It seems that some of the good qualities that used to be seen in people’s lives have grown a little scarce in recent years. Let me refer to these qualities as “vanishing virtues.” I am sure that I am not the only one who would like to see them return. Although these virtues may be scarce today, they were not scarce in the lives of the Bible saints. Let us take a brief look at some of these virtues.
We know that the lack of gratitude or thankfulness is simply called ingratitude. Shakespeare referred to ingratitude as the “marble-hearted fiend.” The Apostle Paul almost lists ingratitude as a cardinal sin in Romans 1:21. He affirms that because of man’s ingratitude, he has become vain in his imaginations and his foolish heart has
Ingratitude is like a small crack in the dam. If immediate attention is not given to the problem there will soon be an awful disaster. Over the years, my wife and I have observed this problem in many lives, even in the lives of some of God’s dear saints. When we see ingratitude manifested, we know that the fall of that person is not far away. Ingratitude even in tiny matters, such as the failure to be thankful for a small gift or favor, belies a much larger problem in that life. Usually ingratitude betrays the fact that our thankfulness toward God has waned.
Thankfulness on our part is a quality much appreciated and longed after by God. Once, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee he was met by a group of ten lepers. They cried out to him for mercy in a faint hope that they might be cleansed of their terrible disease. Jesus had compassion upon them and instructed them to go show themselves to the priests. As they went, they were cleansed. Jesus waited – but only one of the ten returned to say, “Thank you!” That one not only gave thanks, but he fell down on his face in the dirt at Jesus’ feet. He was truly thankful (Luke 17:16). Strangely, he was a Samaritan, not even a religious person in the common accepted sense.
We are taught in the Bible to have gratitude and to be thankful. In fact, we are commanded to be thankful in Psalm 50:14, where it is said, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High….” In Psalm 95:2 we are told: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” That should be our regular approach to the worship of God. We are also told to make all our requests to God with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6).
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are challenged to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” On the basis of this verse some have pointed out that thanksgiving should be made not only for good things that happen to us, but for the bad as well. This may sound strange, but God works all things together for good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
The Bible even tells us that we should be thankful for people. Do we give thanks for our families, for our neighbors, and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord? Are we able to give thanks for those who oppose us? The Bible tells us that we should give thanks for all men (1 Tim. 2:1).
This is a tough one for our age. As one comic has pointed out, we always need more money, so that we can buy more stuff. What do we do with stuff? We stuff it somewhere of course, and then we need more money to buy more stuff. Finally, we need a bigger house and a storeroom for all the stuff that we have stuffed. Then the vicious cycle goes on and on, with more stuff and a bigger place to stuff it. It is hardly a recipe for contentment.
Occasionally, all of us need to make a visit to the city dump. There we will be much enlightened as we see all these things that people have collected simply being discarded. It is sad to think that people have lost their families and even their own lives over such things. They have worked themselves almost to death; they have lied, cheated, and stolen for the stuff, and then they carelessly throw it all away.
While the world is running after these junk gods, we need to be running after the true God. And we need to learn about contentment. Even though the subject may sound strange to our modern ears, the Bible has much to say about it.
The Apostle Paul tells us in one of his great passages dealing with money (1 Tim. 6:3 – 6:10), that we should avoid the hurtful lust for money. We can take nothing out of the world with us. If we have food and clothing, he tells that we should be content. Someone has remarked that, not only can we not take it with us – we can’t even seem to keep it while we are here! We can however send it on ahead, as we use our worldly possessions to bring forth good deeds to God. In 1 Timothy 6:6, the Apostle says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
In Hebrews 13:5, we are given one of the great promises that can help us to have the right attitude toward worldly possessions. The writer says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” With such a promise we should learn to be content in whatever state or condition we find ourselves, just as the Apostle Paul was content
Humility is another one of those virtues that seems to be vanishing in our day. Humility includes lowliness, meekness, and such related things. It is a subject that almost seems foreign to much modern church thinking. Today the emphasis seems to be upon power, control, success, greatness, etc. There is little room in this kind of teaching for humility.
Can we think of one famous religious leader today who is especially known for his humility? The Bible says that by such fruit we should be able to recognize God’s men (Mt. 7:16). I wonder how many preachers in our time would consent to ride into Jerusalem on a little donkey? Jesus did, and the prophet Zechariah tells us that it was his special quality of humility that enabled him to do so (Zech. 9:9).
So many people seem to be fighting and elbowing one another in order to boost their own egos, promote themselves, and worm their way in to this or that position. We feel that somehow we have to toot our own horns if we are to be heard. Hence we have a great deal of strife and division in the church.
We need to be able to gird ourselves and do the lowly job of foot washing occasionally. Jesus did that too. When we get into that position it will help us see ourselves in proper perspective. We should also be quick to take the lowest seat at the feast (Lk. 14:7-11). In fact, if there is a struggle among Christians, that struggle should be over who will occupy the lowest and least important seat. If we need to go higher God will seek us out and see to it that we get there. Remember, God sought out David and made him king of Israel. He also sought out Moses and elevated him to lead his people out of Egypt. In Moses’ case, the Bible clearly tells us why God sought him out. He was the meekest of
all men (Num. 12:3).
In Psalm 9:4, we are assured that God will maintain our right and our cause. We don’t have to concern ourselves with our rights anymore. Then there is that wonderful passage in 1 Peter 5:5-7 where we are told: “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. “
Faith enables us to submit ourselves to God, allowing him to exalt us if he so desires, and to do it in his own time frame. When we are able to trust God with our position in life we will rid ourselves of much anxiety. We will also have the time and energy left to prefer our brothers and sisters (Rom. 12:10), and to push them into the limelight instead of ourselves.
Well, there are a lot more vanishing virtues, but alas, our space is also vanishing. There are things like temperance, patience, honor, reverence, integrity, godliness, holiness, sincerity, perseverance, love, etc. These all seem to be a little scarce in our time. Peter lists many of these for us as he outlines the path to spiritual progress in 2 Peter 1:3-9. We can see by what he shares that it is critical for us to obtain and to hold on to these virtues. Peter tells us that when we let them slip, we become nearsighted and blind, and lose the sure footing for our own election.
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem.