In the Old Testament sacrificial system there were sin offerings, and sin offerings were to remind the people of their sinfulness and their desperate need for forgiveness, atonement, cleansing, and righteousness before God. But there were also thank offerings. They were sometimes called peace offerings – you can read about them in Leviticus chapter 7 – and those offerings were designed to remind the people to be thankful, thankful for God’s mercy, thankful for His grace, His lovingkindness, His forgiveness, His provision for all of their spiritual and physical needs. Both of those things come together as we arrive at the Lord’s Table. We arrive at a celebration of the ultimate, final sin offering, the offering of the Lord Jesus Himself.
And so this is a table that looks at the sacrifice for sin. But it is also a table of thanksgiving. It was even Jesus our Lord in Matthew 26 who, when He instituted this supper, first thanked the Father. We don’t have anymore sacrifices, Christ’s sacrifice was the end of all sacrifices. He perfected forever by His sacrifice His people through that work.
And we don’t really have any kind of offerings. We don’t have thank offerings or peace offerings, but we do have one ceremony that we engage in as believers again and again, and that is the Lord’s Table. This is the one ceremony that combines together both a remembrance of the provision that Christ made for sin and embraces our gratitude for that provision. This is a table that is a table of thanksgiving for the sacrifice that our Lord made. So it is fitting as we come to this table in this Thanksgiving week to think about being thankful.
I want to draw your attention to just a simple portion of Scripture, it’s at the end of 1 Thessalonians, and it’s really just one verse, verse 18: “In everything give thanks. In everything give thanks.” Very simple statement, unmistakable. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is God’s will for you. This is also that which satisfies the desire of Christ Jesus Himself. “In everything,” there’s no way around that in English or Greek or any other language. No matter what it is, with the exception, of course, of personal sin, for everything else give thanks.
The verb for “give thanks” is eucharisteō from which we get the Eucharist, which is the Greek term parallel to a Latin term that is used to describe the Lord’s Table. If you came out of a Catholic background you were familiar with the Eucharist. That comes from the word “to give thanks.” So that is the recognition that this is a table of thanksgiving for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. We of all people should be thankful; and that is why Paul says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
One distinction, you could say, in our salvation is that very reality of thanksgiving. Listen to this description of unbelievers in Romans chapter 1: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” It is a distinguishing mark of pagans, of nonbelievers, of those in the world to be unthankful. And not just generically unthankful, but unthankful to God. We’re talking about thanking God. When it says, “In everything give thanks, it is God’s will that we do that in Christ Jesus,” which means we’re thanking God for the provision that was made in Christ.
There might be among pagans a measure of thanks for certain benefits that come their way, certain things that are maybe surprising them – somebody else’s kindness or some favor falls on them. But most unconverted people go through life more likely complaining than being thankful, more likely bitter than content, more likely angry than happy. They view life as kind of moving along a path of manipulation, moving a path of luck or happenstance, or fatalistic events which really are drawn up by some inevitable, uncontrollable force which they must reluctantly accept. Or, life gets better because it’s the product of one’s own genius, one’s own effort, one’s own skill. So whatever does come, sort of makes you thankful for yourself, because after all, for most people, self is God.
But a believer knows that God is at work in everything. God is at work in everything. God is and has created a plan and a purpose for every life of every believers, and He’s working that purpose out. It leads to a designed goal so that Romans 8:28 says, “All things are working together for good, to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.” We’re on a divine schedule that ultimately ends up in our eternal good. All things are being literally worked together by His power and providence for our good. If that is the case – and it is the case – then why would you complain about anything rather than be thankful? Gratitude is the fruit of grace, gratitude is the work of the Spirit, and gratitude is the only reasonable approach to life if you understand the sovereign purpose of God.
As Christians, we often sin the sin of ingratitude. We want what we don’t have; we don’t want what we do have. We are jealous or envious of what someone else might have; we feel somehow that we have been left out, that we’ve gotten the short end of the stick; and for a believer to feel that way is to call into question the divine purpose of God for one’s life. Thanksgiving should be the normal expression of every believer every day, every day.
In Philippians chapter 4, just a few reinforcing portions of Scripture: “Be anxious for nothing,” – that also is an exclusive statement – “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Even when you don’t have what you want or you have what you don’t want, even when you’re crying out to God for something to change in your circumstance, don’t worry about it, pray, come before the Lord with a heart of thanksgiving, and let your requests be made known to Him.
In Colossians chapter 2 and verse 6, we are told that, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude,” overflowing with gratitude. Your gratitude ought to flood the environment you’re in. It ought to wash over the people that you are with.
In the third chapter of Colossians, verse 15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Be thankful. Devote your life to thanksgiving. That is what the New Testament commands of us, and that is because everything is ordered according to divine purpose.
One other portion of Scripture that I would mention, too – you’re familiar with it – Ephesians 5. We are to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” “Always giving thanks for all things,” – that doesn’t leave anything out – “always giving thanks for all things,” because we know all things are in the control of the Lord.
Back in the first part of chapter 5, “Immorality, impurity, greed shouldn’t be named among you; it’s not proper for saints. There must be no filthiness or silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” What ought to come out of your mouth constantly because it is literally flooding your heart is thanks, thanks. Back to where we began, at the end of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, that just enriches the simple command, “In everything give thanks.”
Now you notice this is embedded in some other very simple principles that also come to us as commands, verse 16: “Rejoice always.” Again, always? Yes, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There are three things you should be doing all the time, all the time. You should be rejoicing, you should be praying without ceasing, and you should be giving thanks. And by the way, that prayer is just the constant flow of communion to God in which you share your joy and your thanks. And even the petitions of your heart come to Him encased in joy and thanksgiving.
These three things should be characteristic of every believer’s life at all times: rejoice always; pray without ceasing, and that is, pray all the time; in everything give thanks. There are no outs for these three behaviors for the believer; this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Inward, incessant joy; continual, unceasing prayer, and that includes praise as well as petition; constant, unending gratitude. This is God’s will for you.
Earlier in chapter 4, he used that same phrase in verse 3: “This is the will of God, your sanctification. This is the will of God, your sanctification.” This is the will of God, your joy, your constant prayer, and your thanks in everything. So sanctification equates with these three virtues.
It’s not that we’re going to avoid trouble, we’re promised trouble. We’re promised trouble. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But I have overcome the world.” Do you need know any more? God promised trouble; God also promised triumph. The three commands penetrate really, I think, the innermost recesses of the redeemed heart.
When I want to basically take my spiritual temperature, I’m looking for those things: Is my heart full of Joy? Am I eager in communing with the Lord, quieting and silently thanking Him for all that He has done and is doing in my life, lifting up all the petitions that come across my mind to Him? Is it an unending sweet communion with Him? And am I incessantly, unendingly grateful?
This is the heart of a believer. If this is not there, then you are not being sanctified. This is how sanctification behaves. It is joyful, it seeks constant open communion with the Lord, and it is thankful.
So, let’s try this then. Don’t evaluate your sanctification on the fact that you haven’t committed robbery, or you haven’t lied, or you haven’t cheated, or you haven’t abused somebody. Don’t evaluate your spiritual condition on that. Don’t even evaluate your spiritual condition on the fact that you go to church. Evaluate your spiritual condition on whether you rejoice, whether you have an open line of communication with the Lord, and whether you give thanks in everything. If that doesn’t define your heart, then something is wrong.
And what could be wrong? What would steal our joy, interrupt our communion, and take away our gratitude? Well, it could be doubt about God’s sovereign power. It could be doubt about God’s wisdom. It could be doubt about God’s love. So any kind of doubt about God – which in itself is a sin – could corrupt this kind of sanctified heart.
It could be selfishness: “I don’t like my condition. I don’t like my circumstances. This is not what I want.” That kind of selfishness can turn on God. It could be worldliness. You’re not content with God and what He provides and what He promises; you want more. You want pleasure, or you want possessions, or you want the fulfillment of your passions and pursuits. In other words, you’re looking for the world to fill up your life rather than be satisfied with what God has given by way of spiritual blessing.
It could be also that this deep heart sanctification has been interrupted by a critical spirit. You’re bitter, you’re negative, you have a sour attitude on life. The Bible calls in the book of Hebrews “a root of bitterness.” You’re carrying grudges; you don’t like the way somebody treated you. You’ve got a grudge that you’ve been carrying for a long, long time that has produced a root of bitterness. Or, you can’t quite control everybody around you the way you would like them for the ends and the goals that you have established. If this is unchecked in your life, it will destroy a thankful heart. It will blind your vision of God. It will warp your understanding of His purposes and make you miserable, and then make everybody around you miserable. This corrodes love and steals joy.
It could be impatience. It could be that you just can’t wait to see God’s will unfold. I understand that. You want things fixed and you want them fixed now, and you don’t like the fact that they’re not the way you would like them to be; and you want God to go to that issue immediately and take care of it, regardless of what His purpose might be in it. These things can be basically corrupted in your heart also by, I think you could call it coldness. You have left your first love for the Lord. You lack zeal for His word, zeal for His honor, zeal for His glory. You lack diligence in the Scripture; you lack passion in worship. This is because of neglect of the Bible, waste of time on trivia, entertainment, empty things.
And it could be just open rebellion. You’re not thankful because you don’t like what you have. You’re not joyful because you think you have reason to be sad. All of this is sin. All of this fails to understand that God has a plan and is unfolding that plan for your benefit, and the best parts of that plan are operating through trouble. I can look back in my life and say that is my experience. Those things that have been most powerfully transforming in my life have been the things that look like they were the worst.
We are commanded to be thankful, thankful for God’s holiness, thankful for God’s wisdom, thankful for God’s grace and mercy; thankful for His lovingkindness, His goodness; thankful for the gift of Christ and all the spiritual blessings that are in Christ; thankful for our salvation, thankful for victory over sin and death, thankful for divine guidance and the indwelling Holy Spirit, thankful for the complete provision for all our needs, thankful for the power of the Word of God in our lives, thankful for the church, thankful for Christian fellowship, and even thankful for trials; thankful for the hope of glory. And so when we come to the Lord’s Table at a time like this, maybe this is a good time to renew our heart of thanksgiving. Bow with me in prayer.
Lord, forgive us for ingratitude. Forgive us for a lack of joy. Forgive us for not communing with You at all times, living open-hearted, open-minded before You, lifting up all of our thoughts to You, viewing everything through that communion we enjoy, that unbroken communion with You. Forgive us for not rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks. Forgive us for violating Your will for us in Christ Jesus.
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