A Great Time of Year
Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. I am a fan of the cooler Alabama weather, the changing leaves and our family meals. My biggest reason is that, as a community, we slow down long enough to reflect and be grateful to God. Christians must make thankfulness a priority, even when our culture does not—but I am glad we still have a holiday on the books that calls for us to be thankful.
Giving thanks has far reaching impacts and implications on our life. It pulls us out of ourselves and causes us to reflect instead on the blessings which God has given. In Ephesians, the apostle Paul notes how this also changes our speech:
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead, let there be thanksgiving. –Ephesians 5:4
In the quotation above, notice that crude joking and foolish talk are not set opposite of appropriate humor or reasonable talk. Instead, the alternative to filthy speech is thanksgiving. There is something about thanksgiving that kills profane thoughts and talk.
Coarse joking is said to be “out of place”, but thanksgiving is fitting and appropriate. The reason for this is that crude humor and filthy talk are parasites. They steal from the profound goodness of God’s gifts, like sexuality, and diminish the blessing that is intended. When we speak in such a way, we are giving away deep joy for a chuckle. John Newton said it this way: “”By faith the believer triumphs over the world’s smiles and enticements: he sees that all that is in the world, suited to gratify the desires of the flesh or the eye, is not only to be avoided as sinful, but as incompatible with his best pleasures (Piper, Roots of Endurance, p.75).” It is not because we dislike joy, but because we protect it fiercely that we avoid coarse talk.
Picture this around the water cooler at work. So often the religious guy is seen as dampening a discussion because of moral boundaries in the conversation. Paul says that Christians should brighten and bring cheer to conversations when they enter them. Instead of general disapproval, Christians bring transforming joy.
A Key Example
As an illustration of this, consider the example of William Wilberforce. He worked in the often bawdy and blasphemous halls of English Parliament from the 1780’s-1830’s to eliminate the slave trade and then slavery itself. Here is what his friend James Stephen said about him:
“Being himself amused and interested by everything, whatever he said became amusing or interesting….His presence was as fatal to dullness as to immorality” (Piper, Roots of Endurance, 149).
Consider that pairing! Wilberforce was both fantastically interesting and deeply wholesome. What was his secret? Wilberforce was changed in this way because of his faith. Before he followed Jesus, William was a thankless, spoiled rich kid. It was the awareness of God’s mercy in Jesus that made Wilberforce a man marked by gratefulness and joy, who was interested and interesting. That is a strong model for us, both around the conference table and the dinner table.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, the biggest reason for thanksgiving is the reality of God’s grace. Though pride, greed, selfishness, anger, fear and idolatry should have cut us off forever from God, He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through His Son Jesus. If we know that truth, we ought to be so overwhelmed by the grace of God that thanksgiving flows freely and abundantly from our mouths. If it does, we will flavor and season the workplace–and all our relationships–with this same kind of holy joy.