(This series of writings was prompted by listening to an excellent sermon from Dr. John MacArthur entitled “Thanks, No Matter What” on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The sermon was from 1995, I believe.)
“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I have been prompted to pen a series of writings on the enemies of thankfulness. One of the ironic features of American Christianity is that despite living in the most affluent society in the history of the world, there is a general lack of thankfulness among believers in America. I find this glaring flaw present in my own life, as well, and am very convicted by it. Living in great abundance and with every need supplied, there is little evidence of thanks in the prayers and the conversations of even committed, genuine believers. Listen to the prayers of American Christians and you may hear some token thanks given for general things, but sincere and heart-felt thanks for the amazing spiritual and material blessings that the Lord has showered on them is usually absent. Again, I know that I am guilty of this and so I may be projecting this on others, but I don’t think so. I think it may be a trait of fallen humanity that the more that we have materially, the less thankful we are.
So I have made a commitment to be more thankful and to have vital, deep thanksgiving become a regular part of my prayers and my conversations. To help me in this endeavor, and hopefully to help you also, I wanted to discuss five enemies of thankfulness, which, if present and prominent in my life and in your life, will smother thankfulness. Again I am grateful to Dr. MacArthur for identifying these enemies. I am taking his ideas and developing them a little further.
The Enemies of Thankfulness – Selfishness:
The second enemy of thankfulness is “SELFISHNESS.” O, selfishness is such a persistent problem, because its roots wrap so tightly around fallen man’s immense pride. Selfishness opposes thankfulness because being thankful draws attention away from me.
Now, what is this selfishness of which I am speaking? Selfishness is that way of thinking that insists that my wants and needs are the most important ones and the attitude that expects that all things are here to serve me. Thus selfishness robs me of thankfulness, because I am so focused on me that I don’t notice anything for which to be thankful. Whatever good comes to the selfish person goes unappreciated, because all these good things are deserved and expected. It is very difficult for me to be thankful when I have an entitlement mentality that says, “I am entitled to these things.”
Every believer knows that selfishness is difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, every believer should see less and less evidence of selfishness as they grow in sanctification. As selfishness shrinks, thanksgiving will increase.
Here are some specific ideas for attacking selfishness. First, follow the example of John the Baptist. In John 3:30, John the Baptist said, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” John acknowledges that he is on earth for only a brief time to play a very small role. John realizes that he is a mist, a vapor that vanishes away (James 4:14), but that Jesus is the central figure in all of human history. John provides an example for all believers. We can cut the roots of selfishness if we acknowledge our insignificance and declare the glory of God. We should focus on the greatness of God and the majesty of Christ and thus attack our selfishness.
Second, we need to attack our selfishness by following the example of the apostle Paul. This man was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that was the glory of Christ. Paul gave very little thought to himself, because the gospel consumed all his attention. In Acts 20:24 Paul says, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” In 2 Cor. 12:15 he says, “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul was a man who gave himself away for others with scarcely a thought for himself. We should imitate him in this and so defeat our selfishness. “For this reason,” Paul said,” I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10).” Again Paul is willing to endure whatever he needs to endure so that men and women can come to faith in Jesus. His selfishness was vanquished by a superior desire and thus Paul was free to give thanks.
Thirdly and finally, we can attack our selfishness when we look at the ultimate example of unselfishness, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we read of the three years of His earthly ministry we search in vain for a single selfish thought or act from Him. Jesus never gave one thought to Himself or to His own welfare, but instead gave Himself away for the people around Him. This is all the more astounding when we consider who He was and we observe that His identity was a major topic and theme in His preaching and teaching. Jesus was the incarnate Son of God and yet He always displayed utter unselfishness. Among dozens of examples of unselfishness, perhaps the best is captured in Mark 10:45, when Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” If we can meditate on Jesus and on John the Baptist and on the apostle Paul and how they lived unselfish lives, our own selfishness will wither and our thankfulness will flourish.
What do you do when your own selfishness begins to rear its ugly head and when you see that your thanksgiving is being strangled by your selfish desires? What are your strategies? RMB 4/18/215