We tend to categorize sins, don’t we? In my household, we have certain “household sins” ranked from high level offenses – capital crimes – to mere misdemeanors. A high level offense is likely to get you grounded, or a spanking, or, perhaps (worst of all), lose your phone. Misdemeanors around here carry a punishment of, “clean up your room,” or “pick up ten items of trash or yard debris outside.”  Here’s a list of some of our misdemeanors:

  • Not refilling the water on the Keurig coffee machine when you use the last bit in the reservoir.
  • Refrigerating the ketchup or mustard. (Or: Spelling “ketchup” as ‘catsup,’ or some other heathen alternative.)
  • Jaggedly ripping the cereal bag inside the box so that it doesn’t pour properly and goes stale earlier.
  • Putting empty boxes back in the pantry or almost empty soda cans back in the fridge.
  • Leaving more than one pair of shoes on the front porch. (That’s my wife’s rule…she’d prefer NO shoes, but I had to flex my legislative muscles to amend the Thompson Constitution to allow for one pair. I’m still usually a violator of this rule.)
  • Failure to replace the toilet roll once it is used up. (I believe I am the only one that actually changes toilet rolls, but I could be wrong.)

Those are a few minor annoyances – they won’t get you into huge trouble…some actions, however, carry much stiffer penalties. Being home much later than curfew…playing the piano loudly in the morning before everybody is awake…Watching unapproved shows on Netflix. (I’ve got 13 Reasons Why it Would Be Safer for you to Bathe in Sewage than to Watch This Show about Suicide!) These felonious household sins, carry with them a greater punishment and greater stigma than the misdemeanors. But surely, God isn’t like that…right? Surely God either A. Views all sins as the same, or B. At the very least, He doesn’t worry too much about MY sins, right? No, and No, actually.

I have heard many people (even preachers) over the years say some variation of, “God sees all sins as the same.” This is true in one and ONLY one sense. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “The wages (salary/payment) of sin is death.” That is, every sin – no matter how little or big – brings death, and (apart from the work of Jesus on the cross) separates one from God and eternal life. No sinner will have eternal life, whether they have committed one act of sin or one billion. One sin is enough to disqualify you from Heaven and eternal life, again, apart from saving faith in the graceful work of Jesus on the cross.

In that ONE sense, all sins are alike, in that they all separate a person from God. However, that is NOT the entirety of biblical teaching on sin. It is quite clear in the Bible, that some sins are more egregious than others. Proverbs 6, for instance, lists seven sins that God hates in particular (pride being at the front of the list.) In the Old Testament, different penalties were applied to different sins – from restitution all the way up to death. Jesus, in Luke 12, mentions that some sins will be punished in judgment with “few blows,” and some with, “many blows.” He also taught, in Matthew 11, that Capernaum would be judged more severely than Sodom in the final judgment, because of Capernaum’s lack of belief and refusal to repent and follow Jesus. Other examples abound, but this is not an article about various sins…this is a challenge about one in particular…complaining!

Stephen Hawking on Complaining

If there is a universal sin among Americans and other countries of affluence, it would be complaining. We ALL complain. I do it. You do it. We (almost) all complain FREQUENTLY. But surely, on God’s list of big, bad sins, “complaining” isn’t a national championship contender, is it? Surely, it’s not even in the top 20 – probably somewhere around South Carolina, or Oregon State, right?  That’s what I’ve always assumed…that God isn’t particularly bothered by my complaining, that complaining and grumbling are barely sins at all…right? Well, no, actually. It turns out that complaining is a far bigger deal than most of us realize. At our church in Pinson, Alabama, we are currently knee deep in a series on James. This past week, I was scheduled to speak on James 5:9 – let’s read it:

James 5:9:  “Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!”

That, my friends, is a striking verse. Brothers (and sisters!) do NOT COMPLAIN about who? About one another! Let’s break this down: Christians are commanded NOT to stenazō against each other. That word, in the Greek, means to sigh with grief, or groan, or grudge against. I think “complain,” therefore is a good translation. Christians are not allowed to complain about or against each other. That means friends. It means SPOUSES. And yes, beloved, it means CHILDREN (and parents!) too. I believe we have here, in the God-Breathed, Spirit-Inspired, Word of God, a blanket prohibition against complaining that includes our family members. Wives: DO NOT complain about your husband. Husbands: DO NOT complain about your wife! Parents: DO NOT complain about your kids! Children: DO NOT complain about your parents. It’s right there in black and white…but, ultimately, it’s probably no big deal, right? Complaining is SURELY just a misdemeanor sin in God’s eyes, right?

Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:9-11

So..people were KILLED in Old Testament times for complaining?! That’s actually kind of terrifying. It is also terrifying that James, in his prohibition against complaining, notes what the punishment for doing it is: CONDEMNATION/DAMNING (the Greek word is katakrinō and it is a legal term.) Note also WHERE the judge is when we complain: RIGHT AT THE DOOR!  James is saying, as clearly as possible, don’t complain, because when you do complain, you will be convicted and found guilty by the Judge, who is just outside the door!

It is foolish in the extreme to break the law when law enforcement is right there watching. I remember when I was 18 that I was driving through a rich neighborhood near my house, and a motorcycle police officer drove by my car. Wanting to show off for my friends, I gave the officer what we called the “gas face” at the time. Unfortunately, he saw it and immediately pulled me over.  Only the worst kind of criminals commit unlawful acts right in front of the judge, or law enforcement. That is what James is driving at here: When we complain about each other, we are doing so when the Judge is in earshot – He’s just outside the door!  So – how does God REALLY feel about complaining? Well, let’s pick a random Old Testament chapter. How about Numbers 11?

  •  Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So that place was named Taberah, (PLACE OF BURNING) because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them. Numbers 11:1-2

The complaining of the children of Israel caused God to literally BLAZE with anger towards them. That is striking, and jarring! Surely they learned their lesson after that, right?

  •  “Contemptible people among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat?” (Numbers 11:4)

I guess not – vs. 4 of Numbers 11 indicates that the people were not satisfied with Manna, but demanded meat from God. How did Moses respond…surely in a mature way, right?

  • Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying to me: ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If You are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. If You are pleased with me, don’t let me see my misery anymore.”Numbers 11:14-15 Yes, you read that correctly – Moses, one of the most respected and impacting leaders in the Bible got so fed up with God that he said, “just kill me now!” If you think Moses was alone in this sort of biblical drama-mongering, please know that Jonah also asked God to kill him, as did Elijah and Job (twice!)  How does God respond to this sort of complaining by Moses and the people? Quite strongly:

  • “Tell the people: Purify yourselves in readiness for tomorrow, and you will eat meat because you cried before the Lord: ‘Who will feed us meat? We really had it good in Egypt.’ The Lord will give you meat and you will eat. 19 You will eat, not for one day, or two days, or five days, or 10 days, or 20 days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes nauseating to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and cried to Him: ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’  Numbers 11:18-19
    That is interesting, and, once again, quite unsettling, isn’t it? God was indeed meeting every need for the Israelites, but not every WANT. They responded with multiple rounds of complaining, and God got…frustrated?…with them, giving them exactly what they asked for, and more besides. Directly after this, Moses (not realizing the seriousness of his predicament) continues to badger God with complaint tinged questions like, “There are 600000 men with us God, where are you going to get meat for SO many people?” God’s answer is quite striking: Is my arm too short to provide?? You WILL see, Moses. And, he did.One last note: What does Kibroth Hattaavah mean (from Numbers 11, above)?? Graves of craving – which might be one of the most horrifying phrases in the entire Bible!

Philippians 4:5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

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