It is the morning of Thanksgiving, and I’m looking forward to a turkey dinner with our family later today.
We’ll follow the hallowed traditions of the day: kids rampaging through the house, cousins greeting each other, and plates piled high with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. The guys will watch some football. We will talk about the things for which we’re grateful. Like the first Pilgrims, we will pause to be thankful that we have survived a tough season.
All these things are part of our cultural tradition at Thanksgiving, and they’re all good. However, I would like to pause to consider a biblical perspective about giving thanks.
What does the New Testament tell us about thanksgiving?
We can find the answer by looking at the pair of Greek words used in the New Testament for giving thanks: the verb eucharisteō (occurs 38 times) and the noun eucharistia (occurs 15 times).
Strong’s Concordance lays out three ways that these words can be used:
1. To be grateful, to feel grateful
2. To express gratitude
3. To say grace at a meal
Let’s make a few observations based on the passages where these words are used.
- A prayer of thanks before the turkey is good!
When Jesus prepared to feed the 5000, he gave thanks before distributing the food (Mark 8:6; John 6:11). And when He shared a meal with His disciples the night before His arrest and crucifixion, He “gave thanks” before He ate the bread and drank the cup, instituting the Lord’s Supper for the first time (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). See also Acts 27:35; Romans 14:6; 1 Timothy 4:3. The Lord’s Supper became known as the Eucharist in the 2nd century because thankfulness is built into that remembrance of Christ’s work.
- Feeling thankful is good; expressing your thankfulness is better!
A Jewish attorney opened his speech to the Roman governor Felix by saying, “We acknowledge your excellent rule with all thankfulness” (Acts 24:3). He was trying to gain favor by claiming that the Jews felt the emotion of gratefulness for Felix’s capable rule.
Sincere thanksgiving usually rests on the emotion of gratefulness, but in virtually every use of eucharisteō in the New Testament, the feeling of gratitude bursts out into words.
Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one of them returned to express his gratitude (Luke 17:16).
Note: Verbalize the things for which you can be thankful, even if you don’t feel the emotion. Reminding yourself of the facts can be a good way to revive feelings of gratitude.
- Giving thanks to people is good; giving thanks to God is best!
Thanks in the New Testament is almost always directed to God. The apostle Paul routinely included a word of thanks near the beginning of his epistles. Even when he was going to rebuke them later, he paused to express his gratefulness for them. The apostle did not thank them directly. Instead, he thanked God for what He had done in their lives.
- 1 Corinthians 1:3 – I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God …
- Ephesians 1:15-16 – I do not cease giving thanks for you
- Philippians 1:3 – I thank my God in all my remembrance of you
- Colossians 1:3 – We give thanks to God, the Father . . . praying always for you
- 1 Thessalonians 1:2 – We give thanks to God always for all of you
- 2 Thessalonians 1:3 – We ought always to give thanks to God for you
- Philemon 4 – I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers
Thanksgiving only makes sense when we are expressing gratefulness to God. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” The Pilgrims were grateful to God, not Squanto.
Giving thanks is a command, not an option. The New Testament repeatedly prescribes it as an essential element of our conversation with God.
- Ephesians 5:20 – always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
- Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
- Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
- Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.A Thousand Gifts
- 1 Timothy 2:1 – First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.
If you found it hard to feel thankful, even at Thanksgiving, try sitting down to make up a list of your blessings. As Ann Voskamp suggested in her book A Thousand Gifts, make a daily practice of recording ten reasons for thankfulness. By the time your list reaches 1000, you’ll feel a lot better about the whole thing!
Words often come in clusters, including a noun, a verb, and perhaps an adjective or adverb – all wrapped around the same idea. When this happens, you will want to look at all the words in the family.
The words for “giving thanks” occur so frequently that we could not mention all the references. However, you will learn much more by studying every verse where the words occur. Make a list of all the things that people thank God for, and use it to provide a starting point for your personal list.
Here is the complete list of references:
Verb – eucharisteō: Matt 15:36; 26:27; Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 17:16; 18:11; 22:17, 19; Jn 6:23; 11:41; Acts 27:35; 28:15; Rom 1:8; 1:21; 7:25;Q&A 14:6; 16:4; 1 Cor 1:4, 14; 10:30; 11:24; 14:17, 18; 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 1:16; 5:20; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3, 12; 3:17; 1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 5:18; 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13; Phmn 4; Rev 11:17.
Noun – eucharistia: Acts 24:3; 1 Cor 14:16; 2 Cor 4:15; 9:11, 12; Eph 5:4; Phil 4:6; Col 2:7; 4:2; 1 Thess 3:9; 1 Tim 2:1; 4:3, 4; Rev 4:9; 7:12.
Q: In Hebrews 12, it says Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. Does that mean he considered the shame as not being worthy of mention or notice, compared to what the cross was accomplishing?
A: I think you’re on the right track. The Greek word is kataphroneō, which is most often translated as “despise, scorn.” The idea is to look down on someone or something, to treat someone with contempt. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul warns Timothy not to let anyone “despise” him because of his youth.
Some of the renderings in my lexicons include “to think lightly, disdain, pay no attention to, disregard, think less of, make light of.”
In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus minimized the shame, treating as a little, unimportant thing. I agree that there’s a comparison here – Jesus could look at “the joy that was set before him” and compare it to the shame involved. The joy of accomplishing salvation definitely outweighed any humiliation that He might go through.
Christmas is coming, and people are getting serious about buying Christmas presents. Next week, we’re going to look at the Greek word for “present,” to find the gift God really wants.