One of the easiest life lessons to learn was captured in a short expression I heard when I was young: If you ain’t got it, you can’t give it. I heard it so much I thought it was Scripture. I suppose, on principle, it is. If you ain’t got the Spirit, you can’t give gratitude. This is the second truth we learn from our systematic look at biblical gratitude: divine grace is the means of thanksgiving.
“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18)
Using 1 Thessalonians 5:18 as our launching point, we first discovered that gratitude is commanded by God. All people, believers and unbelievers alike, are obligated to give God thanksgiving because all people have received divine benefits from Him (Matt. 5:45). Therefore, those who withhold thanksgiving are judged by God who commands it (Rom. 1:18, 21).
Various scriptures indicate this. “Walk in him,” Paul said to the Colossian church, “abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6-7). Again, “Be thankful” (Col. 3:15). To the church in Ephesus, he gave instructions on spiritual living by “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
These same scriptures connect the command of gratitude to the means by which we give thanksgiving. Consider each again. “Walk in him,” he exhorts, “abounding in thanksgiving” as “you received Christ Jesus our Lord” and are “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7). In other words, be grateful according to the measure of grace God has given you. Abound in gratitude as you abound in Christ. Paul continues this idea in the next chapter, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” and “be thankful” (Col. 3:15). His words to the Ephesians couldn’t be clearer. “Be filled with the Spirit” which manifests in “giving thanks always and for everything to God” (Eph. 5:18-20). Biblical gratitude is inseparably connected to the Spirit of God. As God pours grace into us gratitude overflows out of us.
Jesus made the connection too. While traveling to Jerusalem, He encountered ten lepers outside the city gates. They cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Lk. 17:13). Having pity, He healed all ten (Lk. 17:14). “One of them,” we read, “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Lk. 17:15-16). Then, Jesus makes the connection. “Rise and go you way,” He says to the grateful one, “your faith has made you well” (Lk. 17:19). Faith produces thanksgiving, because grace is the means of gratitude.
Grace Produces Gratitude
Only those who possess saving faith will give incessant gratitude to God. Therefore, biblical gratitude characterizes those who trust God. Anything that is done in faith toward God is done by the Spirit of God within him. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Put negatively, no one walks in the footsteps of faith, giving God thanksgiving, “except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
This truth prompted the psalmist to say, “surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name” (Ps. 140:3). In other words, if anyone will give God thanks, it is the Christian for he possesses the means of thanksgiving. In fact, he increases in the means of thanksgiving. As grace abounds, gratitude abounds. As gratitude abounds, grave is given.
Paul captured this continuous cycle of grace-gratitude-grace in his letter to the church in Corinth. “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). He was talking about cheerfully giving unto the Lord. It is built upon the premise that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may about in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). Here’s how it unfolds in the believer’s practical life of thanksgiving:
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:10–11)
It is a tremendous thing to consider. God gives grace to us. According to His grace, we give Him thanks. According to our thanks, He gives us grace. It is a continuous cycle of grace-gratitude-grace. As we walk in grace, we abound in gratitude which increases in measure. Are you growing in gratitude?
Disgrace Withholds Gratitude
When we practice the Lord’s Supper, we practice holy thanksgiving. It was established by Jesus moments before His atoning work on the cross. “Do this in remembrance of me,” He said (Lk. 22:19). Taking the bread and the cup, He and His followers shared in the giving of thanks.
This sacred practice continues today. Christians regularly join together to give thanks to God for the atoning work of Christ on the cross. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we acknowledge as Paul did, “I received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23). And, while all people have received from the Lord in some way, unbelievers have not received what the Lord’s Supper represents—saving grace.
If gratitude characterizes believers as grace recipients, then ingratitude characterizes unbelievers as grace rejectors. Paul recognized this. When instructing his young protégé in ministry, he described the ungodly in a list of terms that nobody welcomes. They are self-lovers in every way, full of pride, verbally and physically abusive, disobedient to authorities. They have no self-control, but lash out in heartless brutalities. Among these infamous attributes is “ungrateful” (2 Tim. 3:2-5). They fail to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits of God and from others.
Although it is not necessary to explain why, Paul has a good way of putting it. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Those without faith have not the eyes to recognize God’s benefits which prevent them from expressing thanksgiving. Biblical gratitude is impossible for the lost.
As Matthew Henry put it, “the thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human heart is that God has forgiven sin.” Has God forgiven your sin? Have you received the special grace of salvation? Does His Spirit draw out of you incessant thanksgiving? If not, ask God to open the eyes of your heart so that you might see His good benefits.