Scripture: Numbers 11:1–6
Overcoming CynicismNumbers 11:1-6
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
It's been encouraging for me to hear how so many of you have been moved by God to change after hearing the first three sermons in this series on being and overcomer. And that's the purpose of all preaching, to persuade your mind whereby the Holy Spirit can bring application to your life for God-honoring change.
There is no doubt that this series has brought heartfelt conviction for all of us on weaknesses we experience in these areas. To some degree we all struggle with fear. We all struggle with bitterness. And we all struggle with addictions. To say you have arrived in any of these matters would be prideful. It would be evidence of spiritual complacency and hardheartedness and resistance to the Spirit's transforming work.
So let me ask you, how have you specifically grown in the past month in these areas? What can you point to that would be tangible, grace-empowered changes you have made in your life? How have you moved closer to breaking off these enslaving, life dominating sins to better glorify the Lord and experience the abundant life you have been promised in Christ? These are everyday battles we must be engaged in as Christian soldiers.
One woman in the church provides a great example of what I'm talking about. You'll remember, last week we discussed addictions. I mentioned that addictions come in many sizes and shapes, but all maintain the same distinction in that they are idols we have chosen to replace the supremacy of the living God in our lives. We choose these false gods over the true God to meet a need. But our idols always fail to deliver. We think we can control these idols. But they master us and enslave us by their false promises.
This woman went on to explain via email what God did in her life in line with the teaching in that sermon. First she humbly allowed the Spirit to search her heart. She said, "I pondered a bit about my own addictions and it was evident that Facebook was just consuming my 'empty time.'" She took action. "I deleted the app on my phone and committed to only looking in the evening before bed (I do think it's useful for some things)." Then she exchanged the unhealthy action with a godly action. "I replaced that Facebook time with your battle tested series and spent time in prayer and studying." Her life was blessed and listened to what happened: "Shortly after, the carpet man entered to install carpet on our steps. He saw my bible, my battle tested workbook and Joshua 24:15 sign hanging in my entry, commented on it and began asking me questions about our church and service times. We spoke about these things."
Today's topic is no different than the other three. Again it's one we all struggle with to some degree. As a matter of fact, if you complain about this particular topic it's probably all the evidence you need to know you have a problem in this area! The title of the sermon is "Overcoming Cynicism." And in this message I would like to merge together all the related concepts of cynicism and complaining and grumbling and judgmentalism and negative thinking and a critical spirit.
Often those who are really bound in this sin demonstrate all of these unpleasant traits. These traits are super easy to observe in others either through one's critical comments or glum facial expressions.
- They see the glass always half full.
- They are the princes of pessimism.
- They crush any excitement in a room.
- They destroy morale in any team.
- They major on the negative.
- They are quick to see the worst.
- Whenever they want to meet, it's always problem related.
- They squash good ideas and the potential from others.
- They are grumpy.
- They complain about everything.
- They are the party of "no."
- They have a problem with everyone and everything.
- They are experts at discovering everybody's flaws except their own.
- They stand as the self-appointed judges of the world and measure others by their own standards of righteousness.
- And they often look as friendly as a rattlesnake.
You have a problem with these attitudes in others? Of course you do because you are created in the image of God, and God has a problem with these attitudes.
Let's consider some Scripture: One of our favorites in the home. Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without complaining or arguing" (NIV). 1 Peter 4:9 commands us to "be hospitable to one another without complaint." James 5:9 says, "Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door." In Jude 1:16 we read that false teachers are "grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts." Obviously this spirit is contrary to the fruit of the Spirit which promotes love and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
We so easily spot this sin in others, how often do we take notice of it in our own lives? This one can often hide itself from our immediate attention.
As we've been doing throughout this series, let's take a moment for a little self-examination. This could be painful!
- Do you have difficulty seeing people and situations from a positive perspective?
- Are you quick to point out problems in a situation, but rarely if ever offer solutions?
- Do you give suggestions without ever offering to help?
- Do you speak negatively of others behind their backs?
- Do you find it easy to complain?
- Are you one that is rarely seen smiling?
- Are you often compelled to give a critical opinion in your effort to "help?"
- Do you assume the worst in someone?
- Do you fear failure?
- Do you judge others motives?
- Are you harsh, insensitive or abrasive?
- Do you delight in airing your own opinion?
- Do you negate someone's idea without ever considering it?
- Do you enjoy passing judgment?
- Do others have difficulty being in your company and sharing their thoughts with you?
Without a doubt I hope that God has just used what I said to touch a nerve in each of you. Now you can dismiss the conviction or you can cooperate with the Spirit to bring about God-honoring, Gospel-driven change. It's change that will unify your home and your church, give you personal peace, make you a pleasure to be around and emit from you the fragrance of Christ. Are you willing to be an overcomer in this area? You've first got to be torn down in all humility before God can build you back up again. You know, Satan likes to tear you down with generalities and leave you down and then make you feel guilty for being down. However, God convicts us with specifics in His Word. His goal is to build us up and forever recreate us into the beautiful image of Christ.
So right now, regardless of how small this issue may be in your life, don't rationalize it away: "That's just the way I am." "I've tried to change and it's useless." "Other people misunderstand me." And don't redefine it: "I'm a realist." "I don't sugar coat issues." "I have the gift of discernment."
Since this has been on my mind all week, I've come to realize how much easier it is to see the negatives in people. How not only is it wrong to do it, but how incorrect I am when I attempt to judge motives and how hurtful it is when others judge mine and draw conclusions that are not true. How unsatisfied my life can appear when it's compared to others. How easily frustrated I can be with others. How I love to point out wrongs to flaunt my wisdom. How effortlessly I can find problems with how my day is going. How satisfying it is to complain.
Just six days ago with this topic on my mind I went into Muscle-Maker Grill to pick up a sandwich. The owner behind the counter looked at me and said, "You like you are in a good mood." I thought, hey, this stuff works! I began to talk about having a positive outlook on life, yet within seconds I found myself complaining with him about the incompetence, laziness and irresponsibility of many young people today. The moment I walked out I shook my head quickly realizing how easy it is to resort to negativity.
When you search for negativity in the Bible, there is no greater example than the Israelites. After years of barbaric oppression from the Egyptians, God heard their cries for help, sent them a deliverer in Moses and led them to the Promised Land.
You'd think they would be excited to leave, but you know how the story goes. Not long into the journey the whining and the negativity and the complaining started. Beginning in Exodus 14:10, "As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, 'Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ''Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians ?' For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness'" (Ex. 14:10-12).'"
They couldn't get beyond their critical spirits. Instead of trusting in God's Word and committing themselves to His sovereignty, the Promised Land was nothing more than the problem land.
God then moves millions of gallons of water in parting the Red Sea and destroying the pursuing Egyptians, but within the span of one chapter we read in Exodus 15, beginning in verse 22, "Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'" (Ex. 15:22-24).
They get the water, so what do they complain about next? Exodus 16, beginning in verse 2, "The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, 'Would that we had died by the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Ex. 16:2-3).
God provides food for them in the form of manna. Their response? Numbers 11, beginning in verse 4, "The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who< will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna" (Num. 11:4-6).
So God provides quail for them to eat. Are they finally content? The spies brought back a good report of the Promised Land. Did the people show joyful and grateful hearts? Numbers 13, beginning in verse 30, "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, 'We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.' But the men who had gone up with him said, 'We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.' So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, 'The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight'" (Num. 13:30-33).
It continues in Numbers 14, verse 1. "Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, 'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?' So they said to one another, 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt'" (Num. 14:1-4).
The patience of our Lord with complainers - the ungrateful, faithless, whining people. Yet by Numbers 14:22 we see the Lord had enough. "Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it."
Or as the Apostle Paul summarized it in the New Testament, "Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer" (1 Cor. 10:10; Psm. 106:25-27).
I remember when I was a public school educator that we had a very negative woman on our team. Whenever we had meetings she would always shoot down new ideas and continually complain about a variety situations that happened in the school. The students were disrespectful, the parents failed to support, she was overworked and underpaid and underappreciated, on and on, negatives piled upon negatives. She was a friend, so one day I politely confronted her on this situation. Of course, she totally disagreed and became grumpy that I accused her of being grumpy (which kind of proved my point!).
So I asked her if we could conduct a little experiment. I asked her if she would simply permit me to discretely put my finger on my nose when I felt she made a negative comment during our daily team meetings. I rubbed my nose frequently and she even got me back a few times. Both of us learned how prone we were to struggle in this area often at times without even being aware of it.
Maybe use a different sign, but perhaps this is an exercise you can employ in your own homes!
So why are we so cynical, especially as believers? The answer is that even those redeemed in Christ still struggle with the flesh. When we are not walking in the Spirit, our hearts will gravitate toward the deeds of the flesh. Once again, this sin is a heart problem, and the poor countenance (see Genesis 4:7) or negative words only seek to reveal it. If you follow the trail of your complaining it will usually reveal the idols in your heart.
Complaining and the like is clear evidence that we are self-focused. Instead of trusting in God's sovereignty and sufficient grace and loving others, it's evidence that we are thinking only about ourselves. We were inconvenienced. Something didn't go the way we wanted it to. Our feelings were hurt. The jealousy and envy and anger and bitterness and hatred are simply revealing themselves through our negative tactics.
Another reason people are cynical is that they are not finding their identity fully in Christ. They understand they fall short of some self-prescribed standard. They look to who they are in the perspective of others. They are discontent with their weaknesses and jealous of the strengths of others. In lacking humility, they can't imagine anyone revealing their insufficiencies. Often these people like to find fault in others, not only to make themselves look better, but also to keep others on the defense so the table is never turned on them. It's insecurity. It's self-protection. It's a problem with the need to always be in control.
A cynical attitude is from the dark side. It's not how the Lord treats us. It's of the flesh and the world and whether it's intended or not, it shows a lack of trust in God and total disregard for others. Instead of worshipping God, a cynic basically worships himself. Simply put, a cynical attitude is a prideful attitude.
So how can we overcome this? After acknowledging the problem, the key is to renew our minds. Romans 12:2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." By God's grace, Christians have the desire and ability to go to God's Word.
First, the Word of God exposes our sin. Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." We repent of the sin, then the Word of God shows us the proper behavior we need as a replacement.
So if we struggle with a cynical attitude, we need to put off the negative thinking and put on (or replace) thoughts that are in line with the thoughts of Christ. A great verse in this regard is Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." I promise you that if you just memorize and apply Philippians 4:8 alone, you'll never again fall prey to negative and critical thinking.
So we need the Lord to change our hearts. Prayer is a key component to that. As a matter of fact, one unknown author said, "If we spent as much time praying as we do grumbling, we would soon have nothing to grumble about." We need to walk in the Spirit whereby the Spirit produces the fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23) - all the opposite of a critical and complaining spirit. Then we need to rearrange our thoughts to thoughts that are more Gospel oriented (Pr. 23:7a). Empowered by the Spirit with a mind intent on God's will, the flesh is starved and the self-focus is smothered. The affections then demonstrate Christ-like change.
Now instead of looking for the weaknesses in others, I look for their strengths. Instead of tearing others down, I look to build them up. Instead of being a fault-finder, I offer personal time and constructive suggestions to the problem. Instead of giving grief, I now give grace. Instead of majoring on my problems, I major on my blessings, especially the greatest blessing as a Christian that I've been delivered from hell and eternally accepted by the living God. Spurgeon said, "as long as a man is alive and out of hell, he cannot have any cause to complain." All this is an indication of the grace we have received. All this is an indication of love. All this is an indication that we are acting like Jesus.
In contrast to the Israelites, I'll leave you with a positive example. The Apostle Paul looked forward his entire Christian life to proclaim the Gospel in Rome. After serving the Lord faithfully for many years he finally gets to Rome, but he arrives as a prisoner and is committed to years of house arrest. Was that fair? Is this how God should have treated him? Does it make any sense to put a missionary behind bars?
Yet through it all, Paul had amazing faith that God would work all things together for his good (Rom. 8:28). And because of that he found reason to rejoice. As a matter of fact, many say "joy" is the theme of Philippians, a letter he wrote during this imprisonment.
Did the imprisonment cause Paul to complain? Philippians 1:12-14, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear." By faith, Paul saw only the good in the situation.
What about those fake believers seeking to cause Paul emotional harm? Philippians 1:15-18, "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." By faith, Paul's focus was not on himself, but on Christ.
What about his overall attitude? "I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21-22).