Grace and Gratitude

Scriptures: Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Paul is most likely in Ephesus when he wrote this letter. It could be his third or fourth letter to the Corinthians. Apparently, they were not only slow learners, but also very easily swayed from the teachings of Paul. They always seemed to be looking for the liberty to sin rather than the liberty to not sin.

And they constantly listened to people who challenged Paul’s authority and version of the gospel. The Judaizers, for instance, who said you had to become a Jew before you became a Christian, were constantly fighting battles with Paul, through all of his missionary journeys, but there in the Corinthian church as well.

The early part of this passage is on God’s comfort in affliction and is a bridge to the body of the epistle, for 2 Corinthians is supremely about God’s glory in the midst of suffering. Probably one of the hardest concepts we have, as we suffer, seeing how God is glorified.

Even in the midst of his suffering for Christ, though, Paul continues to speak of grace, and gratitude, and focusing on God. I want to look briefly today at that relationship between grace, gratitude, and glory.

Almost all English translations miss a beautiful opportunity to preserve in English a play on words that occurs in Paul’s Greek here in this passage in 2 Corinthians. 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: therefore charis becomes eucharistian.

This could have been preserved in English by the use of “grace” and “gratitude” which show the same original root. Our translation here says “thanksgiving,” which is not incorrect. But it would be more in line with what he was trying to share if we translated it as: “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.

As we try to define just what gratitude is in our experience, it is helpful sometimes to think of things that might be thought of as gratitude, but really are not. For example, gratitude is more than just saying, “Thank you,” when someone gives you something. Remember teaching your kids that? “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

Gratitude is more than an action which we decide to do by an act of willpower. You can say the words “thank you” when there is not gratitude in your heart at all. And we’re seen that too, probably, with our kids, and practiced it on our own.

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. As suspicious as I am, as a Presbyterian, of talking about “feelings”, we can say that gratitude is a feeling that arises uncoerced from the heart.

It cannot be willed into existence directly if it is not there. Gratitude is a feeling, not an act of willpower. And it is a good feeling. When it rises in our hearts, we like it. It is part of happiness, not misery. Gratitude, you could say, is a form of delight.

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 a kid a PS3 or X-Box game, he might just rip open the package and say, “Wow,” and then plug it in and play for the next three weeks, twelve hours a day, until he has gone through every single level at every single difficulty.

Or he might just walk away and start bragging how much better his game is than his neighbor’s (which I can honestly say neither of my sons has done). 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 what might be considered by some an ungrateful child, because his delight is not directed to you the giver.

So gratitude is more than delighting in a gift; gratitude is 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 should lead to feeling good about a giver because of his giving something good to you or doing something good for you.

One more qualification about gratitude needs 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 is 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. Grace is undeserved good that comes to you. Undeserved mercies that are shown to you. And gratitude flourishes in the sphere of grace.

Sometimes, even, expressions of gratitude (like “Thank You”) have come to be used as an expression of humility and encouragement. When we say “Thank you” to someone, we humble ourselves as a person who has needs, and we exalt them as one who can meet those needs.

That can go anywhere from a waitress in a restaurant to your grandkid mowing the yard for you. It’s not that you couldn’t do these things yourself, but that you thank them to humble yourself.

Our salvation, and righteousness, is given to us not because we deserve it, but because Jesus is gracious. These things are free. Therefore, gratitude wells up in the hearts of those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness,” as Paul said in Romans 5.

This gratitude to Christ, which marks all true believers, is more than saying, “Thank you,” or trying to return some service. It is more than being glad you are free from condemnation. It is being glad toward Jesus for the riches of salvation and the way he made it ours.

So Paul, always living for the sake of others, has as his goal to spread the grace of the Gospel so that more might respond in gratitude to glorify God. It isn’t enough that people be saved; the real goal is God’s glory, which we point to when we live a life that witnesses to our gratitude and love for Christ Jesus. After all, what is the chief end of man, but “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”

Gratitude is joy toward God for his grace. But by its very nature, gratitude glorifies the giver. It acknowledges its own need and the beneficence of the giver. We have received the greatest of all gifts when we gain salvation through faith in Jesus Christ; and we remind ourselves of that, and the joy we should experience, as we partake of communion.

In just a few minutes we will all share in the Eucharist (there is that word charis again, Eucharist meaning “the good gift”). My prayer and hope is that you will receive it with joy, remember His grace, feel His presence, and be filled with gratitude.

And then, may you be strengthened by it to share that gratitude and joy with others, as you tell them about Jesus. God is good, and His unmerited grace is the best gift of all. Glorify God, and enjoy the foretaste of the Kingdom to come, even now.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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