A worship song I enjoy singing with my local church is the song 10,000 Reasons. The thesis of the song is that God has done so much for us that there is an inexhaustible list of reasons to bless and worship His. I subscribe wholesale to that notion, and so it is an understatement in mind to say Christians have a lot to be thankful for, and no Christian on the face of earth is exempt.
I preface this post that way as a means of saying this is not in exhaustive list of what to be thankful for. These three things are, however, things I see Scripture making a big deal about in terms of thankfulness, and so I want to make much of them on the holiday which promotes giving thanks. Here then are three things every Christian ought to be thankful for. As the old hymn proclaims, the Lord is the Fount of every blessing. May He come tune our hearts to sing His praise.
1) The Local Church
Taking the apostle Paul as an example, it is hard to find anything he was more thankful and grateful for than his churches. Paul simply loved the local bodies of Christ. To really drive the point home, let us take the church in Corinth as a case study.
The church in Corinth gave Paul plenty of reasons to pull his hair out; this was a very unlovable church. When reading through Paul’s first letter to this church, Paul had much to rebuke and correct, issues pertaining to both practice and doctrine.
He had to rebuke them for their divisions and disunity among one another (1:10-17). Paul told them they were worldly, jealous, divisive, and immature Christians (3:1-3). Paul subtly implied they were ignorant and ungrateful (4:6-7). They refused to follow Jesus’ instructions about church discipline, and had to be confronted for allowing an unrepentant sinner to remain in good standing in the church, and associating with the sexual immoral, which Paul already told them once not to do (5:1-13). Apparently, they were suing one another and taking each other to court (6: 1-8). Theologically, they were way off on sexuality and marriage (7:1-24). They were causing one another to stumble over issues of conscience (8:1-13). Possibly their most embarrassing issue was in regard to the Lord’s Supper. They abused communion so badly, the rich getting drunk and not allowing the poor who came in late to participate (11: 17-29). They were so much dishonoring the table and each other, God was literally heaping judgment on them by killing them (11:30-33). They were abusing and mishandling the spiritual gifts, causing their church to be one of chaos and disorder (14:26-33). They were allowing women to take up roles God reserves for men (14:33-35). Another doozy of a blunder was that some of them were entertaining the idea denying physical resurrection (15:12-19). You heard that right, one of the most basic doctrines of the faith, that Christ Jesus rose from the dead, and will resurrect the saints physical, the Corinthians church was questioning.
That is quite the laundry list of immaturity, sins, and theological shipwreck. Paul’s Corinthian church was sloppy and immature. Surely, one would be hard-pressed to find reason to be thankful for this one, right? Notice how Paul begins this letter,
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord ” (1:4-9).
Paul was thankful to God for them. Paul loved them. That is the lesson here.
No local church is perfect, but every local church in Christ Paul loved, and we must too. I exhort you this Thanksgiving: drop the criticisms. Look past the frustrations. Stop focusing on the things you’re not happy with in your local church, and find those things (which are absolutely there) and give thanks to God for your church. They are bought by the blood of Christ. They are edifying you, loving you, teaching you, and sanctifying you. Even a church like the church in Corinth was a church to be thankful to, because it was filled with Christians.
In fact, nearly all of Paul’s corporate letters begin with his thankfulness and love for that church. The one exception being the Galatian church, and in that letter we read that they lost the Gospel.
If your church denies the Gospel, it is not a Christian church. You must leave. But, if you are in a Christian church which believes the Gospel, that means you have a church filled with the Spirit, and filled with good, kind, Christian people, whom Jesus loves and died for. Your church loves you and loves God. So, be thankful for your church.
2. Every Circumstance
This is one which I should allow Scripture to do most of the talking. It can be easy for me, in my comfortable, American home, surrounded by food, family, and friendship, to tell others to be thankful for whatever are their circumstances. Who I am I to tell the poor, persecuted, or downtrodden, that their current circumstances should swell up within them a heart of thankfulness? Well, I have no authority in and of myself to do such a thing, but I know someone who does. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18,
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Paul tells us that all our present circumstances call for thanks-giving. Perhaps it has something to do with that whole “for those who love God all things work together for good” thing.
3) God Himself
This one was likely met with an aggressive eye roll, or a giant “duh” from my humble reader, but hear me out. Certainly, for the Christian, this one seems a bit obvious. One would only need to survey the book of Psalms to find a legion of verses giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done. However, allow me to try and put a new spin on this one.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
In Paul’s epic profile of the unbelieving condition, he describes mankind as knowing God exists, and knowing He is worthy of our devotion and affection, but rejecting that, and instead choosing to suppress that knowledge and worship false gods.
In this, Paul describes the condition of the rebel as not honoring God, nor giving thanks to Him. Of all the things Paul could have said (love, obey, enjoy, etc.) he chose to insert thanklessness. Thanklessness is the condition of heathen hearts, not regenerate hearts. To not give thanks to God for who He is and what He does is the manifestation of idolatry.
For one, we ought to be thankful simply for who God is. One of the common praises of the Psalmists is to praise God for His love.
Psalm 138:1-6, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”
The outflow of God’s character His is goodness and kindness to us. He has been gracious to His people in ways that can only be responded to with thanksgiving.
At the very top of the list is our salvation. If God has saved your soul for eternity, what temporally ought to steal your thankfulness?
In fact, Paul expressly states that God saves in order to increase thankfulness.
2 Corinthians 4:15, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
Our salvation naturally leads us to glorify God through our thankfulness. Paul says elsewhere that our ever-growing faith in Christ, the faith which God bestows, ought to also produce thankfulness within us.
Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
God saves us, and sanctifies us, rooted in Christ. This is why we are a thankful people. Our salvation, the person and work of Christ, and the peace with God which He provides, is why Paul continues in this letter with this theme of thankfulness, declaring that one of the primary reasons we sing songs in church is to express thankfulness.
Colossians 3:15-17, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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.”
Clearly, Christian people are called to thankfulness. God has saved us, God has rooted us in Christ, God has given us His Son. No gift can even be imagined which is worth more.
Notice the primary place Christ has in thankfulness. In Colossians, genuine thankfulness is always attached with a person’s relationship to Christ. Only when rooted in Christ may we abound in thankfulness that pleases the Lord, only when the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, and when the Word of Christ dwells within us, can we sing songs and be thankful.
The only kind of thankfulness that pleases God is the kind that is mediated through Christ.
As a Christian, and a as creature, you have much to be thankful for this year. Enjoy this day. May you be filled with the peace and love that are found only in Christ Jesus the Lord, and may you never cease to give the Lord thanks for all He is and all He does. May all our hearts be consumed with gratitude, for all good things come from our Father above (James 1:17).
The Unthankful God
One of the most interesting things about thankfulness is that this is an emotion and behavior unique to creatures. We experience it, but God never does. We serve a God who is never thankful.
However, this is not to say we worship a God who is bitter and selfish. Rather, we serve a God who is entirely independent, and that is a good thing. The very nature of thankfulness presupposes a state of dependency. To be thankful is to admit some level of need.
When my car breaks down, and someone fixes it for free, I am thankful. I am thankful because I needed my car fixed, and was dependent upon someone else to do it for me.
Even the within things we do for ourselves, we are still forced into a position of thankfulness, because our abilities are not our own. We are thankful for our jobs and paychecks. Although we worked hard for them, our abilities, skills, and talents were things we were dependent on God for. Thankfulness always presupposes some level of need and dependency. And God needs and is dependent upon nothing.
God does not need our worship, and He is not dependent on His subjects to fulfill, assist, or complete Him or His decrees in anyway. Therefore, He never has to be thankful to or for us. He is far too powerful to be thankful.