10 Key Bible Verses on Gratitude

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

Be Thankful

Gratitude to God is essential, but not only for the sake of the good things that he bestows. The Christian is called to be grateful and content not just for what God gives but for who he is. Be encouraged by these passages and commentary from the ESV Study Bible.

Philippians 4:11–12

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Paul is grateful for the Philippians’ support, but he wants them to know that even in difficult circumstances he has learned . . . to be content. The secret of living amid life’s difficulties is simple: trusting God in such a way that one can say, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. This does not mean God will bless whatever a person does; it must be read within the context of the letter, with its emphasis on obedience to God and service to God and others.

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Joy in Paul’s letters is a basic mark of the Christian (Rom. 14:17) and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is often associated with the firm hope of the Christian (e.g., Rom. 5:2–5; 12:12). “Pray without ceasing” suggests a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continual personal fellowship with God, and consciousness of being in his presence throughout each day. Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4, 20; Col. 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2). This probably refers to all of 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.

Psalm 107:1–3

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

With this psalm the members of the community call one another to give thanks for God’s enduring “steadfast love,” which he has shown not only to the people as a whole but to the particular members as well. The distinctive feature of this psalm is its four accounts of people in distress (“some,” Psalm 107:4, 10, 17, 23), whom God rescued. Because the psalm concerns gratitude for Judah’s return from exile (Ps. 107:3), it is likely that these four accounts describe the activities of members of the tribe of Judah in their exile. Some scholars think that these are four descriptions of the same group, but the activities of the groups are different enough to make it easier just to take these as four ways in which God’s people have been scattered away from their Promised Land, to which God has now brought them back. Key repetitions in the psalm include: after the initial invitation to “give thanks to the Lord” (Ps. 107:1), the psalm describes how each of the four groups cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them (Ps. 107:6, 13, 19, 28), and it calls on them to thank the Lord (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31).

The theme of God’s “steadfast love”—his enduring kindness toward his people and his willingness to forgive them even in the face of their rampant unfaithfulness—recurs throughout as the topic of thanks (Ps. 107:1, 8, 15, 21, 31) and meditation (Ps. 107:43). With this focus on the restoration of the exiles, the psalm is at first glance more concerned with the thanks of the whole community than of any individual; at the same time, the persons who sing this have themselves received the benefits of the deliverance, so that the individual gives thanks as a member of the community. Even though this psalm begins a new book of the Psalter (see note on Psalm 106:48), there are clear connections with Psalms 105–106. For example, in Psalm Psalm 105:44 the Promised Land is the place God gave to his people that they might serve him there faithfully; Psalm 106:27 brings in the prospect of exile from the land for the people’s unfaithfulness, and the prayer of Psalm 106:47, “gather us from among the nations,” is presented as being answered in Psalm 107:3. More broadly, all three psalms reflect with praise and hope on aspects of sacred history.

The opening section states the purpose of the psalm (to call the congregation to give thanks to the LORD, Ps. 107:1) and the theme (his steadfast love endures forever). The specific occasion is that God has redeemed his people (i.e., rescued them from their trouble) and gathered them in from the lands (i.e., from exile, cf. Ps. 106:47; Deut. 30:3).

Psalm 103:2–5

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

This is a hymn of praise, celebrating the abundant goodness and love of the Lord for his people. It is the first of four psalms reflecting on God’s dealings with his people from creation to exile. Psalm 103 introduces the sequence by recalling that Israel’s survival in the time of Moses was due to God’s steadfast love. It begins with each individual singer exhorting his or her own soul to bless the Lord, and then goes on to list the benefits that the soul should be careful not to forget. The crowning benefit is God’s enduring love to the descendants of the faithful, which leads the worshipers to exhort all the angelic hosts and all the material creation to join in blessing the Lord.

These benefits come to the individual (“you” in Psalm 103:3–5 refers to “my soul,” i.e., to me) but are not individualistic: he or she is a member of the community (Ps. 103:6–14, thinking of the people of God), and he or she contributes to the progress of that community (Ps. 103:17–18). As the notes will show, the psalm takes the Pentateuch story for granted, with evocations of Genesis 2:7; 17:7; Exodus 32–34. Christians enter into the joy of this psalm as they celebrate how the biblical story that has developed since that time has displayed even more of God’s goodness and kindness. Psalm 104, though not by David, is probably placed next to this one because it too begins and ends with “Bless the LORD, O my soul.” Psalm 145 is the other example of a Davidic psalm that is a sustained celebration of God’s goodness and benevolence.

Each member of the worshiping congregation urges himself to bless the LORD, i.e., to speak well of him for his abundant generosity. Thus forget not all his benefits is a crucial step in blessing the Lord, and the body of the psalm lists these benefits in order to bring each singer to an admiring gratitude.

Lamentations 3:22–24

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

God’s steadfast love (his “covenant mercy” or beneficial action on his people’s behalf) never ceases, even in the face of Judah’s unfaithfulness and the resulting “day of the LORD” (cf. Joel 2:1–2; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14–16). “Mercies” or “compassion” goes the second mile, replacing judgment with restoration. never come to an end. God is willing to begin anew with those who repent.

Each day presents another opportunity to experience God’s grace. faithfulness. God’s covenantal fidelity and personal integrity remain intact no matter what happens. As with the Levites (Num. 18:20), God is the speaker’s only inheritance (see Ps. 73:26). says my soul. This is what the speaker remembers in Lam. 3:21. I will hope in him. God daily offers fresh opportunities for reconciliation (cf. Lam. 3:18).

Philippians 4:6–7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 6:25–34) that believers are not to be anxious but are to entrust themselves into the hands of their loving heavenly Father, whose peace will guard them in Christ Jesus. Paul’s use of “guard” may reflect his own imprisonment or the status of Philippi as a Roman colony with a military garrison. In either case, it is not Roman soldiers who guard believers—it is the peace of God Almighty. Because God is sovereign and in control, Christians can entrust all their difficulties to him, who rules over all creation and who is wise and loving in all his ways (Rom. 8:31–39). An attitude of thanksgiving contributes directly to this inward peace.

Psalm 95:2

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

The members of the congregation singing these verses invite one another to the great privilege of worshiping the LORD, the great God, the great King above all gods. On the kind of kingship attributed to God here, see note on Psalm 93. God is King over creation: it is his, he made it, and he rules over it all (it is in his hand, i.e., under his authority). The marvel of being Israel is that such a majestic King has pledged himself to his people, making them the sheep of his hand. It is no surprise, then, that worship offered to him would be both exuberant (sing, make a joyful noise, thanksgiving, songs of praise) with astonished wonder, and humble (bow down, kneel) before such majesty. The whole person, body and soul, must offer this worship.

Colossians 3:16–17

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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The word of Christ probably refers to the teaching about Christ as well as the words of Christ himself, which were part of the oral traditions passed on to believers in the early years after Christ ascended to heaven, before the Gospels had been written. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (see note on Eph. 5:19) is one means of teaching and admonishing. Corporate worship has a teaching function through the lyrics of its songs. This was particularly important in the oral culture of Paul’s day. The centrality of Christ does not diminish the Father but brings him glory.

Ephesians 5:18–20

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Being filled with the Spirit results in joyful praise through singing and making melody. This may refer to different kinds of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs found in the Old Testament Psalter. It seems more likely, however, that Paul is referring both to the canonical psalms and to contemporary compositions of praise (see also Col. 3:16). “Spiritual” communicates the influence of the Holy Spirit’s filling (Eph. 5:18) in the believer’s acts of praise.

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James moves from evil temptations (which God never gives) to the observation that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God (cf. Matt. 7:11). As in James 1:5, James reminds the readers of God’s goodness. In their trials, God is not tempting them to sin, but the difficulties in life are intended to strengthen and perfect them and make them more like God. God’s intentions for them are always for good (cf. Rom. 8:28). There is nothing in this world that is truly good that has any other origin than from above, namely heaven, descending from the Father of lights, which refers to God as creator of the heavenly “lights” (Ps. 74:16; 136:7–9)—a prime example of his good gifts. God is unchanging in his character and therefore in his giving of good, unlike the variation of the night changing to day or the shifting shadow caused by the sun or moon.

All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.


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