“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:15–16a).- Luke 17:11-19
Along with our failure to honor God, Romans 1:21 says our lack of gratitude to Him is the other primal sin that motivates all of the various forms of wickedness that are on display in human conduct. Like the error we commit in dishonoring God, it is also easy to see how ingratitude motivates a host of other evils. For instance, if we are not grateful to God for all of the blessings that He has given us, we will quickly begin to feel as if we have been cheated somehow. This will blossom into covetousness as we envy others whom we perceive to be more blessed than we are, and we might even go further into theft or adultery, wherein we take things that are not rightfully ours.
Biblical ethics have gratitude at their core, for it is always thankfulness to the Lord that is to motivate our obedience. This is evident from the structures of the biblical narrative itself. When God speaks to His people after the fall, He always reminds us of how much He has done for them before He delivers His laws. The Ten Commandments were not given to the ancient Israelites until after the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 20:1–17). In their epistles, Peter, Paul, and the other apostles generally lay out the great truths of redemption before they make application of those truths in practical, ethical matters. From first to last, thankfulness is one of the major animating impulses of a true Christian ethic.
According to the Word of God, gratitude is not simply something that we feel but something that we must demonstrate to others. When interpreters look at the account of the cleansing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11–19, they often draw the distinction between one leper who was thankful and nine who were ungrateful. Yet this is not exactly what we see in the passage. We have no reason to believe that the nine who did not immediately thank Jesus for their healing felt no gratitude, for who among us would not be tempted to run home immediately and share the good news if we should be healed of some terrible ailment? This can be done even as we are feeling thankful in our hearts toward the healer. No, the real difference between the one who went back to Jesus and the nine who did not is that the one who returned displayed His gratitude while the others kept it to themselves. Christian thankfulness will always display itself in good deeds and verbal expressions of gratitude.
We might think that we are grateful to God for what He has done for us, but if we never work to serve others, especially His people, then we must question the authenticity of our thankfulness. James 2:14–26 and other passages make it clear that Christian virtues are not mere inward thoughts and feelings but are expressed in concrete acts of love and service. Let us show forth how thankful we are to God by doing good to others.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 5:18
1 Timothy 4:1–5
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343