“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Here is a command to thanksgiving. Sin is disobeying God, and so when we fail to nurture gratitude in our hearts to God consistently, we are sinning.
I suppose most Christians would immediately, although perhaps reluctantly, admit the truth of this statement. However, for most of us “ingratitude” would not quickly come to mind if we were to list the sins we think of as particularly heinous. Although we might not express it this way, we might even consider it one of the more excusable, acceptable, even understandable sins. After all, life is hard and being thankful all the time is not easy.
However, we perhaps begin to see the seriousness of the issue when we notice how the Psalmist ties together the act of thanking God (“Give thanks to him”) with the act of worshiping God (“bless his name”) — also notice the parallel use of “thanksgiving” with “praise” in verse 4.
Simply put, thanksgiving is worship. And the fact is, God is concerned for His glory, that His benevolence and blessings reverberate back to Him in the grateful praise of His creation.
It Is the Will of God
Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Our immediate response may be, “In all circumstances? I can understand giving thanks for family, and jobs, and air conditioning and modern medicine; but how can I give thanks when I lose loved ones, get laid off, or become ill?” Yet, the Spirit’s command is unavoidable.
Paul immediately hits upon the greatest and best grounds for gratitude — the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. You see, the command to gratitude is only part of the enormous picture of God’s will in Christ Jesus concerning you. He also sent His Son as a substitute for you and continues to work—every moment of every day, in every event of life—in you and for you.
It is the purpose of God for you to give thanks in everything, then, because it is the purpose of God to call and save and sanctify and bless you throughout your life. Or, in the words of the Psalmist, it is appropriate to bless and worship the God who has blessed us so abundantly with his goodness and mercy: “For [because] the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
Consider 2 Corinthians 4:15: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Every person, every situation, everything is allowed through the wise and omnipotent hand of God for your sake, in Jesus Christ; and all this is so that His grace may result in his glory.
The good of those who love God is not God’s only motivation. It is the great and ultimate purpose of God that His abundant and conquering grace redounds to His own glory. It is only right that it would be so, like an author or a painter or a sculptor being credited for His masterpieces. How does abundant grace resonate to His glory? Through the increase of thanksgiving. When we grab from the gracious hand of God and run away thoughtlessly to enjoy His benefits, His abundant grace does not receive the glory it deserves.
Gratitude Magnifies God
Why is God so concerned about thanksgiving? In addition to being the appropriate expression of his blessed creatures back to him, gratitude magnifies God: “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30).
At first glance, this may seem strange. How do we magnify the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God? Put another way, how can anyone make an everywhere-present God bigger?
But consider what we do when we use a magnifying glass in order to read the small print, or perform detailed work, or inspect any item more closely. Does the magnifying glass actually make the object larger? No, but it does increase our own ability to perceive and appreciate the thing being considered.
Similarly, the Psalmist recognizes that praising God and giving Him gratitude will “grow” his view of God, not only in his own sight but also in the sight of others. In the same way, the name of the Lord Jesus was “made large” (μεγαλύνω) when the people saw the difference between the spiritual power of Paul through Christ and the spiritual impotence of the seven sons of Sceva acting on their own (Acts 19:17).
We magnify or diminish our God and Savior Jesus Christ in front of others—friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, or strangers—by our response to the blessings or trials, we receive from His gracious hand.
Forget Not All His Benefits
It is remarkable to see the emphasis placed on thanksgiving in both the Old and New Testaments.
When Daniel prays for deliverance by divine revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, his request is not mentioned in detail — but his lengthy prayer of thanksgiving is recorded word-for-word! (Daniel 2:19-23). Likewise, Hannah’s prayer for a child is given in one verse (1 Samuel 1:11), whereas her expression of gratitude stretches over ten verses of the divine narrative (2:1-10). That’s 10-to-1 “coverage” by the Holy Spirit!
I wonder, how seriously do we take the Psalmist’s determination to “bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (103:2). He was resolved that not a single benefit of God’s merciful provision should come to him without his carefully marking it as yet another unmerited favor. This was not out of some drab sense of duty, but rather out of a heart overflowing with a desire to “bless the Lord.”
While it is true then that thanksgiving is a command (Psalm 100:4), it is also true that it is a privilege (Hebrews 13:15). And, while we do give thanks because we are blessed (Psalm 103:2; 147:7-8), we are also blessed because we give thanks (Psalm 50:14). Thus, giving thanks is for our own good (Philippians 4:6) and at the same time for God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:15). Thanksgiving is for the child of God now (Colossians 4:2), and his joyful pursuit throughout eternity (Revelation 7:12).
In short, God has built His universe in such a way that everything that truly benefits His people will also glorify His name — and remembering to consistently, joyfully give thanks to Him by Jesus Christ is our opportunity to consciously, purposefully do both!
Give thanks to Him, and bless His name.
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.