One of my still-vivid memories of early childhood is the way my parents worked hard to teach my brother and me the importance of gratitude.
When visitors came, often with gifts for us, we were always prompted, “What do you say?” We would immediately respond, “Thank you very much,” the measure of our appreciation being the emphasis on the word very. When the guests had gone, my mother especially would impress upon us how kind and generous they had been.
When salvation in Christ came to our home, it was not surprising for us to learn that Scripture urged us to “give thanks to the Lord” in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). Of course, the basic cause for gratitude was that God the Father had not spared His own Son but gave Him up to die on the cross for our salvation. But more than that, God’s nature and practice was to lavish His goodness on His creatures, so that His people sang, “Surely God is good to Israel,” and urged others, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
It made such an impression on me that I remember the first time the eighth chapter of Romans was explained to me as a teenager. Romans 8:28 says that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” Paul is not merely saying that God gives good gifts to His people. He is actually assuring every believer that a sovereign God is at work in every circumstance (including the “suffering” of verse 17 and the “groaning” of verse 23) for the lasting good of His people. John Stott comments, “Nothing is beyond the over-ruling, over-riding scope of His providence.”
There is no area of life where God is not graciously and constantly engaged in supplying our needs.
J.I. Packer points out that the biblical word for this is “grace,” both common and special grace. Common grace refers to the blessings of our daily life, while special grace refers to the blessing of God’s salvation. Of the former, Packer says, “Every meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sunshine, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, and everything else that sustains and enriches life is a divine gift.” It is significant that the Anglo-Saxon root from which the word God comes means “good.” A.W. Pink adds, “His goodness is underived: it is the essence of his eternal nature.”
Now in the light of all this, it is not surprising that the Bible so frequently links God’s goodness with our gratitude, not least in the Psalms: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (Ps. 107:1).
For the Christian, ingratitude is not just a failure in manners. It is a sin against the God who did not spare even His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. As we grow in Christian experience and in our knowledge of Scripture, we discover that God’s nature and daily practice are to lavish His goodness on His people, covering every area of life. His grace and power are more than sufficient to supply what is good for us, both spiritually and materially. No wonder we gladly sing, “How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend; His love is as great as His power, and knows neither measure nor end.”
It is, of course, important to clarify, for ourselves and for our children, that “every good and perfect gift” is not a reference to material prosperity. It may, or may not, include that, but in Romans 8:28 Paul tells us, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” There follows a clarification of that purpose: that they may be “conformed to the image of his Son.” It is therefore our spiritual well-being, the formation in us of true Christlikeness, that is God’s great concern. Now, that must not blind us to the truth Paul spells out in the same chapter that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32). “All things” must include both material and spiritual gifts. There is no area of life where God is not graciously and constantly engaged in supplying our needs (notice, not necessarily our wants or desires) and demonstrating His absolute sufficiency for every one of His children. So, the psalmist urges us to say, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). And Paul would have been happy to conclude, “And make me more like Jesus.”
Rev. Eric J. Alexander is a retired minister in the Church of Scotland, most recently serving as senior minister of St. George's–Tron Church in Glasgow until his retirement. He is author of Our Great God and Saviour.