The Opposite of Thanksgiving, and How to Prevent It

Philippians 2:14-16 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 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, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

In these verses the apostle tells the Christians what will happen if we don’t complain  (v. 15-16).

However, the apostle Paul does not in this passage show us what will happen when God’s people complain. We must look elsewhere in God’s Word to find out the very bad results of complaining.

1 Corinthians 10:7-11  And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND ROSE UP TO PLAY." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Let’s go to the source, the original complainers to whom the apostle Paul refers, and discover more of the reasons why complaining is a really bad habit for God’s people. The catalog of Israel’s complaints is found in the books of Exodus and Numbers. There are twelve instances – four in Exodus, eight in Numbers. I will summarize all twelve of them, feature the first four, and then draw some lessons and highlights for our benefit.

1.      The Israelites complained about the approaching Egyptian army (Ex. 14:10-12).

2.      They complained about lack of water (Ex. 15:22-24).

3.      They complained about lack of food (Ex. 16:1-3).

4.      They complained about lack of water (Ex. 17:1-4,7).

5.      They complained for no apparent reason (Num. 11:1-3).

6.      They complained because they were tired of eating manna and wanted to eat meat (Num. 11:4-6,10-15,18-23,31-34).

7.      Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses’ wife (Num. 12:1-2).

8.      The Israelites complained because they were afraid of the giants in the Promise Land (Num. 14:1-3,11-13,19-23,26-29,36-37).

9.      Three men named Korah, Dathan and Abiram complained against Moses' leadership and led a rebellion (Num. 16:1-3,31-35).

10. They complained about the deaths of the rebels whom God killed instantly (Num. 16:41-45).

11. They complained for lack of water again (Num. 20:2-5).

12. They complained about the strains of their travel in the desert (Num. 21:4-6).

Now, let’s walk through their first four incidents of complaining in Exodus. Pay close attention to the tone of the complainers – their tone of voice uncovers their dark, depressing, nasty attitude towards Moses and God.

1.      Complaining out of fear: Exodus 14:10-12 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11  Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12  Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."


2.      Complaining about water: Exodus 15:22-24 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23  Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24  And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"


3.      Complaining about food: Exodus 16:1-3 And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt. 2  Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3  And the children of Israel said to them, "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."


4.      Complaining about water again: Exodus 17:1-4,7 Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2  Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." So Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?" 3  And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" 4  So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!" 7 So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"


WRAP UP: Here are some of the lessons and highlights from the incidents of complaining by the Israelites. The lessons and highlights fit into three columns: (1) the roots of complaining; (2) the results of complaining; (3) the remedy to complaining.

1.      What are the roots of complaining?

o        Fear is often at the roots of complaining. When we are afraid we may complain.

o        We complain when we are tired, feel overwhelmed and exhausted from waves of burdens that bombard us one right after the other.

o        Complaining has its roots in resentment. We begin to complain about something or someone when we resent that thing or person.

o        Complaining is a sign that we have become too familiar with something or someone. It becomes easy to complain about someone or something when we have lost respect for that person or thing. If we despise somebody we complain easily about that person.

o        Complaining is a sign that we no longer appreciate someone or something. It is easy to complain about someone or something we are no longer thankful for.

2.      What are some of the results of complaining?

o        Complaining breeds discouragement, which weakens the heart and kills the will to fight or go on. Someone has said, “Complaining is draining” ( Complaining wears people down and speeds up burn out.

o        Complaining shows amnesia about past blessings; it makes us to quickly forget what God did for us.

o        Complaining pictures the worst case scenario; the complainer prophesies doom and gloom.

o        Complaining causes us not to see what God is doing for us; it blinds us to present blessings.

o        Complaining makes a blessing taste like a curse. When the Israelites complained about manna and craved meat, God gave them quails for meat, but they got choked on it!

o        Complaining invites God’s anger.

o        Complaining shows contempt for God’s blessing; it despises God’s good gift.

o        Complaining delays future blessings on hold, or it cancels them. Instead, complaining attracts more troubles, bringing us more things to complain about, more reasons to keep whining. It’s like complaining opens the door to the darkness where the complainer becomes a messenger of doom, a prophet of gloom. Usually nothing seems to go well once we start to complain.

o        Complaining is bad math; the complainer counts what is missing! Though the Bible says, “what is lacking cannot be numbered” (Ecclesiastes 1:15), the complainer thinks otherwise. Complainers mostly talk about what they don't have. That's fuzzy math - counting the money you don't, the people that didn't show up, the vacation you didn't get, the guy or girl that didn't date you or left you for somebody else.

o        Complaining makes us go in circles. It delays the destiny God promised us. It keeps us waiting longer than necessary.

o        Complaining attracts the spirit of despair and death. We may lose hope or even die and never possess what God has for us if we remain stuck in the muddy pond of complaints. That's what happened to tens of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness. By constantly complaining they dug their own graves in the desert, and never made it to the Promise Land.


3. What is the remedy to complaining?

    Someone said, “Commit to talking 20% about the problem, and 80% about the solution. Soon you 100% won’t talk to talk about the problem.”

    To that advice, add the biblical cure to complaining: gratitude. That's the New Testament prescription for the spiritual illness of complaining also known as murmuring and grumbling.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18   Rejoice always, 17  pray without ceasing, 18  in everything give thanks[1] ; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


    Ephesians 5:18-20   And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,  20 giving thanks always for all things[2]  to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


    Colossians 3:15-17   And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful[3] . 16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks[4]  to God the Father through Him.


That's how you break the back of complaining; that's how you destroy the stronghold of complaining: every time there is something to complain about, switch gear and focus on a blessing, and start thanking God for your blessing. Follow the sound advice of the 19th-century hymn writer Johnson Oatman, and turn complaining into thanksgiving:


1. When upon lifes billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.


Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God hath done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.


2. Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,

And you will keep singing as the days go by.


3. When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings - money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.


4. So, amid the conflict whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journeys end.


CALL TO DECISION: Who is willing to admit to the Lord, “I have been counting my burdens when I should be counting my blessings. I have been complaining more than I have been giving thanks. I need to be more thankful than I have been"? Will you ask the Lord to help you overcome complaining with thanksgiving? Is your prayer "Lord, give me the grace to be thankful in everything  and for everything whether good or bad"?

Partner Ministries