Some believe gratitude is the most fundamental virtue, because the thankful person chooses to celebrate reality rather than resent it. It's in Jesus Christ that we get the clearest explanation of ultimate reality (John 1:18, NASB, 1995). After Jesus Christ was revealed to the world, the Holy Spirit of wisdom carried along the Apostles and prophets to write—instructing believers in Jesus who to be grateful to, what to be grateful for, why we are to be grateful, where and when to be grateful, and how to be grateful.
First, we must consider who we are grateful to.
We are to be grateful to the Triune God
When someone else helps us partake in some type of good, we know it's polite and proper to thank them. But God wants us to recognize this: "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). Our God is the ultimate source of all goodness. When I visit art museums and see a painting that's well done, I'm stunned by its beauty. But then I'll typically walk a little closer and read the description that reveals who painted it. I begin by being impressed by the painting, but I recognize that I'm impressed with the painter's mind and skill, so I seek to read more about him or her. In the same way, when we receive good things, we must not fail to be thankful to the source of it all.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we don't give thanks to same impersonal deity. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father (Matthew 6:13). And the Apostle Paul so often says, "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Colossians 1:3a). We thank the Triune God, and when we know what God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, has done for us, we have a clearer view of what to be ultimately thankful for.
We are to be thankful for the spiritual blessings we have in Christ
Like James, the Apostle Paul acknowledges that everything comes from God: "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude" (1 Timothy 4:4). God is Pure Existence. He is Pure Goodness. So everything He made participates in Existence and His Goodness. He gives existence to all things, so everything is good. Everything has value. Yet some things have higher value as they contain higher levels of goodness or existence. For example, human beings have a have a higher level of existence than rocks. We're more like God or reflect God more than inanimate objects that aren't personal or rational. And so when Apostle Paul thanks God for created things, he emphasizes God's most valuable creatures on earth, which are human beings. Specifically, Paul always gives thanks for his fellow believers in Jesus (Ephesians 1:15-16). Throughout Paul's letters, his thankfulness for God's people is an aspect of his thankfulness for all the spiritual blessings he has in Christ Jesus. He writes,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:3-5).
Believers in Christ become a part of a new family, and Paul is thankful for all his brothers and sisters who are all on their way to glory with him. Since we are all on this journey together, the author of Hebrews tells us, "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). We hear about this ultimate reason to be thankful when the Lord gave His disciples authority to cast out demons to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus says,"Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
All good things, experiences, and human relationships come from God, and we are to be thankful to God for these. But there's something that we must stir up our heart for gratitude more than anything else. We have union with the Triune God! Knowing God is eternal life (John 17:17). Yet since God is the source of all good things, if we are in Him, then that means we have everything else. As Paul says, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). God give us infinitely more than what we deserve, and that leads us to consider why we are to be grateful.
We are to be grateful, because of His grace
Our very existence is a gift. God's causing us "to be" moment by moment, although we still defy Him. We don't give Him the worship and honor that's due. Although the Son of God created man's mouth, man used their mouths to mock their Creator. Although the Son of God created man's hands, they used their hands to slap Him and scourge Him. But remember the grace of God: For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-9).
From a human point of view, we can be grateful even when we get what's due to us. If we purchase a good from a small business, we can still say thank you to the owner. Nevertheless, this would be a just exchange. Each party gets what's due to them. But how much more thankful should we be to God since we sin against Him, and yet He still sent His Son to die for us so that we could be forgiven? We don't receive God's just penalty for sin. Instead, we receive His mercy and grace. Since we are saved from eternal judgment, our praise to Him and for Him shall never end.
We are to be grateful in all times and in all circumstances
Imagine how much more joyful followers of Christ would be if they obeyed this command: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17). Here's another simple and profound instruction: Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) If you want to know God's will for you, here it is: In everything, give thanks. This doesn't mean we give thanks for everything in the sense that we thank God for the injustice in the world. We give God thanks for everything that is good, but we don't thank God for evil in and of itself, because evil is the absence of good. Evil is the corruption in good things. Although we don't thank God for evil, we thank God in the midst of injustice and evil. Why? Because we know what the Scriptures promise us about Christ's victory over sin, death, and evil. We also know that every trial we face in this world will allow us to better enjoy the age to come: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
If we truly believe all this, how should this look in our daily lives?
We are to display our gratitude with our attitude and actions
How do we say "thank you" to God for His grace? We start by cheerfully praising Him, saying "thank you" (Hebrews 13:5). But we don't stop there. Everything we do is a response to his grace:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
May the Holy Spirit guide you in doing the deeds that please our Father and reflect His Son.
Pastor Anthony Miller