When one thinks of the more egregious sins in our world today, we tend to think of sins like murder, assault, sexual sins, idolatry, and the like. Very few, I think, would place the sin of ingratitude high on this list. The Apostle Paul, however, does not share our tendency to regard thanklessness as only mildly objectionable: Not only does it appear in several of Paul’s sin lists (Rom 1; 2 Tim 3), it is the chronologically first sin listed in Romans 1:21.
We should not be surprised by this. If the greatest commandment is to love God supremely (and it is—Matt 22:37–38), then the greatest sin is loving supremely gods of our own choosing (so Rom 1:21–32). But Paul realizes that before a man can construct alternative gods, he must first deconstruct the God that is unavoidably plain to him (vv. 18–20)—the God who is there. And so standing at the head of Paul’s sad appraisal of fallen humanity is the sin of ingratitude: “They did not give thanks to him.” The first step of mankind in crossing his Rubicon into war with God, then, is ingratitude. He does not acknowledge that God is that perfect and infinite Spirit in whom all things have their source, support and end; the God that gives to all men life and breath and everything. And so ingratitude takes its ignoble place in Scripture as the dark vestibule into idolatry and all that is evil. How awful it is to linger in that vestibule!
In God’s common grace we Americans observe this month the holiday of Thanksgiving. Sadly, a great many will express no gratitude at all. Fewer will move beyond existential warmth about the idea of gratitude to actually thank the God of all grace. And fewer still will express thanks to God beyond a few words before a lavish meal—words spoken in much haste lest the gravy become gelatinous. Take advantage of this rare moment when the saeculum actually promotes the virtue of gratitude and thank God lavishly and publicly not just for the provision of family and food, but for the ocean of common grace in which we live and move and have our being, the special grace of redemption, and for the simple but most fundamental of all facts, viz., that God is.