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The Source Of Thanksgiving

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

Considering his wrongful imprisonment by the Romans, Paul’s admonition is astonishing. In the clutches of a legal system that was sometimes impaired by corruption, the apostle’s fears might well consume him. Instead, he puts his cares in the hands of his infallible and omnipotent Father in heaven, and so is able to exhort his fellow-sufferers to “be anxious for nothing.” In doing so, he reminds us of the true source of thanksgiving: God’s person and work.

Public Domain by KRK
Public Domain by KRK

Why Worry When You Can Pray?

Bobby McFerrin’s infectious 1988 pop hit “Don’t worry, be happy” expresses the philosophy of many people when they face the trials and troubles that inevitably attend life in this fallen world. Christians are not exempt from problems and fears, but they can cast their care upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7.) Rather than say: “Don’t be anxious,” full stop; Paul says “don’t be anxious – pray instead.” This reflects a confidence in God and is a tacit acknowledgement of His power and faithfulness. Because the Lord is both sovereign and good, the believer can trust Him to work out His purposes for their ultimate, eternal blessing (Rom. 8:28-29.) Spurgeon points out that He is the only proper ground of the saints’ trust:

Is his heart faint? Is his arm weary? Is his eye grown dim? If so, seek another God; but if he be infinite, omnipotent, faithful, true, and all-wise, why gaddest thou abroad so much to seek another confidence? Why dost thou rake the earth to find another foundation, when this is strong enough, and broad enough, and deep enough to bear all the weight which thou canst ever build thereon? Christian, be single in your faith; have not two trusts, but one. Believer, rest thou only on thy God, and let thine expectation be from him.[1]

Habitual Thanksgiving

This passage also exhorts believers to bring their requests “with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks should come naturally to them, as a couple of nineteenth century commentators declare:

‘The temper of the Christian should always be one of thanksgiving. Nearly every Psalm, however deep the sorrow and contrition, escapes into the happy atmosphere of praise and gratitude. The Psalms, in Hebrew, are the Praises. All prayer ought to include the element of thanksgiving, for mercies temporal and spiritual’ (Note by the Dean of Peterborough). The privilege of prayer is in itself an abiding theme for grateful praise.[2]

  Why does Paul link thankfulness with prayer and supplication? First, looking to our God for help reminds us of all He has done for us in the past. He purposefully created us and presently maintains our physical lives (Acts 17:28.) He providentially provides health, food, friends, and family (see Psalm 104.) Most of all one thinks of “His indescribable gift,” He provided His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, offering a liberating redemption payment and giving a new righteous standing in the Father’s sight (2 Cor. 9:15; Rom. 3:21-26.) In the future, He will complete the work He began in believers by returning to take them to Himself and transform them into resurrected form. They will then reign with Him in the Millennial kingdom and the eternal state to follow (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:11-23; 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 John 3:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4-6.)

Gratitude ought to be a daily, moment-by-moment attitude of human beings, yet it is often forgotten – especially in the presence of troubles. People often react to problems with introspection – or sometimes even self-absorption. But if one knows who God is and all that He does for us, then thankfulness is the logical and spiritual response. As Albert Mohler, Jr. recently wrote: “Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm – a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.”[3]

Ingratitude: A Native Human Weed

Historically, forgetting the Creator and ingratitude have gone hand in hand, as Romans 1:21 explains: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In fact the original fall of Adam and Eve may be seen as a lack of thankfulness towards God’s bounty and a corresponding desire to have fulfillment outside of obedience to His will (Gen. 3:1-6.) Fixing one’s mind on God cultivates thankfulness; ignoring Him leads to thanklessness and foolish independence.

Admittedly, not giving in to fear is sometimes easier said than done. One writer notes that “Be anxious for nothing” is “an admonition that touches the quick of every person.”[4] Yet these verses are practical, being battle tested in the cauldron of multitudinous sorrows. In prison cells, on sickbeds, and in the face of various tragedies large and small believers still demonstrate that the Almighty exchanges fear for faith and worry for peace. Only the reality of God’s power and love as manifested at the cross can give one the patience and equanimity to endure hard circumstances. Because the Son of God died and rose again defeating every enemy, there is no trial that can withstand His effectual working (1 Cor. 15:51-56.) Only His throne of grace is a sufficient place where one may take one’s cares and needs. Commenting on Philippians 4:6-7, F.B. Hole well summarizes this truth: “We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything.[5]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Words of Expostulation,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 7. Originally preached on January 20, 1861. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 70.

[2] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians, With Introduction and Notes. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893, 112f. [Italics original.]

[3] Albert Mohler, Jr., “They Did Not Honor Him Or Give Thanks – Why Thanksgiving Is Inescapably Theological,” on the blog, accessed on 11/24/15 here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/11/23/they-did-not-honor-him-or-give-thanks-why-thanksgiving-is-inescapably-theological/

[4] Maxie D. Dunnam, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31: Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, 308.

[5] F.B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed., accessed here: http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/fbh_54_philippians.htm#Philippians%204 Accessed on 11/28/11. [Italics original.]