The Joy, Reality, and Beauty of Thankfulness
Saying Thank You: For What and Why
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Believers are called to be thankful people because they are! Yet believers are sometimes a most unthankful person. It will help us to define what a thankful person is. Simply it is one who says thanks. He is grateful for something. What are the ways to say thanks? You may do it in words or deeds or both.
For the believer gratitude and appreciation is a duty and a command. But it is more. Saying thank you is also a privilege and blessing. It flows from thankfulness from a changed, regenerated heart. Paul wrote: Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The object of the gratitude is God and not necessarily what is given. Paul closed his letter by reminding the Thessalonians that God had changed them through regeneration. Paul focused on the individual believer but also on the congregation – God’s people corporately. As saved people, believers are changing people and therefore thankful people singularly and collectively. Paul expected God’s people to be quick to acknowledge God’s presence, power, and purpose all under the rubric of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness. God is good and all that He does is good. He is faithful and trustworthy (Psalms 100:5; 119:68).
But in the life of the Thessalonians that did not seem to be the case. Their life was chaotic. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians for a variety of reasons. Hope was a key ingredient of the letter based on the certainty of Christ’s return and the resurrection of believers. He taught the congregation to grieve not as unbelievers but to grieve God’s way and for his glory (4:13). The congregation was experiencing persecution as well. A proper understanding of these truths was paramount in Paul’s ministry. He had left abruptly and he needed to clear up any misunderstanding of why he left.
In regard to the resurrection, false teachers taught that no one would die before the second coming. But believers were dying and had died and Christ had not returned. The congregation had a choice as to who to follow. Paul reminded them of his ministry among them and their initial response which was a blessing to others (1:2-10). He reminded them of their identity and resources in Christ both singularly and corporately (1:4-5). He encouraged them by reminding them of the cost of his ministry and God’s goodness in sustaining it, them, Paul, Silas, and Timothy (2:1-3). He gave a picture of their ministry – it was marked by gentleness and truth (2:6-12) He longed to see them (2:17-20). He reminded the people that God was bigger than the circumstances because He is the author of all that comes to pass (3:11-13). God is good and circumstances never disprove that truth. In light of that truth Paul encouraged them to super abound in growing in Christlikeness – progressive sanctification (4:1-3). He encouraged them as did James to be watchful for Christ’s coming. Watchfulness consisted of growth in Christ (see James 5).
Paul taught and encouraged them to live in light of the light. Paul referred to the person of Christ: He is life, light, and truth (John 14:6). He taught them that eschatology – the reality of the last days matter. Resurrection life begins now, on this earth, for the believer such that every believer has a piece of heaven now (John 17:3; Romans 6:9-10; 1 John 3:1-3). Paul encouraged right thinking which would lead to right desires and vice versa and both would lead to proper biblical action. Paul encouraged an aggressive; Holy-Spirit-filled and -motivated Christian life that focused on who they were in Christ and the certainty of Christ’s return.
Paul closed the letter with a series of exhortations and instructions (5:12- 24). Each of the instructions is both vertical and horizontal. The command to give thanks seems rather mundane. Parents used to teach their children to say thank you. It was “the thing to do.” Not so now. Saying thank you is uncommon in today’s culture. In part this is related to the cultural norm of me first, my rights, I deserve, and I want and I deserve. Moreover, Paul’s exhortation is a sweeping one. It covers a lot of real estate. How so? Paul commands believers to give thanks in everything – in every circumstance. That must have a monumental theological mountain for the people to understand let alone climb. Times were tough in Thessalonica. The congregation had many voices of false counsel wooing them to come and taste; it a call back to the Garden and Satanic reasoning (Genesis 3).
As the second letter to Thessalonians indicates some had returned to the vomit of self-pleasing and false doctrine (Proverbs 3:5-8; 26:11). Circumstances were out of control – out of their control but in fact they were just what God has providential brought into the life of this congregation. Paul closed his letter with hope and encouragement. Their victory rested not in circumstances but in the God circumstances.
In the preceding two verses joy and prayer are linked to thanksgiving (v.16-17). The key in understanding verse 18 and such passages as Romans 8:28-29 is found in the Holy Spirit’s words: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Giving thanks turns the believer to God and what he is in Christ. Although the Holy Spirit is not mentioned Paul knew that the believer was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that he had a new identity in Christ. As a result the believer will take heart knowing what he and his fellow believers have: God’s presence, power, provisions, and the knowledge of God’s plan, promises, and purposes. The Holy Spirit through Paul catalogued what every believer has and what is needed to give thanks for God’s will being carried out as designed in eternity past. This command is a blessing and source of hope because it turns us away from self and to God.
1. What do you think of the passage 1 Thessalonians 5:18?
2. What did it convey to the Thessalonians?
3. What does it convey to you?
4. How faithful are you in following Paul’s exhortation? Give reasons.
The Joy, Reality, and Beauty of Thankfulness
Saying Thank You: For What and Why
Luke takes up the matter of thanksgiving in Luke 17:11-19. You may know the story. Jesus first came to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). His intention was to bring people from every tongue, tribe, and nation into His kingdom but He had an order of priority (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32; Revelation 5:9). He began with Israel – He came as a Jew to Israel.
In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He had kingdom business there (Luke 9:51). Upon entering a village, he encountered ten men with leprosy standing at a distance. The leper was considered unclean. In the Old Testament, the leper was put outside the camp and in Jesus’ time he was quarantined. Lepers were considered unfit, social outcasts, and exiles (Leviticus 13:45-46; Numbers 5:2-4; 12:14-15). They had no hope.
The ten men were apparently of mixed nationality which was not uncommon in the area where two provinces meet. Their condition bound them together in spite of their national rivalry. Samaritans were Israelites who had lived in the northern kingdom and had intermarried with Gentiles after the Assyrian invasion and exile. They were first rejected by the Jews in the intertestamental period. Perhaps the most notable enmity in the land of Israel in the first century A.D. was the bitter animosity between Judeans and Samaritans. By including the Samaritan in the number of lepers Jesus transcended the racial and religious boundaries and put both Jews and the Samaritans together as fellow Israelites (see Luke 10:25-37). In doing so, Jesus overturned the prejudices of the first-century Jews towards the Samaritans. Jesus was emphasizing grace not pedigree or performance (see Philippians 3:3-6).
In Luke 17 the lepers stood at a distance (in contrast to Luke 5:12-16) and called to Jesus in a loud voice. The cry was one of strength and confidence much like the cry of Jesus on the cross as He breathed His last (Luke 23:46). The lepers expected Jesus to help – to have pity on them. They were asking for mercy. Grace and mercy differ slightly in that mercy focuses on misery and the consequences of sin and grace looks at the guilt of sin and forgiveness. Jesus directed them to the priest. All ten left and presumably headed to the priest. Jesus considered them Jews because he would not have sent a Gentile to the priest.
Verification of cleansing, not healing, was required by law (Leviticus 14:1ff). The word for cleansing is katharizo. It is distinct from two common words that are most often used to indicate physical healing. In the New Testament the removal of leprosy is called cleansing not healing (Matthew 8:3; 10:8; 11:5; Mark 1:42; Luke 4:27; 7:22; 17:14, 17).
The concept of cleansing should return all believers, and especially Israelites, to the book of Leviticus. Daily, the Israelites were faced with the admonition to be holy as I am holy and to distinguish unclean from clean beginning with themselves (Leviticus 11:44-45; 10:10-11; 15:31; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:8, 15; 22:9, 16, 32). Entering into God’s presence required cleansing and purification through the shedding of blood by way of the sacrificial system by a privileged and ordained high priest and that only once a year. Entering into God’s presence was a heart-wrenching activity for the high priest.
Ten men were unclean and headed to the priest to meet the requirements of the law. All were cleansed. Nine failed to return to Jesus. They were non-Samarians. They were cleansed but they missed the real issue: the condition of their heart. Thankfulness may have been a motive for going to the priest but they missed the big picture – the Cleanser Himself. The Samaritan, the one on the “wrong side of the tracks,” knew the object of his gratitude. He had been blessed and to the Blesser, not to the priest, he went. He was more concerned with praising God than with showing himself to the priest. Jesus acknowledged the Samaritan’s faithfulness and its expression. Jesus told him that his faith had made him well. The word in the original is sozo. This word is translated as save or deliver and can refer to both physical and spiritual deliverance.
The Samaritan showed spiritual maturity; the others did not. Why? The nine lived according to their own lawkeeping and ritual keeping. They did not grasp their true condition: hearts which trued to self inn place of the living God. Consequently, they did grasp their real need: a Messiah Who kept God’s law perfectly and would die a perfect death because He was the perfect sacrifice. Biblically, the nine Israelites knew nothing of their deadness and darkness and consequently failed to grasp the light and love of Christ. They rejected Christ as the perfect Lawkeeper. They had their own laws and themselves to keep them. They did not need Jesus!
In contrast, the despised Israelite got it. He was a man of gratitude for the gift and the Giver. Thankfulness looks to God and away from self. Saying and acting as one thankful means that the person knows the beauty and joy of union with Christ. Intimacy and fellowship with the Triune God and his gift of redemption is the ground for thanksgiving. Further, knowing that salvation was achieved by Christ, truly God and truly man, and its blessings and benefits are applied through the Holy Spirit pushes salvation into a supernatural realm. Only a believer with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving can truly say thank you. Thanking God for who is as well as what He gives should never be a burdened for the believer.
1. Develop a thank list.
2. Observe your priorities: do they begin with you, others, or God?
3. How are you like the nine and how are you like the one?
4. What must you do to grow as a thankful person?