As the family sat down to dinner one night dad pointed out his daughter and asked if she would like to give thanks. She nodded in agreement and instantly bowed her head, everyone else did the same. Then there was a long silent pause. Finally she tugged at her daddy’s sleeve: “Daddy,” she whispered, “What do I give thanks for?”
Everyone grinned as dad leaned over and whispered back, “Just tell God thank you for the food.”
“Ok,” she said. There was another long pause. Followed by another tug on daddy’s sleeve.
“But daddy,” she protested quietly, “If I thank God for the peas won’t he know I’m lying?”
What does it mean what does it take to be thankful for everything, even for the stuff you wouldn’t have wanted? Turn over to Ephesians 5:20 and look at that passage with me. Let’s take the context of Ephesians 5:15-21 so that we gain a fuller understanding and read that together.
When we get to our main text we have to realize that verse 20 is a continuation of a theme introduced earlier in verses 15 and 18. The head category is that of v 15 & 16 which is “be careful how you walk not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” What follows the 15th verse then is a description of what it means to walk wisely â€“ making good use of your time.
One of the ways to make good use of your time is drawn in the contrast of verse 18: don’t get drunk with wine… be filled with the Spirit instead. That spirit filling will be accompanied by three evidences.
1. v19 the language of worship will flood your vocabulary.
2. v20 you will be marked by gratitude.
3. v21 you will become a servant of others.
In light of the thanksgiving holiday, it is the second in that series which I choose to address this morning. If drinking too much wine transforms your behavior into something that is potentially evil; so too being filled with Christ in the Holy Spirit will lead to specific results as well. The fullness of the Spirit will result in, among other things, the ability to give thanks in all things.
Filled by the Holy Spirit
First of all, even though I’ve just mentioned it â€“ we mustn’t lose sight that an attitude of thanksgiving is not merely a fleshly endeavor. We can and should strive to cultivate an attitude of gratitude but in doing so we as Christians must know that as we give thanks to God that the Holy Spirit is the empowering force behind our thankfulness is the Holy Spirit living in us.
As Paul tells the Philippians “Work out your salvation…because it is God at work in you.” (Philippians 2:12) Also in 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says that he worked harder than the rest of the apostles but that the work he did was God working in Him. That principle of working by reliance upon God working in you is precisely what it means to do anything in the power of God. We are active participants in the process but in our participation we are yielding to and trusting in the power of God’s Spirit working through us.
There is no such thing as a chaise lounge Christianity where we just lay back and watch God do all the work. The mystery however is that as we rise and labor in faith we find that the work we do is not of ourselves but is instead the work of God in us. The same is true of our thanksgiving. When we as Christians begin to give thanks to God, our giving of thanks is flavored and fueled by the filling of God’s Spirit living in us.
Having established that, look again at Ephesians 5:20 where we see the frequency, limit, Means and recipient of giving thanks. Let’s start with the Frequency.
Frequency of Thankfulness
How often are we supposed to be thankful to God? The verse commands us to always give thanks. In the power of God’s Holy Spirit it is never a bad time to be thankful. Take a look at Romans 1:21 for a moment. Notice that Paul is describing Godless people. But how does he describe godlessness? One of the key traits is failing to give thanks to God.
The same thing happens in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Turn there and read it with me.
Did you by any chance notice what he says? “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be … ungrateful…”
I find it so intriguing that the Bible consistently teaches that a failure to be thankful to God is a clear sign that you don’t know him! “Thanklessness is a trait of unbelievers.”1 Therefore we who know Him must always give thanks to God. So what should we thank Him for?
Limit of Thankfulness
The text says for all things.2 All things? What about when things go wrong? Few people here would have a hard time being thankful for a chocolate pie. But what about a broken leg? Could you give thanks for a sunshiny day? Could you give thanks for a thunderstorm? Can we give thanks for health? Can you give thanks for illness?
Is it really reasonable to give thanks for all things? Look at the letter to the Ephesians as a whole and we could make a case that Paul is talking strictly about blessings. And some people try to do just that. But I presume that “all” means “all” and not just “all that is good.” Give thanks to God for all things whether they be good, bad or indifferent. The same command is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
But why give thanks for all things? Ultimately we should give thanks for all things because God is sovereign over everything. The sunshine and the rain are his. And nothing that comes to us is out of his control.
That’s why Chrysostom a great preacher in the early Church was able to teach that “a Christian could give thanks even for Hell, because Hell was a warning to keep him in the right way. “3 Being thankful for all things demands faith and it demands the Holy Spirit. “Anyone can be thankful for sunshine; it takes the power of the Spirit to be thankful for the storms of life.”4
Gratitude without limits is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in you.
Briefly let me address two more issues regarding thankfulness. Out of order in the text they answer the questions “Who do we thank, and how do we thank him?”
Recipient of Thankfulness
Notice please at the close of the verse that we’re told to give thanks “to the God and Father.”
Who we supposed to thank? God the Father through Jesus not Jesus. You might consider it a small thing, but we’re never told to give thanks to Jesus. We are told however to give thanks to the Father. In the same way we’re told also to pray to the Father through Jesus. Yes Jesus is fully God but it is to the Father who is the head of the Son.
Everything that the Son does he has received from the Father. And so as the Father is over all he is the one to whom we give thanks. Giving thanks is always to be done “TO THE FATHER” there is no other person to whom we must give thanks. That is not to say that Jesus isn’t involved. Because apart from Jesus we have no right or access to the Father â€“ even in order to give him thanks! Jesus is the pathway, or the means to thankfulness.
Means of Thankfulness
We are to thank the Father, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Our prayers to God are through Christ. Our worship to God is through Christ. Our thanks to God must also come through Christ. Jesus is the pathway to the Father.
Giving thanks is Fueled by the Spirit, Focused on the Father, and Facilitated by Christ Jesus. Being thankful is the duty of every Christian flowing obediently out of the Fullness of the Holy Spirit.
When you sit down for thanksgiving dinner this year, express to God the Father through Jesus the Son your gratitude for all things not merely the turkey and trimmings but for everything with no exceptions.
1John Jr MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997), 1 Th 5:18.
2or “for everyone” NET It is also reasonable that the rendering could be taken masculine (same form) so as to render “all things” as “all people”. This would mean that we must always give thinks for all people. Even the difficult people. However, it seems more likely that the broader term “things” rather than “people” is in view here.
3The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1976), 167.
4William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer’s Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995), Eph 5:20.