Giving Thanks to an Ungrateful God


Perhaps you find the title alarming. I must confess, I purposefully chose the title to engage the mind and heart to truly ponder the texts, which I believe lead to the implied conclusion. At first glance, it may seem intended to strike against God by labeling him as ungrateful, but after careful consideration my hope is that we might understand that God’s being ungrateful is the best news in all the world for us. It means he has no need which can be met because he has no need. He has no desires unfulfilled by his own power. Webster’s dictionary defines grateful as “appreciative of benefits received.” This definition doesn’t seem to sync with the attributes of God found in Scripture. If he could offer thanks to anyone for anything, he would cease to be the God from whom all blessings flow. Thankfully, all thanks goes to him.

Meditate upon Acts 17:22–28

I. God is Self-Sufficient

In this passage, Paul is addressing a crowd in the Areopagus, which was a high court of appeals for civil and criminal cases. He looks out and says to the men of Athens, “this unknown God (possibly referring to an altar to the twelve god’s at Athens) you worship is not the one true God who created all things, who doesn’t dwell in temples made by man and who is not served by human hands.” I’ll pose another thought provoking question. Can you really serve God? The answer is yes and no. You can serve God by being dependent on, delighting in, and following Christ through acts of obedience. But, surely we do not think that we are the answer to God’s problems. That is blasphemy. He is not served by human hands as if he needed anything; as a matter of fact, it is from him that life, breath, and everything come.

Meditate upon Mark 10:43–45

II. The Servant Savior

James and John approach Jesus and basically say, Lord we want you to grant whatever we ask of you. Jesus entertains the question and they request that they be allowed to sit on his left and right in glory. Christ responds by speaking the truth of servanthood and giving a perplexing statement: “Whoever would be first must be servant of all, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

Christ did not come to be served but rather to serve. He did not come to recruit others to do the work of the kingdom, but to do the work of the Kingdom which God ordained humanity to play a part. It might be likened to a play with plots, scenes, and actors. The play has a cast with parts; however, the story has an author and it is the author who gets credit. God has a part for us to play, but he doesn’t need us; instead, he has chosen us. The point is that the Gospel eliminates any service we might try to offer to God in vain attempts to earn favor or find merit in his eyes. Jesus didn’t come to be served that we might find our way to God by service. Jesus came to die on a cross so that the way to God might be paved through his servant-like sacrifice. Then, as we follow him, we serve in utter dependence.

Meditate upon 2 Corinthians 9:6–15

III. The Sovereign Supplier

Paul was writing to motivate the Corinthians to give generously by using the Macedonians as an example. The Macedonians had experienced poverty and affliction yet still overflowed in joy by the grace of God. Therefore, they begged for the chance to give more, despite their difficulties (2 Cor 8:1–2). The passage emphasizes God as the focus of thanksgiving since he is the source from which all giving flows. Notice the phrases that indicate God is behind the supplying of every need and even every desire to give.

A. God is the supplier of grace and material goods (2 Corinthians 9: 8–11)

B. Service to others is connected to thanksgiving to God ( 2 Corinthians 9:12)

C. The ultimate end of thanks is the Gospel and the inexpressible gift of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:13–15)

This passage reveals the radically God-centered, grace-enabled, and Gospel-saturated nature of thanks. God’s sovereign hand can be seen providing the means of service, the desire to serve, and the ultimate aim of all service. Above all, we see the provision of Christ as the inexpressible gift. The title may still give you pause. However, as one of my favorite authors/musicians (Michael Card) often says, “if I’ve been able to get you to read and think about Scripture, then we both win whether you agree or not.” God is the self-sufficient, servant Savior, and sovereign supplier. Let us therefore give thanks to an ungrateful God!

Chris Dunn
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