Several years ago, I suffered a bout of deep depression. It lasted for months. And I don’t want to experience it ever again. But I learned something out of that depression that has proved invaluable to my mental—and spiritual—health:
Giving thanks is good for the soul.
During my depression, I kept a journal in which I monitored my feelings and their causes in minute detail. The more I analyzed my depression, the more depressed I became. So one day, I tried something different. I wrote a list of everyone and everything I was thankful for. To my surprise, it was a very long list. I can’t say my depression instantly disappeared that day, but its hold on me lost considerable purchase.
I don’t know whether Paul ever suffered depression. As we read 1 Corinthians, we’ll discover that Paul had plenty of reasons to feel deeply sad about the church in Corinth. It was a moral and theological mess. Yet Paul nevertheless gave thanks for it. His word of thanks is six verses long (1 Cor. 1:4-9), but here I want to focus only on the first verse:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus (1:4).
Let’s take a closer look at this sentence:
I: Giving thanks cannot be delegated. It is our privilege and responsibility.
Always: Paul wasn’t thankful on good days and ungrateful on bad days. He was always thankful. You can see the constancy of his gratitude when you look at his words of thanks for other churches he wrote to (Rom. 1:8, Phil. 1:3, Col. 1:3, 1 Thes. 1:2, 2 Thes. 2:13, 1 Tim. 1:12, 2 Tim. 1:3, Philem. 4). We should be constant in our thanksgiving too.
Thank God: Paul’s thanksgiving is radically God-centered. Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles by the will of God. So every time Gentiles decided to follow Jesus, Paul gave thanks to God for them. Do you thank God for others?
For you: Notice that Paul doesn’t thank God privately for the Corinthians—or for any other church. He thanks God for the Corinthians in front of the Corinthians. God knows whom you’re thankful for. Do they?
Because of his grace given you: If Paul looked only at the Corinthians’ present behaviors and beliefs, he might not have had much reason to give thanks. They were a “problem child.” But when he looked at where the Corinthians had been in comparison to where they were, he had lots of reason for gratitude. God’s grace had started them on their spiritual journey and moved them far along. Our gratitude will grow when we focus more on the progress God gives than the problems others cause.
In Christ Jesus: God’s grace is always mediated to us by Jesus Christ. Whenever you get frustrated with others, remember this: Jesus Christ loves them and gave himself for them (Eph. 5:2).
So, give thanks. It’s good for the soul: yours—and theirs!