When the Holy Spirit Comes to Church Pt. 4


“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and being subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

In this series of posts, we are examining worship from Ephesians 5:19-21. We are considering what it looks like when the Holy Spirit gathers with His people. 

Thus far we have considered that when the Holy Spirit is filling believers there is regular assembly and rejoicing awe. It has taken us three posts to consider these matters. Now we move on to point three. hen the Holy Spirit comes to church, there is reverential appreciation.

Paul writes that we should be “always giving thanks” (Eph. 5:20). Paul has already mentioned thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4). We ought to pause here and consider that thanksgiving is a serious aspect of the Christian life. Gratefulness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the hearts of believers. 

Have you ever met an ungrateful person? Does it not seem as though we are raising a generation of ungrateful people? 

No doubt gratitude is an issue of the heart, but let me encourage parents: we must teach our children thankfulness at a young age. When the waitress brings them a drink, they should say “thank you.” When a church member pays them a compliment or gives them encouragement, they ought to say “thank you.” 

Many people living in our society feel as though they are owed everything they receive. There is very little gratitude. This simply must not true of the Christian.

Sincere gratitude starts when we understand what we actually are owed. We are truly owed the wrath of God and His eternal justice in the Lake of Fire. 

But then we look to the cross. And we see that what we are owed actually fell upon our Savior. Justice has been satisfied. It is finished. Christ rose again in victory. 

Furthermore we remember the grace taught to us in Ephesians. God chose us before the world began. God raised us to new life even when we were dead in our sins. The Holy Spirit inevitably produces gratitude in our hearts. 

We Must Consider the Breadth of Our Gratitude

Paul is saying that believers are to give thanks to God at all times and for all things. As John Calvin notes: “Constant thanksgiving ought to be a pleasure and should never grow dull with repetition. The innumerable benefits that we receive from God give us fresh reasons to be joyful and thankful.”

There is never a time in the Christian life when we do not have a spirit of gratitude toward God. This does not mean we need to thank God for the things He hates. We do not thank God for abortion or gender confusion or wicked rulers. We do not thank God for sin since He is never the author of sin. But even in situations in which we have experienced evil or sin, we know along with Joseph that even in these trials, God has a plan and a purpose. We can thank Him for His sovereign hand and providence (see Eph. 1:11).

Sometimes we talk about good and bad providence. But there is not really good providence or bad providence. There is just providence. All providence is for the good of God’s people, even if within that providence we experience painful trials. 

Thus, Christians are a people who are grateful in all seasons and for everything. 

This translation of “all things” is a bit ambiguous. Some commentators note how this phrase can perhaps mean “on behalf of all.” This would mean Paul wants the church to be thankful for one another. 

I will simply note that even if thankfulness for the church is not his main focus, surely being thankful for one another in the church falls under “all things.”

About thirteen years ago I was in my yard in my flip-flops. I do not remember what I was doing, but I tripped over a cinderblock hard. I kicked that thing so hard that I really thought I was going to throw up. I looked down and my pinky toe was pointing a bit off to the side. 

The toe remained in that condition for maybe a day or two. But then I was walking and bumped my foot again and it popped back into place. Weird. But, for the last thirteen years, it now happens several times a year. That pinky toe will pop out of place and I have to pop it back in. 

I am very grateful for that pinky toe. But, you know, it is easier for me to be grateful for the toe on my other foot that does not give me the same trouble. 

What does this have to do with the church? I will put it plainly: there are parts of the body that are easier to be grateful for than other parts of the body. There are parts of the body that seem to get bent out of place a little easier and cause a bit of pain or discomfort more easily than other parts of the body. 

The church filled with the Holy Spirit is grateful for all things, which includes one another, and which includes even the disjointed pinky toes. Let me then ask: how are you taking your gratitude for the members of your church before the Lord? Are you expressing your gratitude to God through Christ for your brothers and sisters in the church? This is worship. 

Do not take the blessing of the membership of a local body for granted. Do not despise the personalities of those with whom you find it harder at times to connect. Carry one another’s burdens. 

To consider the opposite of thanksgiving, we should remember that ingratitude and complaining are so unbecoming of a believer. 

Who God is and what He has done really ought to prevent the believer from a complaining spirit. We are thanksgivers. This is what it looks like to be filled in the Holy Spirit (Job 2:9-10). 

Try this. Try it at your job. Try it in your home. Express your gratitude for your wife, for your husband, for your parents, for your job, and for your children. 

How about this application: for your country. America is full of many faults and sins. But it is interesting how many of those who live in America seem ungrateful to live in such a place. 

We live in a society today that rejects so many of God’s good gifts in order to embrace sin and evil. Part of the pushback against such wickedness must be Spirit-filled churches displaying their thankfulness to God in all seasons and for all things. 

Now we look at the second point here to remind us that gratitude does not stop with those for whom we are thankful. This gratitude rises much higher. 

We Must Consider the Blueprint of Our Gratitude

We are to give thanks “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20).

Let me caution us here: this is why we pray in Jesus’ name, but this praying in Jesus’ name does not mean we simply slap His name on the end of our prayer as some dry formula. 

Praying through the name of Jesus is even acknowledged at the beginning in our hearts as we understand our way to God is through Christ. All the blessings we have, whether temporal blessings, eternal blessings, or gospel blessings, are all rooted in the work of Christ. 

Furthermore, there is another lesson here, at least tangentially: our thanksgiving is owed to God, but it is not acceptable to God in and of itself apart from Christ’s work on our behalf. 

The only thanksgiving acceptable to God is the thanksgiving given to Him through Christ.

Someone may say, “I am truly grateful to God for my home, my children, my money, and this country, and I count them as the blessings of God.”

Nonetheless, if this gratitude is not expressed by faith in the Son, it is not acceptable thanksgiving to God. 

We can even put it this way: you are not truly grateful to God for all He has done for you while you remain outside of Christ. Your gratitude is sin because you acknowledge Him as the giver of good things, and yet you have rejected the best thing He has given: namely, Christ in the stead of ruined sinners. 

So, if you are trying to thank God for blessings in your life while rejecting Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, you must repent. All true gratitude begins and ends with Christ. 

You can be grateful that today is a day of mercy, and that those who come to the Father through faith in the Son, turning from sin, are welcomed into God’s family by grace. 

We will finish this series of posts with part five.

For further reading
Ephesians by Bryan Chappell
The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn
Thanksgiving by David Pao
Growing in Gratitude by Mary Mohler
Allen S. Nelson IV

Allen S. Nelson IV

Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 6 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation WorksBefore the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness, and A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. He is an M.Div graduate of Grace BIble Theological Seminary in Conway, AR.

March 15, 2024

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