Giving Thanks for Cancer?

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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21).

I hate cancer. It is a vicious disease, and it seems like it is everywhere. In our church family of around 250 people, over the last three years six different members have been treated for it, my wife among them. Three of those facing the disease have passed from this life. I hate cancer.

Yet when I read Paul’s description of what it is like to be under the control of the Holy Spirit – to “be filled with the Spirit” – among the list of Spirit-led actions is “giving thanks always and for everything.” How am I supposed to give thanks for the disease which has taken so many dear friends? How is it possible to be grateful for the pain, misery, and anguish cancer brings? How can I tell God, “Thank you that my wife has cancer”?

I don’t believe Paul is telling us to give thanks for cancer in the abstract – or to give thanks for any other disease, for that matter. “Lord, thank you for pneumonia” is not a prayer you can read about anywhere in Scripture! And the same is true for evil in the abstract. Nobody gathers around the table at Thanksgiving to reflect on the wonderful blessings of theft, rape, and murder.

So then what does Paul mean when he says that those led by the Spirit should be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father”? The key is the next phrase, which qualifies this statement about gratitude – “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A bank robber could not give thanks for a successful heist in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ doesn’t condone robbery. And we know how Jesus feels about all sin, about all disease, about all the evils in the world. He came to heal the sick, to forgive sins, and to set in motion God’s plan to put everything right (Luke 4:18-19; Acts 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26). So whatever Paul means here in Ephesians 5:20 about “giving thanks always and for everything,” we must bear in mind that this gratitude is offered in the name of Jesus.

 With that disclaimer in mind, what does Paul mean? Bear in mind that Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. He was “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). Paul wasn’t immune to the evil and suffering of this world. He experienced it to a degree most of us will not (2 Corinthians 11:23-28; 12:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:6-18). But even in his chains, Paul was grateful and called upon his readers to be grateful, to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The key to the sort of gratitude Paul has in mind is looking at our suffering in the power and grace of Christ. For instance, Paul was not thankful for arrest, abuse, and imprisonment in the abstract. But he was thankful for what Christ accomplished through his imprisonment (Philippians 1:12). The proclamation of the name of Christ to soldiers normally off-limits (Philippians 1:13); faithful brethren emboldened to greater evangelism (Philippians 1:14); unscrupulous preachers who thought by preaching to as many people as they could that they would incite Paul to envious resentment (Philippians 1:15-17). But the joke was on them!

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

Paul wasn’t grateful for sins like selfish ambition, but he was grateful that God was working through those evil motives to bring about a greater good. And that’s what I think Paul means in Ephesians 5:20. We should be thankful for everything in the sense that we know God can accomplish amazing things through all circumstances – even evils like cancer.

Mrs Scott and I

I hate cancer, but in the name of Jesus I am grateful for Kristi’s cancer. Why? Because God has worked through this circumstance to bring us closer to Him in ways I can’t imagine would have happened otherwise. I can give thanks for this situation because God has used it to create a level of intimacy in our young life as a married couple it may have taken decades for us to reach  without it. And I can thank God because He has poured out His love through His people to a degree we would never have known had this disease not invaded our lives.

As one commentator puts it –

Believers are to be thankful during times of trial and suffering as we endure them patiently, not because we have lost all feelings of moral sensitivity or because we can no longer distinguish between good and evil. Rather, we humbly and gratefully submit to his sovereignty, knowing that he works in everything for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This is not to claim that God is the author of evil or that we are praising him for what he abominates. But we recognize that he uses even the suffering which comes upon us to produce character, perseverance, and hope (Rom. 5:3–5). [Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 398]

This doesn’t mean cancer is any less horrible. It doesn’t mean tears never fall. It doesn’t mean we are immune to grief. No, our heart breaks each time we receive bad news from a scan. But it does mean that broken hearts can also be grateful hearts, that through our tears we can also rejoice, that even as we suffer we are also blessed. This is what it looks like when we are “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

They Have Been a Comfort to Me

As the apostle Paul concluded the book of Colossians, he sent greetings from those who were with him in his imprisonment, adding this grateful commendation: “they have been a comfort to me” (Colossians 4:11). Some people were embarrassed to be associated with Paul and his chains (2 Timothy 1:16), but not Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus called Justus. They worked side by side with the apostle in the difficult circumstances of his imprisonment, and Paul says that their presence was an encouragement.

Geri Boyd

This morning I learned of the passing of Geri Boyd. Continue reading

God is With Us on the Lonely Mountain

By Niagara66, via Wikimedia Commons

This past Saturday I was honored to speak at the funeral of one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, Sylvia Chapman. Sylvia loved the Smoky Mountains, and so I decided to center my remarks around the theme of God’s presence with us during times we may otherwise feel alone. Kristi and I will miss Sylvia very much. Continue reading

About Me

Thanks for stopping by the blog! My name is Shane Scott, and I live and preach in the greater Tampa area (Valrico, Florida). If you would like to drop by my congregation’s website for sermons and Bible classes, just click here.

I am amazingly blessed to be married to my wife, Kristi. We both waited until much later in life to get married, so we are still newlyweds! She is battling Stage 4 metastatic colo-rectal cancer, so if you are the praying sort, we covet your prayers.

Kristi and I both grew up in classic small-town America. She was raised in Rochelle, Illinois, and I was raised in Winchester, Kentucky. While she is not a huge sports fan, Kristi can tell you everything you could ever want to know about the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears! As a native of central Kentucky, I am a passionate member of Big Blue Nation, avidly cheering on the Kentucky Wildcats.

Some of my other interests are old time pro wrestling (much to Kristi’s chagrin) and barbershop quartet singing (to which she is much more accommodating!). And sadly, it is a rare month that I don’t insert a quote from the Star Wars saga into one of my sermons or Bible studies!

Religiously, I come from a restorationist background, and I believe that every disciple of Jesus has the duty to adhere to what the apostles taught “from the beginning,” as John puts it (1 John 2:24). Philosophically, I have recently become a big fan of Thomas Aquinas. His model of synthesizing the best that reason can apprehend with the careful exposition of Scripture is one I seek to emulate. Politically, I am a little “c” conservative and deeply concerned at our culture’s loss of what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things.”

Well, that gives you a little idea of where I’m coming from. Blogging is a great way to meet others and to learn from them, and I look forward to learning from you as we think through faith together.