Our children grew up in a home where they were expected to send timely “thank you” notes for gifts they received.
And many of you experienced the same kind of training. While saying and writing “thank you” often seems bothersome for children, it’s still an attainable duty. It can be done because the speaker or writer knows to whom to address his thanks: “Thank you, Grandma for the birthday gift,” or “thank you, Mom, for dinner,” or “thank you dad for the ice cream,” or “thank you, brother, for protecting me from the bully.”
But what if you experience a feeling of forgiveness but don’t know the giver of the gift? Sometimes that happens if we receive anonymous gifts. But for the unbeliever it happens every day. He has received many natural gifts through common grace and has a gift of supernatural grace awaiting him in salvation (if he but responds in faith to receive it), but he doesn’t know (or isn’t willing to acknowledge) the Giver of the gift.
But the believer is in no such position. He knows the Giver of all his gifts. He knows that everything he has, either through common or special grace, is from God in Heaven. No one else is able to give him what he has. No one can give him life but God. No one can sustain his life but God. No one can give him a mind to comprehend truths but God. No one can endow his body with abilities to function and labor but God. And no one can regenerate his dead, stony, and rebellious heart but God. Certainly he can work to develop his gifts — he can study and learn and serve — but only God can give him the gifts to begin with. And only God is able to give him the ability to carry out his labors (see Phil. 2:12-13).
So when the believer is thankful on Thanksgiving Day (or any other day), he is thankful to a particular person. Certainly he can thank his boss for his job and his wife for her forgiveness and his children for their obedience and his friend for his faithful kindness. But he is aware that each of these gifts ultimately comes from the God in Heaven (Js. 1:17).
All gifts — and everything we have — are from God. And because everything we have is from God, all our gratitude terminates on God.
This is a consistent theme in the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament. Often the biblical writers exhort their readers to and exemplify to their readers the principle of specifically offering thanks to God.
Consider these admonitions and examples to thank God:
- Anna gave thanks to God for the gift of the newborn Messiah (Lk. 2:38)
- While on a sinking ship, Paul gave thanks to God for the provision of bread to eat (Acts 27:35)
- Paul gave thanks to God for the faith of the Roman believers (Rom. 1:8; this is a consistent theme in Paul’s letters — cf. also 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:3; Philemon 4)
- Paul gave thanks to God for freedom from bondage to sin (Rom. 6:17)
- Paul gave thanks to God for the victorious life of the believer (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14)
- Paul gave thanks to God for the gift of Christ (2 Cor. 9:15)
- The life of the believer is to be marked by continual offerings of gratitude to God (Col. 3:15, 17; 1 Thess. 5:18)
- The believer should have fruitful lips marked by gratitude to God (Heb. 13:15)
- The angels around the throne of God are continually and eternally giving thanks to God for all His good works (Rev. 7:11-12)
- The inhabitants of Heaven give thanks to God for His sovereign kingship (Rev. 11:17)
And add to this the reality that one of the primary marks of unbelief is a lack of gratitude (Rom. 1:21) and one sees the importance of not just cultivating gratitude, but disciplining oneself to be grateful to God for all things.
The believer does well to be thankful. A grumpy and ungrateful believer is unthinkable. But even more, a believer is to be thankful to God. A believer who is thankful in general but is not thankful to God in particular is not genuinely thankful.
So this week (and everyday), be thankful. But let your thanks find its expression in gratitude to God for all his good works in everything He has given you.