We do good deeds not to be praised or repaid, but to be good examples of God’s grace to others (Matthew 6:1-4, Luke 14:12-14). Still, it’s a nice gesture to say thank you when someone does something to help us. I have often used the scene of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19, to illustrate the importance of saying thank you.
But you’ll notice the Samaritan who returns doesn’t so much say thank you as declare Jesus’ greatness and worship God.
Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
This subtle truth convinced me dig a little deeper, and I discovered that when people in the Bible say thank you, their thankfulness is expressed more to God than to the doer of the good deed. They don’t merely send a thank you note, they offer a prayer of thanks. In this way, they recognize that God is the provider of all blessings, and human beings merely the conduit through whom they are provided.
Just to show you what I mean, here is every place in Paul’s epistles where he says thank you to his brethren.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (Romans 1:8).
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles (Romans 16:4).
“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 1:4).
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-17).
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5).
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints. (Colossians 1:3-4).
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints (Philemon 1:4-5).
And this is the simple point that I would like to make: let us learn to insert the phrase “my God for” between the words “thank” and “you” when we recognize someone’s good work. People still deserve recognition. A thank you note is appropriate. But God deserves the credit.
Paul didn’t say, “I thank you Priscilla and Aquila”; he said, “I thank God for you, Priscilla and Aquila.” Paul didn’t say, “I thank you Colossians for obeying the gospel”; he said, “I thank God for you Colossians when I heard you obeyed the gospel.” Paul didn’t say, “I thank you Philemon for being so loving toward our brethren”; he said, “I thank God for you, Philemon, for being so loving toward our brethren.”
By all means, offer words of thanks, by notes and in person! It’s not only good manners, but it builds up our brethren. But recognize God’s sovereign role in providing a body of believers who are motivated to serve by God’s example.
Be filled with the Spirit … always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God (Ephesians 5:18-20).