Thanks Be Unto God
by Rick Shrader
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth forever.
There is no greater characteristic of believing people than thanksgiving. Of all people who enjoy good things in this life, Christian people know of a certainty that all good things come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). And of all good things that Christians possess, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
In the language of our New Testament, “thanks” comes from the same root word as “grace” (charis). In this simple form, where Paul might say “grace be to you” (2 Cor. 1:2), we also have “thanks be unto God” (2:14) coming from the same word. When we add our English eu (“good”) as a prefix we have the noun (eucharistia) “thanksgiving” and also the verb (euchariste?) “to give thanks.” To have thanksgiving in our heart (the noun), then, is to be in a state of blessing because of “good grace,” such as “abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7). To give thanks (the verb) is to express “good grace” toward something such as “giving thanks unto the Father” (Col. 1:12).
We are glad for the national recognition of “Thanksgiving” during the month of November, though it isn’t the primary cause of thanksgiving in the heart of a Christian. We are even sad to read the rewriting of this American tradition by the eliminating of God’s providence toward the Pilgrim fathers, and the redirecting of thanksgiving from God’s blessing to man’s own devices. We can read that the Mayflower Compact begins with the words, “In the name of God, amen.” The history of that group of 102 people is a history of English separatists who sought a place to worship God by the dictates of their conscience and the Word of God. Those of us who still believe we must worship God in the same manner, are thankful for the opportunity to express our own thanksgiving to God for His provision.
The Scriptures admonish us to be a thankful people. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it” (1 Cor. 4:7)? Paul also reminded the unbelieving Areopagites, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25). It is when man thinks of himself as God that he becomes ungrateful as if he himself made the world rather than receiving all good things in the world. Here are only a few things for which the believer is thankful.
The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In the Psalms, David elaborated, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Psa. 19:1-3).
It is fitting that Thanksgiving day was established in the fall of the year when the leaves are painted and the ground is frosty white. In each season God clothes the earth with special beauty: the new life and dazzling colors of youthful spring; the powerful sun and productive season of summer; the lush colors and wisdom of fall; and the hoary white of winter with its life ending freeze. All will cycle again and again, bringing forth from their treasures things new and old.
Again, David writes: “Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: Who maketh the clouds his chariot: Who walketh upon the wings of the wind: Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever” (Psa. 104:1-5).
How can a child of God keep from singing, “This is my Father’s world, and to my list’ning ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought, of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.” Or, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-lu-ia! Thou burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam, O praise Him, O praise Him, Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-lu-ia!”
Giving thanks to God for our food is, perhaps, the most common expression of gratitude to the One Who provides our daily provision. When the pagans of Galatia supposed Paul and Barnabas were life-providing gods, Paul admonished them quickly to turn to the true God “Which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein. . . . Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15, 17). The Psalmist wrote, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth” (Psa. 104:15). As well, “Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth forever” (Psa. 136:25). Isaac Watts put this truth into song, “I sing the goodness of the Lord, that filled the earth with food; He formed the creatures with His Word and then pronounced them good. Lord, how thy wonders are displayed wher-e’er I turn my eye: if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.”
Paul, in encouraging the Corinthians in the grace of giving explained, “Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). At the same time that God gives us food to eat, He supplies seed that will multiply for the next meal, that is, if we are not so greedy as to eat it all without giving some back! Paul told Timothy not to tolerate those who abstain from meats because, “God hath created [them] to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3-5). And that is why any human being who recognizes God’s provision ought to say “grace” or “thanks.”
In an amazing explanation of the resurrection of the body, Christ likened His own death and resurrection to a seed that must fall into the ground and die before it can be raised (John 12:24). Paul, expanding on the same thought, wrote, “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Cor. 15:37-38). Every plant which we eat is the result of this resurrection process. Something had to die and be resurrected from the ground before we could eat. We do not eat the pre-resurrection body, but of the plant that grows afterward. In striking parallel, we have eternal life because we partake of the resurrected life of Christ by faith. If we are compelled to thank God for our physical food, how much more for our spiritual life!
It is because the gospel comes to us as grace, having nothing worthy of it in ourselves, that Paul saw himself as a debtor to all those who have never heard of its wonderful provision (Rom. 1:14). Having received what we do not deserve makes us thankful and also obligated. The gospel came to us freely and it can so come to anyone else. We can give thanks to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ whether we are the recipients or whether we are the witnesses.
Paul, the first and greatest Christian missionary, had a special relationship to the churches. He was not only their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:14-16) but their first missionary (Phil. 4:15). The mutual feeling between the missionary and the churches was one of thanksgiving for all that God had done. “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf” (2 Cor. 1:11).
Paul’s relationship to the Philippian church was especially filled with gratitude because of the trying circumstances that he and Silas found themselves in at Philippi. In opening his epistle to the church Paul included a typical missionary praise, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). So also in the closing chapter he wrote, “Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not that I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account . . . . An odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:15-18).
God calls a man to go into His mission field and a church joins him in that effort by prayer and finances. The results that come of it all cause both parties to rejoice and to offer up thanksgiving to God which are like sweet-smelling sacrifices before His throne. Neither the missionary nor the church are investing for this life, for then they would be of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19). But they are investing in righteousness which will last eternally: “As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth forever!” (2 Cor. 9:9).
In the English Midlands in the 1700s, a small group of independent pastors met monthly to pray for missions. Among them were Andrew Fuller, a bright and studious pastor at Kettering, and an enthusiastic young man named William Carey, pastor of a small, struggling church in Moulton. With a few of their pastor friends they met on October 2, 1792 in the Inn of one of Fuller’s members, the widow Wallis, and formed the Baptist Missionary Society. It was the first of its kind in that it was a true “faith mission.” Support for missionaries would only come from the offerings of their local churches. Each man gave what he could to start the mission and the total amount was 2 shillings, 6 pence, a little over 13 pounds. Carey was so poor he could not give in the offering, so he proposed that if they would give, he would go as the first missionary. His famous words were, “I go to India to mine for souls; you hold the ropes.” Fuller took the charge seriously and became the secretary of the mission for the rest of his life. Carey went to India and died there, never returning to his home in England. He is known today as the father of modern missions. For over 200 years many thanksgivings have been offered up to God for missionary work done by faithful people and churches.
And So . . . .
Whether we sit at our bountiful tables and receive God’s blessing of food, or kneel in our churches and thank Him for blessing and protection of our missionaries, or simply stand in awe of God’s glorious beauty, let us do so with a thankful heart.
We thank thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food:
Accept the gifts we offer
For all Thy love imparts,
And, what Thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.