All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Co 4.15).
When I was young my family said "grace" before every meal. The short prayer, learned by rote, acknowledged God's gift of the food we were about to eat. I thought this was simple politeness, since the Bible tells us, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Does it seem a little contrived to demand thanks? From a young age we are taught to do good regardless of whether or not someone says thank you. How do we explain God’s demand for thanks?
When God in the Flesh walked the earth, he helped all who came to him, including foreigners and despised Samaritans. One day a company of ten lepers called out to Jesus for mercy. He sent them to the priests.
Imagine how the lepers felt to find themselves healed as they went along. While the rest continued to the temple where the priests could verify their healing according to law (Lev 13-14), one returned and prostrated himself with thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus. This one, Jesus pointed out, was a Samaritan.
True, the others were only doing what they were told. But wasn’t that Jesus’ problem with the religious Jews? It strikes me that gratitude is not the first impulse of those who presume God will answer. Not so the Samaritan leper. He knew God’s favor was undeserved, his healing touch an act of grace. And his response was gratitude that overflowed to the glory of God.
Paul makes this point in Romans when he accuses us all: we are without excuse. Everyone knows God, says Paul, because we can see God’s eternal power and divine nature in what he has created. No, the wrath of God comes because people would rather suppress the truth by their wickedness than honor God or give thanks to him.
That may be the world, but what about Christians? Paul encourages us to hold gratitude in our hearts to God, to let it rise in a spontaneous song of joy. He goes further: this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
Understand that God does not require anything of us that is not for our good. His self-existence needs nothing from anyone. So his demands are for our benefit not his. How then, you ask, is thanking God good for us? Thanksgiving and glory are linked, and that link is joy.
You see, being thankful is not enough. The ten lepers had reason to be grateful; Jesus cleansed (healed) them all. I think what God is requiring here—what Jesus commended—is not the feeling of gratitude but the expression of gratitude.
Scripture points out that the one wretched man who “saw he was healed” turned and came back to the place where he found God. This teaches us something. There’s a point at which we must leave off with mere religious behavior and return to God himself.
That’s the connection Paul made between grace and gratitude. Every opportunity to give thanks stands us at the crossroad between formality and affection, between religion and relationship.
Grace is so much more than just meeting someone’s needs. Think of the “graceful” dancer, the lightness, the charm, the fluidity, the extension. Grace is greatness bending low. When we recognize the stoop, we respond—rightfully—with a sense of undeserved favor.
Grace is God’s goodness to us, his irrepressible instinct to lavish benevolence and love on those whom he has chosen. His grace is behind every redemptive act in our lives, in all history, for that matter. His grace moves him to help and to comfort and to sustain and to bestow and to bless in a million other ways.
Goodness without charge awakens wonder.
Let your heart respond.
Express the joy that rises in you.