2 Timothy 3:2 “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,”
In 2007 Jerry Bridges wrote a book entitled “Respectable Sins”. The first half of the book in particular takes a look at many of the habits of people that have become culturally acceptable. From anxiety and frustration to selfishness and pride, many of these ‘acceptable’ sins are also ones that have been brushed over in the church. The world’s perspective is far different from a godly perspective. The world doesn’t consider sin, sin is a biblical concept. The world looks at something as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, and these ideas are often based from a cultural standpoint that is often defined by society.
The church traditionally has focused their attention on more obvious sins such as sexual sins or ones that break the law and have ignored the less obvious ones to their detriment. The undercurrent of ‘respectable’ sins acts like a rip tide that silently pulls people out to the sea of hopelessness, frustration, and lack of a genuine relationship with Christ. It is these undercurrents that leads to divisions among the body of Christ and ultimately saps the power of God from a body of believers meant to exemplify Christ.
My wife and I have been reading this book together and working through it among a home fellowship group through our church. As my wife and I were talking about the topic of ‘unthankfulness’, the conversation moved into the question of sin.
What is Sin?
When it comes to being unthankful, my wife posed a good question. “How can being unthankful be a sin?”; the idea brought to mind the position of a person who is unthankful or ungrateful and what that really looks like.
The command seems simple:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
As Jerry Bridges pointed out, the idea that in all circumstances we are to be found thankful means we are to be thankful in the good times and in the bad. What seems like bad may just be a lack of perspective, what looks like good may not be all we thought.
In our conversation, my wife remembered this lesson:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
Having the right perspective helps when it comes to assessing a situation, knowing where to find that perspective is another story.
But what if someone is not thankful, what does that say about a person?
The Unthankful Heart
For any parent who has had kids, the scenario is all too common. During a birthday or Christmas a grandparent or aunt gives the child a gift and the parent tells the child, “what do you say?”, the expectation is for the child to give thanks in return. Most small children will only say thanks because it has been programmed into them by their parents, most people know the child is more interested in the toy or next gift than they are taking the time out to show gratefulness.
For many people today, gestures may still be used as a simple form of respect or good manners, but true thankfulness is more than just a gesture.
Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
According to God’s Word, thankfulness is suppose to be a daily practice among God’s people. If God wants us to have a spirit of thankfulness at all times, clearly the idea is important for everyday living.
According to John Piper in ‘Desiring God‘, “Ingratitude was at the heart of the fall, and at the heart of what’s fallen about us to this day. “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Again and again throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, it is gratitude or giving God thanks — that is the fitting response to his gracious acts of deliverance for his people.”
Jesus demonstrated a heart of thanksgiving during the passover communion; as He broke the bread and offered up the wine He taught the disciples the meaning of God’s gift to the world.(Luke 22:17-19)
We have so many things to be thankful for and the more we understand the meaning of salvation, the more we get to know the Savior, the more deeply the gratitude becomes.
What does it take to be thankful?
- Humility: It takes a lowering of oneself to accept a gift from another. Whether the gift is a helping hand or a gesture of good will, we must be humble to receive it.
- A Tender heart: Have you ever tried to receive something from a person you don’t like? A heart of bitterness is not a heart of thankfulness, it tends to see others as manipulative or looks for hidden agendas that reflects distrust.
- Gentleness: Sometimes receiving something is more inclined to bless the giver than the receiver. When people have a heart of gratitude they want to express it in some way, looking beyond the gift and more toward the heart of the giver is a way to show love.
Colossians 3:15 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
Thankfulness is an attribute of the Spirit of God in the life of a believer.
Now, back to my wife’s dilemma regarding sin. Does a heart that is unthankful denote a sinful heart?
- Ingratitude denotes bitterness. Past hurts or feelings of discord can lead a person into bitterness. Bitterness separates people and focuses the attention on ourselves and in a hateful manner away from others. 1 John 2:9 “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.”
- Ingratitude denotes pride. How can someone receive faith if they think they have all they need? How can someone receive salvation if they rely upon their own measure of goodness? Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
- Ingratitude lacks compassion. When someone else wants to give you something, there’s a reason for the giving. It takes compassion to consider others purposes before your own. Psalm 10:3-4 “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
You see, whether it’s a hard heart, pride, or a lack of love, when we are deficient in these attributes, we are deficient as sinners.
Pride breaks the first 3 commandments of exalting the Lord to a position of exaltation. A hard heart breaks the 6th commandment to not kill (or as Jesus put it, having a heart of hatred). A lack of compassion likewise is showing hatred for your brother while we claim to be followers of Christ and yet treat others with contempt.
The Greatest Gift
If we have trouble being thankful in small matters, how can we appreciate the great gifts that God has offered?
Colossians 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
The gift of Salvation has been offered by way of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. The Holy Spirit calls the repentant heart to come and partake of HIs great gift of grace. Receiving God’s ultimate gift is to empty ourselves of all pretense and self-sufficiency, knowing that He will fill us up.
Simple actions can have profound consequences. If your experiencing a heart of unthankfulness, I encourage you to seek the Lord, He is in the business of softening hearts—He will give you reason to be thankful….that is, if you trust Him.