Thus far in our exposition of James’ admonition regarding the tongue, we have considered variations on the one basic sin of lying. Gossip, slander, flattery, and lying proper are all variations of an deceitful tongue. Today we consider an abuse of the tongue which dresses far more respectably than the other sins. Most Christians know we shouldn’t gossip, slander, flatter, or lie and so, when we commit such sins, we do so surreptitiously, endeavoring to cover our sin with a cloak of respectability. But the sin of the tongue we discuss today seems to need no such cloak. It struts about the street in a bright white suit with penguin shoes, parading itself as the epitome of honesty and respectability. So what is this nefarious abuse of the tongue? When our toddlers do it, we call it whining –but among adults we call it grumbling or complaining.
Lest everyone riot and storm the pulpit, declaring in no uncertain terms that complaining is not a sin, let me take a moment to read from the Apostle Paul. Philippians 2:14-15 declares:
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.Let us take note of what Paul tells us about complaining. First, note that he tells us that those who don’t complain will be blameless and harmless. In other words, if you want to be blameless, then you must avoid complaining. To complain is not to be blameless but blameworthy. Second, note that Paul says that the way to be children of God without fault is to avoid complaining. Now, of course, you can choose to be children of God with fault and complain. But, Paul says, if you want to be known as children of God without fault, then you will avoid complaining – for complaining is a fault. Third, notice that those who avoid complaining will shine like stars in the universe. How so? Because nothing so clearly characterizes the world as grumbling or complaining. Did the plumbing break? Complain. Is it raining again? Complain. Is it hot again? Complain. Are the dishes dirty? Complain. Is the traffic moving slow? Complain. Complaining comes as naturally to fallen man as swimming to a fish. And how does Paul characterize this complaining? As darkness. Complaining, brothers and sisters, is a sin.
Notice, then, the exhortation that Paul gives us – “Do all things without complaining or arguing.” Take just a moment and consider what Paul is telling us. Let me read it again. “Do all things without complaining or arguing.” Did you catch that? When does Paul give us permission to complain? Well, as a matter of fact, he doesn’t give us permission to complain anytime. He tells us to do “all things” without complaining or arguing. Do you know what “all things” means in the Greek? It means “all things.”
Are you changing a diaper? Don’t complain. Are you disciplining your son or daughter? Don’t complain. Are you fixing the car? Don’t complain. Are you filling your gas tank? Don’t complain. Are you taking out the garbage? Don’t complain. Are you doing your chores? Don’t complain. Have your parents given you a command that you don’t like? Don’t complain.
Ah, we say, but that’s so fake. Why shouldn’t I express my real self? Why shouldn’t I complain? Well the answer lies in the way Paul identifies us – we are children of God. This, of course, implies that God is our Father. And because God is our Father we know that He loves us and cares for us – He knows precisely what we need at any given moment and so crafts the moments of our lives that all comes for our good and for His glory. If that is true – if it is true that our Father crafts all these things for our benefit – then we shouldn’t complain, we should give thanks. We should be overflowing with gratitude. God has orchestrated this very moment for our good. What could be a greater cause for thankfulness? And so Paul calls us to be children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and complaining generation. How? By overflowing with gratitude.
Reminded that we are prone to use our tongue to complain about our circumstances and our tasks rather than to give thanks to our Father, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.