And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 1 Corinthians 10:10
The power of this statement should be more than mildly disturbing to us. It should shake us. It should convict us. Grumbling, complaining—these are pervasive in the lives of most of us. And here we have the statement from Paul that some who complained were destroyed. Destroyed?! Really?! Just for complaining?
He’s referencing the Israelites in the Old Testament and the language he’s using is strong. Destroyed by the angel of death. Some translations render it “destroyed by the destroyer.” What Paul is pointing out is the way in which the Old Testament reveals how offensive and rebellious God views complaining and grumbling. How unwilling he is to really put up with it. And how destructive it is in our lives. Numbers 14 is a good example of what Paul is referring to.
How long must I put up with this wicked community and its complaints about me? Yes, I have heard the complaints the Israelites are making against me. Now tell them this: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. Numbers 14:27-30
Notice that the destruction in this instance isn’t instantaneous. It isn’t death on the spot. The death and destruction that results from the complaining is long-term. It is the death of hope and promises God has given. It’s the destruction of purpose and blessing. It’s God saying, “I had amazing things available to you, but you just can’t get out of your moment and beyond your preferences. So you sink into self-interest and self-worship and you fail to trust me for the now. So the promises of tomorrow are no longer available.”
“Because you complained against me…”
We tend to think it is our right to complain when things don’t go as they should. I think we see complaining and grumbling as normal. This is just what we do. But God takes issue with it. Why? Because how we face trials and frustrations, how we respond to disappointments and suffering reveal who we are. Jesus said the things that come out of our mouths reveal what’s going on in our hearts. And when we grumble we are revealing a relational problem between us and God. That’s the nice way of saying there’s a sin problem.
David Powilson says that when God hears someone grumbling he thinks, “death penalty.” Our intial reaction to that statement might be that it sounds a little harsh, but when we look at what god says and does in the Bible we can see he’s right. God intends that we—along with the Israelites of the wilderness—begin to recognize the seriousness of grumbling and complaining. Grumbling is sin. And sin is a capital crime.
Thankfully our death penalty is paid through Christ, but that doesn’t alleviate complaining of its gravity and seriousness. It is still a destroyer. It destroys intimacy with the Father. It destroys our trust of God. Complaining ruins our witness and our hope. It tears down vision and confidence in our calling. It is perhaps one of the most efficient derailers of joy and power in the life of a believer. It takes the focus off of God, it moves our gaze away from his leading, and places it firmly on ourselves. Feeding our victim mentality and some notion of “fairness” we seem obsessed with.
It’s my prayer today that God will give us hearts of gratitude today. That he will remove the spirit of complaint and dissatisfaction from us. That he will shut our mouths until he has removed the root of grumbling from our hearts.