Thanksgiving prepares us for the surprises of life. Nobody ever says, “My life has worked out exactly like I expected.” How do we respond to the surprises of life? Surprising disappointments can make us bitter or blessed, and surprising provisions can instill pride or humility. How do we ensure that the surprises of life make us blessed and humble? 1 Timothy 4:1–5 reminds us of the sanctifying power of thanksgiving.
First, complaining poisons everything by reversing God’s order (1 Tim 4:1–3). The church as the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) is poisoned by deceitful spirits, teaching of demons and the insincerity of liars (1 Tim 4:1–2). What terrible poison is spread here? People “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods” (4:3). Such asceticism usually is a reaction to sinful indulgence. Yet the potential of evil does not eradicate the goodness of “that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (4:3). Instead of receiving God’s creation with thanksgiving, we reverse that order with rejecting it. Such rejection lies at the heart of all complaining. Is there a better alternative?
Rather, thanksgiving sanctifies everything by receiving God’s order (1 Tim 4:4-5). Since “everything created by God is good,” we can enjoy moose and mosquitoes, flies and ferns, autumn colors and awful moments. These good gifts can be used for evil, but “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving receives what God gives us, sanctifying and making it “holy by the word of God and prayer” (4:5). How does thanksgiving sanctify by the word of God and prayer? The word of God sanctifies because it assigns God’s purpose and function to everything. At creation, God’s word created and assigned function and purpose in the world by his word (Genesis 1). Sanctifying everything means assigning God’s purpose and function to everything that is created. Prayer sanctifies because it dedicates everything to God’s holy use. Instead of forcing God’s gifts to satisfy our desires, we receive God’s gifts in his order. This applies not only to God’s purposes for creation but also to God’s purposes in redeeming the bad things of life. Thanksgiving can receive those bad events and set apart those events for God’s holy use (cf. Gen 50:20).
This Thanksgiving, let us celebrate the sanctifying power of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can sanctify the gifts of life without sinful indulgence. Thanksgiving can sanctify the disappointments of life as we receive God’s purposes through that evil with thanksgiving. So let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving this year for both his gifts and his disappointments. Let us “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).