Give Thanks (Ephesians 5:20)
- When? Always
- For What? For all things
- To Whom? God
- How? In the name of Jesus
Rarely do we realize how much we have to be thankful for until something we should have been thankful for is taken away from us.
Helen Keller once said, “I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during their early adult life. It would make them more appreciative of sight and the joys of sound.”
Do you ever thank God that you can see, that you can hear, that you can taste? There are many in the world who do not have this privilege. Do you ever thank God that you can walk or talk? There are many who are lame and mute.
There are millions of things to be grateful for, but sadly, few of us ever think clearly enough to be thankful for them. Today, we are going to see that God helps us to see more clearly the things we should be thankful for.
As we study through the marvelous letter Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, we have come to a vitally important aspect of the Christian life—the filling of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what the filling is and how it looks.
So we’re going nice and slow through this section on the filling of the Spirit. We saw two weeks ago in Ephesians 5:18 what the filling is and how to be filled. Following this, Paul gives three evidences of being filled, which we are taking one at a time so that we clearly understand what they are.
The first evidence which is kind of inner, self-ward evidence, is singing, which we saw last week in Ephesians 5:19. If you are filled with the Spirit, one way you will know is because songs just pour forth from your lips as you go about your week.
Today, in Ephesians 5:20, we want to look at the second of the three evidences of being filled: thanksgiving. If singing is kind of the self-directed evidence, thanksgiving is the God-directed one. Today, we are going to see that giving thanks is one of the best things that can come from the Spirit-filled believer’s mouth.
It is like a story I heard about Rudyard Kipling. At one point in his writing career, he became so popular that for a while he was getting paid ten shillings per word. A few college students, however didn’t appreciate Kipling’s writings so they facetiously sent him a letter enclosing ten shillings. It read, “Please, send us your best word.” They got a letter back from Kipling saying, “Thanks.”
That was his best word. And thanksgiving should be our best word too. Everything we have and everything we are is from God.
The Spirit-filled believer recognizes this, and gives thanks to God accordingly. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at Ephesians 5:20.
Ephesians 5:20. … giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …
Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? One of the ways you can tell is by whether or not you give thanks as Paul directs here.
Now all of us probably think that we are pretty thankful people. I don’t think anybody has ever really thought of themselves as being ungrateful. Very few people ever think that they are not thankful.
Well Paul wants to challenge that thinking in verse 20. The kind of thankfulness he talks about in this verse can only be exhibited in a life that is filled with the Spirit.
To see this, let’s look at the verse phrase by phrase starting at the beginning.
Give Thanks (Ephesians 5:20)
Right at the beginning, Paul writes that the second evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is giving thanks.
And like I said, most people I think believe that they are thankful. But that is because they do not really understand the Biblical teaching of thankfulness. Biblically, there are three common levels of thankfulness.
The first level of thankfulness is the worldly thankfulness. There are some people, worldly, natural, carnal people, who give thanks only to themselves. When they get something, they think thoughts like, “Well, I got that because I deserve it.”
What they have, they believe they have because they earned it, they worked hard for it. When they receive a blessing, they thank only themselves.
They do not give thanks to God for these things. They think that they deserve every good thing they have. When they get something good, they say, “Good job, me! Look what I did, and as a result, look what I got!”
This is the kind of thankfulness much of the world operates under, and such a rank ungratefulness is a very serious offense before God.
Remember King Nebuchadnezzar? In Daniel 4:29-37, though the king had been given everything by God, he took credit for it himself. As a result, God caused Nebuchadnezzar to go insane, and he spent seven years living among the cattle, eating grass and sleeping in the fields. King Nebuchadnezzar was not grateful to God, and suffered for his ungratefulness.
Paul writes a similar idea in Romans 1:21, where some unregenerate people are described as being given over to sin and wickedness, and one of the defining characteristics of such people is that they are ungrateful to God.
So that is the first level of thankfulness—thankfulness to self, or a complete lack of thankfulness to God.
The second level of thankfulness is very similar, but with one main difference. While the first level never has a thought for God, this second level of thankfulness gives lip service to God, but in reality, still gives thanks to self. We could call this the thankfulness of the hypocrite. They thank God, but in a self-righteous way.
Their thankfulness and giving tribute to God is really just a way to bring more attention to themselves. They pay lip service to God, but just as an attempt to show people how Godly and pious they are.
Luke 18:11-12 is the perfect example. In this passage, a self-righteous religious leader thanks God that he is not like the sinful tax collector. The religious leader praise himself for how obedient and faithful he is. Yet in the following verses, the tax collector simply asks for God’s mercy. Jesus says that the tax collector, not the religious leader, who went home righteous.
So the second level of thankfulness is that of the hypocrite.
The third level is that of the truly thankful person.
A truly thankful person sees that they don’t deserve what they get, and that all they have is a result of being blessed by God.
When things are going well or God grants some especially welcome benefit, they are happy and grateful. When getting a job, being delivered from sickness, being reconciled to a spouse, or experiencing some sort of pleasure in life, they are grateful to the Lord.
I would hope that most of us would fall into this category most of the time. This is a Biblical kind of thankfulness, for it is true that every good gift does come from our Father in Heaven (Matt 7:11; James 1:17). It is good and important for us to recognize that we have these things from God.
The story of the Ten Lepers in Luke 17 illustrates this truth as well. Jesus healed ten men from leprosy, but only one came back to thank Him. We do not know what happened to the other nine, but it is the one that we should emulate.
There is a further lesson in this third type of thankfulness. Even though most of us probably do operate in this kind of thankfulness, probably all too often, we are more prone to asking for things than for thanking God for things.
A medieval legend tells of two angels sent to earth by the Lord to gather the prayers of the saints. One was to gather the petitions and the other the thanksgivings. The angel responsible for petitions was not able to carry them back to heaven in one load, while the angel responsible for thanksgivings carried his back in one hand.
This story was invented because of our tendency to do more asking than thanking. One of the reasons we should pray through the Psalms is to correct this imbalance. The Psalms contain much more praise and thanksgiving than they do petitions and requests. Both are present, but they are present in correct proportion.
Thanksgiving to God should be present in the life of every Christian.
Those are the three common levels of thankfulness, thanks to self, hypocritical thanksgiving, and giving thanks to God. But when Paul says giving thanks here in Ephesians 5:20, he is not really concerned about any of these. He wants us to move beyond these three common levels and move into the area of thankfulness that can only be achieved by those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
That is what the rest of the verse talks about. This is no common, every-day, run-of-the-mill thankfulness Paul is talking about. In the rest of the verse, he describes a spiritual thankfulness which can only come from the man or woman who is controlled by the Spirit.
Paul will tell us when this thankfulness appears, what it gives thanks for, to whom the thanks is given, and how it is given.
So let’s look at these one at a time. First, when does the Spirit-filled believer has this spiritual thankfulness?
When should we be thankful? Always.
When was the last time you were in a constant state of thankfulness throughout your day? You get up in the morning, and the first thought that comes into your head is “Thanks for the night of sleep, God. Thank you for another day to serve you.” Then, as you shower, you thank Him for the hot water, and the soap. As you eat breakfast, you thank Him for the food. As you drive to work, you thank him for your car and your job and for keeping you safe on the road.
And that is the way your day goes. This is beyond just mere thankfulness. This is a constant conversation of thankfulness and gratitude to the Lord for all that He has given you. This is giving thanks always and can only be accomplished by being filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
A similar idea is given over in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
I think that modern Christians have been sidetracked from what prayer really is. Prayer is not just something you do before bed, before meals, for a few minutes during your devotions and whenever you really need some help from God. This wrong attitude about prayer is seen in the question we sometimes ask spiritual giants, “So, how long do you pray?”
But prayer is not something that should be timed. You don’t start out as a Christian praying for one minute, and then as you mature, increase to fifteen minutes, and then when you really become spiritual, pray for four hours every morning.
It’s okay to have times specifically set aside for prayer, but really, as Christians, we should constantly, in every waking moment, be aware of God’s presence and be communicating with Him.
Now I’m talking about prayer when I should be talking about thanksgiving, but that is because Paul so intricately connects them here in 1 Thessalonians 5. For you see, whenever you offer thanksgiving to God, you are praying.
And here in Ephesians 5:20, since we are to give thanks always, or give thanks at all times, then this means that we will also be praying always. The two are connected.
But there is a great difficulty here.
There are many times and many situations when we just don’t feel thankful, right? Things are not going well. We, or members of our family, are not healthy. Our job is full of frustrations. Life is not turning out the way we had thought it would. How can we give thanks in such times?
Only by the filling of the Holy Spirit.
But someone will say, “Oh come on. God doesn’t really expect us to give thanks in these difficult and trying situations, does He? It’s easy and right to be thankful when things are going my way, but what about when things are not going the way I had expected? What about then?”
Well, that is the issue Paul addresses next in Ephesians 5:20. We have been told that when the Spirit-filled Christian gives thanks, he does so always, and second, he gives thanks for all things.
What should we be thankful for? For all things.
This is where thankfulness really gets tough. Some of us have no problem being thankful when God gives us good things and life is going smoothly. Some of us have even been able to learn how to always be in an attitude of thankful prayer as we go about our day.
But Paul wants our thankfulness to go even further here. He tells us to be thankful for all things.
Now let me ask you a question. When Paul says that we are to give thanks for all things, does that really mean that we are to give God thanks for everything? I mean, are we to give thanks to God that about 3000 people lost their lives in the attack last year in New York?
When children get sick and die, are we supposed to thank God for that? Are we supposed to thank God that millions of African people are dying from AIDS? Are we supposed to thank God for the millions of babies who are aborted every year? Are we supposed to thank God when His name is blasphemed among the nations and His law is disobeyed and people turn away from Him?
Well, there are some Christians who would say yes. They believe that God is so sovereign that it is He who does everything and causes everything—even sin and evil.
“All things that happen in all the world at any time and in all history—whether with inorganic matter, vegetation, animals, man, or angels (both the good and evil ones)—comes to pass because God ordained them. Even sin—the fall of the devil from heaven, the fall of Adam, and every evil thought, word and deed in all of history, including the worst sin of all, Judas’ betrayal of Christ—is included in the eternal decree of our Holy God.
The author goes on to quote John Calvin himself: “Man wills with an evil will what God wills with a good will …”
And of course, the author tells us that God does all of this for His own glory. In other words, we should give thanks to God for decreeing sin and evil.
That is not the God I read about in the Bible. I read about a God who is holy and glorious and cannot even look upon evil, let alone cause it. I read about a God who is patient and kind and not willing that any should perish.
But I also read about a God who created humans with free will. And we have abused our free will and so have fallen into sin. And sin results in evil and corruption and terrible disasters. So when these things happen, we do not thank God for them, because they did not come from God.
In fact, to thank God for evil is terribly close to heresy and blasphemy for it attributes evil to God. Therefore, we do not, we should not, we dare not thank God for all such things.
No, when Paul says here to give thanks always for all things, we must look at the context and what the rest of the Bible has to say about what things to give thanks to God for. Let’s look at the context first.
Back in Ephesians 5:17, we learned about discovering God’s will. We know from the Bible that sin and evil is never God’s will, and so we must never thank Him for it as if it were.
The rest of Scripture confirms this. We already looked at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, but remember there that we are told to give thanks in all things. The same thing is taught in Philippians 4:6 and in the sister letter to Ephesians, Colossians 3:16.
So I would say that we can truly give thanks to God for all things that are of His will, and in those things which happen that are not His will.
“But,” we may say, “Does God really work in and through evil?” Yes He does. This is the true and Biblical teaching on the Sovereignty of God. God is so sovereign, and so wise, that He is able to take the rebellious and sinful and evil actions of Satan and humans and use them for His own glory and for greater good. God does not will or cause these things to happen, but He can work in them.
The best Scripture passage which shows this is Romans 8:28, where Paul writes that God works all things together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Paul is not saying that God causes all things. Nor is he saying that all things are good. Instead, Paul is saying that God works in all things, to bring good out of them. Note, of course, that this is primarily for Christians who are seeking to love and serve God with their lives.
This is why we can thank God for even the bad things that happen to us. We don’t actually thank God for the bad things themselves, but we can thank God for what He will bring from the bad things. This is why James invites us to count it all joy when we face trials and tribulation. Trials and tribulation are not enjoyable, but God works through such things to bring patience, faith, and wisdom in into our lives (James 1:2-8). God brings beauty from the ashes.
All of this is the same truth Paul is expressing here in Ephesians 5:20. Paul tells us here to thank God for all things. In other words, based on what we’ve seen in context and from the rest of Scripture, when evil things happen, we do not have to thank God for them, but can look for ways which God is working in and through and despite these evil events for His glory.
And this kind of insight will only come from the spiritual vision that comes with being Spirit-filled.
Take the Bible commentator Matthew Henry. Once, after being mugged and robbed, he wrote this in his diary:
Let me be thankful …
* First because I was never robbed before.
* Second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life.
* Third, because although they took my all, it was not much.
* Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
You see? That is an example of how to be thankful for all things. But an even better example of how God works through terrible situations could be found in one of the events in the life of Corrie Ten Boom.
She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas.
But during the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
When bad things happen, we can thank God that He, in His sovereignty and wisdom is using this situation to bring more glory to Himself.
Again, only the person who is filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit will be able to see God’s hand at work in such situations. That is why Paul includes this here. To be thankful in the midst of pain, trials or persecution is an evidence of the Spirit-filled life.
So the Spirit-filled believer will give thanks—always—for all things. But notice Paul tells us next in Ephesians 5:20 to whom we should be thankful.
To Whom should we be Thankful? To God the Father.
We already briefly looked at this back when we were talking about the three levels of thankfulness, so let us just touch on it here. When we give thanks, it should be directed toward God. We should not thank ourselves because think we deserve it, nor should we thank God as an act to bring more attention to ourselves.
Rather, we should thank God from whom all blessings flow. He is the giver and sustainer and provider. We can thank Him for our health and all that we have and all that we own. Yes, we may have worked for what we have, but it is God who has given us the ability and the health to work for it.
It is God who has placed us in a country where hard work is rewarded. It is God who has allowed us to keep what we have and to protect what we have with safe financial institutions and has kept our house from burning down and our car from getting stolen.
So we can truly be thankful to God for all that we have and all that we are.
Finally, in Ephesians 5:20, Paul tells us how we should be thankful.
How should we be thankful? In the name of Jesus.
We give thanks to God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, because while everything comes from God, Jesus Christ is the means. Without Christ, we have nothing. Without Christ, we are nothing.
When we give thanks to God, we do it in the name of Christ because all that we have, and all that we are, is because we are in Christ.
This is the theme Paul developed back in Ephesians 1. We are rich and full of every good thing in Christ.
Incidentally, giving thanks to God the Father in the name of Jesus is also the pattern we should have for prayer. In Matthew 6:6, when Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, He tells us to pray to our Father who is in heaven. Then, later in John 14:14 and 16:23 when Jesus gives His disciples further instruction on how to pray, He tells them to pray in His name, to ask for things in His name.
So again, we see that thanksgiving is closely related to prayer, and that when we pray, we should begin by offering thanks, and when we given thanks, it should be in a prayerful attitude.
So the Spirit-filled life is one that every Christian should seek after. It is what God wants for us. It is when we give control of our lives over to the Spirit so that we can be used by Him for God’s glory.
Paul knew what he was talking about here. He was not just talking theory here.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in the city of Philippi and they are preaching the Gospel. They get arrested, and beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Very likely, it will be their last night alive.
Things could not get much worse. So what do they do? Acts 16:25 –they sing (Ephesians 5:19) and give thanks (Ephesians 5:20) to God. And God’s response? An earthquake which set them free.
We learned in Ephesians 5:19 that the filling of the Spirit is revealed through singing. In Ephesians 5:20, we learn that the filling of the Spirit is revealed through giving thanks when all the rest of the world would be complaining. Being filled with the Spirit gives Spiritual vision and discernment to understand when God is at work—even in the most difficult of circumstances and times.
Notes for this sermon on Ephesians 5:20
 Nelsons, 736.
 Indebted to John MacArthur for these three levels. In his Ephesians commentary.
 Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 21 ed. 2001), 97-100.
 Ibid, 95.