In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we read: “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The Greek word translated as “give thanks” means to actually feel grateful. Thus, we are enjoined to do more than mouth the words “thank you” in every circumstance; we are supposed to have a genuine attitude of thankfulness (or be working in that direction anyway). Perhaps you have been told Paul meant for us to find something to give thanks for even when our situation is not as cozy as we might like. For instance, if we are in a car wreck and sustain injuries that put us in the hospital for eight weeks, we should give thanks that we aren’t required to stay for nine weeks. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I think Paul had something more in mind.
Commenting on this passage Adam Clarke says, “every occurrence may be a subject of gratitude and thankfulness. While ye live to God, prosperity and adversity will be equally helpful to you . . . for it is the will of God . . . that ye should profit by every occurrence in life, and be continually grateful and obedient; for gratitude and obedience are inseparably connected.” Indeed, I have long believed that our giving of thanks is too circumscribed.
The Apostle Paul also wrote “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29. The key word here is “all” as in “all things work together for good.” And that good is greater Christ-likeness.
If we truly believe all things we encounter in life are used by God to conform us to the image of His Son, then our giving of thanks when we break a leg in an automobile accident might be something like this: “Father, I thank you that you have seen fit to bring this difficult situation into my life (cf. Isaiah 45:7, Lamentations 3:38, Amos 3:6), so that I might grow in Christ-likeness. Lord, I don’t understand exactly how you will use this broken leg to shape me into the image of Jesus, but I trust that You will and I thank you for that.” Moreover, depending upon your circumstances – and if you have the faith and courage to do so – you may even include, “thank you for breaking my leg.”
No doubt this a difficult truth to embrace. Nonetheless, if you believe the Bible, then as a New Creation you must believe that every tragedy you live through serves to make you more like Jesus Christ. Should we then search out hardship? No. Jesus taught by example that we must not attempt to force God’s hand. Should we give thanks for the injury or death of another person if it affects us? No. It is not our place to “judge another’s servant” nor presume upon another’s relationship with the Lord in any way. Nor should feel free to sin since “all things” work for good. Indeed, “he who says ‘I know Him’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him” (1 John 2:4). Remember, when the Bible makes a panoptic claim it is meant to be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture.
A proper understanding of the principle of thankfulness requires thought and prayer. I encourage you to join me in meditating upon what the Bible teaches concerning thankfulness this Thanksgiving season. We have more to be thankful for than we may realize.