Thanksgiving to God cannot operate in a vacuum as an isolated act of duty. We cannot thank God without at the same time acknowledging Who He is and that other forms of devotion are due Him. If we thank God for something, we acknowledge it as part of His providential care; we acknowledge Him as our Sustainer and Provider. If we thank God for what we see as good, we must praise Him for His goodness. If we thank Him for His salvation, we must recognize His grace to us. The more we recognize what God does for us, the more we see Who God is. Praise then naturally accompanies thanksgiving.
Proclaiming the goodness of God with a concurrent recognition of the magnitude of our own sin causes us to see the great gulf that His love has bridged and to be thankful in all things. We learn that we cannot pick and choose that for which we are grateful.
Thankfulness is about acknowledging the goodness of God and our dependence on Him. Thus, to view thanksgiving in Scripture, we must not look merely for the giving of thanks but at the many ways and instances men testified to the goodness of God. If we do this, we see acts of thanksgiving take many forms: worship, praise, memorials, feasts, music, proclamations, rejoicing, and dedications.
It is worthwhile to reflect on some of the many scriptural teachings about the giving of thanks and the acknowledgement of God's goodness:
- Jacob built an altar for a memorial to what God had done for him in his time of need (Gen. 35:1).
- The feast of unleavened bread was to remind future generations of God's salvation from the land of bondage (Ex.12:14, 17, 42). It was also used as an opportunity to explain the broad scope of God's grace and providence. Thus, the history of God's salvation, the teaching of the law, sacrifices and offerings, and the training of children were properly part of the celebration (Ex.13:3, 8-10, 14-16).
- Artifacts and relics are acceptable if properly used to remind God's people of His providential care. Thus, a sample of manna was placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 16:32) and Moses' brass serpent was kept for generations until it became an object of superstition (2 Kin. 18:4).
- The offering of first fruits (Ex. 34:26; Lev. 19:24; 23:14) taught men that thanksgiving was not to be an afterthought. The giving of the first harvest to God acknowledged in a physical act that all belonged to Him. It was to be offered before future harvests were sold. Financially, this represented a significant value that was to be given to God. This form of thanksgiving did not come without great cost, but God's people were commanded to "[R]ejoice in the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto" (Dt. 12:18).
- Rejoicing over God's providence was to be used as a vehicle to teach God's goodness to all "within the gates," that is, all within our household and employ (Dt. 16:14).
- True thanksgiving involves more than just being grateful for what we have. It necessitates personal gratitude to God because all comes from Him (Dt. 26:10).
- Thanksgiving involves rehearsing "the righteous act of the Lord "to future generations" (Jud. 5:11).
- Thanksgiving must not be a selective acknowledgment of what we perceive to be blessings, but must be for all God's judgments (Ps. 48:11).
- God said that if we show thanksgiving and fulfill our duties to Him, He will remember us when we call upon Him in the day of trouble (Ps. 50:14).
- We must remember that God's goodness to us is because we are "his people" and therefore it is our duty to "observe his statutes, and keep his laws" (Ps. 105:43-45).
- God's people should not only themselves declare His goodness (Ps. 107:1-2), but they should desire that others do likewise (v.15).
- Thankfulness involves honoring God by the giving of our substance (Pr. 3:9).
- Thankfulness should not be limited to times of prosperity, because God teaches us in times of want to depend on Him (Ecc. 7:14).
- Thanksgiving should be to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:4).
- Prayer and thanksgiving, both of which are admissions of dependence on God, are the alternative to anxiety (Phil. 4:6).
- Thanksgiving must always be made in the context that God is our Savior (Col. 1:12).
- Acknowledging God's goodness to us in thanksgiving brings peace and confidence to all we do (Col. 3:15-17).
- We should pray for and give thanks for all sorts of men (1 Tim. 2:1).
- Unbiblical restrictions, such as those imposed by false piety, deny us the gifts which God expects us to receive with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5). Paul said that acknowledging God's gifts to us was more important than imposing ideas on others (Rom. 14:6).
- We should offer praise to God continually, with our words constantly giving Him thanks and praising His name (Heb. 13:15).
Thanksgiving may rightly be an annual celebration, but it remains a daily duty.
One of the most amazing examples of thanksgiving in all of Scripture is that of Paul, who told Timothy, "I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Tim. 1:12). Paul, the privileged Pharisee turned itinerant preacher and convict, the man who suffered beatings, assassination attempts, and shipwreck for Christ, the man who was eventually beheaded by the Roman state, understood thanksgiving because he understood the goodness of God. Paul could weigh the advantages of his life before conversion and afterwards and say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). The Christian must view life as service to God and His Christ, and death as entrance into reward. Until we are thankful in all things God brings our way we do not understand what it is to give thanks.