The Fruit of Complaint – James 5:9

The way of Christ is not the way of the world. A truth many, in this day and age, seem to have forgotten. For instance, consider how we, as Christians, are to respond when something goes wrong. It could be something little, like discovering a faucet wasn’t not completely shut off, or a garage door was left open. Or perhaps when someone steps on our pet peeve. Or, something more direct, like the unfair and hurtful words and actions of a co-worker or boss. Or, maybe it’s just that our car won’t start. At that moment, we have a choice between the world’s way and the way of Christ.

James wrote in his letter, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” (James 5:9, NASB95) The meaning of “complain” in this verse has an emotional context. Going to a Customer Service desk and explaining why something we purchased is defective is not this kind of complaint. That is unless we express anger at the person behind the counter. The “complain” in James has a groaning aspect to it. Like the groan expressed when we’re asked to do something that we don’t want to do.

So, does this mean that we can never express our discomfort or problems? There is a difference between stating facts without condemnation and stating facts with judgment. And to be honest, that is not an easy tightrope to walk. It’s the difference between saying, “I don’t like the color chosen to paint that wall” and “It was stupid to paint the wall that color.” The first is a statement of our personal feelings, which is fine. The second is a judgment, which is terrible.

While James seems to limit this to our fellow believers, which I find interesting since church-folk seem to excel at complaining about stuff. (In other words, we don’t do a very good job at following this verse.) I believe that the application extends beyond the crucible of church and into every interaction we have.

To be honest, following Christ in this requires guts and humility. It’s not easy to be the one on the receiving end of blatant judgment and not return fire. Nor is it easy to be hurt and express our feelings without judgment. And yet, that is the way of the Cross, the way of Christ.

Here’s the difference. The world can only judge in the here and now. And often, that judgment isn’t founded on justice but on fear and insecurity. But for us Christians, we know that one day there will be a judgment before God with perfect justice. In other words, “judge” is not in our job description. Instead of being spreaders of complaints, we are to be agents of reconciliation and sowers of mercy.

This is not to imply that we don’t address the wrongs and sins around us. There’s a balance to strike and an attitude to adopt. While an upcoming article will explore that tensioned balance, let me leave you with this. The key is maintaining a posture of humility with a desire for mutual reconciliation. There’s more, of course, but that will be the topic of another day.

Until then, let’s examine our words and actions when things aren’t right. What are we feeling? What are we hoping to achieve? Who is paying the price of our words and deeds? Are we walking in forgiveness or in a slide to bitterness?  A complaining attitude is a very small seed that may lead to bitter fruit.   

Dale Heinold
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