By Brad Hicks
Last week, in Part 1 of our discussion on thankfulness in the scriptures, we pored over the Old Testament and noticed that the word thanks was first used in the Book of Leviticus as it related to the Law of Moses; God commanded that offerings and sacrifices were to be made in a spirit of reverence and thankfulness to him, a token of remembrance that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was, is, and always will be man’s Provider and Sustainer. Offerings and sacrifices were reminders to his people that they were to always enter God’s holy presence with thanksgiving and praise.
We saw that in the Old Testament Law, priests were appointed and responsible to always demonstrate to God’s people the prescribed way to offer thanks to God — in the morning and in the evening, with worshipful music on instruments, and with their voices in song. The righteous kings of Israel understood that they were given priestly duties as well, charged with leading their people in a posture of gratefulness and thanksgiving to the Holy One of Israel.
We learned of the harsh consequences imposed by God on his people when they chose not to acknowledge and thank him for all they had. After centuries of turning their backs on God — even choosing to acknowledge and thank other gods for their wealth and power — God, after many warnings, banished the Israelites into captivity in faraway countries, into slavery to the Assyrians and Babylonians, Israel’s and God’s blasphemous enemies.
But God is always merciful, and his punishment and discipline are not meant to fully destroy and forever humiliate. They are intended to bring his people back to him in holy fear, in reverence and awe, in thankful admonition, and in truthful reality. And the truth is, mankind’s reality is, that we were created by God and for his good purposes in the earth. Not only the Israelites but all men and women everywhere and in all times are given breath and life by God so that we might find him and experience his goodness through our obedience, trust, and abiding faithfulness in him — not only when times are good and things are working out well for us, but especially when we’re suffering and when goodness and light seem far from our reach.
Emphasis on thankfulness in the New Testament
Now, I want to explore how, when, and why our Lord and Savior and the first disciples in the New Testament gave thanks to God. Of the nearly 150 uses of the word “thank” in English translations of the Bible and its derivative words — thanks, thanksgiving, thankful, thankfulness, grateful, etc. — about half of them are in the New Testament, even though the New Testament contains only about one-third of the number of words as the Old Testament. In other words, thankfulness was a huge theme to the New Testament writers, and in the four gospels Jesus is recorded as giving thanks to his Father in heaven 16 times.
Interestingly, of the 16 times Jesus is recorded as giving thanks to God, all but once (15 times) he thanked God for food (bread, fish, and wine) that he was about to distribute to his followers and hearers — at the miracle-feeding of the hungry multitudes, at the Last Supper with his disciples, and after he was raised from the dead and appeared to two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus with whom he eventually broke bread, gave thanks to God, then explained prophetic scriptures about himself. I believe it’s spiritually significant to the serious reader of scripture that almost every time Jesus is recorded as giving thanks it is related to food — to nourishment, sustenance, provision, and renewed life. Maybe the Holy Spirit is revealing a deeper meaning to us about our own giving of thanks. Jesus called himself the Bread of Life and it was he who explained to the twelve that the bread of communion was his broken body and the wine his shed blood poured out for them. The Spirit is telling me that the object of my thanks to my Father in heaven is Jesus himself, for it is God through Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word, who nourishes me, sustains me, provides my every need, renews my life, and heals and saves me. I will thank God every day for the precious gift of His Son. What is the Spirit telling you, friends?
Another passage in the gospels that I love is in Luke, chapter 17. It tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Only one of them praised God and said thank you to Jesus for his gracious healing. Jesus asked this one, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” The point is, do I walk away from God’s goodness to me without the slightest acknowledgement of, or gratefulness to, Him, as if I am fully entitled to it, or as if somehow it was because of something I did for which I deserved his blessing? Or do I believe in my heart that it is only by the grace of God, only because of his kindness and mercy, that I even live and breathe, and consequently, do I take a spiritual (and sometimes even a physical) posture of thanksgiving before him?
Moving on from the gospels to the New Testament letters written to first-century Christians and believing communities, particularly the letters written by Paul — they are all gloriously pocked with the apostle’s acknowledgement of, and praise and thanks to, God! Nearly every one of Paul’s 13 letters begin with some variation of communicating his thankfulness. There are so many humble and lovely lines of thanksgiving (46 in all!) written by this early saint who was so committed to the purposes and plans of God. See if you recognize a few of these famous lines from Paul.
• First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. (Romans 1)
• But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)
• All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4)
• Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5)
• Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4)
• and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1)
• rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2)
• give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5)
• I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. (1 Timothy 1)
• For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, (1 Timothy 4)
These are only a few of the New Testament passages from Paul’s writings that express his thankfulness to God. Maybe above all else, Paul models for us a redeemed life of sheer gratefulness!
Finally, I want to mention thankfulness in the book of Revelation. There are three verses that highlight thankfulness and each of them are visions the Revelator had of the worshiping beings in heaven. Even in heaven, thanks is constantly being bestowed upon God, like this passage from chapter 11: “And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.’”
Do you see the picture here? Can you understand? When I choose to take on a posture of thankfulness to God in all things, I am demonstrating trust and faith in my Maker, who is always good, whose judgments are always right and just, and who is the embodiment of Love. I am reminding myself that I am not the center of the universe and that I have not been put on this earth to please and exalt myself. This is the power of a thankful life — it is the gateway to overcoming the demonic spirit of this world that falsely lures me into believing that I myself must and should get the credit and the glory for what I have and for what I’ve accomplished. Only those who truly see and understand that giving glory to God in grateful appreciation for all they have and for all they are have overcome the bondage and tyranny of self-absorption. The thankful ones are they who have freed themselves from the clutches of spiritual Assyria and the chains of slavery in today’s worldly Babylon.
So, thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth, for living among men and women like us, demonstrating real love, giving yourself to die on our behalf then bursting from the grave and giving your Spirit to dwell in us! We agree with Brother Paul: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit … always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.