Today I would like to give to you three examples of thanksgiving from events in our Lord’s ministry. I will put these examples into a modern context. As I describe them to you, I would have you answer two questions: Which one is an example of true thanksgiving? And, Which one is true of you?
For our first example, we have to journey to a temple, a very beautiful structure with massive oak doors and marble floors. There are many worshipers today coming and going. Inside we find, in the center, one well-dressed man with a long robe. Before the eyes of all, and within the ear distance of all, he cries out in the temple, “I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not as other men are: thieves, lazy, adulterers, incompetent. I’m a notch up. I pray. And I’ve done many good works throughout the year. I thank thee for all that I am.”
In the same temple, there is another man off in the corner, cast down. He can hardly look up. This man prays, “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner.”
As the first, well-dressed man makes his way out of the temple that day, a wind blows through the door, parting his robe. And it reveals a heart of stone.
For our second example, we need to journey to the beautiful countryside. Picture southern Indiana or Illinois. Fields of corn and soybeans have been harvested. We come to a large farm on a beautiful country road. On this large farm we see a complex of buildings, all new and shiny—a new barn, in fact, and another one coming up, the foundations of which have been laid. And we see a house. A long driveway with a white fence on both sides with trees planted. We come up to the house. It is a beautiful house with a great big bay window. It is decorated for the season.
Inside we see a very large gathering of people who are obviously very happy, a very nice family we would think, within a beautiful dining room, beautiful décor, crystal, food, and on the table are all types of food. In the center is a brown turkey. At the head of the table is a man who stands up and says, “Dig in.”
But on his right is his wife. She says, “Dear, shouldn’t you say grace, first?”
“Oh,” he responds. “Lord, I thank thee for my diligence and hard work, for my planning and foresight which, if others had, they would have a slice of the pie, too. I thank thee that all of my grain is in my barns and I thank thee that my brokers are holding out for the top dollar. Amen.”
Later that night, when all of the family has left, this man is upstairs in his nice study with leather chairs. The blueprints are on the desk in front of him when, suddenly, there is a pain in his chest. He is having a heart attack. He falls over his desk. His wife finds him and the paramedics are summoned. They rush to the hospital where they have the best equipment working on him. But he is dead.
Only a few days after the funeral, his children are fighting over the inheritance.
For the third example we need to go to a suburb of a city, not a very well-to-do suburb, in an apartment room. There is a widow who lives alone in her apartment. On Thanksgiving Day she makes her way to the church, as she always does. She enters in to worship. She has, that day, two dollars. That is all she has till the next Social Security check. Now she has two of them. She could put one, you know, into the collection plate. She could separate. There are two. But she takes both of those dollars and puts them into the collection. She goes home for a quiet dinner by herself. Later that night, when she is taking the garbage out, she falls down and breaks her leg. She is finally found and brought to the hospital and left alone in her hospital room that night.
The nurse is about to come in to check on her one last time when she hears the woman praying all alone. The nurse stops to listen.
“Lord, I thank thee for all thy blessings. I deserve none of them. Thou hast richly blessed me with thy grace and love. Thou hast made me an heir of life eternal, all of grace. Lord, I thank thee for everything!”
Which one of those three events was Thanksgiving? Which one is true of you?
True thankfulness, according to the Scriptures, is rooted in the knowledge of God’s grace. True thankfulness can only be found when one understands that God has been gracious, that is, that a sinner has been shown undeserved favor in salvation from sin—his own salvation. Out of that knowledge, true thankfulness confesses that all things are for our good and, therefore, we thank God for everything. For everything—both that which is pleasant to us and that which is most difficult—because we know that all things serve the purposes of his grace. Therefore, true thanksgiving is always, it is for all things, it is for God’s grace. True thanksgiving is every day. It is not a day; it is a life. It is a life that only grace can begin and teach.
The apostle Paul knew of this great thanksgiving. He writes to us in Ephesians 1:3, 4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, … according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”
Let us look at those words of the apostle for a few moments today. That is a great thanksgiving that Paul is giving there—one of the most profound and rich to be found in all of the Scriptures.
The epistle to the Ephesians is not unique in that it begins with a thanksgiving to God. That was Paul’s customary method in beginning his letters. But the epistle to the Ephesians is unique in that Paul expresses a marvelous richness and fervor in his thanksgiving. Very often in the other epistles the apostle draws the theme of his thanksgiving from the special condition of those whom he is addressing, or in the remembrance of certain persons for whom he wants to give thanks. But in the book of the Ephesians, the apostle’s mind is not upon any particular person, not upon any particular circumstance or situation in the church. But his mind is thrown back on the great principles of the gospel. He is contemplating the eternal truths that God has revealed in Jesus Christ. He has come face to face in his mind with the grace of God which has brought salvation through Jesus Christ. With a depth of feeling, and in magnificent inspired statements, he expresses a great thanksgiving before God. From verses 3-12 of that chapter he deals with the salvation that is to be found in Christ. He describes to us the loving activity of God the Father in planning that salvation, the work of God the Son in securing that salvation, and the work of God the Holy Spirit in applying that salvation. Paul traces that salvation in Christ, for which he is thanking God, to its preparation in election. He says, “Blessed be God … according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world (that is, before the world began), … having predestinated us (predetermined us) unto the adoption of children.”
His mind, then, thinks of the execution of salvation (vv. 6, 7). He has made us accepted in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Then he speaks of the publication of that salvation (vv. 8-10). He speaks of the fact that God has made known to us the mystery of his will. God has shown to us his good pleasure, which he has purposed in himself. Then, finally, Paul speaks of the application of salvation (vv. 11, 12). He says that it is through the Spirit, through whom we have trusted in Christ, and through whom we have also obtained an inheritance.
Therefore, he brings us before that whole salvation in Christ which comes from God, from eternity to eternity, the eternal purpose formed in the loving heart of the Father, to the eternal consummation when all things in heaven and on earth will be summed in Christ under one head. In the highest doxology, and in a splendid way, and with profound words, Paul sings of that salvation which has now come to us through Christ.
As these truths play upon his heart and mind, Paul bursts out in praise: “Blessed, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That word “blessed” means “to speak well of.” Paul blesses God. He speaks well of God, contemplating what we have received in Christ, contemplating the graciousness of it, the magnitude of it. He says, “Blessed be God—God be thanked, God be praised!”
Do you? Do you, today, do you always? As a child of God, is this the theme of your life, the repeated chord, the song of your life, growing in power? Also growing in power through all the trials and distresses that God sends upon you? It must be. To be brought to the experience of saving grace means that thankfulness will be at the core of your being. When you are brought, by the grace of God, to know the wonder of salvation in Christ and all that God of mere grace has done for you, then thankfulness must be at the core of your being—whether today, for the most part, it all goes your way, or whether you have heartache and weariness and pain. Thanks be to God because he hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, says the apostle.
We think that Paul’s heart is almost running away with him here. God has blessed us. And then Paul adds, “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” He keeps piling it on higher and higher. They are spiritual blessings, blessings that are given to us by the Holy Spirit. They are not earthly, vanishing, tarnishing blessings but spiritual, enduring blessings that grow more and more. And all of them, all that God conceived to give to us—how shall we begin to give a list of them? The blessings of pardon and forgiveness. The blessings of love and mercy. The blessing of adoption unto children. The blessing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The blessing of the knowledge and presence of God. And Paul says that God has given to us these blessings in the heavenly places. The idea is that we do not receive these blessings for the first time in heaven. No. He hath blessed us now. But these blessings will be fulfilled in the heavenly places. They will be perfectly ours in the heavenly places. These blessings are other-worldly. They do not consist in homes and computers, cars and investments, land and clothing, jewelry, earthly honor and fame. But they are other-worldly. They are great blessings. We have them right now in this world. And one day in the heavenlies we shall have them perfectly. No, we do not despise the good things of this world given to us by God. How much has he given to us! Oh, he has given to us so much! But we praise and bless him for these things in the light of those spiritual heavenly blessings. We praise him today because we do not belong to this world. We praise him because our worth is not counted on a spreadsheet. It is not counted in earthly categories.
But we are blessed in Christ. All our blessings come to us because of him. God has blessed us in Christ Jesus because of what Christ has done. Do you thank him? Do you return to give him thanks? Is your life, day after day, one of mumbling and discontentment and despair? Do you say, “I’m not very happy. I don’t like this—my job, my wife, my cars, my looks, my weight, my friends”? Or are you, by the grace of God, looking to Christ and to your God and rejoicing in the blessings that have been freely given to you? Shall we not join the apostle today and every day in giving this great thanksgiving: “Blessed be God for the salvation in Christ, with every kind of spiritual blessing that is in Christ”?
God has blessed us with every possible spiritual blessing in Christ. It is all of God. That is the keynote. It is not of our deserving. It is not of our doing. It is all of God. So, with a fervor of language, with all of our heart and our soul: “Thanks be to God!” Because salvation is all of grace alone, a grace prepared from eternity and poured upon us by the Spirit and given to us to be ours in Christ, now thank we all our God!
Do you? Today and always?
True thanksgiving does not depend upon your external situation today. You may be poor, sick, or have cancer. You may be deeply wounded and hurt by other people. You may have been ridiculed for your faith. You may be living among lions. Thankfulness does not grow out of an earthly situation, but it grows out of the heart which knows God’s grace.
The early Christians had to endure all the hardships and difficulties of belonging to Christ. But they were characterized by a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. They were people who were known for having a spirit of peace and happiness and joy which the world had never known. Now here is the test of the Christian profession: Are you thankful to God for his grace? Are you overwhelmed, so that grace is not just a glib word but is your treasure and your joy and is manifested by thanks? It is heartfelt thanks!
In a world that is miserable and unhappy and sour and fearful and filled with complaints and fears, thanksgiving must be the mark of the Christian. Oh, I know we are deficient in this. And we cannot make up for it in one day. I know that that principle of thankfulness is very small in us. How much does thanks pay a part in our prayers? In our worship on Sunday? In our daily life? How often during the day do we cry out: “Blessed be God”?
Nevertheless, this is the end and the purpose of our salvation—that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ (Eph. 1:12). Although it is imperfect, and although it is small, this thankfulness is there. It is in every child of God. It must be there and it must deepen in you. Not in mere words and outward show, but deep in your heart. Oh, how much we have for which to give him thanks. It is staggering, until finally we are ushered up into his presence where we shall gaze upon him face to face, where no sin will detract, and where we will have the fullness of God forever.
So, which one are you? Are you the man in the temple thanking God that you are not like other men? Are you the rich farmer thanking God for all that you have done? Or are you the poor widow who thanked God out of poverty for the richness of his grace?
Which one is in you today? Tomorrow? No, this is the question: Which one will be the summary of your life?
May we say, by the grace of God, today and always, “Blessed be God who hath blessed us abundantly.”