Gratitude is foundational to vibrant Christianity. Its opposites—grumbling, complaining, discontentment, and self-pity—are rampant and violent statements of unbelief. They reject the gospel. they assume grace—grace that cost the Father his Son. They deny God’s sovereignty. They suggest, that “God can’t be trusted.” They proclaim this message: “God isn’t really that good!” The failure to live in constant overflowing gratitude says, “I deserve better than I am getting.”
No well-informed Christian would ever say this out loud, but that is how God sees it. That is what ungratefulness says to God, to the angels, and to everyone watching your life.
Functionally, grumbling, complaining, and self pity strip God of his glory. Since God values nothing more than his glory, he has responded decisively throughout redemptive history. He aggressively punished the “grumbling” of the Jewish people. Moses called it the sin of “despising God” (Num. 14). None of us would ever think of despising God, yet that is how God sees ingratitude and its various manifestations. God consigned the grumbling Jews to death in the wilderness. For failure to be thankful they were barred from entering the Promised Land.
After God judged Korah, Dathan, and Abiram the Israelites grumbled a second time. How did God respond? He put 14,700 of them to death (Num. 16:49).
Paul knew these stories. That is one reason that he emphasized gratitude. In fact, he exulted in it. He exhorted the churches he served, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Although the Corinthian church tolerated members that practiced incest, drank too much wine at communion, and even denied the resurrection Paul began his letter to them with gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). Paul was not flattering them, or trying to butter them up. He was sincere.
Paul commends thankful speech. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). How about corporate worship? “Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).
But just being thankful wasn’t enough. He commands the church at Colossae to “abound” in this virtue. “So walk in him…abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7). Some translate it “overflowing” with thanksgiving.
In summary, gratitude was the right way to respond to all circumstances. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:18).
To the apostolic mind, gratitude and thanksgiving were not “fly over” virtues. Just the opposite. The Christian mind is to be thankful in all circumstances. In fact, Paul commands us to “overflow with thanksgiving.” We should pray with thanksgiving and do worship with thanksgiving.
Do you and I see it this way?