You don’t need serious Bible study software in order to find biblical references to thanksgiving, thankfulness, or gratefulness. In fact, you barely turn a few pages into Genesis before seeing the offering of sacrifices by Cain and Abel from the fruit of their labor. I’m also quite sure that all brands of social media are filled up with any and all Scriptural references to Thanksgiving of thankfulness today, most of them from Scriptures we rarely mention any other time of the year.
My own heart was drawn to Ephesians 3:18-20, namely because I’ve been using that Scripture and its parallel in Colossians 3:16 as the foundation for my other posts about inter-generational worship. But it’s not so much the “addressing one another,” or the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” that I wish to draw attention to today; it’s the command of Paul to “be filled with the Spirit” (v.18b). This command is part of a clause in which Paul is setting, being “drunk with wine,” against being “filled with the Spirit.” These two are apt contradictions for one another in that the first is an earthly, physical source of merriment that, while a good gift of God, may be abused to the point that a person loses control of himself and is now under the control, the “influence,” of the the wine. Contrary to that is the Holy Spirit who brings his own “fruit,” one of which is “self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Just as drunkenness has behavioral effects which can sometimes be quite obvious to the public, being “filled with the Spirit,” also has behavioral effect that are to be quite obvious, especially within the local church.
When you see these next phrases such as “addressing one another,” and “giving thanks,” you should not immediately see those as separate commands from the initial command to “be filled with the Spirit.” Instead, those two actions are contingent upon the first, they are the evidence of the first. Now, we can’t make ourselves full of the Spirit by doing these things, but these things are manifestations of being filled with the Spirit. The first is to address one another with songs (for a more detailed look at this, see Part III of “To Every Generation” early next week). The second part “giving thanks always,” is my target for today.
We may be tempted to think of any number of things as evidence of or manifestations of being filled with the Spirit. Countless denominations point to everything from speaking in tongues and being “slain in the Spirit,” to barking like dogs and laughing uncontrollably as evidence of being filled with the Spirit. I’m not ruling out all of these as signs of the fullness of the Spirit; but it is interesting to me that Paul doesn’t automatically point to the sensational or miraculous as evidence of the fullness of the Spirit; he points to two very ordinary things, addressing one another with singing and giving thanks. But he also clarifies how we are to give thanks, “always and for everything.”
On Thanksgiving day, it is easy for us to look around and see family, friends, and perhaps too much food and to give thanks to God for his grace in those things. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside a day specifically for that purpose. But as Christians who have received the Promise of the Holy Spirit, our hearts should overflow with thankfulness to God not just one day a week, but always. I’m not going to dive headlong into cliches such as “lifestyle worship” or the “attitude of gratitude,” but I want us to receive the command of Paul loud and clear. Beyond Thanksgiving Day, beyond the platters of food, beyond the comfort of friends and family, is it truly possible to give thanks “always and in everything”? Can we give thanks not just through but for the trials? Can we rejoice through the cancer? Can we give thanks for persecution? Can we express gratitude amidst financial trials? For the Apostle Paul, if you are filled with the Spirit, you won’t be able to help it.
Our Thanksgiving trip home was an interesting one. Just this morning, Jessica and I were stranded in Jacksboro, Tennessee, waiting patiently at the Sharp’s Motel for the tow truck from Knoxville. Yet here I am tonight, sitting comfortably on the couch at my parent’s house, full from a great Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Rhyne’s house. It’s amazing how the Lord will do peculiar things not to dampen, but to illuminate the blessings in our lives. Tonight I’m thankful for my beautiful and patient wife, Jessica, a wonderful and loving family, and a warm house… things that are all the more beautiful after a night in Scarytown, TN.
My we all pray for a constant fulness of God’s Spirit and may we all exhibit thankfulness “always and in everything,” to the glory of God through Jesus Christ… even after Thanksgiving Day.