In a newspaper column a woman wrote about a Christmas gift she had received from a friend. She made light of the gift, telling of how she had played catch with it and misused it in other ways, since she disliked it and had no intention of using it.
The author was trying to be funny, of course; that is her job. But the column didn’t seem very amusing. Behind the lighthearted tone lay a meanness of spirit that would treat a friend’s act of kindness with such contempt. Gratitude is important, even in small things.
The Scriptures teach the importance of gratitude in a variety of ways. There are exhortations to gratitude. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts . . . and be thankful” (Col. 3:15). There are examples of gratitude, such as the leper who, when he saw that he was healed, returned to Jesus to thank Him (see Lk. 17:11-19).
But especially powerful are the narratives and passages which teach the wickedness of ingratitude. In the reference above nine other lepers did not return to thank Jesus. We also remember that Jesus pairs the unthankful with the evil (Lk. 6:35); and among the evils that will characterize this final age is that people will be “unthankful” as well as “unholy, unloving, unforgiving” (2 Tim. 3:2).
Why are the unthankful so worthy of condemnation? The unthankful person despises what is good: gifts and acts of kindness. He considers them too small to be worthy of gratitude, or he considers them his due. Why should you be thankful for what someone owes you?
The unthankful person may be ungrateful toward his fellow man, but the unthankful heart is really unthankful toward God. The unthankful man does not appreciate God’s gifts of food, clothing, and shelter. He thinks, “I worked for those things. I don’t have to thank God for them.” He despises the good things God has given him, always wanting more and coveting what his neighbor has. Worst of all, the one whose heart and life are characterized by ingratitude despises the spiritual gifts that God offers in the gospel.
Because of our sinful nature, we believers also are guilty of the sin of
ingratitude. God also forgives our sins of ingratitude for Christ’s sake.
And the Holy Spirit teaches us to be thankful to God. He humbles us by showing us our unworthiness, so that we do not imagine that we deserve anything from God. How can we, who know that we are sinners redeemed by the grace of God through the blood of Christ, ever imagine that God owes us anything? How can we despise any gift or blessing that comes our way, no matter how small?
A humble spirit is a thankful spirit. The Holy Spirit also opens our eyes to see how kind God has been to us and how much He has given us. He teaches us to acknowledge God as the source of all the good things that we enjoy, from the least of them to the greatest.
–Pastor John Klatt