A Truly Christian Thanksgiving
“In everything give thanks.” —I Thessalonians 5:18
Thanksgiving Day has been observed by presidential proclamation since the time of the Civil War, commemorating the tradition of the Pilgrims’ first bountiful harvest in the New World and establishing a festive day once each year on which the citizens of our blessed country are encouraged to visit their houses of worship to thank God for His blessings. Many professing Christians do indeed attend special Thanksgiving services, piously folding their hands to give thanks unto God both there and later at the feast set before them. As for the rest of the year, many still remember to ask the Lord’s blessings and to give thanks at mealtimes, or at least they try to, but just as many never give God a grateful thought from one Thanksgiving Day to the next.
Thus it’s not just appropriate but important that we ask ourselves what a truly Christian thanksgiving is. What it isn’t we have already indicated. What it is involves a great deal more than just saying thanks at our meals, or when we’ve passed a major exam, or gotten a big promotion at work, or any similar circumstances. As the Holy Spirit of God Himself exhorts us through the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “In everything give thanks!” The Lord our God fully expects our gratitude, not only for the things of this life but, even more importantly, for those things which pertain to our spiritual life and the life to come!
“In everything give thanks!” There is no limitation in these words whatsoever. It is an easy matter to give thanks for the good things that come our way. We often hear a nominal believer, that is a believer in name only, or even an unbeliever, say “Thank God!” upon hearing he’s received a big promotion, or after having been saved from death or serious injury in a terrible accident, or at the birth of healthy child. But how will that nominal Christian react, how will that unbeliever respond, when things don’t go the way he thinks they should? If he loses the promotion, if he is severely injured in an car crash, if his child is born with Down’s Syndrome, then we hear him curse God’s Name, complain that God is not fair to him, and claim that he deserves better from God. It is this attitude the prevents them from ever being truly thankful.
True Christian thankfulness begins in a heart that knows that it deserves nothing but God’s wrath and eternal damnation, for he knows from God’s Law that he is a sinner, that he was conceived and born a sinner, and that he has lived as a sinner. Indeed, every true Christian cries out with King David, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). The true Christian knows that, by nature, he cannot do anything but sin, that he cannot of his own power and strength do anything pleasing to God. Jesus Himself says of natural man, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and Paul says of the sinful flesh within all of us: “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).
However, God in His limitless grace and mercy, had compassion on us and sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to become one of us, who was “in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As our perfect Substitute, the sinless Son of God offered up His perfect life among us and His bitter suffering and death to pay for all our sins, and “not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). And God, for Christ’s sake, declared in time what He had determined in eternity, before the foundations of the world, that “in Christ,” because of Jesus’ vicarious atonement, He reconciled the world unto Himself, “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19). It is as the fruit of confidence in this truth that all true Christian thankfulness begins, thanksgiving to God for the forgiveness of sins given freely to us poor wretched mortals in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Every true Christian is also aware of the fact that, despite the claims of poets to the contrary, life is no “rose garden” in which we experience one blissful moment following the other. No, because of sin in the world, our days are full of pain, and sorrow, and labor, and toil, and sweat, and illness, and problems, and all the rest of sin’s temporal consequences, not to mention the problems, the suffering, and, yes, the ridicule and scorn we suffer because we are Christians. And yet, St. Paul tells us, “In everything give thanks!” Surely he cannot mean that we are to give thanks for “the sufferings of this present time.” Oh, but, yes, He does mean that. He means exactly that! His Word tells us why we can and should be thankful, no matter in what vexing situation we may find ourselves.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find these remarkable words: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose… What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:28,31-32. What could possibly happen to any of us as believers in Christ that could diminish in any way what God has freely promised to give us? Everything that happens in the life of the Christian happens either according to God’s own plan or, at the very least, with God’s permission. Notice that Paul tells us that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” He doesn’t say that a few things, or some things, or even most things, but ALL things work together for our good as Christians. And because all things do work together for our good, we can give and should give thanks to God for ALL things, even those things which in our limited, sin-blinded reason we may not see as “good” at the moment. We can be sure that they are, however, because God Himself, our heavenly Father, has promised us that they will be good for Jesus’ sake.
Are you in pain? Your Savior suffered more! Give thanks to God, for His strength is made perfect in your weakness! Are you ill? Give thanks for having been healed of all your spiritual diseases, and then commit your physical disease to His will to relieve or not to relieve according to His good pleasure. Are you suffering for Christ’s sake; are you suffering the ridicule of the world because you really live your life as a believer in Christ? Be grateful and rejoice! For St. Peter tells us: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trail which is to try you, as though some strange happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified!” (I Peter 4:12-14).
Finally, how should we give thanks to God for all His merciful benefits toward us. Certainly we should do so with our mouths, “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in [our] hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). But our thanksgiving should not start and stop just with our prayers and our songs of praise. Indeed, that should be only the starting point. Our entire lives, everything that we think, everything that we do, everything that we say should be a living thanksgiving, an outward testimony that the entire world can see, a light shining before men that we live every day in thanksgiving to our gracious and loving God. Again, St. Paul says: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2). Brethren, this is what thanksgiving should be in the life of a Christian. God grant that, to the praise of His grace, such a life of thanksgiving become a pattern for all of us, and not just once a year on a day set aside for that purpose, but every day of every life that has been bought and paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ, “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
Now thank we all our God with hearts, and hands, and voices,
who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us
and keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed
and free us from all ills in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
the Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven:
The one eternal God, whom earth and heav’n adore!
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.
—M. W. D.