While patience is essential, impatience can bring untold consequences. One of the greatest sins of the people of Israel, especially while traveling throughout the desert for forty years, was their complaining. Many times, their grumbling was rooted in impatience itself (Num. 21:4, ESV). They grumbled about a lack of water instead of asking God for some (Exod. 15:22–25); they idolized their meals from their past lives as slaves and claimed God wanted to kill them with hunger (even though they had plenty of food, just not what they wanted; Exodus 16); and, as soon as Moses was out of sight for longer than they expected, they decided a golden calf was a good idea to have as their focus of worship (Exodus 32). Using the Oxford Dictionary definition of patience, “able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious,” the nation of Israel was a fantastic example of the opposite of it.

Israel’s recorded history helps the modern reader understand why James denounces grumbling so intensely. As he has emphasized several times, words are not just words; they are the expression of the condition of the heart. When words of impatience are expressed, it gives evidence of an impatient and untrusting heart. When grumbling and complaining words are used, the speaker shows their distrust in their loving Father.

From an experiential point of view, how does complaining help the situation? That is, not seeking out solutions, not brainstorming ways out, but pure, unadulterated complaining. Logic and the experience of many confirm that complaining serves best to fuel the fire of frustration, not diminish it. Instead of helping, then, it makes the situation worse by magnifying the problem. James adds that grumbling also brings condemnation to the speaker, thereby compounding the reasons to stay away from it.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges believers to “do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (Phil. 2:14–16). When God’s children abstain from complaining and fighting, there is a stark, supernatural difference about them. Their light shines in the world, and they glorify God.