If you’ve ever heard a message on Romans 1, it likely focused on one of three areas:
- Paul’s declaration of the preeminence of the gospel in changing hearts (Romans 1:16-17)
- That God has made His identity abundantly clear through creation (Romans 1:18-20)
- A clear denunciation of many things our society tells us that we should accept (Romans 1:26-31) (if you think that’s just about sexual perversion, maybe focus on verses 28-31 a little harder…)
I want to focus on one portion of verse 21, though, as it provides a critical fulcrum in Paul’s explanation of how we get from the glory of God to the depravity of man (emphasis mine in the text below).
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.— Romans 1:21 (ESV)
Paul cites the Romans’ failure to honor and give thanks to God as leading to futile thinking and darkened hearts. Rather than focus on all the behaviors that come later in the chapter, let’s ruminate on this concept; after all, while “giving thanks” could be interpreted as a behavior, it arises from an attitude. We know how unsatisfying a coerced apology is, and God is not interested in that type of thanks. He wants us to be truly grateful to Him.
While conventional wisdom says that you cannot coerce feelings (as George Strait said, “You can’t make a heart love somebody”), Paul’s progression here shows us how we can. He highlights how the gospel is the power of God for salvation, and he follows that up with the abundant ways creation should point us to Him. Even if those are the only two things we can ponder, those should fill us with gratitude. Think about it - the God of the universe, the Creator of this world, not only made a wonderful world in which we can live, but also provided a way for us to live with Him forever! We may become so familiar with that concept that it loses its novelty. If you’re having trouble being grateful, enlarge your perspective; stepping back and remembering just what we do have for which to be grateful can change our thinking.
Our gratitude shouldn’t stop there. Every person reading this has access to power and a global information network; they are also very likely to be reading it in climate-controlled comfort, and on a device powerful beyond prior generations’ imagination. They are also very likely to be eating either turkey or ham at some point today. A large part of our culture likes to focus on inequity (perceived or actual), but focusing on what others have that you do not is simply a recipe for feeling either sad or mad. There’s a reason the list of sins has covetousness on it (v. 29).
The original Thanksgiving Day was a day set aside to thank God for His provision through the previous year; it was not some amorphus thankful feeling, it was heart-felt gratitude to God. While it is good to set aside time to reflect and give thanks, though, it should not be relegated to one day a year. Gratitude to God should be a daily occurrence in our lives. If you know me, you know that I usually roll my eyes at cheesy sayings; but, here’s one anyway…
Today is a gift; that’s why it’s called “the present”
Recognize each day as a gift from God. If it is refreshing, praise Him for that. If it brings struggle, praise Him in it and trust Him to keep you through it. If you are grateful for people in your life, thank God for them - and then tell them; don’t wait for the 4th Thursday in November. Gratitude can inspire encouragement, that can inspire gratitude in others - a virtuous cycle that was God’s intent when He gave us these commands.