What is the heart of Thanksgiving?

The reason a Christian can give thanks is because of the grace of contentment. Contentment is in our hearts when we give thanks. When our hearts are content, we’re obeying to the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet.” Some would say that sounds wrong. How can contentment be at the heart of Thanksgiving? Many people think of contentment as being willing to “make do with less.” The Stoics believed that contentment is the central human virtue. But their idea of contentment was that we need to manufacture a sense of self-sufficiency. And if you make yourself inwardly sufficient, then you can be content in any circumstance.

Of course, that’s not a Christian idea. The Christian idea of contentment is something very different. The Bible teaches that if you’re content, you’re not willing to do with less.

1. Christ is the heart of Thanksgiving.

Contentment is having Christ. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart of Thanksgiving. He is our life (Jn 14:6). He is all (Col 3:11). In union with Christ, we have Christ Himself, and every good thing in Him, including justification, adoption, fellowship with God, life eternal and the hope of an eternity in heaven with Christ, wherein only righteousness dwells.

This is why the Christian can give thanks, no matter what our circumstances. Contentment is rooted union with Christ in the covenant of grace. If you have Jesus, and you have everything. Contentment means being filled the Holy Spirit through His good Word. It’s the hope of heaven, perfect reconciliation to God, holiness of heart, the fruit of the Spirit. Christians can be content because we have every blessing of the covenant of grace, now and forever. Contentment is about fulness. It means that you are full and overflowing with God Himself. And so, at the heart of Thanksgiving is a joyful expression of gratitude because we are content in Jesus Christ. And that means a Christian can give thanks to God, no matter what our circumstances, and because God rules every circumstance.

2. That means we can be thankful for Christ and His purposes in every circumstance.

During the Thanksgiving season, people often focus on giving thanks for material blessings. They thank God for their homes, for their jobs, for their families. Or they thank God for other good things. They thank God for a good church and for salvation. And we must thank God for these things that are clearly for our good.

The Bible says that God causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). It also says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). Isn’t there some sense in which we should thank God for every single thing He does?

Now, we should never thank God for evil, because God doesn’t do evil. We should never thank God for the corruption of the world, since sin corrupts the world.

But God rules all things, including the hard and broken things of the world.
So, shouldn’t we learn to thank God for His sovereign purpose in every hard providence? Joseph told his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20). Do you see the distinction there? People mean evil. But God means evil for good. We can thank God for intending evil for our good, even while we don’t thank God for the evil itself.

All things come from the hand of a good and loving God to His people. Our heavenly Father has thoughts of love in all that He does to us, including intending evil for our good. The Bible teaches that as God’s children, we have so many reasons to give thanks. We may not always feel thankful. But everything God does is from His heart of love for us.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So, may I encourage you to give thanks to God in all circumstances, including the hard and bitter ones? If you have Christ, you have all. Will you give thanks to God for His kind and compassionate purposes, even His purpose to intend evil for your good? Your heavenly Father never intends anything that happens in your life but from a heart of boundless love for you.

3. But what if you’re not thankful?

Some people are suffering such bitter providences that they simply don’t feel thankful. And Thanksgiving is a time of year that just doesn’t touch their personal experience. They know the truth, and they know they should be thankful, but they just aren’t.

The good news of the gospel is that Christ willingly and lovingly died for sinners, not for the righteous. He died for your ingratitude, believer. He freely forgives you. And because He loves you, He lived a perfect life of contentment and thankfulness in the midst of terrible trials and circumstances. And He did this as your substitute so that you can be freely justified and accepted as a child of God the Father. Christ’s thanksgiving is imputed to you, precisely because you are not thankful (just as none of us is perfectly thankful). He obeyed the law in your place because He loves you.

Beloved child of God, Christ’s love for you doesn’t depend in the least on your contentment or thankfulness. It depends on His eternal election, which is unconditional, limitless and unchangeable. He loves you with perfect and everlasting love. He will never leave you, even if and when you’re unthankful. He will never push you away. He delights in you as you are. But He loves you too much to leave you that way.

Doesn’t that make you thankful? Even just a little bit?