What does the Bible say about ingratitude or ungratefulness?
There are a few instances where the Bible addresses ingratitude. One occasion happens when the Israelites traveled through the wilderness after being released from slavery in Egypt. Numbers 21:4–5 records, "The people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.'" Rather than being grateful for their new-found freedom, the Israelites were disappointed in the wilderness as their new location. They complained first that there was no food and in the next breath expressed disdain for the manna God provided to meet their nutritional needs. This group focused only on the circumstances they saw as unsatisfactory rather than choosing to focus on the ways God had blessed them. So their attitude toward God was certainly one of ungratefulness.
God responded to this ungrateful attitude with severe consequences. Numbers 21:6 says, "Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died." The Israelites recognized the error of their ways and repented saying, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us" (Numbers 21:7). However, God did not take away the serpents, but instead made a way for the people to survive the bites. "The LORD said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live'" (Numbers 21:8). Moses obeyed God's command and the people were saved having learned the lesson not to be ungrateful for the ways God has provided.
Another instance of ingratitude occurs in Luke 17 when Jesus healed ten lepers. As He entered a village, ten lepers called out to Him saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Luke 17:13). Jesus did have mercy on them and their leprosy was healed as they went on their way to the priests. However, only one, a Samaritan, "turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks" (Luke 17:15–16). Jesus remarked to His followers, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17–18). Jesus highlighted the ingratitude of the other nine healed lepers to warn His followers against that ungrateful attitude.
Romans 1:21, 22, and 28 also record ingratitude and its consequences. "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools ... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:21, 22, 28, emphasis added). In this passage, Paul explained that an attitude of ungratefulness leads to a heart closed off to God's wisdom and a life that stems from a debased mind doing what ought not be done.
Rather than emphasizing the negative trait of ingratitude, the Bible focuses more on the positive trait of expressing thanks. Psalm 140:13 explains, "Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence." Giving thanks to God is an act of righteousness and the right response to His presence in our lives. The Bible calls people to "give thanks" more than twenty-five times. In fact, Paul says to give "thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). Lest a reader believe Paul couldn't actually have meant "always," he elaborated in Colossians 3:17 "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." And lest a reader question Paul's challenge to give thanks "for everything," he elaborated in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
Most humans struggle to live up to this standard of gratitude. However God is merciful and gracious. He provided Moses's serpent on a pole to rescue His people from the consequences of the sin of ingratitude. That serpent on a pole remains a symbol of healing even today. Jesus connected His death on the cross with this powerful symbol of rescue from the consequences of sin when He explained, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14–15). Praise God for such a gift of mercy as we learn to live in perpetual gratitude toward Him.
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