Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Gratefulness or Thankfulness

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

Gratefulness or Thankfulness

Gratefulness or Thankfulness

Richard Hollerman

Do you consider yourself a thankful person?  Are you grateful to God for His rich blessings that are given every day?  Do you thank Him for His bountiful grace?  In fact, do you also express your thankfulness to others for the way they have blessed your life?  According to Paul’s description of the pagan Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32), one of the leading charges against them was that “though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (v. 21).  A thankless spirit will bring one under God’s righteous judgment!

The New Testament words would be eucharisteo (thank), eucharistos (thankful) and eucharistia (thanksgiving).  We are to be thankful to other people for their blessings.  One of the healed lepers returned to Jesus and “fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him” (Luke 17:16).  Paul mentioned how sacrificial Aquila and Priscilla had been to him, who “risked their own necks, to whom not only do I [Paul] give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:4).  We should thank others for the ways they have blessed us.

Thankfulness or Gratefulness

But most of the occurrences of thanksgiving pertain to God Himself.  Paul was filled with joy and thanksgiving for God’s saving work in Christ.  He said, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).  Do we give thanks to God for the victory we have in Jesus?  Paul also wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).  With a note of exultation, Paul writes, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (9:15). Perhaps this “gift” is a reference to Christ Jesus Himself—a gift of priceless value!

One of the leading “thanksgiving” expressions in the New Testament pertains to Paul’s thanks for certain believers in Christ.  He writes, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).  He says, “[I] do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16).  He does this again and again (cf. Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2:13; Philemon 4).

Do we thank God at all times and in every place?  When Jesus was teaching the people, He chose to feed them with five barley loaves and two fish.  Scripture says that the people sat on the grass and Jesus “took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated” (John 6:10-11).  If Jesus gave thanks to God for the food, do we give thanks at our meals?  When Paul was on the ship that took him to Rome, Luke tells us that “he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all” (Acts 27:35).  Do we give thanks in public, testifying that we honor God the great Giver?

A mother took her three children to a restaurant to eat breakfast one morning.  The smallest of the three children sat at the very end of the row.  She saw other people being served and eating right away without stopping to say thinks.  It surprised her.  When the food was served to her, she shouted out to her mother: “Mommy, don’t people ask the blessing in this place?”  You can well imagine the embarrassment of those present.  Her mother tried to hush her.  But, the waitress said to little Mary, “Yes, we do, sister!  You give thanks!”  Amazingly, at that very moment everybody else also bowed their heads and offered thanks.  Embarrass them and maybe you will bring them to their senses to say, “Thank you, God.”[i][i]

Do we give thanks for food and every other good gift from God?  Do you remember the account of how Jesus cleansed ten lepers in Samaria?  All ten were healed but only one came back to Jesus.  This one lone man was glorifying God and “fell on his face at His [Jesus’] feet, giving thanks to Him” (Luke 17:15-16).  Are we more like the nine ungrateful healed men when we realize that God has done so much for us?  Or are we like the thankful man who returned to give thanks?

Our whole life should be one of thanksgiving.  Paul writes, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  He urges his readers to be “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20).  He says that prayer should be coupled with thanksgiving: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

The letter of Colossians has been called “the epistle of thanksgiving,” and there is a reason for this.  He refers to thanksgiving repeatedly in the letter (cf. Colossians 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2).  Our prayers should be filled with expressions of gratitude for God’s many blessings in Christ Jesus and thanksgivings for other brothers and sisters who are walking in the light.  Let’s be thankful people—thankful and appreciative of people for the way they have blessed us, and especially thankful to God for His blessings and the way He has worked in our life and the lives of others.


[i][i] Kyle and Todd, A Treasury of Bible Illustrations, p. 351.

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