Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16-17)
The early church made thanksgiving an essential part of their fellowship. It wasn’t something they did every once in a while; it was something they did continually.
Without going into all the details of the above verse, Paul is describing a service in the early church. He’s describing some of the things that ought to go on and some of the things that ought not to go on. But among those things, he defines a time in the service when you give thanks.
So Paul affirms that a part of the early church service was the giving of thanks, and this was a good thing to do. The church engaged itself in being thankful; and it should be so, since it is part and parcel of what it means to have a proper and appropriate response to the goodness of God. As Paul says in his other recorded letter to the Corinthians,
For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
In other words, Paul says, “Everything I do in my ministry as a representative of God, everything that God has me do, is for the purpose of causing gratitude. And this gratitude abounds to the honor and glory of God, who is the giver.”
Paul can tell us to give thanks in everything because everything that comes into our lives fits into God’s purpose to spread grace to us. Paul says later in this same letter,
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)
God is going to give you everything you need. He’s going to enrich you in everything, and He’s going to do it liberally, so that you can be liberal as you share these spiritual blessings. And God blesses us like this in order that it might produce thanksgiving.
We find another reference to the centrality of thanksgiving in Ephesians:
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:3)
That seems like a strange contrast, doesn’t it? Paul says that we should never be engaged in immorality, impurity, greed or filthiness. Instead, we are to be thankful. It is almost as if Paul sums up the life of righteousness in that one quality: gratitude.
This is a very important principle. To live a righteous life means to be characterized by incessant gratitude, because incessant gratitude means that you have a grip on the goodness of God in your life. It is an unmistakable symptom of a God-facing focus in your life.
It is normal for the saved, Spirit-filled person to give thanks. When you get your spiritual life right, when you’re under the control of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, when they dominate your thinking and your life, the first thing that happens is joy that expresses itself in gratitude to God. So you will always give thanks to God for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s how Spirit-filled people function.
You can sum up a godly person’s life by saying that they are full of joy and gratitude. That’s not a stretch. Consider what we are going to be like when we’re perfected in glory. What will we be characterized by? When we get to heaven, we’re going to spend all eternity expressing joy and gratitude — the purest joy and unending gratitude. That is, in a sense, the summation of spirituality.
The spiritually mature person is someone who cannot be overcome by circumstances or disappointments, because they are so filled with the Spirit and controlled by the truth as to be incessantly thankful.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2002, titled “In Everything Give Thanks.”
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