“Giving Thanks to God”Ephesians 5:18-20
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, November 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P.G. Mathew
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How many people who receive blessings from God give him thanks? If we consider the story of ten lepers healed by Jesus Christ, we could say ten percent. I hope that we belong to that ten percent of those who thank God for all the mercies he has showered upon us throughout our lives.
Thanksgiving in the Greek is called eucharistia. The heart of that word is charis, which means grace. So the heart of eucharist is grace, and the heart of grace,charis, is the word, chairô, which means “to rejoice.” Thanksgiving, then, means to rejoice in God’s presence for blessings freely received from him. It is joy expressed in word and deed toward God for his grace.
In King Lear, Shakespeare says, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Worse, I would say, is the ingratitude of born-again children of God. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:7 to abound in thanksgiving, and the psalmist exhorts us to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100).
The Nature of a Thankful Heart
Thanksgiving to God flows out in abundance only from the heart of a Spirit-filled believer. No unbeliever will thank God; rather, it is his nature to credit everything to himself. Paul speaks about such people in Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.”
Christians are commanded in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. If a Christian is not in a state of being filled with the Holy Spirit, he will surely fail to be grateful to God. God’s mercies are new every morning; thus, we are to be always thankful.
If we are not giving God thanks always, we must conclude either that we are backslidden or not true Christians. Consider the story of Israel. God delivered them from Egyptian bondage, yet we are told that they were filled with a grumbling spirit. Ten times they murmured against their Redeemer, and we are warned not to repeat their ungrateful practices. Thanksgiving to God proves that you are an authentic Christian, filled with the Holy Ghost.
The Nature of Our Thanksgiving
What, then, is this thanksgiving which we are to render continually? It is grateful acknowledgment of benefits received. We are to acknowledge and thank God, primarily, but we should also thank other human beings, because God generally uses secondary agents to bring blessings to us. So Paul writes in Romans 16:3-4: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.”
But we are especially to render thanks to God, from whom all blessings flow. All that we are and all that we have comes from him; by ourselves we are nothing and have nothing. The eighth chapter of Deuteronomy expresses this idea. Additionally, all blessings we receive from God are undeserved. As sinners, we deserved only judgment and instant destruction for our infinite sins. But God has given us all spiritual blessings in Christ: “Of his fullness we receive grace upon grace.”
God’s blessings to us are innumerable. Daily, moment by moment, we receive physical and spiritual blessings. The hymnwriter tells us, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what God has done.”
Therefore, we owe to God this expression of gratefulness called thanksgiving. Modern people are exceedingly rights-oriented. They demand that parents take care of them, that the government take care of them, and that everyone else take care of them. I hope we will keep in mind that we owe everything to our God, from whom all blessings flow, and we are to express our thanks to him both in word and deed.
Give Thanks Always
A Spirit-filled believer will give thanks to God always. Thanksgiving is like breathing-how could we survive if we only breathed just once in a while? So we must give thanks when things are going well, but we must also give thanks when we face trouble.
In 2 Chronicles 20 we find King Jeshoshaphat facing serious trouble: “Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea'” (v. 2). But in verse 12 Jehoshaphat prayed, “O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Now read verse 21: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'” As they went out to face this vast army, they gave thanks to God. Even so, we must give thanks to the Lord when we face trouble.
Consider the prophet Jonah. He was in the midst of a problem as he sat in the belly of a big fish. In Jonah 2:2 he says, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” And in verse 9 he declares: “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” Even when we are in the middle of great trouble, we must praise and thank God.
In Acts 16 we see Paul in deep trouble in Philippi. He was beaten and thrust into prison, and his feet were in stocks. Yet in verse 25 we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” This is what it means to give thanks to God always.
We must also give thanks to God afterwards, when the trouble is over. How many people are reluctant to do that! But consider Exodus 15; the whole chapter is filled with thanksgiving. As the Egyptian army pursued Israel, they were destroyed in the Red Sea, and the people were filled with thanksgiving: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea.'” (vv. 1-4). “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.'” (v. 20).
Give Thanks for All Things
We are to be thankful for all things-negative experiences as well as positive experiences, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, in prison and in freedom, when we are loved by people and when they hate us.
In Acts 5 we read that the apostles were flogged for their obedience to Jesus Christ’s command to preach the gospel. “[The Sanhedrin] called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (vv. 40-41).
Why should we give thanks to God always? Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” We are convinced that the Sovereign Lord of the universe causes all experiences for our good, especially the negative experiences of suffering.
The writer of Psalm 119 profited from his negative experiences: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (v. 67). I am sure this man did not want to be afflicted, but God does not check with us! He does what he pleases for our good. We read further: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (v. 71); “I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (v. 75).
Paul, who wrote this command to give thanks to God always, wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 about one of his negative experiences: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” We abhor the idea of torment, but here God uses torment for our good. Paul continues: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul was able to delight in his sufferings because he knew God would use them for his good.
In Romans 5:3-4 Paul gives us further theological reasons why we should rejoice especially when we are suffering: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” How foolish it is to avoid suffering! If only we could see that it produces perseverance, character, and hope of the glory of God. Thus, we should welcome and appreciate unpleasant experiences coming to us in God’s sovereign will. Hebrews 12:11 tells us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
A final reason to appreciate suffering is given in 2 Corinthians 1. The whole of 2 Corinthians speaks about negative experiences that Paul endured. In verse 8 of chapter 1 he begins, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” In verse 9 we find the theological reason: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
Suffering purifies our faith by testing it. Sufferings come to us so that we will learn to rely, not in this world, not in ourselves, not in our spouses, not in wealth, but in God alone.
Counting Our Blessings
Have you ever made a list of things for which to thank God? First, we should give thanks for this planet. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth-for us to live on! It is ideally located by God to sustain life.
Second, we should give thanks for this country. How often do we hear people complaining about it! My counsel to such people is, “Why don’t you emigrate?” We live in a free country, and the first freedom articulated in the First Amendment is the freedom to worship. Such freedom is very hard to find anywhere else in the world .
We should give thanks for our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Without them, we would not be born; without being born, we could not be re-born and have the everlasting joy of eternal life with God. Psalm 139:13 is an expression of such thankfulness: “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” We must thank our parents who were not so self-centered to dispose of us before we were born. Additionally, they loved and cared for us after we were born, every day of our lives, until we reached adulthood. Because of them, we were able to become children of God and heirs of heaven.
We should thank God for food and clothing, medicine, and housing. All our temporal needs are met by our God.
Above all, we must thank God for the incarnation of Jesus Christ-for his life, death, and resurrection. In 2 Corinthians 9:15 Paul states: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” That gift is Jesus Christ.
We must thank God for our election and predestination. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is going to happen, and it is happening, even now. We must thank God for general call of the gospel, as well as the effectual, interior call of the Holy Spirit that brings about our regeneration. We must thank God for the gift of repentance, for no one can repent of and forsake his sins unless God grants him this gift.
Additionally, we must thank God for the gift of faith, the ability to put our entire trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. We must thank God for justification. The Father has declared that we are justified on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. We must thank God for the forgiveness of all our sins.
We must thank God for adopting us as his sons in Jesus Christ, so that we can now say, “Our Father, who art in heaven. . . .” We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. We have a heavenly Father to whom we can come in Christ’s name, and he will answer our prayers. We thank God for the sanctification that cleanses us from our sins. We thank God for the glorification that awaits us at the resurrection of the dead. Finally, we will be like Jesus.
We have so much to thank God for! We must thank God for the Holy Spirit, who indwells us. The eternal Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, enlightens and empowers us continually. We need to be aware of this reality and thank God for it.
We must thank God for the Holy Scriptures. All man’s philosophy is darkness, but God has given us light in the Holy Scriptures that we may be guided by its truth. (PGM) That is why it is so important to feed on the word of God daily; otherwise, darkness will come in and we will begin to conform to this world. Students of the Scripture will not conform to this world.
We must thank God for any church that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and for the community of believers who love God and one another, who worship God in spirit and in truth. What a glorious institution is the church of God! To find a church that loves God and one another is like finding an oasis in the wilderness.
We must thank God for his institution of marriage, which is under threat now in our society. It is God’s institution of marriage that enables children to be born. We are born and born again to receive eternal life because of this institution. That is why we must thank God for our spouses and our children. Remember what Joshua said: “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Examples of Thankfulness
Jesus Christ is our perfect example of thankfulness. When he multiplied the loaves of bread, he first looked to heaven and thanked God for the bread (Luke 9:16). When he raised Lazarus from the dead he thanked God in advance for answered prayer (John 11:41). We notice also that at the Last Supper Jesus thanked God for the bread and wine (Luke 22:17,19), which represented his body that was about to die. It is an amazing thing that he would thank God for his own death in our behalf.
The apostle Paul constantly thanked God for many things. First, he gave thanks for the gospel proclamation (Romans 1:8). It is an amazing thing that the gospel can be proclaimed to the world, and through the gospel, salvation may come to people. We ought to be thankful for that. We must thank God when somebody receives the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:13) or when somebody shows growth in grace (2 Thessalonians 1:3). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul thanks God for election. We are the elect of God, and we must thank God that he chose us. It is an amazing thing that he would choose us for salvation, because we did not merit any such thing. Paul also thanks God for the generosity of people giving to God’s cause (2 Corinthians 9:11). He thanks God for converts to the gospel (1 Thessalonians 3:9), and he thanks God for spiritual gifts, saying, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18). We are to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, and thank God for them.
Our hearts should overflow with thankfulness as expressed by the psalmist:
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Give Thanks to Whom?
We are told in this passage specifically to whom we are to give thanks: to God the Father. God the Father is the source of all our blessings. It was his plan to create us. It was his plan to choose us in his Son. It was his plan to redeem us from all our sins. And he planned all this before the creation of the world. He gave us to his Son to be redeemed, and his Son agreed to redeem us by his incarnation and atoning death on the cross so that now we can call this God our Father. Ephesians 1:3-8 expresses this thankfulness:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Give Thanks in the Name of Christ
We are further told here we must thank God “in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” All blessings flow from God the Father to us only through the person of Jesus Christ. We are chosen in Christ. Spiritual blessings do not come to those who refuse to believe in the God-sent Savior. “Believe in Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” Outside of Christ there is no salvation. Life is in the Son and therefore life is for those who are united to the Son by faith. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Just as all spiritual blessings flow from God the Father to us through the Son, even so, our thanksgiving flows to the Father also through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only mediator between God and ourselves. We go to the Father, not in our own name and merit, but always in the name of Jesus Christ and on the basis of his merit.
Thanksgiving Is the Will of God
The idea that thanksgiving is the will of God is implicit in this text. But it is explicit in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.” Thanksgiving in all situations is a part of the revealed will of God for all believers.
Ephesians 5:17 exhorts believers to understand what the will of God is. And how do we understand it? By looking into the Book. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us it is God’s will that we should be sanctified, and that we should avoid sexual immorality. In the same way, it is the will of God that we give him thanks in all situations. When we do not practice thanksgiving, and when we take for granted the benefits received from God the Father, we are committing a sin.
- Only Christians give thanks. If you are not a Christian, you don’t give thanks at all.
- When we fail to give thanks, we sin against God’s revealed will concerning us. It is the will of God that we give thanks to God our Father through Jesus Christ.
- When we don’t give thanks to God, we credit ourselves for our blessings (Deuteronomy 8:17).
- When we don’t give thanks, we dishonor God. “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me” (Psalm 50:23).
- Prayers of unthankful believers are not heard by God. When our prayers are not answered it is because they are not offered with thanksgiving. We forget all the blessings, and we come demanding, as spoiled children do. Paul said in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” When we pray that way, he hears our prayers.
- Thanksgiving is the antidote to evil. Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” The antidote to all six vices given here is thanksgiving to God. You begin to wonder why people of God are sinning. Well, one reason is, they will not give thanks to God.
- Thanksgiving is a sure guide to godly living. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Ask yourself the question: Can I thank God for this thought, for this word, for this deed? Can I thank God for pornography? Can I thank God for divorcing my wife? Can I thank God for not going to church? Can I thank God for not praying? That is a very clear, simple test. If the answer is yes, then I am free to speak and to do; if no, then I am not permitted to speak or do, for such words or deeds do not bring glory to God.
The Results of Thanksgiving
Let me tell you, finally, what thanksgiving will do to us. First, when we begin to give thanks, our worries, fears, and murmurings disappear. All of a sudden the peace of God, joy, and courage appears, and God is glorified. God gives more blessings to thankful people.
That is my experience. When somebody says thank you to me, I begin to wonder what else I can do for them. When we stop giving thanks, we are turning off the blessings. May God help us to overflow with thanksgiving always. Amen
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