The Christian’s duty to give thanks is pretty clear in scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is one aspect of God’s will that is not secret or hidden. It’s not something that we have to pray about. We already know what it is. Giving thanks in every circumstance is the normative ethic for all Christians.
Nevertheless, there is at least one place in scripture in which Jesus warned against giving thanks. From Luke 18:9-14:
9 And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
The Pharisee gives thanks, yet Jesus reproaches him for it. Why? Because God-belittling thanksgiving is not real thanksgiving. The Pharisee is condemned for failing to exalt God in his thanksgiving. The tax-gatherer finds salvation because he humbles himself.
Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m struck by how secular this celebration has become over the years. At the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims gave unambiguous praise and thanks to God. At today’s Thanksgiving, too many of us have no notion of God at all. We tend to forget about Him as we offer generic thanks to the ether. God is not exalted by this kind of thanksgiving.
At issue here is the object of your exaltation as you give thanks. For Jesus, the difference between heaven and hell comes down to who you exalt when you give thanks. Does your thanksgiving make much of God? Or does it make much of you and your achievements? Does your thanksgiving exalt Him and Him alone as the source of all the gifts you receive? Or does thanksgiving exalt someone or something else? Does your thanksgiving ultimately trace back to the gift of salvation that God has purchased for you through Jesus Christ?
Today is a day of feasting and rejoicing. You can enjoy it for the Lord’s sake by refusing to give generic thanks. Give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Exalt Him, and Him alone.
I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.
I Will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart;
I will tell of all Thy wonders.
9 I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.
10 For Thy lovingkindness is great to the heavens,
And Thy truth to the clouds.
11 Be exalted above the heavens,
O God; Let Thy glory be above all the earth.