SUMMARY: As we head into a celebration of Thanksgiving, Vince Miller addresses the biblical meaning of the word “thanksgiving” and uncovers how we might influence this festive day in a way we have not before. By choosing to live in an attitude of thankfulness.
Well gentlemen, Thanksgiving is upon us and as this season kicks off, I thought it might be good to address the spiritual importance of this topic so that we as men can lead into this season with some conviction rather than letting our busyness carry us along.
The event we celebrate this week is called Thanksgiving. It was instituted by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the time of the Civil War, has become a day to celebrate thanks. While the actual meaning of this day has varied over the last 150 years, the general vision is the same. It is a day set aside to celebrate our land and the harvest season. A student of history will find that over the years there have been numerous attempts to redefine this day. Some chose to define it through the negative lens of conquest and others through the more positive lens of liberty and freedom. And we all know that retail businesses love to define this as an opportunity to generate revenue.
But I think it is important to look more deeply at God’s Word, and discover how God defines the attitude and act of thanksgiving.
The ancient Greek word for thanksgiving is Eucharistia. For those from a formal church background we will recognize this word immediately. It is a transliterated into the English as a title, Eucharist, which Christians may associate with the event of the Lord’s Supper. This imagery recalls for us the final meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the last day of Passover in the upper room of a Jerusalem immediately prior to his final days. But this word is more than just a contemporary title of a meal, it had even greater meaning for us in the New Testament.
One of the paramount occurrences of this word is found in Colossians 2:6-7, which reads…
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
What I love about this sentence is that Paul gives us a very clear understanding of the process of that leads to our thanksgiving. The reader should notice almost immediately that Paul is not referencing an event, day, or celebration, but rather a thankful attitude that is an outcome of God’s generosity. This attitude is generated by the initiatory act of Jesus Christ, to whom we submit our will as our Lord.
Gentlemen, thanksgiving begins not with a holiday, but with the first giver – God. God first extends a gift so rich, that it gives way to the opportunity for thankfulness in humanity. Which means without God, we have no opportunity for spiritual thanksgiving. This suggests for me that I should be giving incessant thanks to God. That every day and with continual action, we should be giving thanks for what God has done for all mankind. And the gift, well this is Jesus Christ his son, and all the blessings that are outputs from him as “The Gift of Righteousness” which we freely receive.
Just turn to Ephesians 1 and read about the riches that God has extended to us. Verse 3-14 reads,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Guys, this is crazy talk. This list is ridiculous! And yet, I often and regularly, take for granted all the blessings that flow to me through Jesus Christ from God. God’s endless holiness, blamelessness, love, adoption, grace, redemption, inheritance, hope, truth, salvation, and forgiveness.
And what does it look like when I take this for granted? Well my lack of thankfulness is evidenced in how I poorly extend Christ’s profound riches to others. Blessings that God has freely extended to me, in Christ, that I withhold from others. Like my co-workers, friends, wife, children, neighbors, and acquaintances.
This is the idea that Paul is conveying in Colossians 2:6-7. Thankfulness is an attitudinal outflow of “walking.” Walking, in this case is an analogy. Paul is using this term to describe ongoing obedience in the life of a follower. So what Paul does is connects our thankful response, to an internal attitude, and to an activity of obedience – which are the riches of walking in Christ. Paul accentuates this point in Ephesians by exclaiming all these blessings are found only “in Christ.” We cannot miss this because he repeats this phrase with incredible frequency so we don’t. And so, the process found in Colossians 2:6-7 communicates practically that thanksgiving is always an attitudinal outcome of what God has done for us in Jesus. It is the Christian’s posture.
Far too often I think we place undo emphasis on the activity of thanking rather than the attitude of thanksgiving that leads to the action. For example, the request to be thankful as an act of obligatory politeness, communicated in the phrase “thank you” could be completely detached from genuine motivation or even an understanding of spiritual riches. This phrase, while important to use to be polite, could simply be uttered in emptiness and as an act of showmanship.
Just consider the story of the Samaritan’s thankfulness as told in Luke 17:11-19.
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Seriously! What a bunch of ungrateful jerks. The only one to return was the one who was the least likely to return, based on cultural prejudices. At least God-fearing men, thought he would be the least likely to return. But perhaps it would be appropriate to deduce that this man was the only one who understood the profound riches that he was given as an outsider to the faith?
But let’s illustrate this whole process in modern day terminology. When I must externally force my child to write thank you notes to all the people who have given them graduation gifts, are they truly thankful? Probably not. However, when they write thank you notes on their own and “unexpectedly,” this communicates internal motivation and true thankfulness. However, please do not dismiss the power of teaching thankfulness through externally motivation until the attitude is internally personalized. What God is looking for is not behavior modification but heart transformation and true thankfulness from a heart purely motivated. And while actions of thanking may be a teacher, or disciple making activity that lead to an attitude of thankfulness, nothing is more beautiful than a heart that gives thanks supported by the actions of thankfulness.
He wants the Colossian believers to remain true to the teaching he had first given them, because in this teaching is the real Christ, not manufactured philosophies that teach legalism and behavior modification. But the essence of all the riches that lead to true and deep transformation. Holding to this truth will lead to the realization of the power of truth that supersedes the “wisdom” of the world and leads to an attitude of spiritual thankfulness. It is the difference between my son and daughter above.
So here is a challenge for you this thanksgiving.
As you celebrate I assume you are going to be with some people who might challenge you. Often this can be emotionally and spiritually challenging, and I realize that. Growing up there was always a lot of tension in these family gatherings for me as well. And because of this many of you are going to have to “game up” for this time. And I understand.
So here is my advice, straight from this text. Overwhelm this environment with rich thankfulness. Decide to be the thankful one in the group. Choose to express nothing but gratitude. Avoid complaining. Avoid bickering. Avoid grudge holding. Avoid assumptions. Avoid political unrest. Avoid the superficial conversations. And decide to express nothing but gratitude for others regardless of their issues – even though they have them! Gentlemen, be the thankful one. Decide to express nothing but gratitude. Overpower your environment with an attitude of thanksgiving. And maybe you could encourage your family to do the same!
One way to do this is to tap into the riches of Jesus Christ by constantly remembering what he has done for you and share this generously with others. And let’s see if this Thanksgiving is not one to remember for a long time.
Psalm 136:1-4 reads…
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;” Psalms 136:1-4