Friday, November 20, 2009

In Everything Give Thanks

I know that Paul was not talking about American Thanksgiving when under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote the words "give thanks in all circumstances." The imagery of the horn of plenty has always appealed to me.

That's all. Times of a plentiful harvest are certainly part of the "all circumstances." When I was a kid, I loved those coloring pictures with the Cornucopia.

43.1 Thessalonians 5:18
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
εὐχαριστέω eucharisteō

1) to be grateful, feel thankful
2) give thanks

"Give thanks in all circumstances" is a simple command, yet one that is hard to practice. It is another one of those present active imperatives in the Greek that means the giving of thanks and the feeling of gratitude is a habit that we should cultivate if we are real Christians. The giving of thanks should be part of our daily "routine." It should not be something that we do once in awhile, and then forget about. An imperative is a command. This is God's will for us, not an option or just a good idea.

Adverse circumstances should not have an effect on our habit of expressing gratefulness to God. God does not change, so why should our gratefulness change? The giving of thanks is Godward primarily. Remember that Christ gave thanks on the night He was betrayed, so we will never face more adverse circumstances than that.
Christ is our Savior, but He left us an example of how we should face the most dire of situations. Besides that He lives in us through the Holy Spirit, developing in us Christlike attitudes which lead to Christlike actions. The giving of thanks in all cricumstances is something that Christ certainly practiced.

Some argue that we are not told to give thanks for the circumstances themselves. If God is control of the circumstances, shouldn't we receive them all as from His good hand and give thanks for them? On the other hand, in an absolute moral sense, not all circumstances are good, so we should not thank God for our own sin or for the sinful things that others do that bring about bad circumstances. God can and does make all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, but He does not make people sin. (Romans 8:27-29) He allows people to sin, but His expressed will is that people do not sin.

So, we can thank God for the good that He is able to bring even out of the sinful actions of ourselves and others, but we should never be grateful that we or someone else has sinned. The act of giving thanks is closly related to worship, God's holiness, and His glory, so nothing in us should be grateful that someone has sinned.

Even so, if evil men had not taken Jesus and murdered Him on a cross, we would not be saved from our sins. God used the most sinful acts of the depraved human heart to bring about the destruction of sin, the devil, and even death itself.

Still, the command remains to habitually practice giving thanks to God no matter where we are or what is happening to us. Paul and Silas in prison is another example of where this principle was put into practice. Paul practiced what he preached, in other words. (Acts 16:22-30)

One may think that it is easy to give thanks to God when all is going well, but often that is not the case. Remember the 10 lepers who were healed? Only one of the 10 came back to give thanks.

I don't think, as many Christians seem to indicate, that there is some kind of spiritual power released in the act of giving thanks itself. The "power" comes from the regenerate heart of obedience and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no "magic" in the act of giving thanks, and the unbeliever will not receive some spiritual benefit from it. The giving of thanks and the feeling of thankfulness is not something that we can work up in the flesh.

We don't thank God through gritted teeth, so to speak, while in our hearts we are cursing our circumstances.

Thankfulness is a grace that God works in our hearts through faith in Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Giving thanks in all circumstances is God's will in Christ Jesus. This is a command for believers.

Of course, if we do not feel grateful at all times, we can still give thanks, knowing that it is the right thing to do and that it is God's will. We can also ask God to work in our hearts so that our feelings also line up with His revealed will.

Some make a big deal about the circumstances themselves being God's will for the believer, therefore give thanks. Some make a big deal about the giving of thanks being God's will. I think that both are true, actually. Nothing happens to us that is outside His sovreign will, and it is always His will for us to be thankful no matter what.

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