"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.