Here is an important statement from Paul regarding the giving of thanks. But what does it mean when it says to ‘give thanks for all things’? Some seem to think it calls for that false façade which pastes on a smile and seeks to ignore reality in order to say ‘Thanks.’ It does of course raise the honest question of how one is to ‘always’ give thanks ‘for all things’ if some of these things and some of these situations are bad, heart rending, or times when down right evil invades our lives and destroys. Does this passage speak to these times as well and does it really call us to refuse to face up to reality?
The answer is found, I think, it placing this verse in its context (often a key to understanding such things). This verse, first of all follows on from the command in 5:18 to be Spirit-filled. The giving of thanks ‘always’ for ‘all things’ is the second result of being filled with the Spirit mentioned here. Among other things this does suggest that this giving of thanks is not something attainable without divine aid. It is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. Yet, the point is that all believers have the Spirit and, therefore, should see this result at work within them. Thankfulness is evidence of the Spirit at work within us.
Secondly, the context more broadly shows us that this passage is part of the larger discussion of how we are to live in light of the gospel. Chapters 1 & 2 have laid out the marvelous work of salvation which God has done completely by His grace (2:8-9) for people like us who were dead in sin and without hope (2:1, 12). Chapter 3 begins to draw out implications for us of being saved in this way (3:1, ‘for this reason’), and after a digression 4:1 continues this (‘Therefore, I … implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.’) The rest of the letter then continues this description of how we are to live in light of the glorious salvation we have received.
Thus, the call to give thanks in 5:20 is an outgrowth of the gospel. How can we give thanks in all circumstances? Because, no matter what happens, we know that God the Father Almighty has worked at great cost to Himself to save us. If times are hard, life is difficult, pain is present, death has visited, nevertheless, ‘let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and has shed his own blood for my soul’! No matter what problems assail me, the scriptures teach me that my greatest problem is my own sin which makes me an enemy of God and which I am helpless in myself to change. Yet, this problem, my greatest one, has been forever and completely dealt with in the gospel.
‘My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise
the Lord, O my soul.’
Therefore, whatever may assail me I will give thanks. All the smaller blessings which surround me then are icing on the cake and reminders of the care of This One who has saved me. All the hardships which come my way are filtered through the hand of the One who has loved me and saved me even while I was a rebel against Him. How can I then not give thanks always for all things?
When we live in light of the gospel, so much more in the Bible makes sense.
May you have a blessed time in giving thanks.