Thanks Be To God - Victory Over Death
A. E. Long, Nutley
UNTHANKFULNESS to God marked the pagan world of Paul’s day, and he predicted that it would be as characteristic of “the last days” of the Christian era as of the first century, Rom. 121; 2 Tim. 3. 1. In general, unconverted people do not acknowledge or thank God for creature benefits that they receive from Him. A measure of the difference between the non–Christian and the Christian is that the latter both acknowledges and thanks God “who daily loadeth us with benefits” and “who giveth us richly all things to enjoy”. Nine of the ten lepers healed by the Lord went their way and forgot the Blesser; only one of them returned to give God thanks and he the most unlikely—a Samaritan, Luke 17.11–19. The incident is typical of the general attitude today
The New Testament gives much prominence to the matter of thanksgiving The Lord was apt to give thanks and so was Paul, as his epistles abundantly testify Paul habitually thanked God for his fellow–Christians, even when they were not his own converts, Rom. 1.8; 1 Cor. 1.4; Eph. 1. 16; Phil 1.3; Col. 1.3; 1 Thess. 1.2; 2 Thess. 1. 3; 2. 13; 2 Tim. 1. 3; Philem 4, and even when there was much in their lives to cause him pain and anxiety on their behalf. Paul regarded thanksgiving as habitually required of the Christian. Doubtless, he saw “giving thanks always for all things unto God” as one of the evidences of being “filled with the Spirit”, Eph. 5. 20; cf. Col. 3. 17. He envisaged thanksgiving as falling within the known will of God, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”, 1 Thess. 5. 18, and as being part of a “walk worthy of the Lord”, “giving thanks unto the Father”, Col. 1. 10, 12; cf. 2. 6, 7.
Paul had cause for personal thanksgiving to God. When he recalled his anti–Christian behaviour prior to conversion, he was deeply moved to “thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious”, 1 Tim. 1.12, 13. He taught that prayer must be accompanied with thanksgiving, Phil. 4. 6; Col. 4.2; 1 Tim. 2. 1, and that all food is to be received with thanksgiving, 4. 3, 4.
There were occasions when Paul expressed his thanks to God in the fervent phrase, “thanks be to God”, of which there are five occurrences in his letters. Four of these occur in his two Epistles to Corinth, 1 Cor. 15,57; 2 Cor. 2. 14; 8. 16, 9. 15, cf. Rom 6. 17 R.v. Of all the local churches known to Paul, the church at Corinth gave him cause for the most concern. Is it not therefore remarkable that in these two Epistles he should have expressed his thanks to God in the phrase “thanks be to God”? We shall consider these occurrences.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”, 1 Cor. 15. 57. In the light of the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul saw the death of the Christian as a victory. Christ was Victor over death and. by virtue of it, the Christian is also victor over death. At the coming of the Lord, the bodies of dead saints will be “changed” and raised, “the dead shall be raised incorruptible . .. this corruptible must put on incorruption”. Then will be fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, “He will swallow up death in victory”, Isa. 25. 8, which Paul gives as “Death is swallowed up in victory”. In this event, Paul also anticipated the fulfilment of Hosea’s prophesy, “O death, I will be thy plagues; 0 grave, I will be thy destruction”, which Paul quotes as “0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?” Christ has extracted the “sting” from death, as though it were the venom of a deadly serpent. The entail of sin, which is death, has been “abolished” for the Christian, 2 Tim. 1. 10, and the law, which is “the strength of sin” in that it accentuated it, cf. Rom. 7. 7–13, has been fulfilled by Christ and its righteous requirements potentially fulfilled in us. 8. 4.
The raising of dead saints will complement the victory gained by Christ in His own resurrection. This certain “hope” caused Paul to exclaim, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. His victory will be our victory; it is a victory that we can joyfully contemplate, in respect of departed loved ones, at Christ’s coming for them and for those who remain alive at His coming.