Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The text to which we will turn our attention tonight is 1 Corinthians 1:4-5. Last week we began our study of this letter by noting some very encouraging things that Paul said to the church in Corinth. We saw how Paul reminded them of their divine calling, how they are sanctified in Christ Jesus, which means set apart or made holy by virtue of their union with him by Faith. We saw also that God is the source of all grace, and when that root of grace takes hold in the hearts of his people, those people then bear the fruit of peace in their souls, and in their relationships with one another.

Tonight, we move on from Paul’s greeting to his customary section of thanksgiving, which is found at the beginning of many of his letters. And thanksgiving, or gratitude, will be our main focus tonight.  Paul takes time to point out to the Corinthians the evidences of grace in them that were occasions for Paul to express gratitude for God. And as we will see, these evidences of grace and the overflow of thanksgiving in Paul will both confront us and encourage us, when we see their connection to the grace of our Lord in Jesus Christ. Grace is both the occasion for and the fountain of gratitude in our hearts. But gratitude can never stay in the heart; genuine gratitude will always work its way up to our lips.

Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, and we’ll just focus on verses four and five tonight:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tonight we will see how Paul prioritized gratitude, Paul grounds his gratitude in grace, and Paul gives voice to his gratitude. In regards to Paul’s gratitude, he prioritizes it, grounds it in grace, and gives voice to it.

Let’s begin by looking at Paul’s heart in verse 4 and see how Paul prioritized gratitude. Paul Prioritized gratitude.

Verse 4 says: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”. I give thanks to my God always for you. Imagine: Paul is speaking to a church that was full of division, a church tolerating sexual sin, a church hating one another in the observance of the Lord’s supper, a church that had turned the spiritual gifts, which are evidences of Grace and therefore those gifts should promote humility, and instead they were turning those gifts into means of boasting. They were proud.

And yet Paul says something that is almost unbelievable: I give thanks to my God always for you. I continually thank God for you, for this church with all its headaches and problems. A church that continued to produce heart ache and pain. Paul is thankful for them.

And here is where Paul’s gratitude, his thankfulness, confronts us. Paul thanks God for this group of sinners because of the grace that he saw in them. Paul’s not focused on how much the Corinthian church has inconvenienced HIM. He doesn’t focus on how immature they were, or how forgetful they were, or how much grief they caused him.

Paul thanks God for them. Thankful, for even a source of such grief. That’s supernatural gratitude. Have you such gratitude? I know I don’t.

When the kids are acting up and disobeying, are you thankful to God in that moment for them? I’m sure not. I’m frustrated with how much I’m being inconvenienced, how much more work they’re making for me, how much my comfort is being hampered.

Or when someone sins against you, are you thankful to God for the evidences of grace in their life? When you’re gossiped about, and caused heartache and grief, just like Corinth pained Paul’s heart, can you still be thankful to God for his grace shown to that person in Christ Jesus?

Or are you UN-grateful? Do you wish that they’d be brought to justice, rather than grace; that they would receive the penalty and punishment, rather than the pardon. When someone bothers us, annoys us, sins against us, we can be tempted to complain, to turn the situation all about us, rather than looking at the big picture and seeing the grace of God in them.

Rather than complaining about the messes in the house, I should be thankful to God for his grace of a house to live in. Rather than grumbling about the noisy children, I should thank God for the gift of children at all. Rather than murmuring about problems at work, I should thank God for the grace of a job. Rather than always pointing out the problems in our relationships, maybe I should thank God that anyone would want to count me a friend at all.

Why is a lack of thankfulness such a great sin? It’s because ingratitude is a heart-level sin that is indicative of a proud heart.

When I am UN-thankful for my situation, I am assuming several things to be true. I am assuming that I don’t really deserve this. I deserve better. These problems should be for somebody else, because I’m really a person whose actions have merited peace and comfort. I’m not a problem. I’m not really a rotten sinner who has broken God’s law and merited death and eternal punishment. I Deserve Better Than This.

My ingratitude not only shows that I am assuming I am better than I really am, it also shows that I am assuming that God is worse than he really is. My heart is saying, “if God is really good, then he would have given me this or that. He wouldn’t make me deal with this again. But he hasn’t removed my occasion for frustration, so God hasn’t given me what he should have, so he must not be worthy of praise and gratitude.

But we don’t just doubt his goodness, we doubt his wisdom. We assume in our pride that we know what is best. I’m going to be ungrateful because I don’t deserve this problem this headache. Because I’m the one who sees everything rightly, and I have infallible wisdom, I know what is the best way to handle things, and thus I instead deserve this over here.

I don’t deserve these rowdy kids, I deserve peace.

I don’t deserve a taxing job, I deserve comfort.

I don’t deserve this sickness, I deserve health.

In short, ingratitude says: I don’t deserve death, I deserve life.

I heart devoid of thanksgiving to God, is a proud heart that ultimately believes we are righteous, and therefore don’t deserve problems and pain.

But a thankful heart, a heart overflowing with gratitude, is a heart that recognizes our weakness, our sins, our dependence upon God, and praises God for the gifts of grace in our lives and in the lives of others.

Here we need the word of God to show us our hearts. Because ingratitude can be subtle. It is a form of pride that can deceive us.

We can have a heart that feels entitled to things, that views the Christian life as a balance, or as a scale, a balance scale of merit and reward. I’ve put in my effort, I’ve worked hard, I’ve prayed, I’ve served, I’ve suffered, therefore I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this treatment. I don’t deserve this trial. I don’t deserve this delay in my plans. I don’t deserve this headache.

But the Christian life isn’t a scale of merit and reward. Christ and His graces are not a reward for you and your hard work. Faith and blessing are not earned by hard work and good behavior. The Christian life is a gift, from start to finish. Every bit of it is grace. If Christ and an easy life were rewards for the faithful, then they wouldn’t be grace. It would be something you earned.

And that’s where we must start if we are to ever have hearts of thanksgiving. Gratitude starts with recognizing and prioritizing grace. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is that he came and lived a thankless life. He was born, and lived, and served, and died for an ungrateful people. They didn’t appreciate his work, they didn’t listen to his message, and they despised his example. Not only were they UN-grateful for him, they hated him, and they killed him.

But Christ came anyway, knowing how he’d be treated. He didn’t respond to their ingratitude with condemnation. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t bite back or revile, scripture says. He responded with meekness and compassion, even when his love was on display the most.

Imagine, when he was being crucified: his love was perhaps on display in the most visible way in that moment, laying down his life for his people, and they cursed him. They spat upon him. They mocked him. Whatever the opposite of gratitude is, they sinned in all those kinds of ways. And yet Christ died for them. And for me. And for you.

Even though I’m often grumbling and complaining, even though I have a pridefully inflated view of myself, even though I think I’m wiser than God and therefore I don’t think I deserve to deal with this stuff, even though I don’t appreciate God’s grace in my life or in the lives of others, Christ came and lived a thankless life and died a thankless death for a bunch of ingrates like me.

That’s the wild message of the gospel. I should have died for my ingratitude, but Christ gives me life. I earned punishment, but Christ gives me promises. I am worthy of nothing, but Christ gives me everything.

Do you find a lack of thankfulness in your heart? Are you UN-thankful for your situation or parts of your life? Think about the grace of Jesus. Consider how he’s taken the punishment you should have had, and how he’s given you life that you never earned. Think about how much worse you deserve, and yet how many graces he’s given you.

And if you don’t trust in Jesus, if you’re not resting in the goodness of Jesus as your only hope in life and death, then know that his grace is a limited time offer. He will not forever hold out his offer of forgiveness. You will soon die and find yourself standing before the throne of God in eternal judgment, and if you don’t have the grace of Jesus Christ to plead as your only way of salvation, then you will be cast out into utter darkness in Hell for all of eternity.

Don’t ignore this message of forgiveness, don’t reject his grace and trample again on his good news. This could be the only chance you have to receive his mercy. You’re not promised tomorrow. Come to him and receive the grace of forgiveness and have your ungrateful heart of stone replaced with a thankful heart of flesh. Come and taste of the fountain of joy that is union with Jesus Christ and faith in him. Come and see what satisfaction life can bring when you’ve experienced his mercy. Then you too can be thankful always to your God and my God for the grace that he’s shown to you.

Paul prioritized Gratitude, and prioritized it in the grace of God.

Second, and this is very much related to the 1st point, notice how Paul grounds his gratitude in grace. Paul expresses his gratitude. Again, verse 4: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”

I give thanks to God—why?—for the grace of God that was given you. Paul thanks God specifically for the grace of God that was evident in the lives of the Corinthians. Grace in others, gratitude in Paul.

This is instructive for us: when we’re seeking to cultivate thankfulness in our hearts, are we intentional about finding evidences of grace in others?

When I think about my family, am I regularly pointing out the evidences of grace in their lives? Or am I critical?

When I speak about people at work or at church, am I quick to speak of the fruits of grace in their lives, their growth, their improvement, their strengths, their gifts? Or am I more easily finding fault, pointing out their shortcomings, showing how their deficient?

Just as I tried to show that pride undercuts gratitude in our hearts, here we can see that a critical spirit is contrary to a heart that is grateful to God. Or to say it another way, a heart overflowing with gratitude to God will not be a heart dominated by a critical spirit.

A critical spirit can manifest itself in various different ways.[1] It can rear its head as judgmentalism, which is an overly-critical spirit, never satisfied, always fault finding, never pleased. This spirit often lacks any empathy for another point of view, because he already has the correct view and could never conceive that an alternative view could possibly be correct. This judgmental spirit is deadly in relationships, especially when parents are never satisfied with their children’s performance.

A critical spirit can also manifest itself as gossiping or slander. Rather than seeking out the good evidences of grace in the lives of others, we instead speak of their faults, their weaknesses, or their sins in a non-redemptive way, or in a way that is not seeking their good. We can be tempted to tell tales of others because we are drawn to scandal and want to be in the know. We like the attention, and we can get a bit of excitement from the controversy. Or because we like to be the one with all the knowledge, be the center of the informational hub. We like feeling important, and like having people come to us. It really can be a pride-fueled power trip.

A critical spirit can also manifest itself in complaining, a spirit that is habitually negative or constantly expressing dissatisfaction with something or someone. You’ve been around a person like this. They’re always droning on, and a conversation with them can feel like it has sucked the life out of you. It’s draining; they’re never satisfied with what God has given them. They’re dominated by discontentment, and that discontentment manifests itself in ingratitude.

Rather than having these different expressions of a critical heart, Paul here is expressing his gratitude to God for the grace found in the Corinthian believers. He is a wonderful example of what gratitude can do to our perception of others and our expression to God.

Paul could have legitimately listed out all of the ways that the Corinthians were deficient and have run off the rails. And that would have been truthful. But he didn’t. He instead went through the effort of pointing out the fruits of grace in their lives.

And notice also the manner in which he does it: in the following verse he is explicit about the reasons why he’s thankful. He lists out different various evidences of grace in the Corinthians:

  • they were enriched in Jesus (verse 5)
  • they were graced in speech and knowledge (verse 5)
  • the testimony of Christ was confirmed among them (verse 6)
  • they were not lacking in any gift (verse 7)
  • they will be sustained by God (verse 8)
  • they will be guiltless in the end (verse 8)
  • and they were called into fellowship with Jesus (verse 9)

Paul’s expression of gratitude and encouragement to the Corinthians was specific, which is very instructive to us.

When you give encouragement, do you offer specific thankfulness for God’s grace in the life of the one you are encouraging?

Let me give you an example: Husbands, do you encourage your wife by telling her what evidences of God’s grace you see in her life?

  • Sweetheart, I’m so thankful that God let me marry such an encouraging woman like you.
  • Honey, I’m so thankful to God that he’s given me such a hard-working husband.
  • Rather than blasting the children for bouncing off the walls, saying instead, “Kids, I’m so glad that God has blessed you with such energy and zeal for life. I can’t wait to see how he’s going to use that for His kingdom.”

When we use our words to intentionally point out evidences grace in people’s lives, we really will see our words become a blessing and encouragement to others. I know that is true in my life. I still can remember specific conversations from years ago that I’ve had with people that really lifted my spirits; they usually involve a person gifted in encouragement pointing out specifically why they were thankful for me and something I had done.

That’s a wonderful use of the tongue to speak encouragement into someone. Paul here is exemplifying how the tongue can speak words of life, like it says in Proverbs 18:21. Do you have a tongue that speaks words of encouragement and life? Or do you have a tongue that is controlled by a hard, critical spirit, that instead speaks words of death to someone’s soul? Do you find yourself playing the part of the grumbler or complainer, or the gossip or the slanderer?

If that’s you, then you need to know that it’s not just the tongue that needs to be tamed: its much deeper than that. Jesus says that these critical words come from within, that it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. If your tongue speaks with critical words, it’s because your heart is proud and unthankful. Whatever comes out reveals what’s on the inside.

Our problem is our heart, not merely a lack of self-control over our tongue. And the problem for us that we can’t change our own hearts. We can’t do enough religion, we can’t go to enough church services, we can’t give enough to the poor, we can’t say enough prayers, we can’t manufacture enough encouraging words to change our hearts.

But the good news of the bible is that Jesus has provided a way for us to have new hearts. One of the promises that Jesus makes to his people is that they would have new hearts given to them when they believe in him. He’s the only one that can change our hearts, the very core of our being, the source of our sin-problem. He implants in us a heart of faith that beats with love for him. And he does this by the work of his holy spirit, whom he pours out upon us when we come to him.

It’s only when we have this new heart, guided by the holy spirit, that we can ever begin to replace our critical spirit with a spirit of love. We can begin to speak words of life because he has already spoken life into our hearts. We can encourage because he’s already encouraged us. We can be thankful because we’ve tasted of his grace of forgiveness and love.

Don’t give in again to the temptation to be critical and harsh. Don’t be judgmental and always looking at people’s flaws and problems. Be like Paul, who spoke words of encouragement to a fractured church in Corith by praising God for their evidences of grace. And be like Jesus, who doesn’t speak to us negatively and linger on our weaknesses; he instead speaks to us life by his very word.

Paul grounds his gratitude for the Corinthians in the grace that they’ve received in Jesus Christ, and that he sees in their lives. May we ever be as encouraging as Paul by pointing out the evidences of God’s grace, and praising God for such graces.

Which leads to my final point about gratitude: we saw already that Paul prioritized gratitude, that he grounded his gratitude in grace, and we can see that Paul, third, gives voice to his gratitude. Paul gives voice to his gratitude.

It is true in life that when we have genuine gratitude, we will say something about it. Unexpressed gratitude is no gratitude at all. In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:15 that grace is given to others, in part, so that gratitude may abound: Paul says, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase in thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Grace is given to more and more people, so that thanksgiving will increase.

God shares his grace so that we might erupt with praise and thanksgiving back to him. This is a clear theme that we see in scripture, especially in the psalms. David and other psalmists link thankfulness of heart with praise of God.

  • Psalm 7:17- I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord… {I will give thanks, I will praise}
  • Psalm 28:7- The lord is my strength and my shield…my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. {My heart exults, I sing a song of thanks}
  • Psalm 118:28- You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. {I will give thanks, I will extol, or praise you}

I counted over 50 times that the psalmists link thanksgiving and praise to God together. Thankfulness expressed as praise is natural for all of us. Paul is thankful to God, and that thankfulness overflows with action.

We need to remember that when it comes to examining our hearts as it relates to thankfulness and gratitude that we should be expressive. If I am never expressing gratitude, either to God or to others, then I need to watch out. That’s not natural. If I am a genuinely thankful person, then I should be expressing such.

If I’m really thankful for my wife, then I will tell her so. If I’m thankful for my kids, then I will express that. If I am thankful for my coworkers, my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, then I will say it. And the same is true for God: if I am thankful for God and his grace, I’ll give voice to it.

If I am thankful for God’s work in my life, then I will express it. I will praise him. I will pray to him thanking him. I will sing to him with a heart of thanksgiving.

A heart that is stoic, unmoved, unwilling to express thankfulness, is a heart that hasn’t really experienced grace. We’re called instead to be a people that constantly express our gratitude to God, and express it in a variety of ways.

Listen to a few of the different ways that the psalms encourage us to express thankfulness to God:

  • Sing praises to the name of the Lord (7:17)
  • Recount all the Lord’s wonderful deeds (9:1)
  • Proclaim thanksgiving aloud (26:7)
  • Give thanks to the Lord with song (28:7)
  • Give thanks forever (30:12)
  • Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp (33:2)
  • Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving (50:23), which assumes our thanksgiving will be costly to us. It will cost us something.

I could go on and on. The point is that genuine thankfulness will express itself to God, and it can express itself in a variety of ways. We should be a people that ever have the praise of God on our lips, because we have the grace of God in our hearts. Hearts full of grace should make lips full of praise.

“But what if I don’t feel like thanking God?”, you might be asking. What if my heart doesn’t feel like abounding in gratitude and expressing praise to God like Paul is here in our text? The answer is we need to remember what the bible says, not what our feelings say. Biblical truth can and should change our feelings, should stir our hearts.

The bible says that I have violated God’s law with a high hand. Rather than being thankful that God would reveal his word to me and his moral standard in my heart, I respond by trampling all over his benchmark of righteousness.

Rather than being generous and sharing with others, I am greedy and stingy. Rather than being tender and compassionate, I lose my temper and want to scream at someone for the least little transgressions. Rather than trusting God and walking through life with humble confidence, I sweat, and worry, and am anxious about something new every day. We could go on and on listing ways that I’ve sinned against him.

And for each of these sins I deserve countless lifetimes of pain, misery, and death. I have spat in the face of the eternal creator of the universe. I have mocked people made in his image. I have rebelled against his good providence and sought out my own way. I’m just like the prodigal son whose ingratitude for his father drove him to run away in rebellion.

But God in his goodness didn’t let me run too far. He drew me back by his grace, washed my soul with his own precious blood. And not only that, he’s promised that he won’t even remember my sins. He won’t bring them up in a critical or judgmental way; he doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, because he’s taken care of them all on the cross.

He’s granted me a new start, a new heart, a new life. Even more, he’s granted me adoption into his very own household. Jesus is not merely my savior and friend. Jesus is my brother. I’ve got as much rights to the divine inheritance waiting for me in heaven as Jesus does himself.

And that divine inheritance includes a new, resurrected body on the other side of the grave. A body that won’t be tired and achy, a body that won’t wear out and break, a body not dominated by sin and a heart that won’t have to battle with evil any more. No more weary skirmishes with temptation. No more falling back into the same old ruts. Freedom from sin forevermore.

And to top that off, I have eternity to spend with my great savior Jesus. Nothing to interrupt. Nothing to cast me out. Nothing to spoil the sweet satisfaction and joy that comes with full communion with God almighty in the face of Jesus Christ.

When you hear of all this great news, doesn’t it make your heart want to sing? Aren’t you encouraged with joy about the grace of God in Jesus Christ? Don’t you want to stir your heart to express such thankfulness to God for all his precious gifts given to us in Jesus Christ?

I hope that these statements of truth about the grace of Jesus Christ can and do warm your heart toward expressing gratitude for the grace shown to you in Jesus. This is the gospel, the good news, and this is the bedrock, the foundation of our faith. This is the ground of our assurance, the root of our hope, the foundation of our life, and the motivation for our thanksgiving.

Press in to this Jesus, and have your heart stirred to praise, thanksgiving, and gratitude, for what we’ve been make partakers of in the gospel.

And if you’ve not tasted of this gratitude, then hear of the offer laid out for you. Repent of your sins, trust in the savior of the world, and come to the only one who can give you a new heart, a heart overflowing with thankfulness to God for the grace of Jesus Christ.

[1] Critical spirit categories adapted from:


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