THE WORD thankful may be defined as: (1) being aware of, and appreciative of a benefit that has been received; and (2) being expressive of thanks or gratitude. Thankfulness may be defined as being full of thanks. Thankfulness consists of two parts: (1) inner, which expresses itself in one’s thoughts and motives; and (2) outer, which expresses itself in one’s words and deeds. To have a proper thankfulness, both inner and outer thankfulness must be present.
We can undoubtedly identify many causes to be thankful to our fellow man – parents, teachers, employers, public officials, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc. But Those who are the most deserving, and who should receive the highest expressions of our thankfulness is God and Christ, whose benefits to us are great and innumerable (Psalm 68: 19).
The Opposite of Thankfulness
The opposite of thankfulness is thanklessness, defined as not feeling or expressing gratitude. Ingratitude is as inexcusable as gratitude is admirable. In ancient Athens, if a slave was freed, he could be convicted of ingratitude toward his liberator and sent back into slavery. Ingratitude is prevalent in our world today. St. Paul prophesied that “in the last days” men shall be “unthankful” (2 Timothy 3: 1, 2).
Thankfulness to God and Christ is a prominent feature of piety, which is defined as the thankful good will, based on right, that we owe to God and Christ with all the heart, mind, soul and strength for the good They have done for us (Mark 12: 30). Piety is also the prerequisite to brotherly love (love to one’s neighbor as to oneself) and unselfish love (2 Peter 1: 7).
Faith, the Foundation of Piety
The foundation of piety is faith. Our Lord was continually giving lessons of faith to His disciples. When they exercised faith, He commended them, and when He witnessed its lack, He reproved them. Note the time when our Lord and His Apostles were out to sea in a ship. A great storm came up, but Jesus was asleep, so His disciples awakened Him, saying, “Lord, save us: we perish.” And He said unto them, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 8: 25, 26). There was also the occasion when Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast a devil out of a man’s son. After Jesus cast out the devil His disciples asked, “Why could not we cast him out?” Jesus replied, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17: 19, 20).
Our Lord’s Remarkable Lesson
Toward the close of our Lord’s ministry, He impressed upon, and His disciples recognized, their need for more faith. They even came to Him and said, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17: 5). Our Lord first instructed them (Luke 17: 6-10), and then He gave them a practical demonstration (Luke 17: 11-19). Let us consider the latter. Our Lord’s fame was now widespread, so when He entered a village, ten lepers met Him. They normally appealed for money, but in this instance they longed for healing.
Leprosy is a dreadful disease, in which the flesh becomes eaten up. Lepers were forbidden contact with others, including their own families. If they entered a city they were beaten with a rod 39 times as a penalty; and if a stranger approached them, they were obliged to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” Lepers were completely dependent upon the charity of friends or the public. The disease was virtually incurable, except by a miracle, but in the rare case of a cure, the leper was required to present himself to the priest, who would judge the case, and only if he determined and declared a cure could the leper reenter society.
Jesus had compassion on the lepers and instructed them to show themselves to the priests. The lepers complied with Jesus’ request, but they had not gone far when they observed that the leprosy had not only stopped, but that they had been made whole. They hastened joyfully to the priests, but one of them slowed up, turned back and glorified God. He then fell at Jesus’ feet and gave Him thanks. Jesus, noting that he was a Samaritan and not of the Jewish household of faith, said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” Then He said unto him, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” The disciples’ faith was undoubtedly increased by this remarkable demonstration.
God’s Arrangement for Mankind Illustrated
Luke 17: 11-19 also illustrates on a grander scale great truths. Leprosy fittingly pictures Adamic sin, which Father Adam and all his descendants have suffered from. Adamic sin is incurable, except for the arrangement that God has made for the human family through our Lord Jesus. The lepers picture mankind under Adamic condemnation. Their crying for mercy picture the first step of faith, described in Hebrews 11: 6: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The lepers going to the priests to be declared as cleansed picture those who accept Jesus as Savior, a further step of faith, which grants forgiveness of sins, the desire to live a righteous life, and fellowship, friendship and peace with God. The leper who glorified God, fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him, picture those who go on to consecrate their lives to God, a relatively small number.
But consecration to God is only the beginning. Our thankfulness to God as the Source, and our Lord Jesus as the Agent of all our blessings must grow. Psalm 116: 12 reads, “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?” When we compare the little human all that we have consecrated to God with all the benefits we have received, and hope yet to receive, our gratitude toward God and Christ should multiply. On one occasion St. Peter addressed our Lord, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” Jesus answered in part, “An hundredfold [in this life], and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19: 27-29).
What did our Lord mean by the hundredfold? Although He has not promised His consecrated people material blessings in this life, He has promised something far more valuable – spiritual blessings. Some of these include greater enlightenment and appreciation of God’s Word and Plan; opportunities to serve and spread His Word; opportunities to grow in all the graces of Christian character; greater privileges of prayer; chastisements, tests and persecutions to prove our loyalty to Him; and victory over our enemies – sin, error, selfishness, worldliness, etc. And by proving faithful to the Lord, we have the promise of everlasting life in perfection, and all of its glorious blessings.
Serving God with Sincerity
Psalm 107: 1 reads, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” The Hebrew word for “thanks” in this passage is yadah, which means to revere or worship with extended hands. Though some of our Christian friends take this literally, the deeper meaning is to worship God in the sense of serving Him by furthering His cause. Our Lord stated, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4: 24).
One way to thank God is through prayer. Colossians 4: 2 reads, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving is one of the seven elements of prayer, and it should occupy an increasingly greater part of our prayers as we grow in Christlikeness. We can even say that the degree of our sincere thankfulness to the Lord in prayer is a barometer of the health of our spiritual lives. Ephesians 5: 20 describes the ideal condition: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Blessings of Thankfulness
Our possession and expression of thankfulness brings many blessings: (1) it blesses ourselves, for it makes every trial and sacrifice in the Lord’s service seem small and easy to be offered; and it makes God’s mercies and favors toward us grand, great and inspiring; (2) it edifies and encourages others who witness our thankfulness; and (3) it blesses God and Christ, for They are pleased with those who appreciate Their goodness; who meditate upon Their favors and make acknowledgment of Them; who seek to show forth Their praise; and who by faith are trusting Them even where they cannot trace Them.