Back in college, when I started dating the beautiful woman that would one day become my bride, her little brother, Sam, was starting the first grade. In almost every dating relationship, younger siblings are a source of frustration, but when that sibling is 13 years younger, it has the potential to move you to express feelings that are not beneficial to a budding romance! I must confess, there was at least one or maybe two occasions that I might have complained a little bit about it…
Our churches are like this because we are like this!
Now, 24 years later, the boy has become a man—and a godly man at that! He is a student of the Word and has a desire to share Truth with anyone who will listen. Recently, he posted some thoughts from his studies of the Old Testament. I believe that they are powerful insights concerning the state of our churches today. The fact is: Our churches are like this because we are like this.
Lord, forgive me for being impatient with a little boy named Sam. Thank you for working in his life over these years. Help me to see others (who might annoy or bother me) with the same grace and mercy with which You see them. Father, help me—in everything I do—to not complain! Amen.
So here are some thoughts from Sam Reddin, my brother in law…
I’ve been doing a reading through the book of Numbers (4th book in Bible), and one of the things that stands out to me is that there was something the Israelites were guilty of that I believe many churches are now guilty of. To be clear, this is a reflection on Bible study, not on any specific church. I have been blessed to grow at a phenomenal church in Conway where God has moved in a mighty way, to pastor a wonderful church in Oklahoma where the congregation was truly a blessing on my life, and now a church in Rogers that my brother in law pastors that has been a blessing. But having grown up hearing about other church struggles, after reading about church struggles in books like Thom Rainer’s AUTOPSY OF THE DECEASED CHURCH, and after reading the scriptures, I believe one of the most deadly enemies of the local church that keeps it from thriving is complaining.
I believe one of the most deadly enemies of the local church that keeps it from thriving is complaining.
Hear me out; there are certain things that require our concern and our opinions to be voiced. To be certain, if church leaders are doing things in direct opposition to the Word of God, or if they are allowing and permitting the church to do things that contradict the Lord’s holy standards, then we should not be silent. However, in my observations and studies, churches tend to complain a lot. Whether it’s over preferences of music or dress or programs or facilities, or if it’s over control of a family, or whatever the many reasons I’ve heard or read may be, we are people who tend to look on the negative and complain. I pray you see these examples of the congregation of Israel in Numbers 14 of what self-focused negativity can do to the local church.
Negative attitudes lead to…
- Distress – verse 1
“Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.”
Keep in mind that God had led them out of bondage and slavery. He had gone before them and behind them. He protected them from other enemies and gave them victory. He provided quail and manna to eat. Yet they complained about their food in chapter 11, about Moses’ leadership in chapter 12, and now when God was about to bless them with a great land in chapter 13, all they saw was the negative of the giants in the land. They were filled with fear and thus were so distressed by this verse that rather than rejoicing with what God wanted to do, they wept all night because of the hardships they were going to have to go through. How often God wants to lead us through the valley to take us to a beautiful place, but our focus is the valley!
- Grumbling – verses 2-3
They grumbled against Moses (verse 2 – “and all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses”) and even against God (verse 3 – “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?”) Oh how many times we grumble with similar words… “Why are we singing these new-fangled songs?” “Why are we using screens/social media?” “Why are we having these small-groups?” “Why this?” “Why that?” What is the answer? God is directing you forward (Genesis 12:1, Exodus 3:10, Romans 8:18-25; Philippians 3:13-14; Hebrews 11:9-10, 13-16), not looking to what is behind you. The focus is on the future, not on the past. Yet we treat the past like THAT is our glorious heaven, just because it’s familiar and comfortable. Even the Israelites did that in this very chapter of Numbers: verse 3 – “Would it not be better for us to GO BACK to Egypt?” Why is God directing us forward? He is directing us because He has great plans for us to be involved in for His glory, because He wants to do something great, and maybe because we need to put self aside and let Him do His will. I remember at summer camp in the Ozarks last year, Bro. Donny Parrish very wisely stated, “So many times we say, ‘well, that church grows because they sold out!’ Maybe they grew because they dared to let God do something great in their church!” I could not agree more!
- Anger –
While there is godly anger for going against His word, a lot of times we are angry because we are uncomfortable. The Israelites were ready to choose another leader in verse 4. Did you get that? They wanted a leader of THEIR choice who would do things THEIR way. Thom Rainer in his Autopsy of Deceased Church made the point that many times people grumble against their pastors so much that the pastor either resigns 3-5 years or he gives in to the people and lets them run the church. Friends, CHRIST is the head of the church, NOT US! (Colossians 1:18) Yet how many times churches have gotten angry because things didn’t go THEIR way? What would happen if we turned the church over to God, and said, “Your will, your way, O Lord!”
- Irrational Thinking –
The Israelites in verses 3-4 thought that going back to Egypt where they were ENSLAVED and PERSECUTED was better than freedom. How often we think our old life of sin is better than our freedom in Christ! Yet that’s what selfishness does, takes our eyes off of God and puts it on our own selves.
- Inability to see God at work –
In verses 5-9, Joshua and Caleb both tried to reason with the Israelites, letting them know, “God’s given this land to us. We already have victory.” In verse 9, they said, “their protection is removed from them.” Yet the people just didn’t want to risk it. They let their fear of uncertainty trump their faith. Be careful when you let fear keep you from following God. Not only are you like the wicked, lazy servant who hid what was given to him rather than use it and make an investment (Matthew 25), but when we focus on all the “what if’s,” our eyes are taken off the might of the Lord.
- God’s judgment –
In chapter 11, God’s anger was kindled because of their complaining and he punished them by making their food displeasurable. In chapter 12, God’s anger was kindled against the complaining of Aaron and Miriam and punished her with leprosy. Now in chapter 14, God punishes the nation by causing them to wonder in the desert for 40 years. This point is the main point that I want to get across. Numbers 11-14 reveal that grumbling INFURIATES our Lord, because we act with a heart of selfishness, not of a servant; with motives directed by fear rather than by faith. Then what God commands is not accomplished. Be sure of this, my friends, when we let ourselves get in the way and complain our ways into everything, WE WILL RECEIVE JUDGMENT FROM GOD! No, we will not lose our salvation or anything. But we will reap consequences.
I encourage all who read this to let faith trump fear, and to follow God wherever He leads, and to let the joy of the Lord rid your fears of the future.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15)
Samuel J. Reddin