Restoring Thanksgiving

Restoring Thanksgiving

Ephesians 5:3-4
by Bob Burridge ©2019

A while ago I saw a grocery store television commercial about Thanksgiving Day. It showed people gathered together being thankful for the turkey, desserts, their family, home, and for all the good memories of times they had together. It was a very well done commercial.

The problem is, giving thanks means expressing our gratitude to someone for something given. We’re not just to be happy about what we have. Thanks needs to be directed to God, the one who gave everything good in our lives.

More and more our American holiday is a “Glad-Getting Day” instead of a day for giving thanks to God for giving us all we have. Many have degraded Thanksgiving into a day for appreciating the pleasure we get from the things we have. It has become all too common to leave out the idea of where all good things really come from.

Ephesians 5 turns things in a different direction. The first two verses tell us to be imitators of God as his dear children. It says we’re to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave his life to redeem us. Then in verses 3-4 we’re told what our attitudes and actions ought to be and ought not to be, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

As fallen humans we tend to be dissatisfied with just what God gives us. In our spiritual weakness we’re tempted to sin by coveting things we don’t have, then to sin all the more in trying to get those things in wrong ways.

In these verses Paul gives a list of examples of things we might sinfully believe will satisfy us: lusting for sexual satisfaction in the wrong ways, making a place for unfit thoughts, and for doing things God forbids, greedily and impatiently wanting more and more things beyond God’s blessings, or saying things that are crude, rude and foolish.

The remedy is to replace those wrong things with an attitude of humble thanksgiving. Instead of lusting for sexual satisfaction in the wrong ways, thank God for providing marriage where our natural desires can be satisfied with the partner he gives us to love faithfully as he loves us. Instead of entertaining unfit thoughts, and for doing things God forbids, thank God for things that are honorable, and do the good things he calls us to do. Instead of greedily and impatiently wanting things beyond God’s blessings, learn to gratefully appreciate the things God has provided. Look for ways to effectively use what we already have for his glory. Instead of foolishly saying things that are crude or rude, we should speak thankfully and honorably of the things God made and has done.

The key to overcoming our wrong attitude is gratitude! Replace the wrong things that dishonor God with thankfulness to him for the right and good things.

There are many good things God gives us. But of all the good things we might mention at the Thanksgiving dinner table, the greatest gift of all is the fellowship we have with God through our Risen Savior. God’s grace restores us to spiritual life because Jesus died in our place paying the debt of sin which we owe to our Creator. This new life he provides through the Savior makes us able to please him.

Our eyes are opened to see God’s hand in everything. It’s not just a turkey that’s good to eat, or all the things that go along with it. It’s that we become aware of the presence of God who provides the things we know we don’t deserve on our own. We see that in Christ we are treated as forgiven and much loved children instead of as rebellious and selfish creatures out to satisfy our personal pleasures. Our duty as redeemed children is to show God our humble gratitude.

Heidelberg Catechism answer 86 tells us how to respond to God’s grace, “we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us”

We need to enjoy his promise that he will never leave us. We should appreciate his assurance that he will provide for us and enable us to work faithfully. He also promises us that we possess the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. What more could we want? Yet instead of responding with gratitude, many respond with thankless self-centeredness.

I once read a story based on a true but sad act of greed. A man’s wife left him. She went to another city to live with another man, taking his two young children, and all the money she could put her hands on and emptied their bank account. The abandoned husband had no money to live on until his next paycheck. He was taken in by a generous, but financially struggling family. They invited him to stay with them until he was able to be on his own. When they woke up the next morning they discovered that the man they took in was gone. He had stolen all their cash and some of the valuable things they had!

They had shown him kindness and mercy, and he returned it with thievery. How ungrateful! How unappreciative and thankless! How self-centered, greedy, callous, hard-hearted, and mean! He obviously wasn’t touched at all by their goodness. He saw it only as an opportunity to steal and get things for himself.

But — before we get too indignant — consider how we behave toward God. By grace alone he has provided us with all we have, Do we take it and use it foolishly in ways that are selfish, greedy, and maybe even sinful? Do we ungratefully accept God’s provisions and patience then grab all we can for ourselves? Or are we truly grateful and live to show it every day? If not, how are we different from the ungrateful man who stole from the family that tried to help him?

To just appreciate all we have by considering how it benefits us or satisfies us is to miss the main point of what true thanksgiving is about. Gratitude to God turns our focus away from just the things we have or want. It turns our attention to the giver instead of just the much appreciated gift.

Nothing could be more clear from Scripture, than that thankfulness must have God as it’s object. Psalm 50:14 says, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,”

Of course, this isn’t something we do only on a national day of Thanksgiving. It’s what should be there in our every thought every hour of every day. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul said, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Then in Ephesians 5:20 he said, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” All the things we do should be centered on our gratitude to our Creator and Redeemer.

When we eat, we should be thankful to God who created what we eat, gave us health to be able to eat it, and who gave us our work so we were able to buy our food and all we have.

When we come to worship, our main thought should be to give thanks to God. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” In Revelation 7:12 we read about that great multitude that cried out to God “saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’ ”

Gratitude should be the groundwork for every prayer we bring to God. Philippians 4:6 says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

When we live obediently and overcome temptation and sin, we should be thankful to God. He gives us our power and ability to be victorious morally. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 says, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” In 2 Corinthians 2:14 we have this promise for which we are told to be thankful, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

Living in awareness of God’s hand in everything opens our eyes to the real world we live in. Our Thanksgiving Day table isn’t just set with turkey, dressing, salads, vegetables and potatoes. The dessert table isn’t just filled with pies, cakes or buckets of ice cream. We ought to see all that’s set there as things God has graciously provided for his children to enjoy. He opens our eyes by suffering and dying in our place, by taking up our offensive guilt and evil self-centeredness. He doesn’t just clothe us with nice things we appreciate being able to wear when we go out in public. He clothes us with the perfect righteousness of Christ to make us acceptable in his presence. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

While we are thankful always, God is pleased with special days of thanksgiving. There were several feast days on Israel’s religious calendar for giving thanks to God for his merciful deliverance and for his daily provisions.

We should do our part on Thanksgiving Day to add the missing element to our nation’s holiday. Don’t let those around us think we’re just pleased to have a good meal, a day off for parades, family time, or football. Make sure our focus is centered upon the goodness of God who provides for the undeserving. Then let this holiday remind us that every day we should think about, pray about, talk about God’s mercies in giving us every good thing we have, and about his boundless grace that sent the Savior to redeem his lost children.

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(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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