A Closer Look at The Bible’s Teaching on Gratitude
The Bible has quite a bit to say about gratitude.
With the Thanksgiving holiday as our entry point and the Scriptures as our authority and guide, let’s consider God’s perspective by exploring His Word on the subject.
Throughout the Bible, the act of giving thanks takes place in a variety of contexts, by a variety of people, as a response to various situations.
In the Scriptures, gratitude is a conscious, joyful expression of thanks and praise — often in response to God’s character, blessings, protection, and love.
Why Thanksgiving is So Important
Rather than being an optional practice only for the super-mature, God sees gratitude as an essential part of life in His world.
Consider these two reasons why thanksgiving is so important:
1. The Lack of Thanksgiving is the Source of All Kinds of Sin
At the end of Romans 1, the Apostle Paul describes the unraveling of the world as a result of sin. He describes idolatry, impurity, sexual immorality, and all kinds of sin.
At the fountainhead of evil and disobedience is ingratitude (see Romans 1:21).
2. Giving Thanks is a Strong Command
Thanksgiving isn’t merely a suggestion or recommendation in the Bible — it’s a command.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
When you examine the Greek of this verse, you discover that the verb “give thanks” is both an imperative (you must do it) and present-tense (you must keep doing it continually). We are never to stop expressing our gratitude.
Christians often struggle with discerning God’s will in various areas of life. But one thing we know for sure is that giving thanks is God’s will. Whatever decisions we make or paths we take, we must do them with gratitude.
Different Kinds of Thanksgiving in the Bible
Of course, thanksgiving looks differently throughout the Bible, taking a variety of forms:
This is the most obvious and straightforward kind of gratitude. Often God’s people directly express their thankfulness to Him. This is not merely feeling grateful, but actually expressing it to the Lord in prayer.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. (Psalm 86:12, ESV)
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children…” (Matthew 11:25, ESV)
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you… (Colossians 1:3, ESV)
Closely related to thanking God is praising God. Though technically thanking the Lord and praising the Lord are different, they share similar qualities. Both are finding joy in God, looking to God to share with Him how we appreciate Him, and acknowledging His goodness.
The role of the Levitical priests was to lead the way in thanking and praising God.
And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening… (1 Chronicles 23:30, ESV)
The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD—for his steadfast love endures forever—whenever David offered praises by their ministry; opposite them the priests sounded trumpets, and all Israel stood. (2 Chronicles 7:6, ESV)
The Psalms — which often use parallelism to link key ideas — frequently indicate that thanksgiving and praise go together.
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalm 30:4, ESV)
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Psalm 57:9, ESV)
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High… (Psalm 92:1, ESV)
Songs of Thanksgiving
We’ve already seen the link between thanksgiving and praise. Of course, praise can take multiple forms, but a common form in the Bible is music. The example of God’s people and the exhortation of the Scriptures is that we would express our gratitude through singing.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:2, ESV)
And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. (Nehemiah 12:27, ESV)
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! (Psalm 147:7, ESV)
…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, 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, ESV)
Sacrifices of Thanksgiving
Leviticus 7 describes a number of kinds of peace offerings that could be made, each according to their associated motivations. The first is “for a thanksgiving” (see Leviticus 7:11–15, ESV).
These “sacrifices of thanksgiving” are also discussed elsewhere.
And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. (Leviticus 22:29, ESV)
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17, ESV)
Thanksgiving in Giving
We easily connect the idea of our gratitude flowing out of God’s generosity. But the Bible teaches that thanksgiving is the fruit of our generosity as well. Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11–12, ESV)
Thanksgiving in Conversation
Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). It makes sense, then, that thanksgiving would be part of the conversations of grateful people. This is a contrast to the ugliness that is far too pervasive in our in-person and online conversations.
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, ESV)
What Did God’s People Thank Him For?
Living in relationship with a generous God creates many opportunities to express thanks to Him. It’s no surprise, then, that we see God’s people in the Scriptures continually thanking God for many things. Consider these biblical examples:
- His Majestic Creation (Psalm 104:1–2)
- Good News (the ark arriving in Jerusalem, 1 Chronicles 16:8–11)
- Bad News (even in Job’s suffering, Job 1:21)
- His Enduring Love (1 Chronicles 16:34)
- His Righteousness (Psalm 7:17)
- Deliverance from Enemies (Psalm 30:1–4)
- Forgiveness of Sin (Isaiah 12:1)
- Answered Prayers (Psalm 28:6–7)
- Being a God of Justice (Deuteronomy 32:3–4)
- God’s Sovereign Grace (Jonah 2:9)
- Grace of God Given to Others (1 Corinthians 1:4)
- Leading Us in Mission (2 Corinthians 2:14)
- Freedom from Sin (Romans 6:17–18)
- Faith and Love of Others (Ephesians 1:15–16)
- Others’ Partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3–5)
- The Way God Leads Our Convictions (Romans 14:6)
- Opening Doors for the Gospel (Colossians 4:2–3)
- Victory Over Sin and Death (1 Corinthians 15:56–57)
- God’s Rescue From Sin (Romans 7:24–25)
- The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15)
- Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 9:15)
- The Inheritance We Have in Christ (Colossians 1:12)
- Authorities and Governmental Leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2)
- Being Rooted and Built Up in Jesus (Colossians 2:6–7)
- God’s Abundant Provision (John 6:11)
- The Fellowship of Friends (Acts 28:15)
- God’s Worthiness and Glory (Revelation 4:9–11)
Biblical Characters Who Modeled Thanksgiving
Given the biblical importance of giving thanks, we should not be surprised to find that many people in the Bible modeled gratitude. In addition to the many prayers of Paul, consider these examples:
To read the full scriptural examples of what these biblical characters expressed thanks for, see our full blog article.
Incorporating Gratitude in Your Preaching
After a tough year filled with trials and turmoil, few things would help create stability and deepen faith as much as focusing on being thankful.
And, since gratitude is a major biblical theme, opportunities abound to preach about it. In fact, you may decide to make it a regular part of your annual preaching calendar. We’ve compiled a selection of thanksgiving themed sermons you can explore by visiting this article.
God is glorified when we give thanks, and we are refreshed and encouraged. Give your people the refreshment that comes from a new perspective by preaching a Thanksgiving sermon series this year.