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What does the Bible say about complaining?

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Complaining can mean different things in different contexts. Those who complain could be expressing grief or sorrow or accusing someone of an offense. In that context, there is nothing overtly sinful about complaining. As long as the expression of grief or accusation of wrongdoing conforms to biblical guidelines, the complaint is appropriate. After all, the Bible contains a book called Lamentations, and many of the psalms contain “complaints”—utterances of grief over a dire situation. However, complaining can also take the form of fault-finding, murmuring, griping, or grumbling, in which case it is wrong.

A complainer who is sinfully grumbling is showing discontentment with his lot in life. Complaining is certainly not a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23); a complaining spirit is, in fact, detrimental to the peace, joy, and patience that come from the Spirit. For the Christian, complaining is destructive and debilitating personally and serves to make one’s witness to the world more difficult.

The Bible gives several examples of those who complained. Adam, after he and Eve disobeyed God, complained to God that “the woman you put here with me . . . gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). In this way, Adam blamed Eve and, indirectly, God for his sin.

While in the wilderness, the Israelites under Moses complained often. Less than three months after leaving Egypt, they were complaining that they were starving to death in the desert. Their complaint included the foolish wish to have remained slaves in Egypt: “The whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!’” (Exodus 16:2–3; cf. Numbers 14:2). Although their complaint was leveled at their human leaders, Moses informed them that they were actually murmuring against God: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8). The Israelites’ complaining was linked to disobedience and a lack of faith: “They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord” (Psalm 106:25).

The psalmists wrote out their complaints to God. One example is Psalm 12:1–2: “No one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.” The prophets also expressed the grief of personal pain (e.g., Jeremiah 20:7–8; Micah 7:1–2). Such complaints were not sinful, however, because they were taken to God in a prayer for help.

Those who heard Jesus’ teaching that He was the bread of life come down from heaven had a hard time reconciling that truth with their knowledge of His upbringing, and they grumbled as a result (John 6:41). Jesus told them, “Stop grumbling among yourselves” (John 6:43). The Greek word translated “grumbling” indicates they were murmuring and muttering to themselves. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word was used “generally of smoldering discontent.”

Believers are not to smolder in their discontent. They are not to grumble or complain. A person who refuses to complain will stand out in a world full of complainers: “Do everything without grumbling . . . , so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14–15, referencing Deuteronomy 32:5). Our acts of kindness to others should always be done without complaining: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

A complaining spirit reveals a lack of trust in God. Has not God provided in the past? Will He not faithfully provide now and in the future? Can we not trust Him to know what we need and to provide it in His time? Our circumstances, however bad they may be, are known to God, and He is in control of them.

Whenever we are tempted to complain, we should go to the Lord first. We should learn to cast all our cares on Him, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). To overcome the habit of complaining, we should pray for God’s help, remember the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 105:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It’s impossible to complain while rejoicing.

As we keep studying the Word of God, praying, and enjoying fellowship with other believers, our complaining and grumbling will grow less and less. We will begin to allow our difficult circumstances to produce something other than grumbling within us. Whining will fade away. We will learn to “count it all joy . . . when [we] meet trials of various kinds, for [we] know that the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3, ESV).

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This page last updated: February 8, 2024