This past week, we gave thanks to the Lord as a congregation for His faithfulness to us over the 40 years of the church’s existence.
A large amount of time, energy, and financial resources went into that celebration. Is it legitimate to do something like that celebration? Why should we be overt in our expression of thanks? And how should we give thanks?
Most basically, we give thanks because gratitude is frequently commanded in Scripture. We find commands to give thanks throughout Scripture. Consider just a few examples. In perhaps the most well-known passage about thankfulness, Scripture says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks…” And the reason the believer is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks is that it is the will of God for him (1 Thess. 5:16-18). This is God’s moral revelation about what is right: it is always good and necessary to give thanks.
In the second letter to Thessalonians, Paul adds that “we ought always to give thanks to God fort you” (2 Thess. 1:3). It was a moral obligation for Paul and his co-workers to give thanks for the church in Thessalonica.
Further, thankfulness is not just a New Testament responsibility: it was a priority of Old Testament worshippers as well — “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4; cf. also 105:1; 106:1). As the Old Testament saints gathered for worship, they were to do so gratefully, recognizing God’s provision for and care of them.
We also give thanks not just because of the commands of Scripture, but also because of the examples of Scripture. For instance, Paul not only exemplifies gratitude, but he might even be called “The Apostle of Gratitude.” Repeatedly Paul exudes gratitude to God for the people to whom he is writing. Consider for instance, Romans 1:8, Philippians 1:3ff, Colossians 1:3ff, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4, and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4. He is even thankful for a church that caused him no small amount of personal hardship — a church that even attacked his character (see 1 Cor. 1:4ff). Paul might have written the command to the church to give thanks (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:16-18), but what he commands us to do, he does, even in hardship (Acts 16:25ff).
We give thanks in all things and at all times because it’s always good to give thanks. The believer’s life should be marked by gratitude. There are few things more incongruous than ungrateful Christians. Gratitude is always possible and it gratitude is always a right response. Gratitude is especially appropriate on days like Sunday, when we mark 40 years of God’s faithfulness to us. And as we give thanks to God, looking for and observing His graciousness to us for the past, it also stimulates us to trust Him for the future. Because He has been faithful in previous times, we are encouraged and emboldened to trust Him in future times. He has been faithful, He is faithful, and He will be faithful, so we trust Him. When we are not grateful, we circumvent the process by which our trust in God is built and developed.
In Colossians 1, we are also reminded that we are not just generally grateful; we are grateful to God (Col. 1:3; cf. also 2 Thess. 1:3). The object of our gratitude is God. He is the source of all we have received, so He receives the praise and gratitude for all things. We aren’t just “generally” thankful with no one to receive our gratitude; we are grateful to have One who is responsible for all we have, is gracious in all we have, and able to receive our gratitude.
For what then should we give thanks? In Colossians 1:3-8, Paul identifies five works of God’s grace for which we thank Him. We give thanks for God’s gifts of faith, love, hope, fruit, and ministry.
Specifically, we give thanks to God for these things in our church body:
- We give thanks for the gospel that has saved us.
- We give thanks for God empowering and enabling us to believe.
- We give thanks for the privilege of taking the gospel to others.
- We give thanks for the privilege of seeing the gospel change unbelievers in counseling.
- We give thanks that you don’t want to give yourself without also giving the gospel.
- We give thanks that our reputation is of being a gospel defending church.
- We give thanks for the grief we share over those who are living and dying without the gospel.
- We give thanks that we love one another.
- We are thankful that when sin happens, it is confessed.
- We are thankful that when sin is confessed, it is forgiven.
- We give thanks for love that graciously exhorts others when sin is seen.
- We give thanks for love that prefers another (Rom. 12:10).
- We give thanks for love exemplified in homes.
- We give thanks to God for this love because this love originates with Him.
- We give thanks for a love that is non-discriminatory.
- We give thanks for the testimony of those who have suffered well and died well.
- We give thanks for those who are investing their retirements well, serving the church body, not wanting to waste their retirements.
- We give thanks for those who are investing their pre-retirement years well, also serving, not wanting to waste their lives.
- We give thanks for those who possess financial resources but are not possessed by financial resources — so they share well with the body of Christ.
- We give thanks that the truth of where we are going is shaping the way we live now.
- We give thanks for sanctification that is evidencing genuine fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Not every church bears good fruit. Since our church is producing good fruit, we must be thankful that the Spirit of God has produced this sanctifying work in our church body.
- We give thanks for the fruit of embracing of Scripture for what it is — the Word of God and not the word of men (1 Thess. 1:13).
- We give thanks to God for the ministry He has produced through us.
- We give thanks for 30 years of AWANA (for about 10 years taping the circle down on the sanctuary floor every Tuesday night) — for teachers and for students and for the Word memorized.
- We give thanks for two dozen years (or more) of VBS.
- We give thanks for a dozen years of BCDC training — hundreds of people equipped to disciple
- We give thanks for countless Bible studies and men’s and women’s retreats.
- We give thanks for thousands of hours training children and adults in Sunday School.
- We give thanks for untold numbers of discipleship training relationships.
- We give thanks for elders who love Christ, shepherd with humble joy, and pray effectively and persistently (2000-3000 hours in corporate prayer for the church body?).
- We give thanks for missionaries sent (like David Gibson, who left again last Friday, and the Weertmans, and all our other partners around the globe).
- We give thanks for missions trips that have been taken to: Costa Rica (several times), PNG, Cambodia, Mexico (10 times), Uganda, Russia (several times), Lebanon, Israel.
- We give thanks for resources that have been generously given to missions.
- We give thanks for books that have been purchased and donated to equip others.
- We give thanks for pastors that have been encouraged through you (your pastors and other pastors). You have been generous to care for us and caring for and encouraging us to care for other pastors.
- We give thanks for meals provided, houses cleaned, people moved, hospital visits made, phone calls made, texts sent, and cards written. And you have done that without complaint.
- We give thanks for labor provided: serving AWANA meals, cleaning the church, making repairs, being the “church angel,” mowing the property, serving at conferences, and doing many things to help events like our 40th anniversary get done.
The work of ministry is sometimes unnoticed, often hard, and almost always costly. We give thanks that for 40 years, God has equipped Grace Bible Church members to do the work of the ministry joyfully, sacrificially, and as examples of faithfulness. This is a testimony that you consider yourselves slaves of Christ. This is a testimony to the work of Christ in you, since this is not naturally, but supernaturally worked.
Let us give thanks to God for His great grace and faithfulness to us for 40 years of ministry.