The two words “thanks” and “giving,” have very different meanings when you look at them individually. We use them very differently, too. For example, how many times a day do you say “thanks?” It is often an automatic response said without much thought when someone does something for you and you want to acknowledge their action. The word “giving” is different in that it involves some type of thoughtful consideration. Usually, when you decide to give something to someone, you at least go through a few mental questions before you go ahead. You might think about what you can give, how it might be used, whether your gift is meaningful to the person you plan to give it you, and whether it’s something you can afford to give. So, how do these two words come together into the word “thanksgiving” in a way that we all recognize? And how are these words used biblically? Let’s talk about that this morning.
Biblically, the word “thanks” shows up very early in the Word. The first references are in 1 Chronicles and there are a series of verses which all use the word.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.”
With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the Lord, “for his love endures forever.”
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
It’s no coincidence (because there are no coincidences with our Lord and the Word), that the very FIRST use of the word “thanks” in verse 34 says “Give thanks to the Lord, his love endures forever” or that it is repeated a few verses later. 1 Chronicles is linked to Psalm 106, which is a confession by the Israelites of their long history of rebellion against the Lord, beginning with its disobedience after the exodus from Egypt and while wandering in the desert for the 40-year period.
Verses in Psalm 106: 13-14 say “They soon forgot what he (God) had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test.” That’s a pretty clear confession of their rebellious ways, and the statement about God’s love enduring forever is a heartfelt acknowledgement that even with these egregious sins, God was steadfast in his love for his people. The fact that this phrase is so frequently repeated shows the depth of the chosen people’s contrition for their disobedience, and especially for putting God to the test.
Would it surprise you that the word “thanksgiving” actually shows up in the Bible before the word “thanks?” Thanksgiving is first used in Leviticus—the third book of the Bible-- in the context of sacrificial offerings.
12 “‘If they offer it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering they are to offer thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with oil, and thick loaves of the finest flour well-kneaded and with oil mixed in. 13 Along with their fellowship offering of thanksgiving they are to present an offering with thick loaves of bread made with yeast. 14 They are to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the Lord; it belongs to the priest who splashes the blood of the fellowship offering against the altar.”
The offerings described in Leviticus are not as a result of atonement as they are in Chronicles—they are offerings to deepen their fellowship with the Lord. The words “fellowship offering of thanksgiving” is a wonderful picture of God’s people desiring to have a closer relationship with the Him. Not because they behaved badly, but because they knew this was good. It’s clear that way back in Leviticus, God’s chosen people recognized the need and desire to be close to the Lord.
In Leviticus, six different sacrifices were necessary to have a right relationship with God. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, offered one sacrifice for our sins and took care of our sin problems once and for all time.
In today’s reading from Mark about the poor widow offering her sacrifice of a couple of small coins, we learn that giving from the heart is what the Lord desires. The amount is less important than the spirit in which we give. The Lord loves to hear our thanks, and while to us they may be thanks for little things like parking spaces or for big things like healing, he loves to hear from us. From Jesus’ comments about the poor widow’s giving, we can that what the Lord wants from us is to go “all out” for him.
When we read Psalm 136 this morning, the response after each statement was “His love endures forever.” To close our service, I’d like to re-read Psalm 136 and I’d like you to join me in repeating “His love endures forever” as our way of showing the Lord that, among all the good things he has given us, His love and willingness to sacrifice his Son, Jesus, is the one we recognize as the ultimate gift of love.
Here’s a verse from Psalm 100 to recite each morning: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”