Friday, 28 January 2011

Groan, But Don't Grumble

Are you a grumbler or a groaner?

We live in a fallen world. It is a world that is under God's curse (Genesis 3:14-19), having been "subjected to futility" by Him (Romans 8:20). This means that life in this world will be frustrating. There will be hardships, difficulties and disappointments. This will not always be the case, a day is coming when the curse shall be lifted (Revelation 21:1-8; 22:1-5) and the whole of creation shall be "set free from its bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). This has been brought about through the work of Jesus on the cross, taking upon Himself the curse we deserve for our rebellion (Galatians 3: 13-14).

However, until that day we live in a world in which we will daily see evidences that the world has been "subjected to futility", that we live in a fallen world, a world which is under the curse of God. We will constantly find ourselves frustrated and disappointed, facing hardships and hassle. How then ought we to respond?

The Bible shows us two responses that we can make as we face the frustrations of a fallen world. We can either grumble or groan. One is the response of unbelief, not taking God at His word and trusting Him. The other, the response of faith, which embraces God's word, and trusts Him. Let us look at each of these responses in turn:

1) Grumbling - the response of unbelief
When things get tough our natural response is to grumble, to complain. Ultimately, this grumbling is against God. He is completely in control of all things, everything that happens comes from His hand and is ordained by Him. Therefore, when we begin to complain about our circumstances we are ultimately complaining against God, and failing to trust His all-sufficient goodness.

Grumbling was the response of the Israelites in the desert (See Numbers 11-14). After God had brought them out from Egypt and was sustaining them in the wilderness on the way to the promised land they began to grumble. They complained about their hardships in the wilderness. They complained about the food God had miraculously provided in the wilderness, and longed for the food of Egypt (Numbers 11:4-6). When the spies returned from checking out the promised land and gave the report that its inhabitants were strong, the people grumbled again, saying "Why is the LORD bring us into this land to fall by the sword?" (Numbers 14:3).

This grumbling stemmed from their unbelief, they refused to take God at His word and trust His promises. They refused to believe that God was both able and willing to keep His word and sustain them and bring them to the land He had promised them (Numbers 14:11). In judgement on their unbelief God let the whole of that generation die in the wilderness instead of entering the land. The author to the Hebrews recognises this and says, "they were unable to enter [God's rest] because of unbelief."

So, one response to the frustrations of a fallen world is to grumble. This is the response of the unbeliever, one who does not take God at His word, one who refuses to trust in God's promises. This means that they refuse to trust in Jesus, because all of God's promises find their find their fulfillment in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). Every time we grumble it is because we are not trusting the promises of God as we ought. It is because there is some part of the promises, which are ours in Christ, that we are refusing to believe.

2) Groaning - the response of faith
Groaning is very different to grumbling. It is the response of faith. Those who groan are those who are longing for what God has promised to be fully seen and experienced. In the midst of "the sufferings of the present time" (Romans 8:18), groaners are longing for "the glory that is to be revealed" (Romans 8:18) in the new creation.

There is a lot of groaning in Romans 8. The creation is groaning (v 19-22) as it longs for that day when it "will be set free from its bondage to decay", on that day when the curse is finally lifted. Christians are groaning (v23) as they too long for that day, the day when they shall experience fully their adoption as sons. The Spirit, who dwells in the believer (v9-11), also groans (v26-27) as He intercedes for us.

Groaning is the response that recognises the certainty of what God has promised and is longing to see that come to the fullness of its fulfillment. Groaners know that the glory which is to come is a certain future for the Christian, and it longs for that day. It longs for the day when they shall see Jesus face to face and enjoy Him eternally in a perfect world, in the new creation, the creation set free from its bondage to decay.

When groaners face the suffering and frustrations of living in a fallen world they know "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). Instead of complaining they trust that God has ordained this hardship (whatever it may be) for good, for their good. Therefore, even when they cannot comprehend what possible reason God could allow them to suffer as they do, they trust that God has ordained this for their good. The good that Paul is speaking of here is to be "conformed to the image of his Son" (v29), to the image of Jesus. This conforming shall only be fully seen when they are glorified (v30). It is only in the new creation that this good will be fully experienced.

Groaners, therefore are those who respond in faith. They take God at His word, trusting in His promises which are ours in Christ. Even when they cannot understand what God, in His providence, is doing, they know that He is trustworthy, that His word is sure and they trustingly submit to Him. They know that the future He has promised us in Christ in the new creation is certain. Therefore, they long for it, for that day when the curse is lifted, and they are transformed to glorify and enjoy God as they ought.

So, are you a grumbler or a groaner? Only by grace can we become a groaner. By nature we are all grumblers. It is only through God's transforming work that we are made groaners. It is only as we see Christ set before us as we hear the gospel, and God creates faith in us to grasp hold of Christ with empty hands that we are transformed from a grumbler to a groaner. It is the hearing of the gospel with faith that changes us. It is also the gospel that continues to transform us as Christians to be those who groan more and more, and grumble less and less. The more we hear the precious promises of the gospel, the more our faith in them is fed and nourished so that we groan more and more. We never grow out of our need for the gospel.

So, as Christians let us be those who treasure Christ, as we see Him set before us in the gospel as revealed in Scripture. Let us be those who daily give ourselves to feeding on Him by faith, by feeding on the Bible. The more we do this the more we will be groaners, not grumblers. Let us learn to be those whose daily cry is: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)