Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/28/99
Today we take a break from Ephesians in order to prolong the Thanksgiving weekend.
Normally we first get the Christmas present and then write the thank-you note. But our holiday season appropriately reverses that order: we give thanks first, then move on to Christmas. This reminds us that thanks is not only a response but also an end in itself. In this psalm, David captures an aspect of that truth in an interesting way.
Psalm 6 is a prayer for deliverance, a deliverance which seems delayed (v. 3). The delay produces much anguish (vv. 6-7), but it finally comes, so the poem ends triumphantly. Verses 4-5 constitute an argument for God to act. The reasons David gives are, first, God's own nature (v. 4), which is HESED, lovingkindness, and second (v. 5) because David's death at the hands of his adversaries, if God were to permit this, would end his opportunities for giving thanks. Therefore, Thanksgiving emerges from the argument as one of the primary reasons why David should continue to live.
What is this Thanksgiving which plays such an important role? It is in Hebrew YODEH, which particularly means public praise. It is probably meant in the context of Temple worship--cf. Ps. 22:22, 40:9-10, 43:3-4. Presumably David will continue to be thankful after death, but opportunities for public expressions of this thankfulness will cease. Two asumptions underlie David's argument. First is that God desires such thanks. Why else would its threatened cessation be a motivation for God to deliver David? The second is that we need to give it. The very reason for the delay of deliverance might be to elicit in David a more focused awareness of the importance and role of public thanks of Yahweh in his life. As it is, performing such thanks becomes the ultimate justification for his continued existence.
Why is such Thanksgiving so significant? First becacuse it gives glory to God, which is our purpose to start with. The Westminster Divines rightly saw that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And George Herbert perceptively noted that
Only to Man has thou made known thy ways
And put the pen alone into his hand
And made him secretary of thy praise.
All creation glorifies God, in other words, but only Man does it intelligently and by choice rather than by mere instinct. Giving thanks is certainly a part of that.
Secondly, Thanksgiving completes the "Cycle of Enjoyment." Every good and perfect gift cometh from above and is to be received with thanksgiving. But most of them can only be fully enjoyed if they are shared--and shared with the right person. When I was last in England, I enjoyed my visit to Stratford On Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet immensely, but my constant thought was, "Mark needs to be here." He was the perfect person to share that experience with. Unless it is shared, half the joy is missing. Well, there is one person who could actually appreciate Shakespeare better than Mark--the Creator of that creator. And thanking God for his gifts is one way to ensure that they are shared with Him, and the cycle of enjoyment is complete. A friend of mine once remarked, in response to a very heraldically shaped and colored bug that had flown by, "What do non-Christians do? They do not have anyone to thank." He was right--the full enjoyment of God's gifts is necessarily short-circuited for them. But not necessarily for us, if we remember to thank Him.
David was right. Thanksgiving is indeed a primary reason to live, a primary justification of our existence, a primary purpose for our lives. Far from being a mere codicil, an addendum tacked on to a good gift or experience, it is very definitely an end in itself--almost the end for which the gift was created. And it best acheives its purpose when it is public, before the world in general and God's people in particular. We could define Thanksgiving as "praise made personal." It builds the relationship by taking us past the Gift to the Giver. And for that we must be thankful indeed.
Here endeth the lesson.