Fighting Temptation - Grumbling Against God - Numbers 16:23-40

Fighting Temptation - Grumbling Against God

Pastor Russell Scoggins

Sermon Date: 3/17/2019

Bible Reference: Numbers 16:23-40

Topics: Grumbling, Complaining, Sins of Weakness, Habits, Brain, Mind

Summary: Learn how brain science relates to your life of Faith. God has made your body in an incredible way and has equipped you with the tools you need to fight destructive sinful habits.

Bible Reference: Numbers 16:23-40

23 Then the Lord said to Moses, 24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’”

25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”

31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”

35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

36 The Lord said to Moses, 37 “Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to remove the censers from the charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy— 38 the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the Lord and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.”

39 So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned to death, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, 40 as the Lord directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord, or he would become like Korah and his followers.


Last week, before we started worship, I started a conversation with you and I asked you the question: What does Lent mean for you? What is your philosophy on Lent? I want to begin today by filling you in a little more on my Lenten philosophy because it relates to our sermon for today. The Lenten season is a good time for us to do a yearly checkup. Just as you go to the doctor and get a checkup every so often, it’s good to do a spiritual checkup every so often. Let’s say you go to the doctor, you get a checkup, and you receive some kind of bad news—you are suddenly made aware that your cholesterol is high or your borderline diabetic. Let me ask you this, did you receive that bad news merely because of the fact that you woke up that morning and had an unhealthy breakfast? No…. that unhealthy doctors report comes from a year, or maybe even years of unhealthy habits.

Lent is similar in this way…. If we get to the lenten season and we are SUDDENLY made aware of how truly sinful we are…. If we get to the lenten season and we are SUDDENLY all gung-ho about repentance… then there might be a problem. I’ll let Martin Luther explain what I mean. Here is the first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that essentially started the reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Boy Dr. Luther… that’s some heavy stuff. The ENTIRE LIFE of a believer should be repentance.

I bring this up because it is my sincere prayer that today’s message would not merely help us to reflect on our sin because it’s the Lenten season… but I pray that it would help equip us to reflect on our sin and fight temptation every single day of our lives—well beyond the season of Lent. I pray it would serve to make us spiritually healthy year round as God moves us to live LIVES of repentance.

First off, let’s look at today’s verses. It’s a long and bizarre account so I’m going to do my best to simplify and summarize things for us…. I want you to give me a one word answer to the following question: What were the Israelites notorious for? [Correct...Complaining/grumbling] In Numbers 13, the Israelites complained. God was fed up with their complaining/grumbling, so he told them that they would have to wander around in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the promised land. You would think, that after having God severely punish you for your complaining, you would think twice before complaining again. NOT SO for the Israelites. The complaining and grumbling continued.

In fact, it became worse. There was a group of people that began to complain and grumble even worse. They began to speak against the leaders—specifically Moses and Aaron. They didn’t like the fact that they had been banished to 40 years in the wilderness and so they said nasty things about Moses and Aaron—behind their backs and to their faces. They challenged them. The passage we read earlier was the account of God dealing with these people who rose up and grumbled against Moses and Aaron. And he deals with them harshly….because ultimately it wasn’t just Moses and Aaron they were grumbling against—they were grumbling against God himself. So God has the earth open up and swallow everybody associated with this grumbling.

And just to round out the story, let me go beyond our verses for today…. This bizarre incident didn’t even fix the problem. Verse 41 says, “The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.” And wouldn’t you know it, God sends a plague on the complainers and grumblers, and another 14,700 die. The only reason the whole nation didn’t die from the plague is because Aaron sprinted to burn incense on their behalf and make atonement for their sins.

The people of Israel were stuck in a toxic cycle of grumbling, complaining, and rebelling….And God was not pleased. Before we move on to application, let’s just take a minute to try and frame this story into a modern scenario. The very basic elements of the story are this: Moses brings a tough topic before the Israelites—namely, they can't go into the promised land because of their complaining and grumbling. Rather than speak with Moses, and approach this tough topic with a level head, they continue with their grumbling and complaining, and even worse, they begin to backstab Moses. They go around turning other people against Moses….and surprise, surprise, God HATES it.

Now, let’s try and frame it for our lives. Let’s say a brother or sister in Christ does something that upsets you. it might be pastor, it might not be. We’re going to widen things just a little from the Moses/Aaron element of the story. A fellow Christian does something that upsets you. IN THAT MOMENT, we need to think very carefully about what we do next. The RIGHT thing to do, is to speak with that brother or sister in Christ in a level headed manner The WRONG thing to do, would be to walk away and begin to grumble and complain against that brother or sister in Christ. The WRONG thing to do would be to go about spinning a story and gossiping and trying to turn people against that brother or sister. May God help us to do the right thing. And may he help us repent for the times we have done the WRONG thing…if the account from today shows us anything, it most certainly shows us how God feels when we complain, grumble, and turn on one another... God HATES it.

Sometimes, what I just described can happen in little and more personal ways. Sometimes it can happen in BIG, public, and extremely messy ways. I’m sure we’ve all seen or heard of it happening on a congregational level. That would be a big, public, and messy example. Whether big or small, public or private... It is never God-pleasing when we complain and grumble against one another. It is never God pleasing when we try and pit others against a brother or sister in Christ. God always hates it when we go about things in that manner.

This is a law heavy story. So let’s make sure to take some time to speak about the gospel in all of this. I want to once again refer to the verses that come after today’s verses. I mentioned that the people kept complaining and God sent a plague on them. That plague was God’s judgement on the people and it continued until?... Until Aaron made atonement for their sins. Right there is an incredibly clear gospel proclamation. When atonement for sin has been made, God’s wrath subsides. When payment for sin has been made God’s wrath is satisfied.

1 John 2 - “1b If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

That ought to bring you some Lenten joy! Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God does not punish you for your sin. I think it’s pretty safe to say we have ALL given in to the temptation to grumble. Some of us audibly grumble and complain. Some of us do it in our hearts and minds. But we’ve all done it. The only reason that we do not have to fear the same punishment as those in today’s verses is because Christ has paid for all of our sin. The only reason we don’t have to fear an eternity in hell is that Christ paid for every complaint and every grumble by his death on the cross. You have been forgiven for every complaint and every grumble.

But now I’ve got to ask you: what are you going to do about the fact that you’ve been freely forgiven for every sin? I mentioned at the open that our goal here today is to help us live lives of repentance—not just 6 weeks of repentance. So with the rest of our time here today, we’re going to talk about stopping the cycle of sin—especially focusing on grumbling and complaining. To do that… we’re going to talk about brain science. How brain science relates to our lives of faith is actually a topic I’m passionate about, and it’s a topic that is extremely enriching for our lives of faith. Maybe someday we’ll be able to come back and do a sermon series on that very thing. But today, for time’s sake, we’re going to oversimplify.

Okay, your brain cells (which are called neurons) communicate with one another by sending chemicals back and forth. Based on what you’re doing, your brain releases different chemicals. When you repeatedly do an activity, your brain becomes accustomed to releasing the chemicals associated with that activity. In fact, when you do something enough a sort of pathway forms between your brain cells that helps facilitate the sending of that chemical that it is used to—that’s how habits form. Once your brain is used to releasing a certain chemical, guess what happens when you try to stop the activity that releases that chemical? YOUR BRAIN DOESN’T LIKE IT.

Practical examples: Why is it difficult for an alcoholic to stop drinking? Because their brain has built pathways and it’s EXPECTING the alcoholic to drink so that it can release the chemicals associated with drinking because it’s craving those chemicals. Apply it to complaining and grumbling: Why is it difficult for us to stop complaining and grumbling? Because our brain builds pathways and it’s EXPECTING us to complain so it can release the chemicals associated with complaining because that’s what it craves. The things that we do regularly rewire our brain for better or for worse. This works for the flip side as well. When you repeatedly do positive things, your brain rewires itself to crave the chemicals associated with those positive habits. Go home and read your Bible every morning for 3 months… at the end of those 3 months, your brain will chemically crave that time with God’s Word every morning.

Alright, here’s the implications for our lives of faith. When it comes to your sins of weakness, your brain is literally working against you. Whether we’re talking about gossip, lust, overindulging, complaining, rage, or whatever else…. Whatever your sin of weakness, your brain is LITERALLY working against you because it craves the chemicals associated with your sin of weakness and it expects you to continue giving it what it’s used to. This little bit of brain science I explained this morning does NOT give us an excuse to give up in our fight against sin and just effortlessly fall into temptation without putting up a fight. Quite the opposite. This little bit of brain science should equip us to better fight temptation and better understand where to start as we figure out how to break the cycle of sin.

Let’s tie all this together:

God is serious about our complaining and grumbling, especially when that complaining and grumbling is directed towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. When our complaining and grumbling is directed at our brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s also directed at him.

Tie in the brain science: The more we complain and grumble, the more our brain expects us to continue our complaining and grumbling and the harder it is to stop. IF YOU GRUMBLE ABOUT LIFE’S LITTLE THINGS…. Guess what you’re going to be more likely to do with life’s bigger things? Grumble. If you grumble about life’s little things, guess what your brains going to tell you to do when a brother or sister in Christ does something that upsets you…. GRUMBLE! When we train our brains to grumble, they grumble!

So how do we break the cycle of sin—whether it be grumbling or something else? Firstly, we repent. We humbly recognize our sin and we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. And when we do that, we can be confident that he won’t make the earth open and swallow us. We can be 100% certain he will forgive us because Christ has made payment for every single sin. So firstly, repent and ask for forgiveness. Secondly, ask God for the strength to change. And don’t only ask him for the strength to change, but recognize that he has given you some tools to help you change. I mentioned one of those tools last week: confessing to a brother or sister in Christ. When you regularly speak with a brother or sister in Christ about your struggles, you actually set your brain up to rewire itself for the better and to begin breaking whatever sinful habit it is that you struggle with.

Another tool God has given you is the very brain chemistry we just talked about. Your actions rewire your brain for better or for worse. Ask God for the desire and the strength to live in a way that rewires your brain for the better. Today I’m going to leave you with an optional exercise to help make that happen. Today I’ve brought along a good number of these little bracelets [the white ones are a little smaller, the colorful ones are a little larger]. If you’d like to participate in this exercise, pick up one of these bracelets and put it on your wrist. Every time you complain, stop what you’re doing, ask for forgiveness, look at the message on the bracelet and be reminded that you’re forgiven, and then take off your bracelet and put it onto your other wrist. Do that every time you complain—whether verbally or mentally. In the world of psychology, this little exercise is a form of behavioral therapy… I’ve taken this little behavioral exercise and made it a Christ-centered exercise. An exercise like this will help you retrain your brain if you stick with it. The brain can take up to 90 days to chemically rewire itself… so the longer you can stick with this exercise, the better. You’re welcome to do what my wife did and roll your eyes and call this a silly exercise… but let me tell you what, Scripture backs it up, science backs it up, and your pastor has been doing it for about 48 hours and has already noticed a difference in his thinking and speaking. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like—and yes, I was even able to convince my wife to join in.

Whether you join me in this little exercise or not… walk away remembering this: Christ paid for every sin on the cross. He paid for every time we fall into temptation. He paid for every time we grumble and complain about life’s annoyances. He’s paid for every time we sinfully grumble and complain about one another. And he’s paid for those times that we grumble against him. And moving forward from today, God hasn’t left you helpless in the fight against being tempted to grumble. He has given you brothers and sisters in Christ who can help you and pray for you. And in addition, he made your body in an incredible way. With his help, as you fight to form good habits, those sinful habits are going to be easier and easier to leave behind. You’re ready for the fight against temptation, and the risen Lord is there to help you. Amen? Amen.

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