Thankfulness

The fact that kids are often no longer taught to say something as simple as "thank you" is the least of our worries. That's just a matter of good manners, and while it might be indicative of a deeper problem, by itself it has little eternal significance. What's far more disconcerting is the general lack of thankfulness toward God.

If such negligence were prevalent only among outright pagans there'd be no surprise. Who do unbelievers have to thank for anything? Sure, there are false gods to thank, but they don't receive the thanksgiving; there are other humans to thank for material or emotional gifts, but there's nothing ultimate about such gratitude; some people thank themselves, but that's an inherently fruitless and futile exercise.

True thanksgiving can only be delivered to God, the maker and sustainer of all things. Tragically, this kind of thanksgiving is often missing in the Church as well. Worse, Christians are often guilty of thanking God for material blessings (meals, a car, etc.), but neglect to thank Him for the spiritual blessings and salvation He's secured for us through His son, Jesus Christ.

This was the thanksgiving always uppermost in the apostle Paul's mind: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:16-17).

Obviously, this doesn't preclude thanking God for more temporal blessings. Paul says elsewhere that he rejoices in whatever circumstances the Lord places him, whether in wealth or poverty (Philippians 4:10-13). But at the heart of such thanksgiving is the deeper gratitude felt by people whose sins have been forgiven and whose destiny is eternal life with God.

In 1 Corinthians 10:33-43, Paul elaborates. At the end of a discussion about Christian liberty and the duty of the mature to the immature, he concludes with, "If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved" (verses 30-33).

Even the most basic aspects of human existence, then, present opportunities for thankfulness, faithfulness, and evangelism, and there seems to be a connection between partaking in thankfulness and bringing glory to God. If we really believe God is the most important thing, then the most mundane and the most spiritual actions alike are opportunities for glorifying Him through our thanksgiving.

It's easy to assume that ingratitude or unthankfulness are the opposites of thankfulness, but the Bible seems more often to suggest that it is bitterness and anger which are the real enemies of thankful living. At the root of both bitterness and anger is a sense of entitlement and self-importance that precludes any ability or desire to offer thanks to God. Instead, the bitter person dwells on what they don't have or what has been taken away, refusing to see the manifold blessings of Christ.

While the word "thankfulness" doesn't appear in Ephesians 4:31-32, it's implicit. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." It is our thanksgiving to God for His forgiveness that leads us to forsake bitterness.

Because we're all fallen and sinful, our first thought is for ourselves; we want things to go our way, and when they don't we get angry and complain. Christ was the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), yet He lived a life of total thanks to God the Father for all things. In His institution of the Lord's Supper, the central sacrament of the Christian faith, He did so in an attitude of thankfulness (Mark 14:22-25).

If Jesus, who was tortured and killed on our behalf, and Paul, who was endlessly persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, were constantly in an attitude of thanksgiving toward God, how much more should we be, who have experienced both the spiritual blessing of salvation and the immense material blessing of our time and place?

While there are many reasons we fail to thank God properly, to live in a state of thanksgiving toward Him, probably the biggest in this era is the collective rejection of the doctrine of God's sovereignty. It was because Job knew Yahweh was all-powerful and in complete control of history that he was able to say, "'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave; and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'" (Job 1:21).

God is omnipotent, and He makes the rain fall on the righteous and the wicked (Matthew 5:45), and for this, too, we must give thanks. Bad things don't happen because God's plan gets tripped up; they're part of His plan, designed to sanctify us and to bring us into greater obedience and faith. James 1:2 makes this plain: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

Whatever our circumstances in this life, we have all cause to thank God. Having been condemned to death for our sin against God, we have been saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who died and resurrected on our behalf, defeating sin and death in His own body. If this doesn't reduce us to absolute contrite thanksgiving, something is wrong in our hearts, something only God's grace can replace, and for which we must all humbly ask Him.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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