What Do We Know About Thanksgiving?

By Pr Ay Nee Ng

Why is so important to return thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ? And what do we know about thanksgiving? Can we thank someone when we don’t know what they have done for us? Isn’t dying on the cross for us worthy of our thanks even when our life isn’t always that great?

What is Thanksgiving?
Thankfulness is an important subject in God’s Word as a whole and especially to the apostle Paul. The concept of thankfulness in the New Testament comes from the use of two Greek words. The first word is charizomai, which comes from charis, grace; the second one is homologeo, to confess, to acknowledge (Heb. 13:15, Matt. 11:25). Combinations of the words are found 169 times in 162 verses in the NASB and 195 times in 186 verses in the NET Bible. Paul uses the concept over 40 times in his epistles and seven times in Colossians alone (Col. 1:2, 3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2).

Thankfulness is a mental, emotional, and verbal expression of one’s acknowledgement and appreciation of God’s person, His grace, His blessings, and His sovereign work in our lives and the world. Some key ideas related to thankfulness are: biblical understanding, trust, humility, grace, the right focus and values, and joy. It is through the possession and function of these qualities that we become thankful. When we trust, we are thankful. Paul says in Philippians 4:6 that we should not be anxious but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we are to pray. We should understand our hopeless situation but trust that God will provide the solutions to that problem in our lives.

What Should We Be Thankful About?
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:6-9).

“With joy giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14).

In Colossians 1:10-14, Paul is saying that there is more to be thankful about. He points out five awesome blessings that Christians receive through the mighty acts the Father has accomplished in the person and work of His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. Christians can have a life that is pleasing unto the Lord by bearing fruit, growing, being strengthened, and giving thanks. We have so much to give thanks because of the act of Jesus paying the price of death for our sins and being raised to life on the third day after He was buried. Thanksgiving is found in the saving acts of God because these blessings are the ones that deliver believers out of Satan’s domain of darkness and into the wonderful realm of light and spiritual fruitfulness. The following five blessings are only a partial listing of the blessings God gives us in Christ, but they give us a wonderful illustration of what God has done in His Son and of what all believers possess in Christ.

Through Christ, the Father has:

  1. qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light;
  2. delivered us from the domain of darkness;
  3. transferred us into the kingdom of His Son;
  4. redeemed us, providing the forgiveness of sins;
  5. given us His peace, which transcends all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

We should give thanks for God Himself and for His sovereign activity and control over the universe. What a hopeless world this world would be if all things had no purpose and were merely the product of time plus chance! As we read in Colossians 1:12-14, we should give thanks for our salvation through Christ and for the unfathomable riches that are ours in Him (Eph. 3:8). After all, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing, and we are complete in Him (Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:10). Paul also very often illustrated in the salutation of his epistles that we should give thanks for others who know the Saviour and are growing and serving the Lord.

Why Should We Give Thanks?

1. Thanksgiving is a crowning virtue that pleases God as we grow in the knowledge in spiritual wisdom and understanding.

2. It humbles us. Thanksgiving stems from a humble heart that comprehends that God is our very source and benefactor of life (Rom. 11:36). He is our heavenly Father; we are not in a vacuum of ignorance.

3. It honours God. When we are thankful, we recognize that God exists and act on the reality of His life as the very source and means of ours. True thankfulness recognizes our total dependence on God and stems from realizing that everything going on in our lives and all we have is the product of God’s sovereignty, infinite wisdom, purposes, grace, and activity (2 Cor. 4:15).

4. It is commanded in the Scripture. The book of Psalms are filled with the call to give thanks. For example, Psalm 100:4 says: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”. Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything keep on giving thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. In Colossians 3:15, 17, he commands us to be thankful.

5. It helps focus on the sovereignty of God. He is in control, working all things together for good, regardless of how they may seem to us in our limited perspective (cf. Rom. 8:28, 29; Jas. 1:2-4; Gen. 50:19-20). While all things may not be good, God uses them for good to make us like His Son. A spirit of thanksgiving keeps our eyes on the Lord and promotes an eagerness to go to God in prayer to lay our burdens and those of others at His feet (Ps. 68:19-20; Col. 4:2). Do we thank God for our “home” and place of worship—SGC centre/office—where many can be blessed? Do we thank or complain and murmur when things don’t go our way?

6. It protects us against the dangers and consequences of thanklessness.

  • Thanklessness dishonours God and leads to proud humanism or dependence on man rather than God (Rom. 1:21).
  • It leads to bitterness, discontent, and a joyless life (Heb. 12:15). Since thankfulness is a response to the grace of God, bitterness, discontent, and grumbling are the product of an unthankful heart that fails to properly respond in faith to God and His infinite wisdom, grace and purposes.
  • It promotes pettiness and occupation with self, people, and problems which turn to be dangerous. In turn, it leads to depression and hopelessness because we become focused on our problems rather than on the Lord.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and use us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14). This verse demonstrates that a thankful and God-focused person counts on God and that His triumph and will manifests the sweet fragrance of a life filled with the knowledge of Christ rather than the spirit of bitterness and complaining. Thankfulness, then, becomes our spiritual barometer; it is an evidence of the condition of our spiritual life and value system, which should give us a warning if we have ears to hear (Eph. 5:4, 20) Note the context for each verse. For verse 4, the context is living as children of God rather than as children of the world (v. 1); for verse 20, the context is the fruit of the Spirit.

Thankfulness Thanklessness
Generous Selfish (i.e. God and others ought to make one happy and fulfil my expectations).
Caring, kind, and good Murmuring, petty, and self-focused
Humble and grateful to God Proud and arrogant, thinking one deserves more
Trusting and interdependent on God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14). Self-trusting, independent, and self-sufficient

When Should We Give Thanks?
Whenever we pray in everything and for everything (Eph. 5:20; 1 Thes. 5:18).

What Promotes a Thankful Heart?

  • Having a Word-filled heart (Col. 1:9, 12; 2:7; 3:16). Spiritual understanding is so vital to a thankful heart, living in the Word keeps our focus in place.
  • Having a Spirit-filled life (Eph. 5:18, 20). God has designed the Christian life to be lived under the control and influence of the Holy Spirit.
  • Knowing who we are as God’s children (cf. Eph. 5:1, 4b).
  • Remembering to what we have been called: to one body in which there should be peace.
  • Recognizing the consequences of a thankless heart (Col. 3:15, Heb. 12:15b).

There is no reason not to give thanks. The Scripture teaches us, both by illustration (Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:3; 1 Thes. 1:2) and by direct admonition (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2), that prayer should generally be accompanied by or offered with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving turns our eyes from our problems and ourselves to the Lord so we might focus on Him and His sovereign grace. It helps us to see life through the perspective of God’s person, principles, promises, plan, provisions, and purposes. As we give thanks, this upward focus promotes faith and courage in the face of the trying, painful and sometimes hopeless situations that we all eventually face to one degree or another.

Thanksgiving takes away the anxiousness of our situation and, like Paul in Philippians, gives us peace with God. The world no longer has a grip on us, but we have a grip on God’s love. We have hope in God and can continue to live for His glory, strengthened in our faith, which pleases Him.