The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

As Christmas edges closer and the year begins to close its curtains we should be reminded of an important virtue that seems to have been forgotten in the church: Gratitude.

I love Christmas. The atmosphere surrounding the season is always warm, inviting, and full of love and thanksgiving. One of the first lessons I ever learned was to be thankful, especially at Christmas. When I was young I’d feel disappointed if I didn’t get what I really wanted. There were times I wanted even more. But a quick and firm lesson on the importance of gratitude and thanksgiving soon flushed that attitude out of my system! Are there times I still feel a little greedy today? Absolutely. But whenever I feel discontent I’m always reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18,

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

However, gratitude and contentment is something that, I fear, has become largely forgotten in the modern church. I believe a number of factors play into this lack of thankfulness but the biggest perpetrator is the focal message of today’s Christianity.

As the prosperity gospel continues to be the biggest selling point of modern Christianity the focus of the church has turned from being thankful for the things God has already given us (His grace, love, and salvation) to the things we’re promised God will give us (wealth, happiness, success, etc.). We’re always reaching for something more but in doing so we’re forgetting the gifts that God gives us each and every day. Things like His love and grace, the people around us, and that we’re alive and able to experience the wonders of this world. That I’m able to eat delicious food every day. That I’m able to read the Bible every day. The list goes on and on. We call these things small blessings but I’ve learnt that in the Lord’s eyes, the smallest things are often the biggest. We only tend to see them as small because the world has a much larger standard for success. To be successful in this day and age often means owning a profitable business or becoming world-renowned. Achieving such success isn’t wrong (unless, of course, you had to sacrifice a lot of good things, such as family, to get there) but the need to reach that goal is nothing but artificial. Too often it can cause us to lose sight of the things that are truly important.

Another factor that comes into this lack of gratitude I see in the modern church is the failure to trust. I’ve seen fear turn the shepherd’s crook of many pastors into a sledgehammer. The sledgehammer being, of course, the exegetical butchering of Malachi 3:8-10.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

Somehow, this passage has turned from an instruction that was required by Mosaic Law for a specific time, culture, and people (in this case the Levites) into a law that is required for every believer today. Stranger still is how “the storehouse” has turned into the modern church when the temple wasn’t entirely sacred. It offered provisions for the religious and royal officials. The tithe, in this context, was essentially an early form of tax and was required in order to maintain both the priests and government of Israel. It also wasn’t exclusively money based. [1] It requires quite a large amount of stretching to fit this context into the modern church, especially when a lot of that money today often goes towards trivial things rather than the aid of the congregation and the realistic needs of its ministers (we aren’t talking multiple private jets here, televangelists).

The reason I see this verse being the centrepiece of the church’s tithe message is twofold. The first is that it, to put it bluntly, condemns people if they don’t give or aren’t giving enough. Imagine believing that God sees you as a thief because you didn’t give your church ten per cent of your income one Sunday? The second reason is that it promises rewards for giving. Once again, God was probing a specific people here for a specific reason (it wasn’t contingent on the ritual of tithing but on repentance as vs. 7 indicates) and does not give that promise to everyone today (considering the people in focus were under their own covenant and were breaking it by not tithing), which is why you see good-natured people give ten per cent of their income every Sunday for years without a single thing to show for it. But what better way to ensure a good collection of tithes than the promise of large rewards and a sweeping harvest? The result of this is that the focus of our giving has turned to the things we may gain from it rather than the joy of serving God by giving where He leads and directs. It all comes down to fear and not believing the Lord provides, and although it’s a difficult truth to take in if the church doesn’t change its ways soon gratitude will continue to be a forgotten virtue.

So as the Christmas season rolls around let’s take the time to remind ourselves of the blessings God has given us and the things He has done for us (whether big or small) throughout the year. Let’s remind ourselves that we have everything we could ever need in Jesus and let’s be thankful that we get to have an opportunity every day to serve such a wonderful God as He!

Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 106:1)

References:

[1] Walton, J. Matthews, V. Chavalas, M. (2000) The IVP Bible Background Commentary, OT. InterVarsity Press. p. 811.

 

 

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