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The Difference Between Lament and Grumbling

In the Bible we see both grumbing and lamenting. It seems that one is permitted by God and one is not. So what is the difference?


Today I want to take on a question I got from somebody who’s watched some of these videos. Sent through a question I thought was quite interesting. It was essentially about the difference between lament and grumbling. So let me read the question. What is the difference between the complaining or murmuring we’re not supposed to do, and that includes two texts, Philippians 2, verse 14, and 1st Corinthians 10, verse 10, and lamenting like we see in the Psalms? I’ll tip my cards and say, I think the main difference is pride and humility. Let me tell you how we get there.

The first text he includes is Philippians chapter 2, 14 to 15. The context of Philippians, Paul himself is suffering, he’s in chains, he’s writing to a church that’s going through a tough time, perhaps persecution, if not, it may be coming soon. And then, in the midst of that kind of outside attack, there’s also some inside stuff going on. There’s these two women who are duking it out and probably having people join sides with them, so there’s this disunity in the church that’s coming from within. The church is being attacked from outside, eroded from within. In that context, he has calls for unity in the letter including this, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” Seems to me that the grumbling he’s talking about right there is not so much against God, as in lament, but it’s against other people. So I think what he’s warning against there is grumbling, which we might say is people attacking one another behind their backs and disputing, which is attacking one another face to face. Something along those lines. So I don’t think this is quite on point to your question then, I think this text more just shows that there will be disunity within the church and then, of course, we have other passages in scripture, how to deal with that. You deal with disunity, you deal with being sinned against by overlooking an offense or by following the principles of Matthew 18.

So, let’s look to the second text, 1st Corinthians chapter 10, verses 9 to 10, we read, “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, this is clearly grumbling against God and it shows us this is a serious offense which has had in the past serious consequences. The warning to us is clear, we must not grumble against God. And yet we have these Psalms of lament. We have these Psalms where people, individuals or communities are crying out to God and saying, we don’t understand whats going on, please God make this stop. So, Psalm 44, “Awake Lord, why do you sleep, rouse yourself, do not reject us forever.” Some of these Psalms of lament are whole communities, some of these Psalms of lament are individuals protesting individual circumstances. But, in each one of them, it’s people crying out to God and saying, we don’t know what’s going on, we want you to make it stop.

Now, what’s the difference between sinful grumbling and sinless lament? These Psalms of lament would not be in the Scripture if they were teaching us to do something sinful. Right, so we learn, there is a way we can lament our circumstances before God. What’s the difference? I think the difference is humility and pride. The difference, I think, is acknowledging that if we’re sinlessly lamenting our circumstances, I think we’re crying out to God in a posture of humility. If we’re sinfully grumbling against God, we’re crying out in a posture of sinful arrogance. Right, if we’re doing that, we’re not acknowledging all we know to be true about God. We’re not acknowledging God’s kindness, His goodness, His mercy, His love. Ultimately, we’re denying His Gospel. We’re denying or failing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ bled and died for us. That He has saved us, He has redeemed us, He has good purposes for us. We’re denying God’s providence, that in some way, He has arranged the world, He has arranged our lives, He’s arranged circumstances in this way so that we are facing this situation. And we’re also failing to acknowledge that God is working all things for good, even if we don’t like the circumstance, even if we wouldn’t have chosen it, even if we’re lamenting it. If we’re grumbling, we’re not acknowledging that God is working even this for our good and His glory.

And so, when we find ourselves in these difficult circumstances, people are attacking us, we’re in a time of persecution, in a time of pain, of searching, of questioning, we need to remember the promises of God. Remember, God has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us and I’d like to borrow here a phrase I learnt from a friend of mine. He preached at our church, his name is Dan McDonald and he preached a sermon and he used the phrase, Gospel weariness. I found it so, so helpful to think about the fact that life is difficult and the longer we live in this world the more we’re exposed to the pain of it. And hopefully as Christians, the more we get this real weariness, but this Gospel weariness, where we are confident that there will be an end to this pain, whether that’s personal or just all the mess we see in the world around us. Through the Gospel, we can have that weariness that looks to a good future. We can lament our circumstances, but hopefully with humility, looking forward to the great end when Christ will return, when all of this will be done away with. There will be no more reason for lament, no more pain.

So, the big difference, I believe, between sinful grumbling and sinless lament is simply humility

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