Sin #5: Ungratefulness

Esther 5:11-13
Then Haman recounted to them the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king.  Haman also said, “Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.
Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” (NAS)

This is ungratefulness, and it permeates our culture from top to bottom.  The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor can be exactly identical in one major area: they are ungrateful for what is given to them.

I believe this to be the most overlooked of all the five sins of the mind in this chapter.  Think about what Haman says in the above verses.  Later, he baffles himself at the notion that the king would want to honor someone else more than him (and as God’s wonderful irony would have it, that person is Mordecai….this really is a great story).  His ego inflates due to his position, wealth, and status in the king’s court, and yet he gets consumed by jealousy over one man.  Out of a whole kingdom.  Why?  Because he was ungrateful for what he had already been given.

When a person’s heart is ruled by pride, they feel entitled, not relieved, when someone else does something good for them.  I deserve this, they believe.  The amazing thing, as I implied at the outset, is that this attitude cuts across all social levels.  At my school we work with some students who come from poor households.  Some of those students will act shocked and almost offended if you ask them to pick up litter on the floor.  “That’s the janitor’s job,” they say.  “I’m not touching that nasty floor.”  The subtext is, “I’m too good to clean the floor.”  It’s beneath me.

We have an end-of-year party, and the school gives out a bunch of free food.  Here’s the free hot dog, or hamburger, or chips, or soda, or whatever.  “Why don’t you guys have any more ketchup?”  “You don’t have good chips? Those are gross.”  “Why’s the soda gotta be warm?”

Yes, an event should be well-planned.  It’s nice to have cold drinks.  But my gosh, the food is FREE.  Be thankful and have a nice day!  Now, our school actually has a lot of great students, and most of them are grateful on days like that.  When we see this kind of entitlement attitude, however, we teachers marvel at it, knowing the homes that many of our students come from.

Ungratefulness is a major sin.  Not a minor one.  Jesus says the following in denouncing the Jews for their religious and hypocritical hearts:

Matthew 12:34-37
For the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart.  The good person brings out good things from his good treasure, and the evil person brings out evil things from his evil treasure.
And I say to you that every useless word which people will speak–they will render an account for it on the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.  (NT Transline)

By our words.  Out of our hearts.  And what sorts of things come out of our hearts?  Jesus tells his disciples later:

Matthew 15:19
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. (NT Transline)

Our external sins originate in our internal hearts–our souls.  And if our own words we will be used to judge us, it makes you wonder, which words?.  When people speak out of entitlement and ungratefulness, this reveals what lies inside their heart.

Regarding our subject, then, let’s say you get married, but continue your porn addiction or even make it worse.  What you are saying to God is, “The wife you gave me isn’t good enough for me; she’s not meeting my needs.”  Now, I know this isn’t the only reason a married man might keep looking at porn.  There are other reasons.  But this thinking underlies almost all of them.

What God Has Done
Are God’s blessings enough for us?  Let’s look at some of the big ones:

  • First, He saved us, died on our behalf, and forgave all our sins, past, present, and future.  That’s a good start.
  • Second, He still loves us even after we disobey and sin again.
  • Third, not only does He love us so much He wants us around, but God wants to use us.  He has a plan and purpose for our lives.  And not only that, He gives us the grace and power to actually accomplish it!
  • And my goodness, if this weren’t enough, He also wants us to communicate with and trust Him, and He blesses us in practical areas of life as well, whether it be finances, or health, or relationships that bring us joy, or children.

One of the secrets to life is recognizing that everything in it that is good came from God.  And anything you don’t have that isn’t good didn’t come to you because of God.  (Did you follow that?  For example, health problems, debt, anything that makes life unpleasant–be thankful if you don’t experience this stuff!  God’s blessing includes His protection from harm).

James 1:17
My beloved brothers, every good gift-giving and every perfect gift-given is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (NT Transline)

Psalm 84:11
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  (NAS)

My short list above is only the easy stuff we have to be thankful for.  That list features the spiritual blessings we could never obtain without God.  But there’s also beauty in nature, knowledge, invention, art, the ability to perform physical and athletic feats, music.  There’s your personality.  Your friends.

Oh, everyone has this stuff, don’t they?  In truth, some people have almost none of it.  Like, perhaps, girls enslaved to sexual exploitation.  Kept down in a dark basement to serve one ungrateful customer after another.  Thrown out on the street when they’re used up.  Or people who live in Congo and get chased from one home to the next by all the warlords.  The Invisible Children in northern Uganda, made into child soldiers to keep a religious fanatic in power.  A child born to drug addicted parents who grows up knowing no love, no family, and no hope.

Yes, there are plenty of people who have none of that stuff.  None of it.  You have some of it, perhaps even a lot of it.  And you dare to think that God owes you more?  Who are you, before Him?  What have you done to deserve such special treatment?  Did you plan to be born in this nation, with all the privileges we have?

Why Thankfulness Matters
Romans chapter 1 details possibly better than anywhere else in scripture how a person, and an entire culture, becomes morally confused and depraved.  Humans have an inherent knowledge of God, it says, but that knowledge becomes clouded by sin.  What causes this to happen?

Romans 1:21
Because having known God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their thoughts, and their senseless heart was darkened. (NT Transline)

The people knew of God, as was evident outside of them in nature, and within them in their spirits.  But they did not give thanks to God for revealing himself to them, and this led to their minds becoming confused and darkened, wayward and lost, morally indeterminate.

In the Old Testament, you see the same thing with the Israelites as they escape from slavery in Egypt.  Over and over God provides for them.  Manna from heaven, water from a rock, fire by night, direction through Moses.  And yet over and over again, the people complain.  They don’t trust God, and they aren’t thankful for what He had already done for them.

In the New Testament, ten lepers ask Jesus to cure them. He tells them to go show themselves to the priest. On the way, they find they have already been healed.  Though all the men must certainly have been overjoyed, only one–a Samaritan–returned to Jesus to thank Him and praise God.  He falls on his face before Jesus, so overcome with gratitude. Listen to Jesus’ response:

Luke 17:17
Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine–where are they?  Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner? (NAS)

Why is ungratefulness such an offense to God?  Because it expresses a lack of trust, and a lack of recognition of who He is.  If God loves us so much to die for us, to provide for our needs, to help us in all the ways He does, and we aren’t grateful to Him for it, then like Haman, we have deceived ourselves either into thinking that we somehow deserved all of this good fortune, or that we earned it through our own strength and ingenuity.  By extension, then, we don’t need God.

Another way to say this is that ungratefulness is equivalent to a lack of faith.  To be ungrateful is either to not believe something good came from God, or to not believe it will in the future.  To not believe God is to call Him a liar, and in this sense, to not be thankful when He blesses us does the same thing.  Or, put in reverse, to be thankful is an act of faith, because it acknowledges God as the source of the good thing you have received or experienced.  Give credit (praise, glory, wisdom and thanks, as Revelation says several times) to the Source of all that is good.

The same reasoning applies to pornography.  In spite of all you’ve done for me, Lord, it’s not enough, and I’m unhappy, so I’m going to appease my insecurity and fabricated needs with these things in the world that make me feel better–drugs, alcohol, parties, naked women, video games, and technology toys.

In spite of all you say you do for me, I think I actually do most of the work.  I can make any girl like me, and I don’t need your help.  I deserve this specific kind of woman, and until you give her to me, I’ll go find the women who look like her, and they’ll make me happy.

If you long for the images, sounds, and emotions that enrapture you when you view pornography, there is an extremely high probability that you have not spent very much time thanking God for all the things He’s done in and through your life.  All the opportunities, all the revelations, all the spiritual insights, all the acceptance.  The friendships, the good parents, the financial security so many of us Americans enjoy, good health, and even cultural pleasures like sporting events, the arts, and food.  Look at all the great restaurants out there.  All these things exist because of God’s blessing.  He can take them away as easily as give them.  The recent economic downturn ought to have reminded us of this.  We as a nation are nowhere near as strong, secure, or in control of our destiny as some of us arrogantly believe.  God could wipe us out in a day if He decides our time has come.

The Privileged Church
If you’ve grown up in the church, think of all the advantages you have over people who haven’t grown up with that knowledge.  You know there’s a God.  You know how to find out what He says in the Bible.  You know about prayer, and worship.  You know there is a standard for morality and conduct.  You know the meaning of life.  There are people who spend decades–their whole lives!–trying to learn these things, and you’ve grown up with it at your fingers.  You’ve got it all.

Then why are so many “homegrown” Christians so weak in their faith?  So half-hearted, apathetic, and prone to this addiction?  Because they take it all for granted.  They take God for granted.  They haven’t known a life without Him, so they aren’t that impressed with life with Him.  They’ve never discovered God.  Even more fearful (and hence the reason Hebrews 10 should scare you), maybe they’ve never actually known Him, but just grew up assuming they do, and have told all their lives by everyone else that “we’re Christians, dear, so we don’t do those kinds of things.”

In other words, they have not come to terms with the magnitude of their sin. For them, Christianity is a culture, not a faith. It’s a social experience, not a relationship.  Thus, thanksgiving doesn’t enter the equation, and as a result, neither does victory over sin.

When a woman who was likely a prostitute breaks in on a dinner party with Jesus, and weeps and pours perfume on His feet, the other guests scorn her and tell Jesus to send her away and not let her touch Him.  He responds to them with a parable, and ends it with this summary:

Luke 7:47
For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. (NAS)

A Christian who has never considered how much God has done for him, and thanked Him for it with a glad and sincere heart, is a Christian who likely has never known the true freedom available through Jesus.  All the power and freedom and grace that Romans explores, especially in chapter 8, is dependent on a person knowing first the evil and weakness in their own heart, and then looking to God to restore, repair, and empower them.  People who love God little are not less sinful than those who love Him much; they’re just less spiritually aware of the reality and depth of their sin, and the parallel greatness of God’s mercy.

Be thankful for what God has given you.  Thank Him for protecting you from further harm, in spite of the sins you have already walked in for so long.  Thank Him in advance for helping you to finally escape them and walk in true freedom.  Thank Him daily.

Why does God call David a man after His own heart?  Because David gave God all the glory for everything that happened in his life.  David was humble.  The humble king.  It’s why he wrote over half the Psalms.  He knew his greatness was a gift, and not one he did anything to earn.  That awareness was one of the keys that set him apart from every other king of Israel or Judah.  Here’s a verse expressing God’s will in this matter:

I Thess 5:16-18
Be rejoicing always, be praying unceasingly, be giving thanks in everything.  For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NT Transline)

Read the whole letter from Paul, and see how often he “gives thanks” for various things concerning God, the church, and their faithfulness.  Paul exudes thankfulness in all situations, in all circumstances.  He knew how little he was before God, and how much goodness had been shown to him, undeserved.  This is one primary reason he had such a great impact in his time.

If you want freedom, greatness, purpose, fulfillment, and security, then by faith, be grateful for what God has already done, and then be thankful for what He’s going to do.  This is God’s will, and His command to us, in everything.