Pray, read your Bible, go to church, share the gospel, obey your parents. Recognize that list? It’s the answer you’re likely to get when asking the question—What does God want me to do? That centers on your actions, which is good…but what about your attitudes? You can pray with a proud heart, attend church reluctantly, and even share the gospel with wrong motives. God cares about our attitudes, too. In fact, that’s part of His will—a big part. He wills us to be thankful all the time. Here are five more reasons why…
Thankfulness glorifies God:
In 2 Corinthians 4:15 Paul says to the church at Corinth, “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.”
Paul is declaring his motive for all the sacrificial service he rendered to Corinth—thanksgiving that abounded to the glory of God. Think of all the heartache Paul experienced in his ministry to the Corinthian church: he was misunderstood, ridiculed, maligned, and even attacked for serving the Lord. Yet he selflessly spent himself in order that God’s grace might reach more sinners, and the praise of the redeemed would ascend to God’s throne.
A story from Luke 17 strengthens this point. Christ met ten lepers in a village between Samaria and Galilee and told them to go and show themselves to the priest. As they obeyed His command, Christ instantaneously healed all ten. Verse 15 picks up the story, “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.” Note how Luke carefully defines the means through which the Samaritan glorified God—he fell at the feet of Christ giving thanks to Him. God’s glory and thanksgiving are inseparable.
A Thankful heart recognizes God’s goodness:
Paul reminded Timothy of an important principle when he said, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4). Some deceivers at Ephesus refused to affirm God created everything good, including food. They flatly denied the benevolence of God’s creation, which led them to reject partaking in His gifts. But by gratefully receiving and enjoying God’s gifts, believers fulfill the noble intention for which they were created. The doxology of Romans 11:36 sums up this perspective: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
An unthankful heart characterizes fallen humanity:
In 2 Timothy 3:1-2, Paul says, “Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy...”
Paul is saying not only will the last days find narcissistic, greedy, conceited, proud, slanderous, rebellious people, but also ungrateful people. Ingratitude characterizes fallen humanity in the last days. Look around—we’re living in those days, aren’t we. Paul goes on to say evil men will grow worse and worse (vs. 13). The closer we get to the Second Coming of Christ, the more wicked men become; the more wicked they become, the more thankless they are. It shouldn’t surprise us to see unsaved people going through life complaining, bitter, angry, thankless, without any gratitude, expecting to receive everything good that comes their way and exploding when they don’t. We expect such thankless expressions from unbelievers, but they have no place in the lives of God’s people.
Thanksgiving is a common part of worship:
The Psalmist calls us to an attitude of thanksgiving when he writes, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). William Hendriksen says, “When a person prays without thanksgiving he has clipped the wings of prayer so that it cannot rise.” When you enter God’s presence harboring ingratitude, your worship is unacceptable.
When the early church met in the New Testament, one of its main purposes was to give thanks to God. That’s implicit in Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians concerning the proper use of tongues during their worship services. He says, “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 Cor. 14:16–17).
Paul’s other letters remind believers to express their thankfulness and thereby distinguish themselves from the ungrateful, unbelieving culture. “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” (Eph. 5:3–4; see 2 Cor. 4:15; 9:11).
A Thankful heart reflects godly humility:
The occasion of your thanksgiving, as well as what you give thanks for, says a lot about your spiritual maturity. The Bible tells us to be thankful for all people and all things. Have you ever thought what a list of all things includes? Corrupt governments, unjust employers, bitter spouses, severe illnesses, economic collapses—all things (1 Thess. 5:18; Phil. 4:6).
Only one kind of person is able to express gratitude for those things—a humble Christian. Believers know they don’t deserve anything from God but judgment, so like the early church, they can sing hymns while they suffer in prison (Acts 16:25), or rejoice when they’re persecuted for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Humble Christians view every bitter thing as sweet, and rejoice always (Phil. 1:18).
Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list. There are many other reasons in Scripture God wills us to be thankful. Can you name some? Here’s our list of some of those reasons. See if you can expand on this using only Scripture as your source:
- God commands us to be thankful
- Thankfulness acknowledges God’s sovereignty
- God judges ingratitude
- Thankfulness glorifies God
- A thankful heart recognizes God’s goodness
- An unthankful heart characterizes fallen humanity
- Thanksgiving is a common part of worship
- A thankful heart reflects godly humility
#1 Posted by
Steve Drake | Thursday, December 16, 2010at
Thankfulness recognizes 'relationships' are a gift from God.
#2 Posted by
Dan Wilson | Thursday, December 16, 2010at
Thankfulness produces wholehearted faith in God.
#3 Posted by
Greg Corron | Friday, December 17, 2010at
Thank you, J.M., for this article! I would like to respectfully clarify the point that we should give thanks for all things, bad or good. The Bible passage cited, 1 Thess. 5:18, says something else, that we should give thanks "in all circumstances." When we give thanks for a corrupt government, we can give thanks that we have a government that is not totally corrupt, and attribute that amazing fact to the grace of God. But we should not give thanks for any corruption, since that would be to wrongly recognize God as the author of corruption. I think it is important to make distinctions in our thanksgiving so that we only attribute good things to God.
#4 Posted by
Jorge Alvarado | Friday, December 17, 2010at
Re "Humble Christians view every bitter thing as sweet, and rejoice always"
That makes it sound like we should live in a deluded state. I see bitter things as bitter. Bad things that happened as bad things that happened. Some evil thing that happened to someone as something evil that happened to someone. I don't think we should minimize or deny, or downplay the suffering that happens in the world, but rather see it for what it is: the effects of a fallen world, and rely on God's Grace to endure it/them.
Re 1. God commands us to be thankful
Can thankfulness be commanded to be given?. In other words, should we be thankful because that's what God expects/commands, or should thankfulness be the natural result of having one's true and real needs met?. How can someone be thankful for corruption, or any evil? As an example, if God allows a child to die, like in David's case after asking God to spare him (the child)? Is it recorded that David gave thanks to God for that?. I don't think so, but rather David just acknowledged that God was just in His decision.
This ties a little bit with another thing God commands/demands: Love (1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:3; 1 John, 4:19, and others). Are thanks and love then not coerced out of us and therefore not validated?
#5 Posted by
Greg Corron | Saturday, December 18, 2010at
I think Jorge has a good point - Christians need to be realists, and not pretend that something bad, tragic, or evil is actually good, or be led to believe that. That kind of thinking turns Christian faith into a kind of eastern mysticism. That is why we must be careful to stay within the bounds of the actual good when we give thanks. Admittedly, God sometimes uses bad things for good (Rom 8:28, Gen 50:20), but the bad things are still bad - they do not become good because God used them for good. If I use power tools to build a porch, they don't become the porch! They will always be power tools no matter how I use them.
So to carry this analogy a little further, when we hear the noise of workmen using the power tools, we give thanks that the unpleasant noise will result in the porch we desire. But we don't go outside and thank the workmen for the noise! No, we thank them for the result of their work. When the porch is finished, the annoying memory of the noise is replaced with our enjoyment of the porch.
This analogy isn't perfect - it only applies to circumstances beyond our control. Those are the circumstances the Bible addresses in the passages cited in the article. When they are within our control, we should oppose evil, injustice, cruelty, etc. and not just hope that good things will result. Because we are truth-lovers, we continue to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14) and abhor evil (Rom 12:9). If we stay rooted to reality in this way, we don't have to short-circuit our conscience and be thankful out of duty, but our thanks will be genuine.
#6 Posted by
Keith Farmer | Saturday, December 18, 2010at
"Humble Christians view EVERY bitter thing as sweet, and rejoice always"
The scripture reference used to support that statement...Phil. 1:18...does not actually convey the notion that EVERY bitter thing is to be viewed as sweet. The sweetness Paul drew upon in the text cited was the fact that the Gospel was being spread by his detractors. The point being was that even though to Paul the detractors were a bitter thing the result of their efforts was indeed beneficial to the body at large and therefore Paul could see that scenario as sweet (although the terms bitter and sweet are not used in the text).
Indeed somethings are just simply bitter..."But Jesus answered by saying to them, 'You don't know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?'" Matthew 20:22
The fact that some things are bitter does not mean that the bitterness has to rob us of our joy...I think Paul demonstrated that principle sufficiently as well as did James and others.
#7 Posted by
Tommy Clayton | Saturday, December 18, 2010at
Greg & Jorge:
Thanks for your comments. I think I understand your concern with the last point in the article. It’s a hard principle, but that’s the point, isn’t it? It takes a humble Christian to acknowledge God’s goodness, especially when our sinful hearts incline us to accuse Him of wrong.
When trials come, giving thanks becomes a severe challenge—but serious test of our maturity—because our remaining flesh harbors a sense of entitlement. We really do think we deserve our “best life now,” don’t we? And when God doesn’t deliver, we often resent Him. But take a look at some examples:
Job worshiped God when his life was in shambles. He “blessed” the name of Yahweh (Job 1:21). He was thankful. That’s a good pattern for praise. In another place, he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job. 13:15).
Jonah was thankful while in the belly of the great fish. Daniel was thankful just hours before the corrupt Babylonian government arrested him for praying. Paul rejoiced in prison, knowing that in God’s wisdom and providence, his imprisonment actually furthered the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18). In other words, Paul viewed something bitter (being in chains) as sweet.
Job was humble. Jonah was humbled. Daniel and Paul were humble. A thankful heart doesn’t produce godly humility. It reflects it.
As for the distinction between being thankful for circumstances and thankful in them, maybe Ephesians 5:18-20 will provide some clarity:
Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.
By the way, that’s a command, and so is 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Colossians 3:15 (a parallel passage to Eph. 5:20) also commands us to be thankful. They’re all imperatives.
So, God does command us to be thankful all the time. He has that right as our Master. We have that obligation as His slaves. And when we obey, it doesn’t mean we’re falling into eastern mysticism or in some kind of delusion. It means we seek to obey God from the heart.
#8 Posted by
Douglas Grogg | Saturday, December 18, 2010at
There are many hindrances to this grace of thankfulness. The failure to recognize that without holiness no one shall see God (be saved) is perhaps one of the most violent enemies of this God exalting grace. When we understand its necessity, trials and afflictions are seen in a whole new light.
“Faith told Moses that affliction and suffering were not real evils. They were the schools of God, in which He trains the children of grace for glory; the medicines which are needful to purify our corrupt wills; the furnace which must burn away our dross; the knife which must cut the ties that bind us to the world.” (Quoted from “Holiness” by J. C. Ryle) Notice his use of the word “needful” and “must”.
“Not only in good things does a Christian have the dew of God’s blessing, and find them very sweet to him, but in all the afflictions, all the evils that befall him, he can see love, and can enjoy the sweetness of love in his afflictions as well as in his mercies. The truth is that the afflictions of God’s people come from the same eternal love that Jesus Christ came from. Jerome said ‘Happy is a man who is beaten when the stroke is a stroke of love.’ All God’s strokes are strokes of love and mercy, all God’s ways are mercy and truth, to those who fear Him and love Him. (Psalm 25:10).” (Quoted from “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” by Jeremiah Burroughs)
This “jewel” of Christian contentment is a most lovely grace. It means “enough”, “satisfied”. To be content is one thing, to be “thankful” however, is quite another. As lovely as this grace of contentment is, this grace of being thankful is even lovelier. We are exhorted to “grow in grace” (see 2 Peter 3:18). We grow in grace whenever we exercise grace. Because we are still in this “body of death” there are times when we just don’t feel like exercising grace. It is at these times when the fear of the Lord becomes a dear friend. We obey simply because He has commanded us to be thankful, and as a result we “grow in grace”. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does (obeys) the will of My Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne (denoting authority) of grace, that we may receive mercy (indicating that we have sinned) and may find grace (enabling grace that we might obey) to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) -His Unworthy Slave
#9 Posted by
Greg Corron | Sunday, December 19, 2010at
I don't put undue emphasis on the word "everything" in Ephesians 5:20 ("giving thanks always and for everything..."). The word "everything" has to qualified by the word "thanks". You give thanks for the things that deserve thanks. We shouldn't stray away from the clear meaning of the sentence and zero in on a single word to give us the meaning. Using that kind of thinking, when we read a bit further to verse 24, "wives should submit in everything to their husbands." Now everything means everything, so using the same principle of interpretation, we would be forced to conclude that wives must submit to physical abuse. Clearly, no Christian believes that. Submission has a limited sense, just as thanks has a limited sense. When we interpret words in an unlimited sense, we arrive at nonsense.
#10 Posted by
Jorge Alvarado | Sunday, December 19, 2010at
Re # 7, Tommy wrote:
"It takes a humble Christian to acknowledge God’s goodness, especially when our sinful hearts incline us to accuse Him of wrong."
Thank you very much, Tommy, for your response. I had an issue with what was conveyed at first ("blind" faith).
Even though I would argue that Job's response in "blessing" the name of the Lord would indicate his thanking Him for the stuff he was made to go through, and that Jonah was thankful for ending up in the belly of a fish, and that Daniel was thankful for getting arrested, I see what you were trying to convey. In the end, they did come out as heroes of the faith.
Indeed, the experiences those people (and many others as recorded in Scripture) went through were humbling experiences at the very least. To be able to say "Though he slay me, I will hope in him", must be among one of the best examples of mature faith we can find.
One thing to keep in mind is that, in hindsight, it is very clear God's hand was in each and every one of those instances. If anything, what we have to learn is that, for the elect, it is a FACT that WHEN (not if) we suffer, God IS in control, and for that, we must be thankful.
#11 Posted by
Mary Kidwell | Sunday, December 19, 2010at
I don't believe that thankfulness is an emotion that we try to make ourselves feel, but rather it is an outlook that we willfully choose. It is a choice to live our lives focused not on our circumstances but on our Lord. When difficulties come, we can still be thankful because the source of our joy is still present. The Psalmist said in Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” The better we know the source of our joy, the less our joy will be affected by what is going on around us. Whatever our circumstances, the Lord is still our hope and our comfort. He promises never to leave us and that His grace is sufficient. As believers, our eternal hope is still secure no matter what is happening here on earth. To choose to be thankful is to walk by faith and not by sight.
#12 Posted by
Elaine Bittencourt | Sunday, December 19, 2010at
# 11 - Mary,
You put it well. Thank you for your comment.
#13 Posted by
Tommy Clayton | Sunday, December 19, 2010at
Thanks Jorge, and to everyone else for all the insightful comments.
#14 Posted by
Greg Corron | Monday, December 20, 2010at
Thanks everyone, but I will stick to the plain meaning of the word "thank" (to acknowledge something good received). Hope in the midst of difficult circumstances is good. We can give thanks that we have Someone real and true to hope in, because we have received Him.
#15 Posted by
Tommy Clayton | Monday, December 20, 2010at
Thanks for your contribution to the discussion on being thankful. I appreciate the sharpening and challenge.
Here’s the problem I see with your philosophy of thanksgiving. You attribute more wisdom and authority to yourself than Scripture affords.
Let me explain. You’ve repeatedly argued we should give thanks only for what we deem good. Are you always able to recognize the good? That’s an extremely important question to consider. I vote NO, you are not, and neither am I. And for that reason, better for us to ascribe wisdom and goodness to God in all things He brings into our lives—and to thank Him. (Romans 8:28)
He alone possesses the right to define what is right and good for us. I like the attitude of David, who wrote:
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
Or Joseph, who said to his brothers of their unjust treatment: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. (Gen. 50:20)
Joseph was referring to the preservation of people through his food collecting effort. But he wouldn’t know that until years after his suffering (17 years actually). Yet take note of his attitude and submission throughout his suffering. Yes, submission comes into play here as well.
I’m guessing affliction and imprisonment wouldn’t make most people’s list of “to be thankful for” items, or even their “good” list. We’d probably put those on the “naughty” list, wouldn’t we? I’m talking to myself here, too. So don’t feel singled out.
Neither Joseph or David had 1 Thessalonians 5:18, or Ephesians 5:20 to guide their thinking on those issues. Joseph didn’t even have the Pentateuch yet. We have the complete Scriptures, and all the examples of godly men and women.
We can’t translate “always” or “for everything” into “Whenever I feel like it and for things I think deserve it.” That’s a dangerous way to view life and providence, and is bound eventually to foster bitterness toward God, jealousy toward others, and discontentment with our own lives.
Just a parting thought or two. Again, thanks for the discussion.
#16 Posted by
Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin) | Monday, December 20, 2010at
I might also add that we're not saying that we should go out and find the most horrid things in life and give thanks for them. We shouldn't thank God that there are children starving to death right now in Africa, or Christians being killed as we speak somewhere in the world. That's not what we're saying.
What we are saying is what Scriptures says that we should rejoice in the Lord always, we should count it joy in the multi-color trials, and whatever happens to us whether cancer, a tragic accident, or the healthy birth of a baby, we should acknowledge and give thanks God is working it for our good.
I would change your definition of "acknowledging something good received" to "acknowledging what is received is good".
#17 Posted by
Keith Farmer | Monday, December 20, 2010at
R. C. Sproul addressed the issue of evil this way...he said that "when God decrees that evil should occur it is good that it occurs...because God ordains it and God is altogether good and He only ordains that which is good...that is not too difficult is it?"
Here is the link for reference to the Q & A where Dr Sproul made that statement.
Also, Al Mohler, in the same video, addresses the issue of God alone being able to establish what is good and what is not-good.
#18 Posted by
Jorge Alvarado | Monday, December 20, 2010at
Re # 16, Greg wrote:
"What we are saying is what Scriptures says that we should rejoice in the Lord always, we should count it joy in the multi-color trials, and whatever happens to us whether cancer, a tragic accident, or the healthy birth of a baby, we should acknowledge and give thanks God is working it for our good."
Yes, good insight, yet, not quite the same as affirming: "He wills us to be thankful all the time.", is it? After all, isn't the fact that God is allowing children to be dying in Africa right now point that, somehow, somewhere, He is making it work for someone's "good" ?? or that Christians being killed as we speak somewhere in the world should be reason to "rejoice" to someone somewhere??.
As hard as it is to understand (or explain), It MUST be doing someone somewhere some good, right?
#19 Posted by
Tommy Clayton | Monday, December 20, 2010at
I think you were responding to something Gabe wrote, not Greg. See # 16
I'll let Gabe respond to your post, but you make a good point--even if it was in jest. Unbelievers don't have anything to rejoice over in their trials, do they? The promise of Romans 8:28 is made exclusively to believers, "to those who love God." They alone can rest in the assurance God truly is causing all things to work together for good--their good, and His glory.
I think this is where our affirmation of the sovereignty of God is put to the true test. Do we really believe God is doing what He promised?
Here's a closing thought. Can you behold the cross--a much more heinous and horrendous tragedy than children dying in Africa--and give thanks to God for the slaughter of His Son?
The biggest obstacle to being thankful is not trusting God.
#20 Posted by
Greg Corron | Tuesday, December 21, 2010at
I think basically we are on the same page in many respects. However, I disagree with your point that we should not trust ourselves to recognize what is good and what is bad. The Bible teaches otherwise, and commands us to discern good from bad. Proverbs is chock-full of such texts. Joseph did not give thanks for being imprisoned, but gave thanks for the good that God brought out of it. David cried out to God, as did Job, and though they continued to hope in God, they did not thank God for the bad things but beseeched Him and asked "Why?". Jesus cried out to God on the cross, not to thank Him, but to again, to ask, "Why have you forsaken me?" These are real examples I offer of three men in the Bible who questioned God when bad things happened. They did not squelch their questioning as impudent or improper, but gave full expression to their anguish.
Understanding this will help us to say the right words to a friend who is undergoing something like cancer or who has lost a family member. It would be improper to say, "You should give thanks for this." Rather, we should be compassionate and understand that grieving is necessary, and that the human heart has to come to grips with some really bad stuff in this life. The Bible says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross. It is OK to despise the bad things that happen to us. It is not sinful or weak. Paul sang hymns in prison, but he also despaired for his life. He sought deliverance, and when deliverance came, then he gave thanks. (2 Cor 1:8-11) There is a time for everything, as Ecclesiastes says.
#21 Posted by
Mary Elizabeth Palshan | Tuesday, December 21, 2010at
Excellent post #11, Mary. I agree with Elaine on this one.
God really works in unique ways; many times He takes things away from us (wealth, job, family support, anything we place more reliance and confidence in, than Him), in order for us to trust and depend on Him more fully, and to teach us to be thankful for His smallest blessings in life, which leads to greater thankfulness, and greater appreciation. This results in even a glass of water from God’s gracious hand, as being a true blessing.
I was reading somewhere, where Corrie ten Boom, while she was in prison, even found the ability to praise God for the lice in her cell. She had lice in the straw she slept on, which actually was a blessing to her, because this kept the prison guards at bay, and protected her from their abuse.
Tommy Clayton said: "The biggest obstacle to being thankful is not trusting God."
Great quote, Tommy.
#22 Posted by
Mary Kidwell | Tuesday, December 21, 2010at
I think the only way to feel comfortable with the suffering of the world is to embrace Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I cannot understand God’s ways, but I can trust Him that He is good and just and loving and sovereign. While things may look bad to me, I know that a good God is in control.
Thanks Elaine and Mary Elizabeth.