Summary: Christians are to be thankful. The message is encouragement from the Apostle to the Gentiles to remember to exhibit gratitude.
“And be thankful.”  Only three English words comprise our text; but the text is assuredly appropriate on this Sunday before our national Day of Thanksgiving. It serves to remind us of one of the essential characteristics marking the person who knows the Living God. I have often wondered how the atheist celebrates Thanksgiving. He lives in a land of bounty and enjoys the multiplied mercies of God. To whom does the atheist give thanks at Thanksgiving? What a contradiction when the atheist has been spared injury and, reflecting on the providential deliverance the wretch utters the words: “Thank God.” Thanksgiving at the best must be a hollow day with mixed emotions for the atheist.
The day must likewise be hollow for the non-Christian. Sitting down to a groaning table filled with the rich bounty of the land, the unbeliever knows he should express gratitude, but to whom shall his gratitude be expressed? The unbeliever may utter words of gratitude to an unseen God, yet he can never know if his words were acceptable. However, we are Christians; and we are commanded to be a thankful people. Are you thankful? When you sit down to a meal tomorrow, for what will you give thanks? And to Whom? Let’s think about this for the next several minutes.
BASIS FOR THE COMMAND — “And be thankful.” The heart of the command is the Greek word eucháristos. We obtain our English word “Eucharist,” a term used for the Lord’s Supper by many liturgical churches; Eucharist comes from this Greek word. The Meal is the Thanksgiving; and we are to approach the Table with thankful hearts. That knowledge moves us toward the source of this command, for the word indicates an obligation to express gratitude for a favour performed. The gratitude we express arises out of the grace of God and that which He has done for us.
Has God done anything for which we should be grateful? Has God actually acted in our behalf in such a way that we can be thankful? We will benefit greatly from considering just what God has done for us and the multiplied benefits for which we should be thankful.
I could speak of God’s character and point each of us to the Word He has given in order to remind us to be grateful to Him. He is omnipotent; all power resides in Him. If His power is displayed on our behalf, surely we should give thanks. If He has restrained His hand from judging us as we deserve, surely we ought to be thankful. God is omniscient; He knows all things and He certainly knows us. Though He knows we are sinners, He still receives us, showing grace and mercy. Surely, we should be thankful that He receives us. God is omnipresent; He is ever with us. When comforted by His presence, have we no obligation to give Him thanks? God is merciful; having known His mercy, shouldn’t we be grateful to Him? God is compassionate; knowing His compassion in our time of sorrow and grief, can we be anything other than thankful? God is loving toward all that He has made; having tasted the love of God, what sort of wretches would we be if we refused to give Him thanks? God is good and we have experienced His goodness; we should be grateful for His goodness.
I hesitate to focus so intently on God’s character that I fail to remind us that as Christians are a blessed people. You may well recall that the Apostle Paul, writing the Corinthian saints, challenged them to think of God’s multiplied demonstrations of grace. He probed deeply into their consciences with his query: “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” [1 CORINTHIANS 4:7]. In our modern sufficiency we need to be confronted with this same penetrating challenge.
If one of us has wealth and worldly goods, have we considered how we obtained our possessions? We either received our possessions from others as an inheritance or we received strength, ingenuity and abilities from God and these have permitted us to accumulate our goods. If we have position and power, was it not God who gave us the stamina to persevere and was it not God who gave us the strength to toil until we attained that position we hold and the power we possess? If we have perspicuity and perceptiveness, understanding and intelligence, surely it was God who gave us insight and wisdom. “What do you have that you did not receive?” The ability to perceive the good creation and the ability to enjoy life and family—these are gifts from God.
Someone has rightly cautioned that if we cannot be thankful for what God has done for us, perhaps we ought to be thankful for what God has not done to us. We surely deserve condemnation, but we have received grace instead. Consider what life would have been had God not shown us grace. The Apostle, writing the encyclical we call the letter to the Ephesians observed that there was a time when we were in the world. We “were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” [EPHESIANS 2:12]. There was a time which we do not like to remember and of which few of us speak openly. At that time we were “dead in the trespasses and sins” [EPHESIANS 2:1] and we were separated from Christ. It was a time when we were excluded from citizenship in Israel and we were thus foreigners to the covenants of the promise. If this were not terrifying enough, we were each without hope and without God in the world.