Grumbling about grace

It is a skill we begin to hone early in life.  Its first manifestations are the belligerent screams of a demanding infant at feeding time (or diaper changing time or bath time or getting dressed time).  By the time the child is a toddler, the screams morph into whines, mixed with occasion tears.  In the teen years, the whines are still present, but they are more skillfully applied through flattery that is intended to manipulate, and pleas for special dispensations of grace.  Disparaging words will be heard, but one will need to strain to hear them as they will most often be uttered in low and hushed tones.  These skills will continue to develop through adulthood with additives of sarcasm and argumentation so that the art of protestation becomes more and more finely tuned.

Call it what you will, but it’s still just plain old complaining.

We know it well and we do it well.  We acknowledge that complaining in its various forms (grumbling, disputing, fussing, criticizing, quibbling, and groaning) is sin.  But it’s a sin that is often excused — it’s an acceptable sin (if done “right”).  You will often hear it said, “I know I shouldn’t complain, but…”  And then the grousing will begin.

But notice what Jesus says about complaining in Matthew 20.  His parable about the landowner who hires several laborers addresses this very topic.  Before the day began (6 a.m.), the landowner hired men to work for him for the day.  And then throughout the day, he continued to hire more men — at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.  And when he paid them at 6 p.m., they all received a full day’s wage — those who worked one hour and those who worked 12 hours all received the same pay.  And guess who complained?

“They grumbled…’These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day'” (vv. 11-12).  Yes, that was the combined argumentative and grumbling voice of the workers who were hired first and who worked the longest.

At least two things happened in the minds and hearts of these men.  First, they begrudged the grace received by the latecomers.  They deemed themselves worthy of grace (which in actually means they believed in merit and not grace) and the latecomers unworthy of the same grace.

And secondly, they pridefully presumed they were worthy of more grace, and it blinded them from seeing the grace they had received.  Do you remember?  They showed up at the marketplace as unemployed laborers and they went home that day with a full day’s wage.  That’s grace.  But because of envy and greed they expected something more and overlooked the grace of going home with more than they had at the beginning of they day.  They were given something that was not only fair, but also unexpected.  They were recipients of grace, but instead of thanking, they grumbled.

Now before you and I protest that we wouldn’t complain in similar ways, let’s notice the rest of the chapter, which Matthew composes with two more illustrations of grumbling about grace.

There’s the story of James’ and John’s mother — “my boys should have preeminent positions in the kingdom” (my paraphrase).  But that wasn’t just a request for the boys, was it?  She wanted the exalted status of being the mother of those exalted men.  What was going on in that request?  Give me grace.  I deserve it.

The other 10 disciples weren’t too happy about the request, so they expressed indignation (still another word for complaining).  How dare they ask that!, which being translated means, “We deserve it more than them (if only we’d had the boldness to ask first)!”

Neither the mother nor the other disciples stopped to consider the considerable grace they had received from Christ before they grumbled.

There are two other brief accounts in this chapter — both stories about gratitude for grace.  One is the story of the two blind beggars who pled for mercy.  “What do you want?” Jesus asked.  “We want our eyes to be opened.”  And Christ opened both their physical and their spiritual eyes.  We know that because they text says, “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him” (v. 34).  They followed Him.  No complaining that one was healed first or that they had endured so long or so much.  In gratitude they gave Him their allegiance and they followed.

And then there is the account of Christ Himself.  “We are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (vv. 18-19).  Here is the one person in this chapter who is worthy of receiving everything. And instead, with humble servanthood, He lays aside all the rights and privileges that are His (Phil. 2:5-8) and promises to go to the cross to accomplish redemption.

Here is the sad irony:  the One who gives so much grace does not grumble about the cost of giving that grace.  But the ones who receive much grace are prone to grumble about grace they believe they are due.  “Prone to grumble, Lord I feel it.”

Today, instead of grumbling, be thankful.  Look at every event and circumstance of your life and determine to see God’s grace to you in it.  And then thank Him for it.

2 thoughts on “Grumbling about grace

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