We’ve all met people who seem to have a bad attitude. No matter what is going on around them, they always find something to complain about or criticize. Unfortunately, some of the people described in the Bible had attitudes that left a lot to be desired as well. As Christians, we know we should strive to develop Christ-like attitudes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). However, we also need to be aware of attitudes that do not please God so that we can avoid them. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the Bible characters who displayed less-than-ideal attitudes – and what we can learn from them.
Attitudes are so important when it comes to our walk with God. A bad attitude can hinder our relationship with Him and turn people away from the gospel message. On the other hand, maintaining a positive, Christ-like attitude allows God’s light to shine through us and makes our witness effective. As we explore some of the unhealthy mindsets and behaviors demonstrated by certain biblical figures, keep in mind that we should view them as cautionary tales. Their examples serve as warnings for us to avoid similar pitfalls in our own lives.
- Attitudes directly impact our relationship with God and our witness to others.
- We must avoid developing bad attitudes seen in some biblical figures.
- Their examples can serve as cautions for us.
One of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament who demonstrated negative attitudes is King Saul. Though he started out humbly, he eventually became jealous, paranoid and contemptuous towards others. Saul’s attitude problems began early in his reign. After leading Israel to victory against the Ammonites, some people began praising David more than Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-9). This made Saul extremely angry and jealous. Rather than being thankful for David’s skills and trusting in God who had permitted David’s success, Saul stewed in envy and distrust.
From that point forward, Saul’s attitude spiraled downward. He threw spears at David in rage and placed him in dangerous battle positions, hoping he would be killed (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 17-19). Saul even turned on his own son Jonathan, because of Jonathan’s friendship with David (1 Samuel 20:30-34). Saul’s jealousy and paranoia toward David became an obsession that led him into deeper sin and disobedience.
What can we learn from Saul? Jealousy and envy only hurt ourselves and damage our relationships. When others succeed, we should rejoice rather than compete. We must release our tendency toward jealousy and thank God for blessing others.
The prophet Jonah also displayed a very bad attitude in the book of Jonah. When God called him to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, Jonah immediately became bitter and judgmental. He disagreed with God’s command and decided to run away instead of obeying (Jonah 1:1-3).
Even when God showed Jonah mercy by saving him from death inside the great fish, Jonah remained angry and resentful (Jonah 2). When he finally did preach in Nineveh and saw the people repent, Jonah’s bad attitude continued. Instead of rejoicing over their salvation, he became angry that God spared them (Jonah 3:10-4:1). Jonah sulked outside the city and essentially told God he’d rather die than live in a world where these enemies of Israel had been forgiven (Jonah 4:1-4).
Clearly, Jonah had deep issues with bitterness, judgment and hatred in his heart. He valued his personal sense of justice over the mercy God wanted to give the Ninevites. From Jonah, we learn that harboring resentment and desiring judgment on others will only lead us into misery. We must surrender our grudges and desire for vengeance to God.
In the New Testament, Martha also demonstrated some attitude problems when her sister Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet rather than help prepare dinner. Luke 10:38-42 describes this scene – Martha was “distracted with much serving” (v.40) and grew angry with Mary for not helping. She even complained to Jesus and demanded that He make Mary assist her.
Martha’s attitude here showed anxiety, anger, jealousy and an overly strong sense of justice. She lost her peace and joy in serving because she grew bitter over having to work alone. Martha expected Jesus to take her side and scold Mary. However, He gently reminded Martha that she was worried and upset about trivial things, while Mary had chosen rightly by sitting at His feet.
From Martha, we learn the danger of becoming “busybodies” obsessed with work to the point we lose sight of what’s most important. We can fall into whining and complaining rather than serving joyfully. When someone else doesn’t meet our expectations, we may resent them and try to force justice. Jesus reminds us that our main goal should be spending time in His presence, rather than demanding fairness or striving for perfection.
James and John
The disciples James and John, whom Jesus nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), also demonstrated some bad attitudes at times. In Mark 10:35-45, they approached Jesus with a bold demand – they wanted the honor of sitting at His right and left hands in glory. James and John were acting from ambition, entitlement and a desire for status. Their attitude was one of arrogance. They expected preferential treatment from Jesus because they felt they deserved it.
Unsurprisingly, this rubbed the other disciples the wrong way. It dug up feelings of resentment, competitiveness and anger in the group (v. 41). Jesus addressed the underlying bad attitude by reminding James, John and the others that His kingdom does not operate by worldly principles of status. Rather than lording authority over others, they needed the attitude of a servant.
This example reminds us to avoid self-promotion and pride. As disciples of Jesus, we should not think we “deserve” honor or status. We must remember that the first will be last, and adopt humility and service toward others.
Peter is another disciple who often demonstrated a rash attitude. In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter took Jesus aside and actually rebuked Him for saying He would suffer and die. He was letting his own selfish desires dictate his attitude. Peter did not want to accept that the Messiah would have to die. So he allowed his personal feelings to lead him into arrogantly telling Jesus He was wrong!
Jesus in turn rebuked Peter strongly, saying “Get behind Me, Satan!” (v.23). Peter’s attitude was aligning with Satan’s purposes rather than God’s. Other examples of Peter’s rash attitude include striking the high priest’s servant (John 18:10-11), refusing to eat with Gentiles once Jewish Christians arrived (Galatians 2:11-16), and promising complete loyalty to Jesus even if everyone else deserted Him (Luke 22:31-34). In each case, Peter acted or spoke brashly without thinking things through humbly.
Peter reminds us of the dangers of letting our emotions control our attitudes and words. We may speak or act impulsively based on anger, disappointment or even good intentions without fully considering God’s will first. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to filter our attitudes and align our actions with truth rather than selfish impulses.
Israelites in the Wilderness
One final example of bad attitudes comes from the Israelites during the Exodus. Though God miraculously delivered them from Egypt, they responded with frequent complaining, ingratitude and rebellion (Exodus 15-17; Numbers 11-14). Their attitudes indicated a lack of trust in God and refusal to submit to His plan.
For instance, when they grew thirsty in the desert, the Israelites immediately accused Moses of bringing them there to die and even considered stoning him (Exodus 17:2-4). When food was scarce, they complained that they’d been better off in Egypt and longed to return there (Numbers 11:4-6). Even after God brought them into the Promised Land, the people still had rebellious attitudes (Numbers 14).
The Israelites’ example serves as a warning about ingratitude, entitled attitudes and refusing to trust God through difficulties. Their bad attitudes kept an entire generation from entering the Promised Land. We must guard our hearts against distrust and complaints when circumstances challenge us. God is always faithful and will care for us, if we submit to His plan.
The attitudes and mindsets people carry make a huge impact on their lives and relationships. Certain figures in the Bible demonstrate clearly negative attitudes that harmed their walk with God and led them into sin. We can learn from their bad examples and seek to avoid similar pitfalls.
Remember to beware attitudes like jealousy, entitlement, resentment, ingratitude, rebellion, and righteousness without mercy. Rather than living by worldly standards, we must take on the humble attitude of servants. Our lives should be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
As we grow in Christ-like attitudes, our lives will draw people toward the gospel. Our attitudes always reflect who has captured our hearts – ourselves, or our Savior. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus daily, allowing His Spirit to shape our minds and transform our actions.