A Theology of Gratitude

Posted On November 15, 2023

Written by Dr. John Tweeddale, vice president of academics and professor of theology

For those of us who live in the United States, the season of Thanksgiving is one of the most enjoyable times of the year. Families and friends gather to revel in time-honored traditions, share stories of family lore, watch corny movies, cheer on our favorite team, and eat copious amounts of turkey and pumpkin pie. What’s not to love?

The greatness of Thanksgiving is not ultimately measured by the traditions we value but by the gratitude we are called upon to express. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Cor. 4:7)? The answer, of course, is nothing.

As Christians, we understand that the notion of individuals, families, churches, and communities gathering to express thanksgiving did not originate in colonial America but in the Bible. Thanksgiving is fundamentally a Christian activity. The Apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Colossians. Paul gives five reasons why Christians are called to be grateful:

1. We are called to thank God for our redemption in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:9–14). In these verses, Paul grounds our thanksgiving in the gospel. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been taken out of the domain of darkness and transferred into a kingdom of light. You now share in a divine inheritance with all the saints. You have been forgiven. You have been redeemed. These are permanent truths that can never be taken away. In times of joy or sorrow, you have reason to thank God for Jesus Christ.

2. We are called to thank God for His ongoing work in our lives (Col. 1:3–8; 2:6–7). Once the gospel takes root in our lives, it always produces fruit. For Paul, thanksgiving is a way for us to recognize God’s work of producing faith, hope, and love in our lives. The exercise of faith, hope, and love provides daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly occasions for thanksgiving to abound. God is at work! We might say that faith, hope, and love should be as common among God’s people as turkey, stuffing, and candied yams are a part of Thanksgiving celebrations.

3. We are called to thank God for His people (Col. 3:12–16). Notice the context of Paul’s comments. He’s addressing the church. One of the ways we showcase the gospel is by giving thanks for God’s people. As we bear with one another, forgive one another, and worship with one another, we discover new opportunities to express gratitude to God for what He is doing in the body of Christ. Thanksgiving is best enjoyed in the company of God’s people.

4. We are called to thank God for everything (Col. 3:17). Whatever you do, in both word and deed, give thanks to God for what He has given you. No matter what. From enjoying pumpkin lattes and late-night chats to good books and even better friends, we must learn to thank God for what we have, even when we don’t have lattes or books or friends to enjoy. As Paul says, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).

5. We are called to thank God for new opportunities (Col. 4:2–4). One way we express gratitude to God is by telling others about Christ. Perhaps it’s an uncle, a neighbor, a waiter, a stranger, or a friend. If Christ is the greatest gift, we should be eager to share Him with others. Pray for new opportunities that we, like Paul, might declare the mysteries of Christ. For each of these opportunities, let us give thanks to God.

In Colossians, Paul outlines a theology of gratitude. When we read through this ancient letter, we discover that Thanksgiving is more than a holiday we observe once a year; it is the daily experience of all who trust in Christ.

Indeed, in Jesus, every day is thanksgiving.