears again in the text. This time it’s talking about the scribes and the Pharisees: “But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ ” You can just see three or four of them standing together, murmuring and complaining about that. Another interesting passage is John 6:41: “The Jews then murmured about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ ” And so you hear the muttering, the grumbling, the low tones, the complaining, and the discontent. And in verse 43, just two verses further, “Jesus therefore answered them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves.’ ”

And though we may not think of it as any particular sin, you will find that the Bible looks upon murmuring as a very grievous sin, as we see in John 7:12: “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him.” Likewise, in John 7:32, “The Pharisees heard the people murmuring these things concerning Him.” And then in 1 Corinthians 10:10 we are reminded that this is not merely a New Testament phenomenon: “Neither murmur, as some of them also murmured and were destroyed by the destroyer.” “Some of them” refers to Jews in the Old Testament who murmured against the Lord and were destroyed. They murmured against Moses as well, and they were destroyed.

So we see that murmuring was a capital offense, not the very inconsequential thing that we might take it to be. And so when Paul says in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without murmuring and disputing”—and complaining or grumbling or discontent— he is dealing with something very, very significant. Obviously this is the very opposite of a grateful, joyful, and willing heart. And disputing is translated in other versions as questioning, arguing, faultfinding, and dissension. It is the matter of arguing and disputing and faultfinding that is here referred to. It denotes, first of all, inward reasoning and then a deliberate questioning, doubting and then disputation. And it certainly is a disturbing of the peace of the body of Christ, and that, of course, is true of a home as well.