Summary: Ephesians 5:20 tells 1) When, 2) For what, 3) To whom & 4) How the Spirit–filled believer is to be thankful.
People may have one of three possible attitudes about thanksgiving.
1) The first is that it is unnecessary.
Some people are not thankful simply because they think they deserve every good thing they have—and more.
The rich firmer of Jesus’ parable who was presumptuous about his future prosperity was also ungrateful for his past prosperity. As he looked around and realized his land was so productive that he did not have enough room to store all his crops, he decided to build bigger and better barns. After that he would say to his soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). He did not take God into consideration. Because he gave God no credit for his blessings, he saw no reason to give Him thanks. And because of his thankless presumption, God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (v. 20). Within that judgment lay the truth that the farmer could no more protect his possessions by his own power than he had produced them by his own power. The Lord gave, and the Lord took away.
• Not feeling the need to thank God is much worse than ingratitude; it is rank unbelief. This attitude is a form of practical atheism that fails to acknowledge God.
2) A second attitude about thanksgiving is that of the hypocrite.
In another parable Jesus told of a self–righteous Pharisee who stood in the Temple and “was praying to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax–gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get’ ” (Luke 18:11–12). As Jesus made clear in the words “praying to himself,” although the man used God’s name, his thankfulness was to himself and for himself. The Pharisee used God’s name only to call further attention to his false piety. And because God had no part in that prayer it was totally worthless. The humble, penitent tax–collector “went down to his house justified,” whereas the proud, self–righteous Pharisee did not (v. 14) Like the rest of his life, the Pharisee’s prayer of thanksgiving was hypocritical sham and pretense.
3) The third attitude about thanksgiving is that of the truly thankful person.
Of the ten lepers Jesus healed on His way to Jerusalem, the only one who returned to thank Him was a Samaritan. But his thankfulness was genuine, and Jesus said to him, “Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). The other nine lepers had sought Jesus’ healing only for their own benefit. The Samaritan also sought it for God’s glory (v. 18).
His thankfulness was an expression of his trust in Jesus, his recognition that he was helpless in Himself and that his healing was undeserved and entirely by the Lord’s grace. As a result, he received salvation. That is the thankfulness, the only thankfulness, that pleases God and that the Spirit–filled saint will offer.
In Ephesians 5:20 Paul tells 1) When, 2) For what, 4) To whom and finally 3) How the Spirit–filled believer is to be thankful.