by Dave Cunningham
Perhaps the purest, least commercialized of the major US holidays is Thanksgiving. Sure, retail outlets and merchandisers use the holiday as a launching pad for Christmas sales. Sure, turkey farmers and grocery stores benefit in a huge way from the tradition of feasting on Thanksgiving Day. Sure, Americans have the Macy’s Parade and an ample selection of college and professional football games to watch on TV. But compared to the other major holidays, Thanksgiving seems to naturally provoke a spirit of reflection on our many blessings. It’s almost uncanny, even families who never pray together often set aside time to do so on the fourth Thursday of every November.
To state the obvious, the word thanksgiving is a compound word from thanks and giving. And while these two words have their own specific meanings, they are intentionally paired for a purpose. The first word should naturally lead to the second. In other words, contemplating our rich and bountiful blessings should cultivate in us a heart of generosity toward others.
Three Hebrew words, one Aramaic word, and six Greek words are translated “thank,” “thanks,” “thankful,” “thankfulness,” or “thanksgiving” in the Bible a total 139 times. While there are multiple nuances of the word thanks in Scripture, each one points to the same idea—a heartfelt expression of gratefulness. What a reminder that every day should be Thanksgiving Day for the Christian! Reflecting on God’s goodness and our undeserved but abundant blessings should drive us to our knees in gratitude.
The apostle Paul rhetorically asked the arrogant, ungrateful church at Corinth, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Of course, the implied answer is “nothing.” James reminds us of this truth when he says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
Our lives, salvation, church, families, friends, homes, possessions, jobs, health, and on and on we can go—all of it has been given to us by God. We all are so truly blessed.
The apostle Paul says, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is God’s will that we not only give thanks but that we give thanks in everything. In other words, in every circumstance of life we are to exhibit a heart of thanksgiving to God.
Paul repeats something similar in Ephesians 5:20, when he says, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Someone once said that an atheist is a person who, when he feels grateful, has no one to thank. But, of course, that is not the case for the Christian.
As Bible-believing Christians, we recognize that God is the giver of all good things and is to receive our gratitude. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
If you are still following me here, the natural response to our thanks should be giving. Thanks-giving.
Lest we forget, giving pleases God. In fact, 2 Corinthians 9:7 explicitly says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” So, recognizing with gratitude all that God has amply supplied to us should compel us to consider how we can share with others. And we can be generous in our giving because of God’s promise to always “supply all [our] need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Consider the tremendous significance of God’s promise to us. It has enormous implications on how much we can give, because God unequivocally and unconditionally promises to continually meet our every need.
While Scripture doesn’t quantify how much we are to give to others, it does give us some valuable and practical principles to assist us. There are at least four to lean on as we consider our giving. We are to be
- systematic in our giving (1 Corinthians 16:2);
- proportionate in our giving (1 Corinthians 16:2);
- eager in our giving (2 Corinthians 9:7);
- generous in our giving (2 Corinthians 9:6).
In reality, God owns everything (Haggai 2:8; Psalm 24:1), and we are to be faithful stewards, or managers, of what He has entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 4:2).
So this Thanksgiving Day, as we sit down with our family and friends and stare at that turkey with the trimmings, perhaps we will be reminded and challenged anew to be better thankers and givers.
Thanks and giving—two inseparable and practical expressions of the heart of every committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Dave Cunningham is pastor of GraceLife Church outside of Hershey, Pa.