Thanksgiving Is Personal

It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)

Almost all English translations miss a beautiful opportunity to preserve in English a play on words that occurs in Paul's Greek. Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as charis extends to more and more people it may increase eucharistian to the glory of God.”

The Greek word for thanks is built on the word for grace: charis becomes eucharistian. This could have been preserved in English by the use of ‘grace’ and ‘gratitude’ which show the same original root. So I would translate: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase gratitude to the glory of God.”

The reason this is important is because when we try to define thanks or gratitude, what we find is that it has a very close relationship to grace. Unless we see this relationship, we really don't know what gratitude is.

So let’s try to define just what gratitude is in our experience. I have found it helpful to think of some things that might be thought of as gratitude, but really are not. For example, gratitude is more than saying, “Thank you,” when someone gives you something. Gratitude is more than an action which we decide to do by an act of will power. You can say the words, “thank you,” when there is not gratitude in your heart at all. Custom may dictate that you say the words when you don’t really appreciate what has been done for you. What it takes to turn the words, “thank you,” into gratitude is the real genuine feeling of gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling that arises uncoerced in the heart. It cannot be willed into existence directly if it is not there. If you give a ten year-old a necktie or a pair of socks for Christmas, he may dutifully say, “Thank you,” but the spontaneous feeling of gratitude will probably not be there, like it would be if you gave him a new electronic game or hockey stick. Gratitude is a feeling not an act of will power. And it is a good feeling. When it rises in our hearts, we like it. It is part of happiness, not misery. Gratitude is a form of delight.

But gratitude is more than delighting in a gift. It is more than feeling happy that you got something you wanted. For example, if you give that ten year-old the electronic game, he might just rip open the package, say, “Wow,” and walk away and start bragging how much better his game is than his neighbor’s. He might not even give a thought to the kindness you did for him in giving him the game. He delights in getting the gift, but he is still an ungrateful child because his delight is not directed to you the giver. So gratitude is more than delighting in a gift. It is a feeling of happiness directed toward a person for giving you something good. It is a happiness that comes not merely from the gift, but from the act of giving.

Gratitude is a happy feeling you have about a giver because of his giving something good to you or doing something good for you.

But one more qualification has to be made: generally we don’t send our employer a thank you note every payday. This does not mean that we don’t feel grateful that we have a job, and that we have the strength to earn money, and that our employer pays us fairly. What it means is that the emotion of gratitude generally rises in direct proportion to how undeserved a gift is. Where work and pay are commensurate, we do not feel pay as an undeserved kindness, but as our due, and therefore the feeling of gratitude is not very intense toward our employer. He has not done us a favor; we have traded favors.

In other words, gratitude flourishes in the sphere of grace. And that is why the play on words in 2 Corinthians 4:15 is significant. Grace is charis and gratitude is eucharistian because gratitude is a response to grace. Gratitude is the feeling of happiness you feel toward somebody who has shown you some undeserved kindness, that is, who has been gracious to you.