"Be thankful" is a common exhortation in the letters of Paul, more so than any other NT writer. David Pao, in his book Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (New Studies in Biblical Theology) lists 5 ways thanksgiving works in Paul's letters:
- In the introductory paragraphs of Paul's letters, thanksgiving is offered because of the acts of God and not because certain gifts are received (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Thess 1:3; Phil 4).
- Thanksgiving is reserved for God and not for human beings (the only possible exception being Rom 16:4).
- Thanksgiving, while usually offered for past acts, is also offered for future acts (1 Cor 15:56-57).
- Thanksgiving is a summary term to characterize proper behavior (ie. ingratitude marks unbelievers) (Rom 1:21, Eph 5:4; 18-20; Col 3:17).
- Thanksgiving, without reference to past gracious acts, points to the peculiar characterization of the people of God. We are simply called to be thankful (Col 3:15; 1 Thess 5:18).
The final takeway: Thanksgiving centers on who God is and what He is doing as well as how to align our own lives in relation to Him. Being thankful is not just a command. It is a distiguishing mark of the work the Holy Spirit.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.