Today's Broadcast

Thanksgiving Day

A Message by R.C. Sproul

A turkey dinner with all the fixings; good friends and family, and a day off work, what more do we need to for a good Thanksgiving?

From the series: Thanksgiving

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    A Life of Gratitude

  2. devotional

    Providence and Gratitude

  3. devotional

    Perpetual Gratitude

A Life of Gratitude

The essence of the Christian life can be summarized in many legitimate ways, including forgiveness — the realization that the Father has forgiven us in Christ and thus requires us to forgive others (Col. 3:13); holiness — because we have been set apart as holy through the work of the Savior, we must put holiness into practice in our lives (1 Peter 1:14–16); and patience — God in His patience was kind to us and brought us to repentance, so we must bear with the faults of others and wait patiently for the Lord to fulfill His purposes (James 5:7–11). Other summaries could be suggested, but the one we have seen most clearly thus far in our study of Colossians is thanksgiving.

Gratitude envelops Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae in Colossians 1:3–12, indicating its fundamental place in the life of the Christian. Thanksgiving, in fact, is the perpetual attitude of Paul and is to be the disposition of the Christians in Colossae. He is always giving thanks for the faith, hope, and love of the believers there (vv. 3–5a). The Colossians, and all other Christians by extension, are admonished to give thanks for their great salvation in an abundant, overflowing manner (v. 12; 2:6–7). Such an emphasis on thanksgiving is not surprising, for gratitude must certainly be a chief virtue of redeemed people since a principal vice of fallen humanity is an ungrateful disposition toward the Lord for His gifts (Rom. 1:18–32). Old covenant Israel perpetually fell into idolatry because they did not remember the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. They ended up thanking gods who were no gods at all for their redemption (Ex. 32). May we never do the same.

We can live a Christian life of gratitude only when we recall that everything we have in Christ is an inheritance. Typically, an inheritance is something that is passed from the person who earned it to a benefactor who has not worked for it, wholly at the initiative of the earner. Paul can refer to our salvation as an inheritance because it is something that Jesus earned for us and that we do not work for but receive by faith alone (Rom. 4; 2 Cor. 5:21). John Chrysostom, an early church father and bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century, writes, “For no one leads a life so good as to be counted worthy of the kingdom, but the whole is his free gift” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9, p. 7; hereafter ACCNT).

Providence and Gratitude

Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said that every Christian is a theologian because every Christian has some view of God’s attributes, work, will, and so on. These ideas may be held consciously as the result of years of diligent study, or they may be just a vague collection of thoughts. Nevertheless, every believer has a theology. Since every Christian is a theologian, the important issue is the content of one’s theology and whether it provides a solid foundation for obedience.

In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). What understanding of God is consistent with this command? Is it the view that says the Lord merely reacts to His creation? Or does the view of God’s sovereignty in Reformed confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism provide the confidence and trust we need to thank our Creator in all things?

The answer should be obvious. A God who has not ordained evil cannot actually be thanked and praised for bringing good out of evil. Sure, many Christians deny that the Lord ordains the tragedies in their lives and yet thank Him for working all things for their good. These believers often say that God can make the promise of Romans 8:28 because He sees the future and knows how people will respond to His work for good in the midst of evil. Yet, given these false assumptions, the Lord is not actually guaranteeing any good. Things would result in our good and His glory on account of creaturely responses to His initiative, not because of the Lord’s sovereign action. If God did not sovereignly ordain evil and the creaturely responses to His work that lead to good, why should He get all the glory and praise? Surely, this glory and praise should be shared with the creatures whose decisions led to the good for which the Lord was searching. This turns the biblical view upside down and must be rejected.

Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, and we have a basis for thanking God in all things only if He has ordained all things. If the events and creaturely decisions that result in our good occur because God ordained they would occur, we can give Him all the praise and glory. Since the Lord’s sovereign decree is the foundation for everything that ever happens, we can be confident of God’s good purposes as He works all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11).

Perpetual Gratitude

Paul does not command us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and then immediately move on to other subjects. Thankfully, he gives several evidences of the Spirit-filled life that we might recognize the work of the third person of the Trinity. The first of these is the presence of song in our hearts and on our lips. Those who submit to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying presence address others in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” (v. 19). Here the apostle essentially repeats what he says about the indwelling “word of Christ” in Colossians 3:16. If the Savior dwells in our hearts by His Spirit, His Word also dwells within us by His Spirit, and the Spirit uses this Word to make us holy and fill us with joy that overflows in song.

A second evidence of the Spirit-filled life, as seen in today’s passage, is an attitude of perpetual gratitude for all things directed to God the Father in the person of Jesus Christ. Since we are born into this world as fundamentally ungrateful people (Rom. 1:21), the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation includes changing us from ingrates into profoundly grateful people. In contrast to those in this world who are never content with God’s provision, the true Christian is thankful for everything, even the smallest joys. Believers understand that we deserve nothing but the Lord’s wrath, so we are thankful for all of our blessings.

Finally, Ephesians 5:21 also explains that our submission to one another is evidence of the Spirit-filled life. This mutual submission is not inconsistent with role distinctions within the body of Christ. After all, Paul in Ephesians 5:22–6:9 explains that certain individuals have positions of authority that are not shared by everyone in the church. The apostle’s view of submission here is the submission of service. All of us, no matter our responsibilities, are to put others first and seek to meet their needs before our own. John Calvin comments: “God has bound us so strong to each other that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn.”

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