Do complaining Christians make you want to avoid church? It might. Sometimes, maybe it even should. However, having said that, it depends on who’s complaining, why, and to whom? Believe it or not, Biblically speaking, some complaining can be good. But some complaints can be very destructive. Oh, by the way, don’t leave the church in general. Leave that church – and find another.
I used to have a big sign in my office.
In large letters, it said Complaint Department.
And then at the bottom was a tiny little box.
That’s where the complaint was to be written.
In other words, don’t bother.
But you could talk to me.
And that’s part of why complaining could be good.
Do you think you got it? How a good complaint comes about?
Let’s go through some passages and see if you still think you’re right.
How often is complaining mentioned in the Bible?
I searched the 1984 NIV for various forms of the word complain: complain, complaint, and complaining. I was, to put it mildly, surprised.
Complain: 7 times.
Complaint: 11 times.
Complaining: 1 time.
That’s a total of only 19 times. But of the 17, only 2 of them are in the New Testament!
That really shocked me. Of course, there are other words in there. Like grumbling. The Israelites did lots of grumbling during their trek in the desert, gaining their freedom while going from slavery under Pharaoh to the promised land. But still. If someone today searches for some form of the word “complain” like I did, they won’t find much.
Obviously, or maybe not considering some of what I’ve written, 19 passages is too much to examine. So, let’s look at the two New Testament verses.
What we find will show that, as Christians, we really shouldn’t be complaining all that much. Especially in church. Of course, we are people, so there will be some complaining. But – we should be able to complain less as our faith grows and our desire/ability to follow the Holy Spirit grows with it.
Complaining about Paul in Corinth
Here’s our first passage. The only instance of the English word complaint in the New Testament.
Ac 18:1 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Ac 18:5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Ac 18:7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
Ac 18:9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Ac 18:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
Ac 18:14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he had them ejected from the court. 17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.
So this was a complaint against Paul by the Jews. However, since it was made in a Roman court, as usual, they wanted nothing to do with it.
That might seem like this passage doesn’t apply. But it does. It raises questions about what’s getting to be more and more of a common practice. Religious issues being decided in legal courts.
Today, we seem to forget that the Roman government was the worst seen on the face of the earth up to that time. And we forget, or don’t pay attention to, the reality that persecution of Christians in the days of the early church was far, far worse than anything in the U.S. or other “civilized” countries today. But we still appeal to the court system rather than God. The Christians in the early church always appealed to God, not the government.
Paul on complaining
Let’s turn the previous scenario around. This time, it’s Paul, writing about complaining.
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Phil 2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Wow. Do everything without complaining or arguing.
How hard is that? Actually, it’s not possible.
Unless we use the power of God to help us. The power of the Holy Spirit. And yes, we will fail from time to time. We are, after all, on a transformational journey from fallen people to becoming more and more like Christ. However, because we’re on that journey, with the Holy Spirit who Paul referred to as “the mind of Christ“, we can move towards a life with less complaining and more realization of the strength we have through God.
Can we move from complaining Christians to loving Christians who don’t complain?
Not in this life. But, as I said, we can and should improve. To that end, Paul uses the word “everything” five times in Philippians. The verse we just looked at is the first of the five. Let’s take a quick look at the first four.
1. Everything other than Jesus is loss
Phil 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Phil 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Phil 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
As we reach deeper levels in the realization of those underlined verses, it gets easier to not be complaining Christians.
Modern Bible translations tend to water down the impact of what Paul wrote. For instance, where we read “I consider them rubbish” regarding Paul’s vision of the things in his past, pre-conversion to following Jesus, it’s not really close to what he wrote. The Greek word actually is about excrement. Bodily waste. When we compare our lives before Jesus to our lives after we begin to follow Jesus, the comparison truly is more accurate. And when we talk about the change in our lives, just saying “loss” doesn’t really do credit to the changes in us as we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. The power of the Holy Spirit is how we reach our Christian goal
Phil 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Phil 3:15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Phil 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Phil 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
First of all, verse 1 makes the point that I often make as well. We aren’t perfect just because we’ve been baptized. It’s a process. It takes time. And it won’t be complete in this life. But without that as a goal, I don’t see how we can be citizens of Heaven later.
Then, verses 20-21 speak to our citizenship in Heaven.
And to the power of the Holy Spirit, without whom we can accomplish nothing for God.
3. The importance of prayer in everything
Phil 4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
We probably remember the part about the “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding“. We may remember the part about “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God“.
But, do we remember “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near“, which is the lead-in to the verses we do remember and claim for ourselves. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is also urging us to claim all of those verses. And if we’re gentle Christians, then we’re not likely to be complaining Christians.
4. Being able to do everything
And now we turn to another greatly overused/misused verse.
Phil 4:10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Phil 4:14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Of course, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength“, refers to everything we do for God is done with His power and strength and not our own.
Conclusion – Do complaining Christians make you want to avoid church?
As you can see, there will never be a church without some amount of complaining. Having said that though, there should be less complaining than in normal life outside of church.
It’s hard to even say the level of complaining overall will drop. Why? Because, hopefully, new people are coming to a church. Without non-Christians joining a church, that church will eventually die and cease to exist.
So why even bother to write this? Why say anything about complaining? Because we should observe something about complaints if we stay with a church long enough. As a whole things may not change all that much. But individually, there should be a growth in the power of the Holy Spirit enabling individuals to not complain so much. To be more loving.
But, having said all that, we can still hope for less complaining overall. I’ve seen it. It can and does happen. As more people use the power given to us to be more loving, something happens. Some will leave the church, because they really like to complain. But others will see the difference and will also, and more quickly, realize that being loving is so much better than complaining.
Ultimately though, there’s one more reason to write this. If you’re not Christian, and complaining Christians do turn you off (as they did me), there’s another message for you. God’s desire for us is to be more loving. That includes being less complaining. To the extent we fail to live up to God’s desires for us, the fault is ours, not His.
Don’t be turned off to God because complaining Christians exist. It’s the goal, as Paul wrote, that’s important. In the end, there are only two choices. Eternity with God. Or eternity without God. If our desire is eternity without complaining, then there’s only one way to go. Join us, in a community of Christians who are really trying to be more loving. Less complaining. And looking forward to an eternity of no complaining.
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay