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The Marks of Christian Gratitude

Ephesians 5:20

For this morning, I just want to inform your Thanksgiving as you come before family, friends, however you are going to celebrate Thanksgiving, and give you some things to think about with regard to your reasons for gratitude, why we give thanks to God.  This week all through the country, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving and we’re happing to consider this subject from a biblical perspective, to get some clarity on the subject.  Probably no greater way to demonstrate our sincerity and joy as worshipers of God than really, by giving thanks to him.  After all, just as Bret mentioned, too, God has sent his beloved Son to die on the cross for our sins.  Is there any greater thing to be thankful for?   

That’s the Gospel that we believe that we have received, that has saved us.  First Corinthians 15:3-4, “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised again the third day in accordance with the Scriptures and he appeared to many.”  He’s alive and he’s on the throne and he’s ruling and reigning.  And he’s praying and interceding on our behalf.  That is something to give thanks for.  Our God has forgiven all our sin in Christ.  And we have repented and believe that message.  We’ve been rescued from a deserved judgement of an eternal wrath in hell.  That’s a message we’ve embraced and for that, every Christian is profoundly thankful.  We all rejoice because we have an eternity to praise and thank God for that gift of salvation.  Particularly for giving us a relationship with him, with the enteral God through the Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.   

So, for us, Thanksgiving is really a special time of year.  We might even say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, even supplanting Christmas from the most wonderful time of the year because Thanksgiving is our opportunity to remember that we are worshippers giving thanks and praise to our God for all that he’s done.  This is granted, in our country, granted to us by the good providence of God to remember this time every year.  It’s a time to pause and reflect, take time out of our schedule, busyness, and all that, reflect on God’s many blessings in our life.  It’s a time to remember the myriad of ways God has cared for us throughout the year, how he’s shown his love for us, how he’s demonstrated his mercy toward us, showered us with all of his grace.   

But really, for us, we understand probably more than anybody that it wasn’t until we learn about the gift of Jesus Christ and the Gospel that we really gained an appreciation for everything God has done to demonstrate all of his kindness and favor.  It wasn’t until the Spirit opened our eyes through his regenerating work, how he pointed us to Jesus Christ in faith that we had the light to see the manifold goodness of God.  Prior to that, prior to our salvation, this concept of giving thanks, if we had thought deeply about it, which many of us didn’t think deeply about much of anything, but if we had thought deeply about this concept of Thanksgiving, it would have turned out to be quite an enigma.   

After all, if someone rejects the concepts of a transcendent, personal, beneficent Creator and Sustainer of the world, then let me ask you this question:  To whom does one give thanks?  If there is no God, if there is no personal God, if there is no good God, if you worship an idol and all of that in question, to whom do you give thanks?  Do people give thanks to themselves?  Do they congratulate the self on a job well done?  Do people thank parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on and so on for, you know, giving thanks to generations in the past for the genetic structure and makeup that they now have and inherited from their forefathers and forefathers and forefathers?  Is that where you give thanks?  Is it to some kind of, what’s it the heart of ancestor worship in the East?  Do we thank government?  Do we thank the cosmos?  Man, Colorado, libertarians right here.  No, we don’t thank government.   

Listen, government paves your roads, okay?  They fund your police and your firefighters.  You’re thankful for government.  We are Christians first before we’re Coloradoans, right?  But do people thank government, do they thank the cosmos, do they thank their lucky stars or whatever it is?  People sense the need to give thanks, don’t they?  But they’re confused.  For what do we give thanks?  To whom do we give thanks?   

I saw some of this illustrated in an article written and posted by the Facebook research team last year.  On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2014, Facebook posted an article on this subject of Thanksgiving.  The researchers there reported on posts that were on Facebook on the subject of gratitude.  The researchers working for Facebook, as employees of Facebook, they gathered data from Facebook users’ status updates using key words like “thankful,” “grateful,” all of that.  And then the number of times people liked those different status updates.  And they anonymized the data, they aggregated, processed all their findings and then they reported what they discovered in an article entitled, “What are we most thankful for?”  No surprise people were most thankful for friends and family and in that order, friends first and then family.  The order reflects the fact while you can choose your friends, you can’t always choose your family, right?   

Other reasons to be thankful that came after those first two had to do with provision, things like health, job, roof over my head, life itself.  And it’s interesting the basic necessities of life are important, but people are most thankful for relationships.  Facebook also collated the data to find out what was distinctive in gratitude for every state in the Union.  You want to know what Coloradoans are thankful for?  Freedom of speech.  Evidently, Coloradoans are ready and willing to give everyone a piece of their mind.  Who knew?   

Our neighbors over to the east in Kansas, you know what they’re thankful for?  Google.  That surprised me a bit, but then again, it’s Kansas, what else?  You want to find out what’s going on elsewhere, you know?  Kansas shares a social media connection with folks on either coast because California, Virginia, they’re also thankful for social media, this one is YouTube, though.  Interesting connection, California, Kansas, Virginia.  To our south in more arid climates in the country, as you might expect, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, they’re thankful for the rain.  Understandable there.  In Michigan, they’re thankful for electricity.  And again, when you think about this thing being posted in November, Michigan, cold, brutal winters surrounded by those freezing lakes, makes sense that people appreciate their electric heaters.  And I think during that time there was actually some power outages in Michigan.  So, they’re liking like crazy heat, heat, heat.   

New Yorkers, they’re thankful for their apartments.  Isn’t that interesting?  A bit of personal space that’s untouched from the crush of pedestrian traffic and flow in New York.  Eastern seaboard states, as you might understand, are thankful for the ocean.  Oregonians are thankful for Yoga.  Odd, odd, but unsurprising to us, right?  The Mormons in Utah and Idaho are thankful for the Heavenly Father.  The southeast was typically Bible-belt in its expressions in gratitude.  They mention mercy, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, salvation.  Interesting?  Right there, group down it the southeast.  Ohio and Hawaii, they’re thankful for children’s laughter.  And then Wyoming, number one reason to be thankful, apart from friends and family and all that, number one reason for giving gratitude, country music.  You know, the cowboys, right?  And get this, that’s shared with Pennsylvania?  Evidently there’s a big country music craving in Pennsylvania and Wyoming. 

So the researchers analyzing all this data, they also observed some change in priorities over time.  They wrote, here’s the quote, “As one gets older, one is less likely to be thankful for music, coffee and friends, and more thankful for one’s spouse and children.”  That makes sense, right?  Trivialities of youth fade over time.  People mature and they recognize what’s truly important in life.  But no matter what people are thankful for, from the trivial to the profound, from a Christian worldview perspective, we can make some interesting observations about the nature of human gratitude.  Apart from the Gospel, human gratitude falls very short of God’s design for it.  It reveals our need for our salvation.  These observations, though, on Facebook from these Facebook researchers, they help illustrate that, as do many of our interactions with the unbelieving world.   

It’s important to note, first of all, just in what I’ve discussed here and what we’ve talked about here and in your won interactions, it’s important to note when you talk to people that people are thankful.  It’s obvious, but it’s important to make the point.  People are thankful.  Human beings possess an innate need to express gratitude to someone, whether religious or irreligious, whether acknowledging or denying God’s existence, people know instinctively, they need to give thanks.  And that shows that they know instinctively, as well, that they know there is a God and that God, Acts 17:25, is the one who “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”  They recognize that.  Whether people worship God as God, or whether they treat him with insult and indifference by bowing to idols, people know that they owe gratitude to somebody.   

That brings up a second observation.  People are thankful, but rarely do they acknowledge God as the object of their gratitude, much less that they owe him gratitude, that gratitude is a duty, an obligation.  Giving thanks to God is a moral duty that it’s impressed upon all mankind.  Why?  Because we are receivers.  We didn’t earn this life that we have.  We were brought into the world and given breath.  Everything we have is a gift.   To fail to thank God, then, is a serious, serious sin.  To deny God the gratitude that we owe him from a sincerely thankful heart, that is to exhibit a heart of arrogant pride and idolatrous rebellion that bows to the self instead of to God.   

And if that judgment seems harsh, remember that judgment comes from the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1.  It says there that God’s wrath has been revealed for precisely that reason, man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness is manifest in this, Romans 1:21, “That although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”  So since God is the source of every good thing, James 1:17, we all owe him gratitude as a moral duty. Whenever someone says, “Thank you,” he testifies to this instinctive sense of this need to express gratitude, this moral duty that he has, that’s impressed upon his conscience.  But so often, the gratitude falls short of thanking God, the one to whom we must give thanks. 

The Facebook research revealed something else.  Thirdly, it highlighted the human ability to prioritize what’s most important in life, what we should be most thankful for.  It’s no surprise to us that relationships top the list.  Relationships are more significant even than the basic necessities of life like a roof over our heads, like jobs that provide for our needs because without people to share life with who cares about stuff?  Once again, this testifies to God’s design, how he created us in his own image.  God created us to be relational creatures.  We’re different than any other creature on this earth.  We’re designed to be in relationship with others, to communicate, spirit to spirit, mind to mind, using words, articulating thoughts.   

While people are willing to enjoy relationships with other creatures, they reject entering into relationship with their Creator.  That’s the highest relationship for which God designed us, to relate to our Creator as his grateful, worshipful God-glorifying creatures. In sinful rebellion, we deny him his place.  We refuse to know him and, thereby, we fail to honor him as God or give thanks to him.  We have to know him to honor him.  We have to know him to give him thanks.  That’s why I said from the very beginning it’s only the Christin, only the one who has been properly aligned with his Creator by salvation in Jesus Christ, only the Christian is able to express a true heart of gratitude.   

As Christians, we have experienced the love of God in Christ.  We have been regenerated to new life and now we are in relationship with him, we’re able to worship God in spirit and in truth.  So, only we can truly celebrate Thanksgiving this season.  Is that good to know?  It’s good to know in the fact that we have been brought near.  It’s sad to know because we want other people to know that, too.  We want them to understand why we celebrate thanksgiving, why we give thanks. 

I want to show you just the Christian sense of gratitude just by looking at the basics of thanksgiving from a single verse of Scripture.  Turn in your Bibles to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and the fifth chapter.  There are really many places we could turn, by in Ephesians 5:20, we find essential ingredients here for gratitude.  Ephesians 5:20 and let’s read the verse in its context.  I’m going to start in verse 17.  Reading that section, the subject of this entire section here from verse 17 to 21, is really the Spirit-filled life.  That’s the subject.  This is the characteristic pattern of Christian living.  This is what every Christian should look like.    

Paul writes starting in verse 17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  Do not get drunk within wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music, making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Notice in that section I read there are two positive command in those verses.  One in verse 17 and one in verse 18.  And then the rest of those verb-sounding words, those are participles, and they modify those main verbs.   

First command, understand what the will of the Lord is.  And then, secondly, be filled with the Spirit.  Those two commands, they come together when we realize it is the will of the Lord to be filled with the Spirit.  So focus on being filled with the Spirit and you will also understand what the will of the Lord is and how to fulfill it, okay?  It’s that simple.   

Now as you can see from verses 19-21, the Spirit-filled life looks a certain way.  There are certain characteristics of the Spirit-filled life.  It consists of several things, pious speech, joyful music, sincere gratitude, and then reverent submission.  For this morning, we’re just going to focus on one of those, gratitude.  Gratitude.  Gratitude is one of several marks of a Spirit-filled life.  And it’s absolutely essential because it is a characteristic evidence of a converted person.  This is what a converted person does.  If you find someone who professes to be a Christian and that person is not grateful, but rather has a grumbling and complaining spirit, there’s good reason to question the legitimacy of that person’s profession of faith.   

“Put simply, to give thanks is to express appreciation for what you’ve received.”

Travis Allen

Genuine Christians are grateful people.  They are those who are overflowing with thanksgiving.  Christians are makes with gratitude.  They are to be known for giving thanks.  There ought not to be a more thankful people on the planet than us, beloved, because it’s distinctively Christian to give thanks.   And in verse 20, it says, being thankful, it’s marked by being “thankful always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Those are the marks of Christian gratitude.  And it distinguishes us from the rest of the world that also give thanks, but not like this.  Not like this.  The unbelieving world has its own way of expressing gratitude.  It must.  As we already said, they innately know they must give thanks to someone for things.  They fall far short of this right here in this verse, just one single verse. 

So what is Christian gratitude?  What are its distinctive marks?  What distinguishes Christian gratitude from any other expression of gratitude?  Well the first mark of Christian gratitude, notice in your bulletin there we put the outline there, the essence of Christian gratitude.  The essence of Christian gratitude.  Now in your bulletin, I think it’s listed as the definition of Christian gratitude, and while we do want to define it, we’re going to broaden that point just a little bit there and talk about the essence of Christian gratitude.   

We’re going to get to the heart of this.  And we’re going to start with a definition.  Put simply, to give thanks is to express appreciation for what you’ve received.  Okay?  That’s as simple was we can get.  That’s down to the brass tacks.  To give thanks is to express appreciation for what you have received.  Now obviously, that starts with an inward thought.  It starts with an inward acknowledgment.  But it does not remain as a thought, as an inner thought.  It’s an expression.  The appreciation comes out.  It’s, in most cases, it’s verbalized.  It’s possible to express silent appreciation to God where no one but God hears it, but it’s expressed, nonetheless.  And it’s not just a vague notion that floats in the head and floats out.  It’s something that’s captured and articulated whether in silent praise or vocal praise.   

On a human level, thankfulness that is not verbalized, that is not expressed outwardly, that falls short of true gratitude because gratitude is expressed appreciation.  To fail to express appreciation to God, to fail to express appreciation to other people for what you’ve received, for what you’ve benefited from, that’s call ingratitude.  You’re an ingrate.  Ugly word, isn’t it?  It’s really the height of self-centeredness, the height of indifference, the height of inconsideration.  That’s unfitting for a Christian.   

That verb there, translated “giving thanks,” it’s the verb “eucharisteo,” “eucharisteo.”  And imbedded in the root of that word is the word “charis,” “charis,” which is the Greek word for “grace.”  Grace is at the heart of thankfulness.  Grace is a word that means, you guys are all good Protestants, good Evangelicals, you know the word “grace,” right?  It means “unmerited favor.”  It means, “unearned blessing.”  So to give thanks is to express appreciation for favor or blessing or kindness that is unmerited, unearned, undeserved.  Okay?  Giving thanks acknowledges the fact that we have received grace from God, that God has poured goodness upon us that we did not deserve.   So gratitude, then, it’s a response.  It’s a required response to blessing, to grace.   

Paul expressed that in 1 Corinthians 1:4 right at the beginning of the letter when he told the Corinthian believers.  He said, “I [thank] give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.”  Interesting he’s not even thanking God for the grace given to him, but for others.  Paul is utterly selfless in his thinking.  He’s selfless in his gratitude.  He’s looking around at grace to Christians and he’s so grateful to God to see grace poured upon Christians.  His thanksgiving acknowledges that the grace has come from God, that it spilled down from heaven. 

My grandpa before praying for a meal, before praying over a meal, he would call us all to prayer by saying, “Let’s return thanks.”  I love that.  Let’s return thanks.  It’s a pretty accurate way to express our duty to give thanks to God.  God initiates, pouring out his grace upon us, and we respond to his kindness by returning thanks to him.  It seems a meager expression, but it’s all God asks for.  It’s exactly right. It’s our duty to return thanks to him.   

Let’s think about this for a moment, okay, just to get to the essence of this.  What does thanksgiving require from us on the inside?  Let’s go beyond the definition and get to the essence of Christian gratitude.  Thanksgiving requires first that you recognize that you have what you have because you received it.  You didn’t earn it.  You received it.  Whatever you have, you have because of grace.  You think, “Well, by the might of my arm, I built my business.”  Who gave you the arm?  Listen, this is the indispensable Christian virtue called humility.  The failure to be thankful, it’s a clear indication of self-exalting pride.   

When Paul confronted the fundamental sin of the Corinthian church, which was pride, pride explained every sin, every error that came up in that church, and when Paul confronted that sin of pride, Paul asked them, 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”  It’s a very good question.  Farmers take pride in their crops.  Businessmen take pride in building successful business.  Public servants, they take pride in doing good deeds for the public good.  What have you accomplished that the Lord didn’t enable you to accomplish by his grace?  If you built a business, if you built a career, if you did marvelous things here in the world, great!  I rejoice with you, but don’t boast as if you didn’t receive that from the Lord.  You’ve been given it as a gift.   

What you’ve accomplished is what the Lord allowed you to accomplish.  What he gave you gifts and strength and mental capacity to accomplish, if by his grace then, why do you take pride in your achievements?  Ugly self-exalting pride, that’s the expression of an idolatrous heart, not the heart of a Christian.  And that’s what the Lord sees in an ungrateful person. It’s unvarnished idolatry.  The humility to acknowledge God’s grace, that’s the product of a changed heart, one that profoundly and sincerely appreciates and loves the grace of God.  That, folks, is the heart of worship, humility, profound appreciation for God’s grace.   

And that’s why you’ll notice that two of the qualifying phrases there in verse 20, look at it there.  It’s giving thanks to, “God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Those phrases connect our expressions of thanksgiving directly to God, not to man.  It’s a vertical issue.  The essence of giving thanks is worship.  Okay?  So thankfulness requires us to acknowledge that all we have comes from God.  We receive it.  We are receivers.  And that promotes humility.  We recognize we didn’t earn any of it and if we want to talk about what’s fair, what we deserve, well let’s start talking about that ugly, scary, frightening doctrine called Hell because that’s what we deserve.  Anything less than hell, it’s grace.  Grace.  It’s patience from God.   

So thankfulness starts with acknowledging everything we have comes from God.  It starts with humility.  Secondly, again, just getting to the essence of gratitude here, expressing thanks requires us to be content.  Content.  To find contentment in what God has given, not what you think you want, not what we’d always hoped for, not what we wish we had if only…, but taking pleasure, finding contentment in what God has actually provided for us.  Finding contentment in what God has given.  It’s a very, very close relative to this virtue of humility.  Humility and contentment are then going to combine to overflow to an unstoppable stream of gratitude to God.  When those two virtues are absent, you will find a self-centered person poisoned by his own ingratitude, poisoned, really, by his own idolatry.  But gratitude, it’s the expression of a humble heart that is content in God. 

Well, that’s a very quick look, very short look, too short of a look at the essence of Christian gratitude.   There’s so much more to say, but we need to keep moving.  To give thanks is to express appreciation to God for his manifold grace in our lives.  So when do express this gratitude?  Here’s a second mark of Christian gratitude there in our outline, the occasion of Christian gratitude.  What does the text say?  Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks,” you got it, “always.”  Always.  Do you give thanks always?  At all times?  Paul did.  He confessed, Ephesians 1:16, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”  And in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, he wrote, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”   

Sadly, I’m afraid, there are too few Christians who know that kind of gratitude, who follow Paul’s example.  We express thanksgiving in church, before mealtimes, once a year at the Thanksgiving table over turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie and all that stuff.  That’s become the cultural norm, hasn’t it?  For many in our country, this issue of gratitude has become a once-a-year thing and that’s very, very sad because they’re robbing themselves.  We could probably surmise that for most of the household feasting on a traditional holiday meal this week, they’ll simply forget to acknowledge God in gratitude at all.  Not even a perfunctory prayer before the meal.  Others, they’ll offer the obligatory prayer, but their hearts aren’t going to be in it.  We know that.  We’ve all heard that.   

I’d imagine that for most of us Christians, we’re not so profane as to eat meals without expressing gratitude to God.  We receive our meals with gratitude, according to 1 Timothy 4:3-4.  “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”  We practice that.  That was Jesus’ habit.  He thanked the Father before partaking of the miraculous loaves and fishes, didn’t he?  He also gave thanks when he broke bread with his disciples at a Passover meal, actually, the last Passover and the first communion, which we’re going to celebrate today.   

Very appropriate to use mealtimes to remind ourselves of God’s goodness, to express our thanks to him verbally, to teach our families to show gratitude.  It’s good to give thanks at the mealtime.  It’s a great reminder, token goodness of God in the food, his kindness and goodness manifest right there on the table.  Give thanks for it.  Regular times of coming together, as Paul said, 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  That’s one occasion to give thanks we should never ever, ever, ever neglect.  But how many of us do not cease to give thanks to give thanks to God?  How many of us, like Paul, are constantly finding occasion to express gratitude to him?  Because that’s the pattern, beloved.   

We should strive to thank God unceasingly.  Here’s why.  The more you strive to understand the will of the Lord for your life, that you be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, that you drink deeply of his Word, that you obey Jesus Christ and serve the saints in his church, listen, the more you do all that, the more you will get outside of yourself and you’ll use every occasion you can find to give thanks to God.  And that’s for your good, beloved.  That’s for your pleasure and you joy.  You need to escape this small-minded, worldly perspective into which you were born and transcend all that and look at life from God’s perspective.  Look at life from God’s point of view.  All times, every occasion will become times and occasions to express gratitude to God.  That’s what we were designed for.   

You’ll being to see life differently, not in terms set by an unbelieving world, its politics and economics, its fears, worries, anxieties, its ambitions and pleasures and pursuits, all of it vanity, a chasing after the wind.  Its definitions of success and failure, you’ll transcend all of that and you’ll see life as one continuous opportunity to express worship and gratitude and praise to our God.   

Our nation has set aside the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.  I love that.  We all know the history, harkening back to our nation’s earliest years before America was even a nation.  Many of our pilgrim forefathers were Puritans leaving England and Europe to come to America to worship God freely, according to conscience, according to Scripture.  Puritans who left Catholic Europe or Anglican England, they were sick and tired of a hypocritical show of religion.  In their day, church calendars were full of holidays and feast days.  All of them occasions for hypocritical worshipers to come and offer hypocritical worship by the masses, by the numbers, and occasions for church hierarchies to collect money from the congregants.   

The Puritans, they would have done away with all of that religious nonsense all together.  Besides a regular weekly gatherings, they would have instead replaced those religious holidays with two very simple acts of public worship.  On the one hand, days of feasting, or days of fasting I should say.  Amazing what difference the letter “e” can make.  On the one hand days of fasting, and on the other hand days of thanksgiving, public.  When things were especially hard for the community, especially difficult, it felt like maybe this is a manifestation for the judgment of God on us for some sin, they would come together and fast and pray and entreat God’s mercy.  When things were especially prosperous and there was a season of God’s grace, it was abundant, they wouldn’t neglect to come together to give public thanks.   

That’s not a bad approach.  I love that God-centered simplicity of that Puritan mindset, that Puritan way of thinking, don’t you?  Every occasion provides an opportunity for us to seek God, even to give him thanks.  Even in the hard times, we remember the sovereign kindness of our God, that he purchased for us in our salvation.  And that brings us to a third mark of Christian gratitude.  Third mark, it’s the subject of Christian gratitude.    What’s the subject of Christian gratitude?  What causes us to give thanks to God?  For what reasons?  And notice Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always and for,” what?  “Everything,” right?   For everything! “Always for everything,” those are pretty comprehensive terms.  It doesn’t leave anything out. 

As we just said, “always,” refers to the occasion of our gratitude.  But for “everything,” that refers to the circumstances of our gratitude, the circumstance.  We give thanks in all circumstances, in all situations, whether positive or negative.  In another place, Paul said the same thing, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Listen, folks, this is a very significant distinctive of Christian gratitude, totally separate from the rest of the world.  At every occasion and in every circumstance, we give thanks.  That is something the world simply does not, simply cannot understand.   

Remember that Facebook study?  People reported being thankful for the grace of relationship and that which facilitates relationships like freedom of speech, like here in Colorado, right?  That’s what we’re all about here, relationships, freedom of speech.  They’re thankful for beauties and joys in the created world, things like rain, electricity, the ocean, children’s laughter.  They’re thankful for developments in their culture like Google, YouTube, personal space, country music, whatever it is.  Throughout all the eras of our country’s growth and development, Revolutionary War and independence from England, during the Exploration period and expansion of our country, during the growth of commerce that allowed, was allowed by the transcontinental railroad, all the way up to the time of the Civil War, throughout all those eras, as men, sinful though they may be, as men in our nation’s history, they all understood the need to give thanks to God for allowing them to live and survive.   

Thanksgiving had been celebrated through all those years, all through the founding fathers onward.  As you know, it was President Lincoln who finally formally consolidated all those many states who celebrated on different days.  And so he consolidated all those different celebrations into one thanksgiving observance in our nation, calling for national unity in giving thanks to God.  And it’s fascinating to read his Thanksgiving Proclamation.  It’s a very short proclamation.  You can look it up online.  You should read it.  It’s dated October 3, 1863 and when you read it, remember it was a U.S. President who wrote that.   

After he acknowledged “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” after he acknowledged “civil harmony, international peace,” even in the midst of a civil war, all of this he acknowledged was coming under the hand of the watchful providence of Almighty God, President Lincoln then wrote this, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.” 

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?  Long gone is that common, general humility of President Lincoln’s era when men attributed the ability to overcome hardship to the mercy of the Most High God.  Our country’s endured a lot of hard times, civil war, two world wars, Great Depression, economic collapses, terrorist attacks and all the rest.  But things like national repentance, national fasting and prayer, that’s all gone.  The former humility has been replaced by expressions of pride.  Hard times become occasions for bold expressions of national solidarity, vows to fight to overcome, “We’re Americans, we’ll pull ourselves up and do it.”   

And then times of prosperity, those aren’t occasions of gratitude to God.  Rather, they become occasions for self-induglance.  Americans have abandoned giving thanks to God.  Instead, they take credit for themselves for protection and prosperity.  And while people still express gratitude, it’s generally of a self-centered kind.  It’s only for that which benefits them, for that which, those things that bring them their own personal joy and pleasure and satisfaction.  But Christian gratitude, it’s not like that.  I mean, it thanks God for all those things, but it expresses appreciation for everything, not just that which brings us pleasure, not just over our successes and triumphs.   

In my Bible reading earlier this week, I came across this text, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  So gracious.  Does your Bible say that?  Mine does.  So gracious of James the Apostle after writing that says, “Look, if you need wisdom to understand how trials should be counted as joy in your life, ask of God, who gives generously.  He’ll give to you.”  I was reminded in reading that of the apostles who in Acts 5:41, they left the presence of the Sanhedrin and that is after they had been arrested, commanded not to preach, and then publicly flogged.  That is not small beating, folks.  That hurts and it’s public, so it’s meant to shame and humiliate as well.  After being arrested, commanded not to preach, publicly flogged, just to help them remember the order, “Don’t preach, get a beating for it.”  It says in Acts 5:41, “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” 

Can you imagine if that happened today here in America?  Personalities on Christian radio would be up in arms expressing outrage.  Americans Center for Law and Justice and all those folks would be preparing court cases, demanding an end to the persecution, this violation of free speech in America, the impingement of freedom of religion, how dare they!  Really expect ungodly governments, ungodly people to hold up godly standards?  Listen, if they constitutionally remove freedom of religion, does that mean I can’t freely worship God?  No.  I’m going to worship God.  I may suffer for it, but I’m going to worship God.   

Early apostles knew that.  They found a painful beating to be a good reason to praise and thank God.  The beating for them was evidence that God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.  This is, do we even think that way?  It’s a perspective we lost in this country, even among us evangelicals.  But, beloved, we can get it back.  We can get it back.  Listen, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Facebook lists, nothing wrong with thanking God for those kinds of things, but what should stand out is what’s absent from the list.  No one is finding reasons to thank God for severe trials, for cancer, for the loss of loved ones, for the loss of a job, for family strife, challenges, difficulty.  No one’s thanking God for those things.  Can we give thanks to God for everything, Ephesians 5:20?  Even during bad times?  Can we thank God, not just in spite of bad times, but for bad times?   

I can think of some pretty bad things that have happened in my time or in my life, whether it’s in my own life or the lives of other people.  Natural disasters, human disasters, victimization of the weak, injustices perpetrated on the innocent.  How do we give thanks during those occasions, in those circumstances for those kinds of things?  How is it possible for us to give thanks always and for all things?  The truth is, folks, you know this, it’s not possible on our own, is it?  Left to ourselves, any of those trials in our lives, they just cause us to grumble and complain and turn bitter and groan, complain and we’re like temper tantrum children, right?  Stamping our feet, throwing ourselves on the ground and flailing.  What kind of silliness is that?  We serve a sovereign God who orders all things.   

This isn’t something that comes natural to us, though, is it?  We’re learning a perspective that comes to us, as it says there in context, by the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit, one that grows more mature over time.  So we understand when baby Christians still throw tantrums.  We understand that.  We understand when baby Christians don’t see the sovereignty of God and the blessing of God even in a trial, right?  But over time  we mature, over time we grow and over time we learn it’s all by his grace.   

By God’s grace, he teaches us to look at every circumstance.  And everything that happens to us is a reason to give thanks.  This is the kind of thanksgiving that is completely foreign to the Facebook world, to the entire unbelieving world because it’s not dependent on circumstances.  It transcends that.  It transcends the ebbs and flows of life, the temporal successes and failures and sees God’s hand, perfect hand of wisdom, goodness, and kindness in everything.   

As the Holy Spirit renews our minds, filling us with Scripture, he transforms our thinking.  He makes us grateful always and for everything and because, that’s because, fourth mark of Christian gratitude, it’s because of the object of Christian gratitude, the object.  Paul says we’re to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father.”  To God the Father.  Listen, the reason we can give thanks on all occasions and in all circumstances is because God is our God.  We belong to the God of the Bible and his Word tells us he has sovereignty ordered all things for our good and his glory.  “We know for those who love God all things work together for,” what?  “For good,” right?   All things.  Do you believe that?  “For those who are called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28.  It means we have absolutely nothing to fear and even less to complain about.  Quite the contrary, we have everything to give thanks for.  

Notice in this verse that Paul is emphasizing two relational attributes of the same person when he writes, “To God the Father.”  Paul’s actually making a distinction there, and it doesn’t show up as much in the English as it does in the original, but first this is about God as sovereign God.  And second, this is about God as our Father, so giving thanks to God as sovereign God and to God as Father.   We’re to give thanks, first of all, to God.  That calls to mind again, God’s role as sovereign Creator.  And as our Creator, we benefit from his common grace, for “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the just, he sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45.  That’s what we read earlier out of Psalm 104.  “All look to you to give them their food in due season.”   

Gratitude to God, that’s what we heard in Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.  And while Lincoln acknowledged God as our “beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens,” that’s a reference to the general Fatherhood of God as the Creator and Sustainer of mankind.  But that is not the kind of Father that Paul means here.  The term “Father” here reminds us of God’s role as our gracious Redeemer, our Redeemer.  God has chosen us to receive an even greater grace than the common grace that he spreads on all of mankind.  He’s given us a special, a particular grace of salvation from sin, of rescue from divine judgment.   

As Paul said, Colossians 1:12, “We are to give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”  Specifically verse 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness,” Amen! “And he’s transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  Folks, that is redemption.  And it’s in connection with God’s role as our Redeemer that we address him as our Father.  We belong to him.  He adopted us into his family, and he has granted us direct access to him through the Spirit, through Jesus Christ in his name.  It’s all because of Christ. 

“We’ve got to get beyond these simplistic, superficial, Facebook expressions of thanksgiving.”

Travis Allen

This is where our moral duty to give thanks becomes most clear as a duty to render worship to God.  Worship.  When we express gratitude for what God has done, whether it’s for us or for others, that’s called, “thanksgiving.”  But when we express gratitude to God, just for being God, it’s called, “praise.”  In either case, thanksgiving and praise, it’s the essence of true worship.  We thank God for what he’s done, for what he is doing, for what he will yet do.  We also praise God just for who he is, just for being God, more specifically, for being our God.   

Listen folks, we’ve got to get beyond these simplistic, superficial, Facebook expressions of thanksgiving.  We, Christians, know God far more deeply than that.  Turn, just quickly, and let me show what I mean by going to the Book of Revelation.  The Book of Revelation in chapter 4.  In Revelation 4, there’s this amazing window open into the throne room of heaven and what appears to be a picture of the assembled church represented here by twenty-four elders.  Revelation 4:4 pictures the church as twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones, clothed in white garments with golden crowns on their heads.  That’s a picture of the glorified church there.   

Look at verse 10, Revelation 4:10.  It says, “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne,” which, by the way, he put on their heads.  “They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’”  The church there rejoices to express appreciation for God.  Worship and praise just because God is God.   

Turn over now to chapter 7, Revelation 7, verse 12.  Revelation 7:12 and backing up to verse 11.  Again, same picture in the throne room, twenty-four elders.  “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and all honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!’”  Again, just rejoicing there in God being God.   

Folks, listen, that is our end as Christians.  This is where we end up, taking pleasure in the fact that God is God.  Is it going to matter to you then what your health was like?  Is it going to matter to you then what was going on in your job?  Is it going to matter to you then any of the stuff that’s trivial, that’s temporal, that’s physical here on this earth?  God is on the throne!  That’s good enough for us.  And here as we can see in Revelation 4, Revelation 7, in our glorified state, absent from all weakness, absent from all sin, this is what we rejoice in doing.  I’d like to experience some of that now, wouldn’t you?  We can.  We can look at all of our circumstances in light of this text, put all our trials and our challenges in an eternal perspective. 

One more passage I want to show you in Revelation because it’s so encouraging.  Just turn to Revelation 11 because the church is at it again, expressing thanksgiving and praise to God because he is God, his plan is coming to full fruition.  Look there at Revelation 11:15.  It says there, “The Seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’  And the twenty-four elders,” they do what those twenty-four elders do.  

The ones who sit on their thrones, they got off their thrones again and “before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.  The nations raged but your wrath has come, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for the destroying of the destroyers of the earth.’”  What a perspective.  All terrorism, all the rage of violent men, time will come for divine wrath for all to be judged and for God’s servants, summarized by “those who fear God’s name,” all of them to receive their rewards, whether small or great  That is when God will destroy, as it says there, “the destroyers of the earth.”  Isis, beware, beware. 

Listen, the only way to move from acknowledging God for his role in our lives as our Creator and Sustainer, to then appreciating him for his role as our Redeemer and the object of our eternal worship, the only way is to through salvation in Jesus Christ.  If you’re not saved, you don’t understand this.  This doesn’t make sense to you.  This doesn’t fit with your thinking.  I understand.  We have to be in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ before we’ll ever have this perspective on life.  So freeing, isn’t it?   

I’d like to see more Christians abandoning the trivialities this Thanksgiving and truly thanking and praising God for who he is just for his being God.  But we can only do that if we’re in a right relationship with him through the Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what comes next.  Look at the fifth mark, the final mark of Christian gratitude.  Go back to Ephesians 5:20.  The practice of Christian gratitude.  The practice of Christian gratitude.  How do we give thanks always and for everything to God the Father?  The secret is in that final phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It’s Christ-centered, right?   

To do something in the name of somebody else means we act on that person’s behalf, as his representative in a way that’s concordant, commensurate with him and his character.  We represent the person in a way that’s consistent with who he really is, consistent with his character, with his actions, his words, his behavior, his life, his purpose.  So when we thank God in the name of Jesus Christ, we better make sure our hearts, our words, our motivations are lined up with what accurately reflects the thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ.   

You say, “Well, how am I going to know how to do that?”  Good question.  Thanks for asking.  It’s easily answered.  If you read some of the expressions of thanks from the biblical writers themselves.  That’s what they’re there for, to help us understand even how to express our gratitude.   Follow their patterns in giving thanks to God and make sure that your heart reflects the reasons for gratitude that you are expressing, that their hearts are expressing.  You’ll be giving thanks in a way that’s commensurate with the heart of Jesus Christ himself.  Okay? 

For example, I’m just going to move through some of these very quickly.  You can read them more thoughtfully on your own, but Paul gave thanks to God throughout his Epistles in a way that was consistent with Jesus Christ.  He thanked God, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, for choosing believers, for salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief in the truth.  He thanked God, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, for the Thessalonians accepting the preaching of the Gospel, not as the word of men, not as though, “That’s just the preacher.”  No, but as the Word of God.  He thanked God for God’s grace given to Christians in Christ, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 and 5, 2 Corinthians 4:16.   

He thanked God, and there are a lot of Scriptures on this, he thanked God for salvation and spiritual growth, faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints.  He thanked God for growth in Christian maturity among Christians, the work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope.  He thanked God for the abundance of joy that comes from Christians who are standing firm in the faith, 1 Thessalonians 3:9.  He thanked God for long-term partnerships in the Gospel.  He thanked God for the generosity Christians showed in giving.  Why?  Because it increased in Gospel ministry fruitfulness.  Why?  Because it increased in thanksgiving to God.  He thanked God for the spread of the Gospel around the entire world, Romans 1:8.  That’s just a small sampling, folks.  Not to mention there is not one passage I found in there of Paul thanking God for Yoga.  Sorry, Oregon.  It’s not there, not there.   

Is all of that, what I just read from Paul, is that in your mind when you give thanks to God?  Or are your thoughts dominated by temporal and physical issues?  Listen, we decry the prosperity gospel and prosperity preachers and rightly so.  The prosperity gospel is not a gospel, but it’s a damning false gospel that leads people to hell.  It keeps them ensnared in love for the world.  But how often, we have to admit, our prayer life reveals a prosperity theology at a practical level.  We thank God for too many temporal, physical things.  And we only thank him for that.   

Beloved, that’s bondage to this world, not freedom.  When we give thanks to God, we just need to apply these five marks of Christian gratitude.  These five marks as a pattern and we’ll find freedom and joy in thanksgiving.  When you’re giving thanks to God, you cannot be at the same time grumbling, complaining, self-centered, discontented, conflicted and restless.  Instead, when you express thanksgiving to God, you’re humble, satisfied in him, contented in him, at peace with him, pleased in him, joyful in him.  All that and more is what God wants for us, his redeemed people. 

Let’s pray.  Father, we thank you.  We do thank you.  It seems like such a small word, so insignificant, and yet, it’s all you require from us.  You want thanksgiving, a broken and contrite heart you will not despise, and our thanksgiving you will not turn away.  Help us to be sincerely thankful to find good reasons for giving praise and honor and glory to you. Help us to reflect the praise of those multitudes in Revelation who throw themselves before you at your feet, bowing, casting their crowns from their head, taking no credit fot anything you’ve done and giving you all honor, praise, glory, honor and might.  We love you.  We thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this issue of Christian gratitude and we ask that you would make us more consistent with this truth in our lives, even this week as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year.  In Jesus’ name, amen.