Battling A Sense of Entitlement

We live at a time which is sometimes called the age of entitlement.  In other words it is a time when people feel that they are entitled to (or are owed) various benefits.  Many expect the government to give us handouts for education, job training, healthcare, retirement, and much more.  

  • Teens Feel entitled to a new car when they turn 16
  • People entering the workforce feel entitled to start at the top
  • Workers who just don’t like their jobs feel entitled to unemployment when they quit and feel they should be given handouts until they find something that “suits” them.
  • Millionaires and celebrities feel entitled to special treatment from businesses and from the legal system
  • Consumers feel entitled to sue any time a product or service doesn’t work the way they thought it should work.
  • Other countries seem to feel entitled to large aid packages from the United States.

In truth, even the persistent disregard for the Word of God is due largely to this sense of entitlement.  People feel entitled to interpret the Bible however we want to interpret it.  They believe they are entitled to fashion their own belief system (translate that “gods”).

We’ll see this morning that this sense of entitlement is not something new.  As we read through Joshua 17 we recognize that sense of entitlement in the time of Joshua. The context of the passage is the time of the disbursement of the land to the various tribes of Israel.  The major strongholds had been demolished and now the land was divided and the people were to finish taking the land and then to settle in that land.  The land was distributed by lot (like drawing names from a hat).  The leaders believed that God determined who received what parcel of land.  In Joshua 17 we learn that the tribe of Manasseh felt they were entitled to more land than they were originally given.

A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT IS COMMONPLACE

In verse 14 the people of Joseph said, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.”  In verse 16 they added, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”

The people of Manasseh joined with some of the tribe of Ephraim (both were sons of Joseph) and complain to Joshua.  Most likely Ephraim was enlisted to help because Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim.  They thought it would give them more leverage. The arguments for more land were: 1) They were a numerous people;  2) They were abundantly blessed (in other words God thought they were special); 3) the people who live in the valley are too strong.

On the surface it sounds like a reasonable request.  However, the truth is that the tribe of Manasseh was really the sixth largest tribe (of 12).  If you look at a map of the twelve tribes you see that they were given a very large lot of land (it would have been more understandable if others had been the ones complaining).  In addition, half of the tribe of Manasseh was given a generous portion of land (per their request) on the eastern side of the Jordan River.  They had actually been very blessed yet they felt entitled to more!

Recently on the program Judge Judy (I don’t watch the show, I read about it).  A mother was petitioning to get $4000.00 from her son.  He had borrowed the money (which mom put on her credit card) to buy a car.  This was the third loan given to the young man.  The other two, taken from mom’s life savings, had been forgiven.  This one resulted in the credit card company pursuing mom for the money.  The son’s response: “I shouldn’t have to pay her back because the last car she bought me was no good!”  Entitlement.

The Christian community is not immune from this kind of thing. There are large segments of Christian teaching that tell us that God wants us to be rich, healthy, and successful (according to the world’s standards).  As a result, we have Christians who believe they are entitled to a new car, a big home, and all the other things that the world calls success.  We are told that we should “step out in faith” and expect God to provide.  We are even told to “expect a miracle” (which leads inevitably to the idea of demanding a miracle).  There is indeed a sense of spiritual entitlement.

Certainly, God does bless His people.   He has even blessed many through the years with prosperity and power.  God does do miracles.  However, there are people all around the world who are more faithful than we are and yet materially they have very little.   There are people who endure great physical trials yet possess a faith that is deeper than we are able to understand. These people do not feel entitled to worldly blessings . . . they have discovered the blessing of intimacy with God which is better than anything the world can give us.

Somehow we seem to have come to believe that we deserve God’s blessing or that He owes us something. If God doesn’t deliver we seem to feel that He has let us down.

How foolish!  The Bible gives us a different picture of our situation.  We are told that we are people who have fallen far short of God’s standard of perfection.  The doctrine of the sinfulness of man is one doctrine that we can verify simply by looking around us. God has given us a gift we do not deserve.  He has extended a forgiveness we did not earn.  God does not owe us . . . we owe Him!

This notion of demanding God’s blessing is contrary to the teaching of Jesus

  • At the Passover meal Jesus took the role of the servant and washed the feet of His disciples, even though protocol said they should wash his feet.  He told his followers that they should follow His example of humility and service.
  • Jesus told a parable in Luke 14:7-11 that said that when you go to a feast you should choose the lowest seat rather than clamoring for the most important seat.  Jesus warns that those who seek the more significant positions may be embarrassed when someone more important comes along. Jesus’ principle “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:11]
  • In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus said to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  • Paul said, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:5-8]

Jesus did not call us to demand our rights; in fact He seemed to teach that we should be willing to surrender our rights for the sake of the gospel.  Jesus didn’t teach us to gather stuff, He told us to give it away to help others.  He did not teach us to demand from others, He taught us to give of ourselves to others.  He taught us that joy does not come from material things.  True joy comes from resting in Him.

A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT CAUSES US TO BE LAZY

We are told,

the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. 13However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely. (17:12-13)

Manasseh had been given a job to do.  Instead of driving the Canaanites out of the area they made them their servants.  They did not do what they were told and they wanted Joshua (or God) to compensate them for what they failed to do.  It is like giving somebody money for not working (when they could work); or giving someone a good grade even though they didn’t meet the requirements.  When that happens, the people don’t work harder; they do even less!

In our spiritual lives, a sense of entitlement leads us to be lazy in our faith.  We want a relationship with God that doesn’t require any work. We build churches and wait for people to come to us.  Pastor’s will purchase pre-packaged preaching programs or take sermons off the Internet.  We get our devotions e-mailed to us (so we don’t even have to open the Bible).  Our prayers our sentence requests as we rush here and there. We want intimacy with God without having to put out any effort.

We must never think that we can receive God’s blessings if we ignore the means by which God has ordained for us to obtain those blessings.  In Joshua’s day the people wanted God’s blessing without doing what God commanded.  They wanted his blessing without any sense of obligation.  True discipleship however, involves a real change.  Paul warned Timothy,

There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. [2 Timothy 3:1-5 italics added]

These are convicting words.  Paul seems to be describing our society.  His analysis is that we have “a form of godliness but denying its power.”  These are believers in name only.  They play the part; wear the badge; but the transforming power of God is missing.

In the conquest of the Promised Land, God conquered the Canaanites.  He destroyed their strongholds and then he told the people that He would help them finish the work.  Our salvation is much the same way, God gives us His grace freely due to nothing that we have done.  We are made children of God by God’s activity not our own.  Now He calls us to grow in grace and to become holy as we “work out our salvation”.  The Bible calls us to be diligent!

CATERING TO THE ENTITLED DOESN’T HELP ANYONE

Notice how Joshua responded to the request from Manasseh and Ephraim.  First, to the claim that they were numerous and especially significant and therefore needed more space, Joshua responded,

15 “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”

In other words, “if you are so special, go clear the land that is available to you!”

Second, to the claim that the hills were not enough and the valley was filled with Canaanites who were strong, Joshua said,

17 But Joshua said to the house of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment 18 but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”

Joshua said to these people, “Look, you only get one allotment but there is all kinds of room for you to expand.  And as for the Canaanites, since you are so strong, go and defeat them!”  Joshua understood that catering to indulgent people does not help them in the slightest.  It only serves to make them even lazier.  The best way to handle a person who suffers from a sense of entitlement is to make them work for what they want!

When we require responsibility, we are helping people stand on their own feet.  We are helping them to be free and responsible adults.  This is actually a greater act of love that giving people what they want.

Why not require your children to do something to earn their allowance? Why not make them buy their own toys?  Why not have them pay the difference between the adequate jeans and the designer jeans they “have to have”?  Why not ask the person getting public funds to do something before they receive it? Where did we get this notion that loving means giving someone everything they want?  Is this really love, or is it just easier than helping someone learn to live responsibly?

In much the same way, dumbing down the truth of the gospel doesn’t help anyone.  Lowering God’s standards of holiness is not helpful.  Redefining or excusing sin may make people like you more, but it is not a loving act. Such actions actually hinder a person’s intimacy with God.  It makes them think they are close to God when they are actually moving in the other direction!  God’s standards are not ours to negotiate.  We don’t help anyone when we water down God’s truth.

COMBATING THE SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT

So how do we combat this rampant mentality in our society?  Here are some simple principles.

We must understand that some people do need help.  Yes there are many lazy people in the world.  There will always be people who feel the world owes them something.  However, there are times when people need real help and they cannot do for themselves.  Our job is to help these people in any way that we can.

We must face the facts.  Life as we know it is not fair.  Some people seem to have it easier than others . . . and I don’t know why.  God does not treat everyone the same.  He raises some up and not others.  Why? I don’t know.  Dare I say it?  You are not entitled to what everyone else has!  God does not owe you anything!  On the contrary, we owe Him everything.  We must stop playing the part of a victim!

We must change our work ethic.  People used to talk about the Protestant work ethic.  It was an attitude that believed that God has placed us where we are in the world so that we can honor and glorify Him.  No matter what the job, we work at it with all our heart as to the Lord.   Work is not a necessary evil, it is our mission field.

We must adjust our focus.  Have you ever taken a picture at a baseball game and ended up with a great picture of the fence in focus but the ballplayer (which is what you were shooting) ends up a little blurred.  It’s because the camera focused on the wrong spot. We can do the same thing

  • We should focus on being like Jesus rather than the “successful people” of our world.  He is our goal not the man in the smile and $1000.00 suit.
  • We should focus on what we can do for others instead of what others can do for us.
  • We should focus on helping people to manage on their own rather than simply throwing money at them.
  • We should measure ourselves by the Word of God rather than measuring the Word of God by our thoughts and desires.

We Must Trust God’s providence.  Manasseh was unwilling to rest in what God had given.  If we want to avoid the entitlement trap we should trust God’s providence in our lives.  We should be grateful for what we have and trust that God knows what we need and when we need it.

Conclusion

We will all tend to hear these concerns and immediately think about all the people we wish had been here to hear this message.  However, we are the ones who need to take this message to heart.  Our challenge is to stop living our lives feeling that somehow we have been cheated or deprived.  Like Manasseh, we need to realize the blessing we have received and live instead with gratitude and contentment.  So, to that end, here are some suggestions:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Start each day thanking God for all that He has given you: a new day of life; His mercy and grace; your family; your health; His promises in the Word of God; a purpose in living.  Be specific.  Look for opportunities to thank people for their work and the blessing they have given you.
  2. Make a conscious effort to look for ways that you can give to others rather than focusing on what you think you deserve from others.
  3. Count the number of “whiners” you encounter in a day.  Notice the sense of entitlement they have and determine to be different.
  4. Work at growing your relationship with God.  Practice spiritual discipline.  Make time to read the Word.  Work at prayer.  Be good stewards of what you have.  Read a challenging Christian book . . . stop demanding to be spoon fed.
  5. Hold yourself accountable.  When you hear yourself say or think about what you “deserve”, stop and ask yourself why you think you “deserve” these things.
  6. Work to build responsibility into your children.  Help them to understand that the world does not revolve around them now so that they will not be shocked when it doesn’t revolve around them later.
  7. Diligently pursue contentment.  Learn to gladly receive what God has given to you.  Enjoy life as it is rather than longing for a day when things will be better.

We may never change that attitude of entitlement that people seem to have but we can change our attitude.  We can choose to focus on what we have been given by a gracious God.  We can diligently pursue humility, holiness and service.  We can learn to be content and we can learn to be thankful. We can learn to be givers rather than takers.  And if we do this, our relationship with God . . . and with others, will be enriched.