Thankfulness 1) The Attitude of Gratitude

The Attitude of Gratitude

Text: Ephesians 5:1-4,15-20


To be honest I’m not very good at expressing my thanks to people. It’s something that Alice brought to my attention early on in our marriage, and thankfully over the years I’ve begun to improve in the area of thankfulness. And in light of that I want to thank Alice who suggested I do a sermon series on thankfulness. I thought it was a good idea, because thankfulness is one of the marks of a follower of Christ. But the more I researched the more excited I became, because thankfulness is one of the most important, and maybe one of the most neglected qualities of the Christian life. I’ve decided to call this series – Thankfulness: The Attitude of Gratitude. And I believe that this series will change the way you not only look at life, but how you do life. We’re going to get really practical. I will be giving you homework, practical things that you can do that will help you become a more thankful person. Over the next three weeks we’re going to look at the difference between a whiner and a worshipper, why you should choose gratitude, and how to grow in gratitude. But this morning I want to lay a foundation of thankfulness in Scripture. By the end of this sermon you will understand how the Bible talks about thankfulness, how ingratitude is serious, and the foundation of Christian gratitude.


1) Thankfulness in Scripture

So let’s start with thankfulness in Scripture.

a) Old Testament

And let’s start with the Old Testament. The word for thankfulness in Hebrew is the word tôdāh (hd:woT). It appears 32 times in the Old Testament. And it’s used primarily in three ways.

i) Thanks to God

Firstly, thanksgiving in the Old Testament is exclusively directed towards God. This word todah is only ever used with God as the object of thanksgiving. God’s Old Testament people gave their thanks to God. And they showed their gratitude to God in the following two ways.

ii) Thank Offerings (Lev 7:12-15; 22:29; 2 Chron 29:31; 33:16; Ps 50:14,23; 56:12; 107:22; 116:17; Jer 17:26; 33:11; Amos 4:5)

Firstly, they thanked God through sacrifices. In fact, of the many different types of sacrifices in the Old Testament, one of them had the special function of expressing thanks to God, so they called it the thank offering. In Leviticus 7 it says, ‘12 If he offers [the fellowship offering] as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil… (Lev 7:12a)’ The thank offering was a practical way of expressing your thanks to God. You gave something tangible to say thank you. Today we tend to give cards, but back then it was a cow, sheep or goat with some cake. This thank offering is mentioned 10 times in the Old Testament. Probably the most significant is Psalm 50:23, ‘23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (Ps 50:23)’ I’ve included the other references in your notes.

iii) Songs of Thanksgiving

The second way they expressed their thanks to God was through songs of thanksgiving. Jonah in the belly of the whale writes, ‘9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord. (Jon 2:9)’ And over and over the Psalms talk about praising God. Just three examples: ‘30 I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. (Ps 69:30)’ ‘2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Ps 95:2)’ ‘7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. (Ps 147:7)’ There is a connection between thankfulness and singing. In fact that connection is so close that the NIV often translates this word todah as praise, and the Hebrew word for praise as thanks. We express our thankfulness to God by praising his name. Thankfulness in the Old Testament is directed towards God through sacrifices and song.

b) New Testament

In the New Testament, even though it’s less than half the size of the Old, this idea of thankfulness occurs over 70 times. While the word grace (11x) and bless (8x) are sometimes translated as thanks, the main word that is translated as thanks in the Greek is the word eucharisteō (eujcaristew, 54x). It’s actually based on the word grace (charis), so basically it refers to how we respond to grace, which we’re going to look at a bit more in our third point.

i) Reasons for thanksgiving

But firstly, in the New Testament we are to give thanks for a myriad of reasons. We’re going to look at these in a bit more detail over the next few weeks, but here’s just a few. Primarily in the New Testament people give thanks for food (Mt 15:36; 26:27; Mk 8:6; 14:23; Jn 6:11,23; Lk 22:17,19; Acts 27:35; Rom 14:6; 1 Cor 10:30; 11:24), for answered prayer (Jn 11:41), for healing (Lk 17:16), and for their fellow believers (Acts 28:15; Rom 16:4). And again all this thanksgiving is directed to God. We give thanks to God because God is the source of all these things.

ii) Songs of Thanksgiving

And like in the Old Testament they express their thankfulness specifically through singing. Paul writes, ‘19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)’

iii) Thanks in all circumstances

Thirdly, we aren’t just to give thanks sometimes, or when things are going well. Rather we are to give thanks in all circumstances. The Bible says, ‘18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)’ It is God’s will, God’s desire, that we give him thanks. And we are to give him thanks in all circumstances. That includes good as well as bad ones. We’re going to unpack that a little more in the third sermon.

iv) Commanded to be thankful

Finally, Paul commands us to be thankful. He just comes out and says it, ‘15 …be thankful. (Col 3:15c)’ According to Paul it is imperative for followers of Christ to be thankful.

I want to ask you this morning where does gratitude rank on your list of virtues? How highly do you rate thankfulness in your life? We’ve just taken a quick look at gratitude in the lives of God’s people in Scripture, does any of that resonate in your life? Do you express your gratitude towards God? Do you show your thankfulness in practical ways? Do you sing your thanks to God? Do you offer sacrifices to God just because you’re so grateful? I’m not talking about killing a sheep, but giving your time, or your money to those in need, or even sharing the gospel when it might mean persecution.


2) The Problem of Ingratitude

While the Bible speaks of thankfulness and gratitude it also talks about the problem of ingratitude. Probably the most graphic illustration of ingratitude in the Bible is when Jesus healed the 10 lepers in Luke 17. Because of their leprosy they wouldn’t even approach Jesus instead they stood at a distance and yelled out, ‘13 …Jesus, Master, have pity on us! (Lk 17:13b)’ And Jesus sent them to be checked by the priests and on the way they were miraculously healed. But of the 10 only 1 returned and ‘16 …threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him… (Lk 17:16a)’ And Jesus asks the question, ‘17 …Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? (Lk 17:17-28)’ If you do something for someone else you expect them at the least to say thanks. But the truth is that basic courtesy is becoming less common. There’s something about ingratitude that rubs us the wrong way.

a) Ingratitude is a serious sin

In fact, according to the Bible ingratitude is a serious sin. In Romans 1 Paul lists off a heap of sins. He talks about ‘29 …every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity… envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice… gossip, 30 slander, insolence, arrogance and boastfulness… (Rom 1:29-31)’ and the list goes on. But where does all this sinfulness come from? The answer is found in verse 21, ‘21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him… (Rom 1:21a)’ This seemingly little issue of ingratitude turns out to be the source of all the evils listed in Romans 1. Paul’s point is that when we become ungrateful towards God we are effectively stepping onto a slippery slope away from God. Later Paul writes, ‘2 [In the Last Days] people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful… (2 Tim 3:2)’ Ingratitude belongs right along side pride and abuse. Ingratitude is a serious problem.

c) Guarding against ingratitude

So how do we guard against ingratitude? There are few things that we need to be aware of.

i) Forgetfulness

Firstly, we have a tendency to forget all the good things God and others have done for us. Over and over throughout the Bible we are told to remember. God says to the Israelites, ‘15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt… (Dt 5:15a)’ ‘2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert… (Dt 8:2a)’ And really the point is ‘18 …remember the Lord your God… (Dt 8:18a)’ But the problem is just like the Israelites we forget all the things that God has done for us. The Psalmist writes, ‘21 They forgot the God who saved them… (Ps 106:21a)’ Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand. We must never forget that ‘13 …[God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col 1:13)’ Instead of forgetting God’s goodness to us we need to remember the many ways he has blessed us.

ii) Entitlement

Secondly, we must beware the attitude of entitlement. Often we think we deserve what we have, in fact we deserve even better than what we have. The truth is what we deserve is God’s wrath and condemnation and eternal judgment, and yet God has given us none of those things. Instead of an attitude of entitlement we need to develop an attitude of gratitude. We don’t deserve everything we have, therefore we should be grateful for those things.

iii) Comparison

The third thing that leads to ingratitude is comparison. When we compare ourselves with others we become ungrateful for what we have. We forget what we have and instead want what others have. But the Bible is quite clear ‘Do not covet. (Ex 20:17)’ Often when we look at the lives of others we can start to want what they have instead of being thankful for what we have. Instead of coveting what others have we should celebrate God’s generosity, not only to us, but also to others.

iv) Blindness to God’s grace

And finally we need to beware that we don’t become blind to God’s grace. Paul’s point in Romans 1 is the same as James who writes, ‘17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… (Jam 1:17a)’ The problem is that we become blind to that truth and rather than giving God thanks we ignore God, we are ungrateful towards God. God gives us food and water and health and wealth and we take it all for granted. The truth is that the only reason we aren’t poor, or hungry or thirsty, or diseased, or dead is because of God’s grace. Paul says, ‘25 …[God] himself gives all men life and breath and everything else… 27 God did this so that men would seek him… (Act 17:25b,27a)’ Unless we recognize that everything we have is a gift from God we will become ungrateful people.

So in what ways do you struggle with ingratitude? Are you ungrateful towards other people? Are you ungrateful towards God? Have you forgotten all the good things you have? Do you struggle with an attitude of entitlement, or coveting what someone else has? Are you blind to God’s grace? Are you an ungrateful person?


3) Christian Gratitude

The truth is every person on this planet has reasons to be grateful towards God, but for us as Christians we have a very particular reason to be grateful. I want to finish this morning by looking at Christian gratitude.

I mentioned earlier that the word thankfulness in the Greek refers to how we respond to grace. The truth is that gratitude and grace are inextricably linked. Wherever you find grace you should also find gratitude. In fact Christian gratitude flows from God’s grace. So let’s take a look at grace. According to God’s word we are all born with inescapable guilt. Because of our sin we are under God’s just and holy anger and condemnation. Because of our sin we deserve to be eternally separated from God. What we deserve is hell. But into our hopeless situation comes God’s undeserved grace in Christ Jesus. Unlike us Jesus lived in perfect obedience to God, and he willingly paid the penalty for our sin by dying as our substitute on the cross. Jesus was condemned in our place, and through faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God. God’s grace is a free and undeserved gift. The Bible says, ‘8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8)’ Our inescapable guilt has been removed by God’s undeserved grace. And the only proper response to God’s undeserved grace is unbridled gratitude. Christian gratitude flows from God’s grace. Oswald Chambers writes, ‘The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in ahuman being is that God has forgiven sin. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Nov 20th)’ Nancy DeMoss puts it like this, ‘Undeniable guilt, plus undeserved grace, should equal unbridled gratitude. (Choosing Gratitude, p35)’ The Heidelberg Catechism says that the only way to find comfort in life and death is to know three things: ‘first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 2)’ Later the Catechism says that as Christians we are to present ourselves to Jesus ‘…as a living sacrifice of thanks… (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 32)’ that ‘we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 43)’ And that ‘we do good… so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all He has done for us… (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 86)’ The Canons of Dort puts it like this, ‘those who receive so much grace, beyond and in spite of all they deserve, ought to acknowledge it with humble and thankful hearts. (Canons of Dort, III/IV. Art 7)’ The point is that as Christians, as people who have experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we respond with gratitude.

Do you truly understand what God has done for you in Jesus Christ? You were separated form God. You were lost in your sin. You were destined for hell. But God in his love and grace sent his only Son, to die in your place, to pay the penalty for your sin, to experience hell, so that you might have eternal life, so that you could know God’s love and joy and peace. I want to ask you: Are you grateful for God’s grace? Is your whole life an expression of your gratitude for what Jesus did on the cross for you? Do you give your life as a thanks offering? Do you sing songs of thanksgiving?


This morning I want you to grasp just how important this attitude of gratitude really is. Over and over in Scripture we are called to give thanks to God, to give to God as an expression of our thankfulness, and to sing to God songs of thanksgiving. But all too often we are instead ungrateful. We forget God’s goodness to us, and instead we think we’re entitled to what we have, or we covet what others have, and we become blind to God’s grace. But as Christians, despite our inescapable guilt, we have received God’s undeserved grace in Christ Jesus. As Christians everything that we do should be based on the fact that we are eternally grateful for everything that God has done for us. As Christians we are to ‘15 …be thankful. (Col 3:15c)’ And as Christians we are to ‘18 give thanks in all circumstances… (1 Thess 5:18a)’ Because as Christians we have everything to be thankful for. Amen.

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