“Thanksgiving” is More Than Politeness


“Be thankful” (Col. 3:15) is a recurring plea of the Apostle Paul. The verb appears sixty-two times in the New Testament alone. But to be honest, I never really thought too much about it until I read this book. “Thankfulness” as a concept had always seemed to me like a sort of nicety – so it was never for me much more than an afterthought. You know, like, we should say “thanks” to be nice – or when someone is nice to us. What else value does it have? Honestly, thankfulness has always seemed to me a helpful action of etiquette and good manners (after all: it’s what mama and daddy always told me to say when someone did something good to me!) but besides that – thankfulness as a concept was “whateva.” “Of no consequence” so to speak. But, as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more theologically and Scripturally incorrect.

In this book David W. Pao persuasively shows that actually, Thanksgiving has much more to do with an ethical life than it does with polite etiquette. Pao shows that at the heart of a God-centered life, is thanksgiving. He writes about how thanksgiving is used as a summary term to characterize all proper behavior of the people of God. And he shows how in Scripture, thankfulness is contrasted with idolatry, forgetfulness, and ingratitude – which are some of the distinguishing marks of non-believers. After all, “To be ungrateful is not simply a state of harmless absentmindedness. It is the failure to acknowledge God as the creator and Lord of all. As such, ingratitude leads to a host of other sins” (157). So, thankfulness is a very significant Scriptural and theological concept. In Pao’s own words,

“Thanksgiving is not simply a reaction to random acts of kindness, it is a way to affirm the supremacy of God the Creator and the mighty acts He has done on our behalf.” (25) 

And so, thanksgiving belongs properly not only to ethical concern, but to theological affirmation (33). To give God thanks to God is to acknowledge that Yahweh alone is the one powerful God. It is also a humbling act to thank God because when we do, we admit to Him the dependency of our own human existence. Thanksgiving is the proper theological response which when directed towards God is transformed into what Christians call, “praise” and “worship.”

To thank God is to affirm that God is not only THE God, but he is OUR God. It is the precise, personal, proper response to the divine initiative. To thank God is to remember what He has done, it is to trust Him with the now, and it is to look forward to what He will do in the future. To live a life worthy of the Lord is to live with the constant awareness of God’s grace, mercy and love. Thanksgiving is at the core of a God-centered life. So ungratefulness, forgetfulness, and idolatry is the opposite.

This was the most personally convicting book of the series so far for me. Unfortunately, in thinking about how important thankfulness is, I realized how often I don’t do it. So I’ve got lots to learn.

In conclusion, I’d like to simply highlight a few Scriptures Pao exegetes in His work and ask you to notice that little concept in the midst of each passage: “Thanksgiving.” If you are like me, you had missed it before. But emphasizing it (or its opposite) in its context shows just how important thankfulness is to God. Rather than “thankfulness” being a random insert into an otherwise important passage: Thankfulness often works as the central solution, or even contrast. Check it out:

Romans 1:21: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

II Corinthians 4:15: 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.

II Corinthians 9:12-15: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Ephesians 5:3-4: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Colossians 1:10-12: And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Colossians 3:15,17: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful...Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Philippians 2:14-15: Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.

II Timothy 3:1-5: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

I Thessalonians 5:18: Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

In ending: I can’t help but highlight what Pao says in regards to this last passage. It’s just so good. He says,

“The phrase ‘in all circumstances’ also points to the same vision from which no aspect of life is excluded. The call to the church to give thanks in all circumstances stands in contrast with the occasional cultic celebration of ancient Israel. In 1 Thessalonians 5, this will of God is expressed in terms of thanksgiving. To further define what this will is, one may wish to refer back to the same epistle in which the content of this will of God is explicitly emphasized: ‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ (1 Thess. 4:3). The connection between 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18 is further established by the fact that this construction (‘It is God’s will’/’for this is God’s will’) appears only in these two places in the Pauline epistles.

If we read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in light of 4:3, to give thanks to God is to be holy. While on a linguistic level these two cannot be equated, on a theological level the relationship between the two cannot be denied. As we have discussed in the earlier chapters, to give thanks is to set our focus solely on God. For Paul, to give thanks ‘in all circumstances’ is not a call for us to remain in a certain emotional state all the time. It is a call to lead a God-centered life. To give thanks in all circumstances is to live under the Lordship of Christ in all that we do (cf. 4:1-2).” 

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