I realized on Thursday that I’ve never studied out the words “thanks” or “thanksgiving,” so I decided to do a word study to find out what the Bible says about giving thanks. (All quotations are from the ESV.) I haven’t studied many of these passages in depth, so this is just a general survey. Here’s a rough outline of what I’ve learned.
General commands to give thanks
Replace evil speaking with giving thanks
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Instead of being anxious, pray and give thanks.
5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Pray and give thanks.
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving
See also Thessalonians 5:17-19.
Pray and give thanks for those in authority over you.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Remain faithful and continually give thanks.
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Not giving thanks is a sin.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.
Who should give thanks to the Lord?
In the Old Testament, certain families were assigned the job of praising the Lord with thanksgiving.
1 Chronicles 23:29-31
29 Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. 30 And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening, 31 and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the LORD on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD.
See also 1 Chronicles 16:7-9 and 1 Chronicles 16:40-42.
All righteous people should thank the Lord.
11 Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. 12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
See also Psalm 33:1-3.
All nations and people should thank the Lord.
2 Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
People of every generation should thank the Lord.
12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! 13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Individuals and groups of people should thank the Lord.
30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
Even nature is described as praising the Lord.
1 Chronicles 16:33-35
33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 35 Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.
What should we thank God for?
His power and might, His generosity to us
1 Chronicles 29:12-14
12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
His goodness, His steadfast love, salvation, deliverance
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
See also 1 Chronicles 16:33-35, Psalm 52:8-9, and Jeremiah 33:10-12.
17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
His mercy, His strength, His protection
6 Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. 7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. 8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
His faithfulness, His goodness, His deliverance
16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. 18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
See also Psalm 54:5-7.
His steadfast love, His faithfulness
8 Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
His goodness, His steadfast love, His faithfulness
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
See also Psalm 118, Psalm 118:27-29, and Psalm 136:1-3.
His greatness, His works, His splendor and majesty, His righteousness
1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
See also Psalm 138:1-3, Psalm 145:9-11, and Isaiah 12:1-3.
His wondrous deeds
1 We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.
See also Psalm 105:1-3, Psalm 106: 1-3, Psalm 108:2-4.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
1 Timothy 4:2-4
2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
See also Corinthians 10:29-31 and 1 Corinthians 14:15-17.
Victory over sin
1 Corinthians 15:56-58
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
2 Corinthians 1:10-11
10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
2 Corinthians 2:14-15
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing
2 Corinthians 9:10-12
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
2 Corinthians 9:15
15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
See also Ephesians 1:14-16, Colossians 1:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 2:12-14, 1 Timothy 1:11-13, Romans 6:16-18, and Romans 7:24-25.
How do we show thanks?
The Israelites bowed before the Lord, worshipping Him and thanking Him.
2 Chronicles 7:3
3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. “
We thank Him with joyful music.
1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
See also Ezra 3:10-12, Psalm 69:29-31, Psalm 147:6-8.
We thank Him with great celebrations.
Psalm 100: 1, 2, 4
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
We thank Him with our whole hearts and lives.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
See also Psalm 9.
We thank Him corporately.
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
See also Psalm 35:18 and Colossians 3:16-18.
We trust Him, give Him offerings, and live holily.
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
What do we accomplish when we thank God?
We glorify God when we thank Him.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! 23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God! “
As the Gospel spreads, more people will glorify God.
2 Corinthians 4:14-16
14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
When should we thank the Lord?
In the morning and at night—all day long!
1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
Examples of thankfulness
The Israelites thanked God for allowing them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel. ” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,
Anna thanked God for being able to see Christ before she died.
37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Jesus gave thanks before performing a miracle and before the crowds ate the food.
36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Jesus gave thanks for the bread and wine during the Last Supper.
17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.
The Samaritan leper thanked Jesus for healing him.
15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?
Paul thanked God for Christians who were growing in faith and who had helped him in the gospel ministry.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
See also Romans 16:3-5, 2 Corinthians 8:15-17, 2 Timothy 1:2-4, Philemon 1:3-5, Ephesians 1:14-16, Philippians 1:2-4, Colossians 1:2-4, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3, 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:2-4.
Heavenly beings worship and thank God.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. “
See also Revelation 4:8-10 and Revelation 11:16-18.