“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” – Ephesians 5:20
Sometimes truth gets lost in personal translation. Many times we reinterpret words to fit our own understanding or our own plans. We read subjectively, selectively. We read with subjective selection. We read with a built in auto-correct or auto-edit so that if we don’t approve what we read we instantly dismiss it. There are a lot of reasons for our doing this.
For some subjective selection is a defense mechanism. We get our bank statement that indicates we’ve overdrawn our account and think that just can’t be, there’s no way I did that. We get a notice of employment termination and we respond they can’t do that. We read a blindsiding note from a paramour who wants to end our relationship and we think no, they wouldn’t do that. We read the results from a physical exam that has found a life threatening illness and we think this can’t be happening. In all these circumstances we defend against unwanted information by dismissing the information. But we do so to our perils of reality.
For others subjective selection is the result of rebellion. We read something and dismiss it because we don’t like what we see. We see a notice of a dress code and we take pride in disregarding it. We see, “No bare feet,” and we walk in with bare feet. We see a posted speed limit and callously step on the accelerator. We see “no smoking” and we steam and smoke away. We see signs limiting alcohol consumption and we drink away. The sinful nature is an inherent anarchist.
But admittedly some signs demand dismissing. We live in a better world because of those who defiantly disregarded signs that read, “No Blacks allowed,” or “Jews need not apply.” One day we will see signs like “no Christians wanted” or “Christians need not apply,” or “unisex bathroom.” We will one day see some form of “if you don’t accept same-sex marriage, lesbians, homosexuality, bi-sexuality, transgender you need not enter here.” When we see such words we will need to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. . . . [and] stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
And for others subjective selection is the result of misunderstanding. Maybe we read something and we just don’t understand what the message is. We don’t understand that chemistry formula or how an element is constructed and we cast its worth aside. We’re confused at the form at the Department of Motor Vehicles. We can’t understand the tax code. Who can figure out the car manual? Who can understand (or has the time to read) that online explanation for the newest software or latest IPhone agreement? In this age of information it’s hard to understand and easy to misunderstand.
But for whatever reason, when we come to something in God’s word that we don’t like or can’t accept, or don’t understand it’s never a good idea to go into subjective selection mode. It’s never a good idea to ignore what you simply view in God’s word as negative or not relevant to your world view. It’s never appropriate to delete what you don’t like and parse verses out of your personal interpretation. We see this in the politician’s selectivity when it comes to quoting scripture. They quote a verse that supports their purposes but neglect other scriptures that don’t serve their talking points. We see this when God’s word prohibits immoral lifestyles and people ignore or discount that part of God’s truth. They do that to excuse or even make it appear God condones the sin He so clearly prohibits. You can’t cherry pick God’s word.
We are not in a position to pick and choose what we will and will not accept as God’s word. God exalts His word above His own name (Psalm 138:2). The entirety of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160). God’s word is perfect (Psalm 19:7). God’s word is “holy,” it is unique and high above any other form of words (Psalm 119:140; Romans 1:2). God’s word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is effective; it will accomplish God’s purposes (Isaiah 55:11). God’s word defines sin, depicts its dangers and shows us how to avoid it victoriously (Psalm 119:11; 1 Corinthians 10:13). And that is why in His word God commands, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). We would be wise to accept God’s word as it is. If we ignore, omit, purposely misinterpret, or discount something in God’s word because we don’t like what it says, we need to understand God’s word will stand (e.g. Matthew 24:35). Our words will fall when they hit the righteous wall of God’s word. We will wither like grass. God’s word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
One example of a portion of scripture that tempts us to question involves the circumstances in which we are to be thankful. Certainly it isn’t wrong to wonder how God would want us to be thankful “always for all things.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When Paul writes this we question what “everything” means. We are tempted to think, that can’t be. We’d like to think that the word “everything” doesn’t really mean everything. We subtly ponder, surely God couldn’t mean for us to be thankful in times of tragedy, pain, hardship, loss, offense, persecution . . . . But if God’s word says something, just because we question it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. God’s word stretches our understanding. God’s word is written from an eternal perspective. To disregard the “everything” in this verse about thanks would rob us of one of the transcendent glorious truths of God’s word. When God’s word says “everything,” it means everything. That’s the truth.
Look closely at that verse in 1Thessalonians 5:18. The “in” gives us an out. It doesn’t say we are to be thankful for all things but in all things. In other words we may not like what is happening but we are to maintain a spirit of thanks to God in the midst of and through difficulties. I can understand that a bit better. I can get my mind and heart around that instruction. But in light of the many hardships life so frequently comes with, it’s a much harder sell to be thankful “always for all things.” That’s what Paul says elsewhere. He is inspired to exhort his readers “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). How is it possible for us to give thanks “always for all things”?
There doesn’t seem to be any out or getting around Paul’s words about giving thanks always for all things. Those words seem pretty straightforward and almost provocative to anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the harsh realities and trials of this life. Is that a heartless call to those who experience pain? What about those words, should we dismiss them; auto-edit them; auto-delete them? Is this a verse for subjective selection? No, I don’t believe so. In fact, if you join me in studying this verse I believe it will open the door to not only being thankful always for all things, but it will open the flood gates of God’s joy for you. Let me share a few things in response to these questions.
First, giving thanks for all things is made possible by God’s grace through faith. The phrase “giving thanks” is translated from the single Greek term eucharistountes. Not to get grammatically technical but the grammar of this term (Present/Active/Participle) conveys the idea of an ongoing life attitude. The idea is to have a spirit or attitude that is always giving thanks. This is an attitude we need to actively pursue by faith. It is a product of God’s grace.
The word from which we get this participle is eucharisteo which means to be thankful, give thanks, return thanks, or pray. This is a word of worship. Worship involves faith expressing thanks to God. Further, this is a compound word the root of which is charisteo. Charisteo means to give freely, bestow favor, gratify. Charisteo is linked to the word charis from which we get the English word “grace.” Charis means grace, attractiveness, or unmerited undeserved favor. For example, we are saved by God’s grace. Grace is undeserved favor. Salvation from sin isn’t something we deserve; it is something God offers us freely as a gift of His grace. He offers this gracious salvation from sin in love (e.g. John 3:16; Romans 5:8). We receive God’s gracious gift of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But the effect of God’s gracious salvation is life encompassing. We live by grace through faith. We live “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17). And we live by God’s grace. Paul through whom God chose to write about this attitude of thankfulness also was inspired to write, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Do you see the sustaining grace in that verse? Do you see how by faith Paul “labored more abundantly”? The first thing we need to understand in “giving thanks always for all things” is that it is something we can only do by God’s grace through faith.
Second, giving thanks always for all things is the result of looking “to God the Father.” God our Father is Sovereign. He is in command. He is in control. Nothing that happens to us happens without His permission. Job was severely tested by the devil. But the devil could do nothing to Job without God’s permission (cf. Job 1-2). While Job was experiencing the devastating hardships shared in the Book of Job, he, his wife and his best friends didn’t understand what God’s purpose and plan was. We the reader are given insight in the spiritual element of these circumstances from the very start. But Job, his wife and family and the friends that came to help him all were unaware of this crucial contextual information about the involvement of the devil and spiritual warfare.
Job and his friends go back and forth throughout the book trying unsuccessfully to decipher and make sense of the tragedy and affliction that had come upon this righteous man Job. Job complained and even got angry, but he continued to believe in God. Job reasons, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? (Job 2:10). Though he was severely tested Job persisted, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Interestingly, Job and his friends attribute all his hardship to acts of God. God permitted the hardship but the evil instrument was the devil. Job and his friends never consider this. Without this book maybe we wouldn’t consider it either. The Book of Job provides us therefore with valuable insight into reality that proves a comfort of understanding to others in history who suffer.
Along with Job many have been brought to a place where, though like Job they don’t understand all that is going on in their lives, still they proclaim, “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). And also, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). These are precious eternal insights. But it isn’t until God speaks in chapter 38 that the truth comes out. And even then, God does not provide all the insight we the reader are aware of from the first two chapters. It isn’t until the last five chapters of a forty-two chapter book that God thunders, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).
The point here is that even though we may not understand our life circumstances, because we do not have all the facts that God has, we should trust Him and be thankful no matter what. While the trials and tribulations God allowed into Job’s life stretched him to his limits and cost him in many ways, the product of God’s plan was a book included in His canon of holy writ that has proved to be profoundly helpful to others throughout history who are experiencing trials and tribulations.
Third, giving thanks always for all things can only be done “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Romans 8, the pinnacle of scripture, it states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b). It says that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:37-39). Whatever we go through in this life goes past the approval process of God’s desk. God is writing a poem and our life is part of the many stanzas (cf. Ephesians 2:10). God has a plan for us (cf. Jeremiah 29:11-13). God really is for us. He has our best interests at heart. We may not always understand that or even believe that but it is true. To prove it God inspired, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
It’s not by accident that in Romans 8:32 God mentions how He, along with His Son Jesus, “also freely gives us all things.” Here is the basis for giving thanks for all things even when the things God allows in our lives do not seem eligible for our being thankful. There is a far greater purpose in life than our comfort, material prosperity, ease, and even our health. There is a far greater purpose in life than the comfort, material prosperity, ease and even health of our loved ones and others as well.
God’s paramount purpose for all who follow Him is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). The finished poem of which I spoke above is a poem written with lines of Christ-like followers. God is preparing us for eternity with Him. That requires Christ-likeness. And the bottom line is that being Christ-like involves sacrifice. Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus came to serve in death (Philippians 2:5-11). “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus went to and died on the cross and shed His blood for our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19). And we are called to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21) and walk like He did (1 John 2:6).
We add nothing to the saving work of Jesus. But when we live like Him for His purposes we honor Him and our lives become a living sacrifice of worshipful thanks to Jesus. God’s plan for us is that we come to a place where we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Just as Jesus loved us we must come to a place where the love of Christ compels and motivates us (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). When you get to that place in your walk with the Lord, you will be eternally thankful for all things always.
Lastly, giving thanks always for all things is a work of the Holy Spirit in us. The context of Paul’s inspired words about giving thanks always for all things is an exhortation to allow the Holy Spirit to work in those he was writing to. “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17-19). Be wise. Don’t try and drown your sorrows with drinking or drugging. Be continuously daily filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will put a song in your heart. The Spirit will give us songs in the night (cf. Job 35:10; Psalm 77:6; Acts 16). Giving thanks always for all things is a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something we do in our own understanding or our own strength. Giving thanks always for all things is a product of the Spirit’s illumination. It is the Spirit’s empowering revelation that enables us to be always thankful.
The next time you go through a trial or difficulty remember what Peter was inspired to write – “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Suffering doesn’t save us. Suffering does provide us with a greater depth of understanding and ability to relate to Jesus. We draw close to Jesus when we fellowship with Him in suffering (Philippians 3:10).
A faith untested cannot be trusted. A faith tested true will never let you down. It will bring you closer to Jesus. It will be a reason to be thankful. It will be a reason to rejoice. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).
Now do you understand a bit more why God said to give thanks always for all things? Do you see how it can be done? Now it is up to us to present ourselves to God for help to obediently practice what God’s word says. By God’s grace through faith let’s be “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen!