Are We Supposed To Thank God For Everything That Happens?

Bible Book: Ephesians  5 : 20
Subject: Thanksgiving

During the Thanksgiving season we are reminded of many things for which we should be thankful--indeed, we should give thanks all year long. Those of us who are Christians should thank God first of all and most of all for our salvation--but then also for the multitude of other blessings that come our way day in and day out, because every good thing comes from God, whatever route it takes getting to us. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

But what about the bad things which come our way? Are we supposed to be thankful for them? Are we, in fact, supposed to thank God for everything that happens, whatever its nature, whatever its cause, and whatever its effects?

Some people think so; they believe that is what the Bible teaches--and that includes some wonderful Bible scholars and some outstandingly effective preachers. For example, I remember hearing several years ago about a highly respected and widely used preacher whose teenaged daughter was brutally raped, and the report I heard was that he believed and publicly stated that he felt he was supposed to thank God for that tragic event, in spite of the devastation and grief that his daughter and he and other family members suffered because of it. From what I know of that preacher, he is a wonderfully dedicated, highly intelligent man of God, and I greatly admire and respect him--but I believe that he is dead wrong in thinking that God intends for him to be thankful that his daughter was raped.

Apparently he based his conviction upon Ephesians 5:20: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But the big question is, Does that verse mean what that preacher and others of his persuasion understood it to mean? I don’t believe it does, and I will explain why.


First, though, let me be very clear: If I thought it did mean what that preacher and those who agree with him took it to mean--that we should thank God for every single thing that ever happens, however evil and God-dishonoring it may be, then I would grit my teeth and ask God to help me do exactly that; I would ask him to help me to be thankful for those things in spite of my utter inability to understand why he would command such a thing, because I certainly realize the truth of Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

But, as already indicated, I don’t believe for one second that that is what God is saying to us in Ephesians 5:20. “But, preacher,” someone protests, “isn’t that what it plainly says?--that we are to thank God for all things? Doesn’t that mean, preacher, that God intends for us to thank him for everything that happens?”

My response is, that is what it appears to say--but I believe that further, closer examination will reveal that that is not what it is saying at all.


I believe that the key to a correct interpretation of Ephesians 5:20 has to do with one Greek word in Ephesians 5:20, and I’ll get to that--but first let me explain why I feel so strongly that the understanding of Ephesians 5:20 expressed by the above mentioned preacher and by some others simply could not be correct.

One of the great basic truths made clear in the Bible is that our God is consistent. He says, for example, in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not....” Hebrews 13:8 speaks of “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Being a consistent God, he never contradicts himself. Thus, he would never command us not to do a thing, and then command us to give thanks when someone does it anyway.

For example, God says, in Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt do no murder.” On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists took over two airplanes at gunpoint and slammed those planes into the Twin Towers in New York City, killing about 3,000 innocent people. They clearly did something that God has commanded man not to do--they committed mass murder. Now, am I to understand that God has commanded me to thank him that those Islamic terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 innocent people, causing untold sorrow and suffering to their families and to multitudes of others? Not for one second do I believe that.

Each year in our beloved country over one million helpless unborn babies are aborted--murdered, plain and simple. Does God intend for me to thank him that those precious little ones are murdered? I definitely don’t think so.

Some time ago a well known politician was found to have been cheating on his wife, while claiming to be an advocate of moral integrity. God has clearly commanded in Exodus 20:14, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Am I to understand that he intends for me to thank him that that politician brazenly violated that command, shattering the lives of his wife and children and betraying the trust of his constituents? Or is that politician’s heartbroken, humiliated wife supposed to thank God that her husband was unfaithful? Not for one moment do I believe that.

Countless such examples could be given, but perhaps those will suffice to make the point.


When a verse SEEMS to say something that is contrary to what the rest of the Bible teaches, then the logical and proper thing to do is NOT to interpret, or reinterpret, the whole rest of the Bible in light of what that one isolated verse seems to say; rather, the reasonable thing to do is to interpret that one difficult verse in light of what the entire rest of the Bible clearly says.

Now, if Ephesians 5:20 doesn’t mean what it is sometimes thought to mean, what is the correct interpretation? Let me set forth here an interpretation which I believe fits the context--the context of God’s consistency, and the context of Scripture as a whole.

As we’ve noted, the KJV reads, “for all things.” Now, I love the KJV and believe that it has been signally blessed and used of God. I use it most of the time in the pulpit, and consider it one of the greatest English versions ever produced. However, this is one of those verses where an alternate translation--or better still, a look at the Greek behind the translations--can give greater clarity as to what the inspired writer was saying.

What I am about to deal with may seem to some people a small technicality, but it is far from that. The fact is that an enormous, crucial amount rides on one little Greek word, so please stay with me and let’s look at it. I believe that a careful look at it can clear up a lot of confusion, and relieve some troubled minds.

The little Greek preposition huper, which--in the KJV--is translated “for” [“for all things”] here in Ephesians 5:20, is used profusely throughout the New Testament, and can have various meanings. Someone might ask, “Well, if it can have different meanings, how can we determine how to translate it in the various verses where it appears?” The answer is that--as in the case of many other Greek words--the context determines which meaning is intended. Sometimes the immediate context gives the answer, but at other times we are dependent upon the larger context--indeed, sometimes upon the context of Biblical teaching as a whole.

The word huper can mean “concerning.” A verse where it is so translated is Romans 9:27, where Paul said, “Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel”--in other words, in reference to Israel--and then Paul went on to tell what Isaiah said. That is the same Greek word--not a variant, not some related word or similar word, but the exact same word, huper, and it is translated “concerning”--in both the KJV and the NIV. I believe that that is the intended meaning here in Ephesians 5:20. I believe that what God is saying to us is this: “Giving thanks always concerning all things....”

When evil, God-dishonoring things happen, he is not saying that we should be thankful that they happened; but he is saying that we are to give thanks concerning those things--in other words, in reference to those things, in regard to them.

If you think I am “splitting hairs,” then please think again. There is a profound difference between (1) thanking God that some evil thing happened--that is, thanking him for it and (2) thanking him for his grace to help us in the situation in spite of the fact that it was wrong and should not have happened--in other words, thanking him concerning it.

Suppose someone breaks into your house and steals some precious family heirlooms, and they’re never found. God does not intend that you should say, “Thank you, Lord, that some person broke your eighth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ and thank you, Lord, that that person violated the sanctity of our home.” Not at all. God is consistent. He never contradicts himself. He would never tell us not to do something--such as stealing--and then tell us to thank him that someone did that forbidden thing anyway. However, we can and should thank God concerning it, in reference to it. We can, for instance, say, “Thank you, Lord, that something worse didn’t happen. Thank you that the thief didn’t take more than he did. Thank you that he didn’t burn our house down, or harm my loved ones. Thank you, Lord, for your protection.”

Connie and I had a precious friend named Nena Harper, who is heaven now. She was my secretary when I was pastor of Oakhaven Baptist Church years ago, and she was our close friend through the years. I preached her funeral, and before that the funeral of her husband Jim, also my good friend, who died of heart failure. They had two sons, one of whom was named Jimmy, and was a Memphis police officer. He was so proud to be a policeman. It was the fulfillment of his dream, and he was an outstanding officer. He was a splendid young Christian, and loved helping people. One night in the “wee hours” he was escorting a young couple up highway 51. The young wife was in the last stages of labor, so Jimmy turned on his siren and flashing lights and they were following him to the hospital. As they were heading that way, a drunk driver pulled out of a side street and rammed Jimmy’s car, killing him instantly.

Now God did not expect or intend that Jim and Nena say, “Thank you, Lord, that that man got drunk and killed our son, and left his wife without a husband and their two small children without a daddy.” How absurd such a prayer would have been. God has commanded, “Thou shalt do no murder.” Do you think for one moment that God intended for those heartbroken folks to turn around, then, and say, “Thank you, Lord, that that drunk committed vehicular homicide?” Of course not. But they could, and, I believe, did pray, “Thank you, Lord that your grace is sufficient; that you’re somehow going to see us through this terrible time; that you’ve promised not to forsake us; that you’re going to give us, our daughter-in-law and our grandchildren, the strength to ‘keep on keeping on.’” They didn’t give thanks for that horrible thing that happened, but they were able to give thanks concerning it, in reference to it.

So, we are to give thanks “concerning all things.” In many cases, of course, as we thank God concerning a particular thing we will also be able to give thanks for the thing itself. In many other cases, though, such as those I’ve cited, we will only be able to thank God concerning the thing, but not for the thing itself--because the thing itself is something God has commanded to be off limits.


The “bottom line” is this: we should thank God at all times and in all circumstances, because in every situation there are at least factors accompanying the event for which we can and should give thanks, even if the event itself contains no cause for gratitude and should never have happened.

We can and should thank him for life, for our salvation if we are Christians, for his wonderful provision for our every need--and even in the toughest of times, when we are being bruised and battered by the storms of life, we can thank him for his love and for his marvelous sustaining grace, for his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us, that there is nothing too hard for God, and for such great assurances as those expressed in such passages as Deuteronomy 33:25, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 55:22, Ecclesiastes 9:4, Lamentations 3:21-26, and many others.

And we can always thank God for his wonderful promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” That does not mean, of course, that all things are good. Many things are not good, in and of themselves. Nor does that verse mean that it’s just as well that everything that happened did happen. Some things should not have happened; they are plain acts of disobedience to God, and that’s never good. But God is in the salvage business, and if we--in love for Jesus Christ--give the broken pieces to him, God can and will somehow miraculously bring good even out of a bad situation that should never have happened--and we can always thank him for that, and should.

So, Ephesians 5:20 is one of those verses found here and there in the Bible which mean something other than what might seem at first glance to be the meaning. At the same time, though, there are multitudinous verses of Scripture that are as clear as crystal even at first glance--and one such verse, which is one of the greatest in all of Scripture, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The Word of God teaches that we’ve all sinned, and that the wages of sin is death, but that if we repent of our sins and commit ourselves in faith to the crucified, risen, living, coming again Son of God we will receive God’s precious gift of eternal life--we’ll be forgiven, we’ll have newness of life, and when we die we’ll go heaven rather than hell. All of that, in brief, summary fashion, is wrapped up in John 3:16.

If you’ve never responded to John 3:16 and surrendered your life to Jesus, who died for you on the cross, today is the right time to settle that all-important issue, and once you’ve settled it you, too, can exclaim as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” And let us also, as we are commanded in Ephesians 5:20, “thank God concerning all things.”