C.H. Spurgeon said, “…discontent and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil.” As I grew up, I was able to help my parents with their garden. Every year, we would till up the soil and put our seeds into the rows we had created. We would make sure that the patch of ground had enough sunlight and sufficient water for the plants. There was much work that went into the planting of a garden. However, with as much work as we had to put in to make sure our plants grew, there was one thing we never had to cultivate- weeds. Rather, these came up naturally. And just as weeds are natural to the soil, so complaining is natural to the heart of man.
Throughout the book of Numbers, we see the children of Israel complaining. In spite of all the good things God had done for them, complaining was still the natural response of the people. In Numbers 11:1 the Bible says, “And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord.” The Lord responded to the complaints of the people in righteous anger by consuming those that complained. This first group of complainers was in “the uttermost parts of the camp.” However, there was a second group of complainers in chapter 11, verses 4-9. This second group was in the midst of the camp. The Bible refers to this second group as “the mixt multitude.” This group was made up of unbelievers that had come out of Egypt with the Israelites. During the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings, this group proved to be a continual source of grief to the Israelites. This group was discontent. They longed for the food of Egypt while despising the manna that God had provided. This group of complainers displeased God and brought God’s wrath upon themselves. Their complaining was so prevalent that it eventually began to infect the Israelites around them. Their complaining was like a contagious disease that spread rapidly through the camp. Before long, the children of Israel were longing for Egypt once again.
It is easy for us to look at the Israelites and to shake our heads in utter disbelief at how ungrateful and discontent the people of God were. But do we not fall into the same pattern of complaining so easily? Unless the grace of contentment is cultivated in our heart, complaining will only come naturally from our lips. Complaining is like a contagious disease that can infect homes and churches. One person begins, and then another, and before long everyone is complaining. God tells us in 1 Corinthians that the judgments that fell upon the complaining Israelites were “written for our admonition.” They provide us examples that we can learn from. May we put off the sin of complaining and put on the grace of contentment before God. For in so doing, we glorify God and bring peace to our homes and churches.
Probably one of the more popular phrases in reference to a passage of Scripture is the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20. Those of us who have been around the church for any length of time can probably quote at least a part of it. There are several action verbs in that passage; however, only one is used twice. Can you think of it? It’s the verb “teach”.
Our passage today also includes a passage that includes this idea of teaching. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “And the things that thou has heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”. Here we see Paul’s admonishing Timothy to take the things that Paul had taught him and then to turn around and teach others the same things. This is exactly the idea spelled out in the Great Commission. Jesus commissioned the apostles to teach unbelievers the way of salvation, baptize them, and then continue teaching those new believers the things they had learned from Christ Himself.
This begs the question of the role of preaching versus teaching. What is the difference between those two words? Certainly there is a place for preaching. Paul himself tells Timothy in just a couple of more chapters to “preach the word”. J.I Packer wrote that “preaching appears in the Bible as a relaying of what God has said about Himself and His doings, and about men in relation to Him, plus a pressing of His commands, promises warnings and assurances.” It carries with it the idea of the town herald who would blow a horn to get everyone’s attention and then once the crowd was quiet, proceed to relay a message from the king or another dignitary.
So while preaching certainly has its place and time and is often the thing God uses to wake people up spiritually, the value of teaching cannot be minimized. Teaching carries with it the diligent, methodical, line-by-line, precept-by-precept relaying of truth. It involves taking the time ourselves to understand a passage or truth and then carefully teaching that to others. That teaching may take the form of a Sunday School or small group class, discipleship class, family devotions or just taking advantage of moments of opportunity to impart God’s truth to others. For those of us who have been Christians for awhile, what are we doing to “teach others also?”
I remember reciting Psalm 100 during morning assembly in elementary school. My how things have changed. As a tad, I had a problem understanding verse three, ”Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” I never had a problem with God being God and the fact that He made us, but I wondered how I could be a people and a sheep at the same time. Concrete thinking would not allow my developing mind to grasp it.
The word sheep is used many times in the Bible in reference to God’s people (in some instances of all people). It does not take long for one to realize that sheep are wanderers. An old neighbor used to raise them and he told me they are “dumb as a box of rocks” and difficult to keep inside a fence. He claimed they were always looking for a way out. Possessing abstract thinking now allows me to see the comparisons God makes between us and sheep. I do not care how smart or accomplished any of us are-we too are “dumb as a box of rocks”! How many Christians are looking to the other side of the fence and what it has to offer? It is like our walk as Christians. If we stay within the loving confines (fenced area) of God’s direction and watch- care (His Word and Commandments) we would do well. However, we are born with a bent-that to sin.
In our own lives, how many times have we drifted from our anchor? How many times have we gone beyond the fence? I was told barbed wire was ineffective on sheep, because of the length of their fleece (they do not feel the stickers!). Using abstract thinking can we imagine God’s Word as barbed wire? The Bible points out sin and the Holy Spirit convicts, so one could say it is a protective fence that God has provided for us. Yet, it not always keeps us from “straying,” and the fault lies with us and our sinful nature.
When, not if, we stray, we break through this fence (“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all,” Ps.53:6-italics mine). Sure, like the sheep, we may feel a little stick or poke, but our thick fleece (reasoning and rationalizing our sin) allow us to get through with minimal harm (we think). The more we drift, the thicker our hide. We must stay focused on God, the Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be able to stay within the confines of a devout life. The world is a cruel taskmaster, but we the redeemed (sheep), can claim the Lord is our Shepherd (Ps. 23:1)!
I distinctly remember this particular Sunday morning when I was either 12 or 13 years old. Something seemed different as there seemed to be an odd feeling to the service. I then remember when the service was over going out to the car and seeing my mom crying. I don’t remember when exactly the story was relayed to me but I do remember learning in short order that things were never going to be the same at my childhood church. Our pastor had been found to be siphoning money off of the church’s account and into his own. How he had done that I don’t know but the proof was beyond dispute.
How could something like that happen? Our reading today sheds some light on this all-too-common issue. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
The love of money and the things it offers has been an issue as long as humans have been on this earth. Whether it’s the desire to have a lot of money to spend on elaborate vacations and expensive toys or the desire to save it all and enjoy the security that it brings sitting in our bank accounts, it is a temptation that many of us face. However, Paul warns in these verses about the trouble that yielding to this temptation brings. Phrases such as “foolish and harmful lusts” which “drown men in destruction” and the prospect of being “pierced with many sorrows”.
The answer to this type of sin is spelled out for us in verse 8. “And having food and rainment let us be therewith content.” That’s it, contentment. That doesn’t mean we don’t look for opportunities to better ourselves financially but at the same time we should strive to be content with the things God has blessed us with, even if they may be just the basic material things of this life. And if we have that attitude we will save ourselves from the consequences of a materialistic and greedy mindset.