“Guilt, Grace & Gratitude” Gratitude

Part 3: Gratitude

By S. M. Baugh

In the first two parts of this series on the 3Gs—guilt, grace, and gratitude—we focused on our guilt before a holy God and on his amazing grace in delivering us freely from our sin and misery. We like using these three words, because they provide a simple way to comprehend the complex issues of our salvation, and they are often used to summarize the content and organization of Reformed documents like the Heidelberg Catechism. We will be focusing, though, on the Scriptures, and in this case with the simple Bible study task of word study when approaching the issue of our lives of gratitude in service to the Lord.

We like using these three words, because they provide a simple way to comprehend the complex issues of our salvation…

If you do a search in the ESV for the word “grateful” you only get three hits in the whole Bible two of which produce the word “ungrateful” (Luke 6:35; 2 Tim. 3:2) leaving only one place where the word “grateful” is used in the English text: Heb. 12:38 (to which we will return later). The results are even less promising for the term “gratitude.” For some reason 2 Sam. 7:18 shows up even though “gratitude” is not in the text; and in Acts 24:3 an accuser opens his case against Paul by expressing the nation’s gratitude to the governor Felix. In all this we have only one biblical verse to start with in English. If we were restricted to English, I would next survey other translations, but we will dive down a little deeper.

It seems worthwhile to look again at “gratitude” in Acts 24:3 and see if this word shows up elsewhere and is simply not translated this way in the ESV in these other passages. It turns out that the Greek word used in Acts 24:3 for “gratitude” occurs in 13 other places in the New Testament (NT) with the meaning of “thanks” or “the giving of or expression of thanks,” “thanksgiving.” The word is eucharistia which is where we get English “eucharist.” When you think about it, “gratitude” is something mental or internal. And in the Reformed 3Gs schema, it denotes our motive for doing good works as a response to the removal of our guilt by God in Christ, all of grace (e.g., Eph. 2:8-10). “Thanks” or “thanksgiving” in contrast is not a motive but something we do, say, or express (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:16; Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:1). We give thanks to God in song or in prayer or by being generous to others. So we want to see whether the Greek word in Acts 24:3 has the meaning “gratitude” in other places in the NT.

It turns out that there are several places where eucharistia could possibly refer either to our gratitude or to our vocal expression of thanks arising out of gratitude. Here they are in the ESV with the word highlighted and “gratitude” given in brackets so you can see whether it fits the context:

2 Cor. 4:15 “For it [God’s saving work in Christ] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving [gratitude], to the glory of God.”

2 Cor. 9:11-12 “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving [gratitude] to God. [12] For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings [abundant gratitude] to God.”

Col. 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, [7] rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving [gratitude].”

2 Tim. 4:4 “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving [gratitude].”

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) renders eucharistia in Col. 2:7 as “overflowing with gratitude” and 1 Tim. 4:4 as “received with gratitude” to show that “gratitude” is at least possible in the passages above where ESV renders with “thanksgiving.”

So I am not being critical of the ESV for their choice of “thanksgiving” in these places given above where “gratitude” might be preferred. When a Greek word has more than one possible meaning, translators simply have to choose one of them and we may at times properly prefer the other meaning. And in some places translators indicate this situation when they provide a footnote. For example, the ESV in John 3:3 renders the phrase “unless one is born again” and provides the following footnote for “again” here: “Or from above; the Greek is purposely ambiguous and can mean both again and from above; also verse 7.” We are blessed with some splendid English translations of the Bible, even if we may want to perfect them on some minor points from time to time.

So far, we have looked only at the Greek noun eucharistia, but there is a cognate verb which we could also examine which relates to the same issue. It can clearly refer to verbal giving of thanks (e.g., Matt. 26:27) as well as to be grateful. Our main references suggest this as the meaning in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:11 where the Pharisee is “grateful” that he is not like sinners and for Paul’s feeling of gratitude for Prisca and Aquila “who risked their necks for my life” (Rom. 16:4).

But there is a different, idiomatic Greek phrase that has the same range of meanings as the verb for “giving thanks” or “being grateful” which is rendered as follows in the ESV:

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28; emphasis added).

Here in this Hebrews verse we have the essential core of the “guilt, grace, and gratitude” idea that this series has been presenting. The idea of guilt is not present in Heb. 12:28 itself, but it is certainly present in the broader context and clearly implied in the nearer context when the author says that by faith we have approached the sprinkled blood of the new covenant mediator, Christ Jesus (Heb. 12:22-24). Our mediator is a sacrificial surety (Heb. 7:22) which means that he has paid the debt of guilt which we owe for our sins. Therefore we respond to the gift of an eternal, new creational kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32) with grateful worship of God. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom. . . .”

We come finally to the last verse to quote which I often in good fun call the “Reformed verse” of the Bible, Heb. 9:14, where we find guilt (by implication again), grace (quite clearly), and gratitude (the only response we can have) all wrapped up in one biblical verse. Let me present this verse along one more for context to conclude our series and let you see it yourself that this easily remembered 3Gs are quite helpful for summarizing the Christian faith and the teaching of Scripture on our full and free salvation and our grateful response “to serve the living God.”

“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, [14] how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:13-14).