In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Thanksgiving is a responsibility to which we are all duty-bound. It comes to us in the form of a command. And, in fact, people who reject God are described in Romans 1:21 as those who “did not honor Him as God or give thanks.”
One of the characteristics of the unregenerate is that they fail to be thankful to God. They are like those lepers who are described in Luke 17 as being healed by Jesus. There were 10 of them, but only one returned to give thanks. The unregenerate heart is like the nine thankless lepers; it receives anything and everything good from God, but it renders Him absolutely no thanks.
But as Paul reminds us, we are commanded to thank God in everything. And the importance of thanksgiving has roots as far back as the Old Testament sacrificial system.
In the sacrificial system, there were different types of offerings. One type was the sin offering, which was designed to be brought by the people as a constant reminder of their sinfulness and their ongoing need for forgiveness. Every time they brought a sin offering (and they did it often throughout the year), they were reminded of how sinful they were and how desperately they needed to be made fully and completely righteous.
There was also another type of offering called thank offerings. These were reminders that the people continually needed to be thankful to God for all His merciful and gracious provisions for their spiritual and physical needs.
Now, as Christians, we don’t have a sacrificial system anymore. These thank offerings aren’t required of us. We only have one ceremony (outside of baptism) and that is the Lord’s table. But I believe the Lord’s table has a way of combining both of those elements of the Old Testament system.
On the one hand, the Lord’s table is a reminder of our sin, since you cannot remember the Lord’s death without remembering your sin. Every time we come to the Lord’s table we are thrown back, as it were, on the sacrifice of Christ, and we are reminded again of how desperate our sinful condition is. And at the same time, we are reminded of how glorious Christ’s sacrifice was in satisfying the wrath of God regarding our sin. In this way, the Lord’s table also becomes a celebration of gratitude. Remembering how sinful we are causes us to offer up thanks to God.
Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians to give thanks “in everything.” The Greek phrase he uses there is en panti. It has the idea of “in connection with every thing that comes along in life.” It’s very broad. It has no limits. Whatever might come along, we are to give thanks.
This is contrasted to the unbelieving heart, which Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3:2.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy.
In that litany of what defines unregenerate people, right in the middle is “ungrateful.” The unsaved man goes through life bitter and angry. His life moves along a path of trying to manipulate the world around him to satisfy his own passions. And whenever he can do that, he has something to be happy about; whenever he can’t, he is entrenched in bitterness and disappointment.
You hear people say all the time today, “You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you really want to do.” Of course, this isn’t true at all. But this idea serves to defend man’s mind against fatalism.
Rather than believe that we will ultimately fail to get what we want, we believe a lie and launch off into a fantasy world. We believe something we know deep down to be untrue, trying to manipulate people and events around us to satisfy our desires. And if we’re successful, then there may be a moment of joy and gratitude. But if we fail, we feel bitter.
That is how the natural, fallen heart operates. But the saved person operates in a completely different way.
Through faith, we can rejoice always. Because of what we know to be true about God and His plan for us — because we know that all things are being worked together by God for our eternal good — we can be thankful for everything.
There is nothing outside the “all things” mentioned in Romans 8:28. Everything, no matter how bad it is now, is being worked for good by God. And this is why the believer does not need to manipulate, or worry, or complain. Instead, we give thanks “in everything.”
This sort of attitude is not optional for us. In the next post, we will see that thankfulness is central to the Christian life.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2002, titled “In Everything Give Thanks.”
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