Saying Thanks to God and Our Neighbor

This month we celebrate the national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day. While certainly Thanksgiving Day represents a good opportunity to express our thankfulness to God, we recognize that our whole lives ought to be filled with thanksgiving. God has given us many good physical and spiritual gifts as expressions of his love. The Bible instructs us to respond to God’s love by loving him in return. We express our love to God, in part by saying thanks to him, both in prayer and in song. Furthermore, we express our love to God by loving our neighbors, which includes, as this article will highlight, saying thanks to them whenever we have opportunity.

As Christians, we are often reminded, and rightly so, that our whole lives should be characterized by thankfulness. That is, we do not reserve being thankful to only the fourth Thursday of November. Instead, we give thanks on a daily basis for all we have. This implies that we have much to be thankful for. Indeed we do, for God showers us with many spiritual and physical gifts that we undeservedly receive. For these gifts we owe our thanks to God, the giver of every good gift.

Above all, we thank God for the unspeakable gift of our salvation (2 Cor. 9:15). God sent his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, into this world to earn salvation for his people through his death and resurrection. By his perfect work we are freely given the remission of sins and Christ’s own righteousness. We are most thankful for our salvation and the many spiritual benefits that flow out of it.

To show us the bounty of these spiritual blessings, we are also given many physical gifts. We refer to these physical gifts as our daily bread. These include the gifts we commonly associate with our “daily bread,” such as the food and drink that sustains our bodies as well as our clothing and shelter. But as Lord’s Day 50 of the Heidelberg Catechism indicates, our daily bread refers to all things necessary for the body. Everything we possess that supports our earthly life is a part of our daily bread. We are thankful for all the physical gifts that we receive.

God gives us these spiritual and physical gifts as expressions of his love for us. The Bible consistently teaches this truth. For example, John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” God’s love is a giving love. From our perspective, the gifts we receive serve as tokens or proof that God loves us.[1]

In response to God’s love and the gifts he gives us, we are called to love him in return. We express our love to God by showing our gratitude. In other words, we love God by living a life of thankfulness. We express this thankfulness in part through obeying the law God has established for his people. In addition, while obedience represents a concrete way of expressing thanks, we should remember the importance of also saying thanks.

We say thanks to God both in our prayers and in our songs. Children often learn from a young age to pray after meals, “Lord, we thank thee for this food and drink…” This recited prayer helps children begin a habit of saying thanks to God. As young people and adults, we should develop and cultivate this habit of saying thanks to God in our own prayers, for as this article has discussed, we have received much from the hand of God; therefore we ought to say thanks.

In addition to prayer, we say thanks to God in the songs that we sing to him. The psalms, and by extension the Psalter, are filled with words of thanksgiving. By singing these words from the heart, we express our gratitude to God. Therefore we are glad for opportunities to sing songs of thanksgiving, whether we sing at school, in church, or within the home. Through singing we give thanksgiving to God, and thereby show our love to him.

To summarize thus far: God gives us many good spiritual and physical gifts as expressions of his love. We in turn love God and express our thanks to him, not only through obedience, but also by saying thanks to God in prayer and in song.

Importantly, since God loves us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:11). This is in harmony with the Ten Commandments being divided into two tables: one concerning our relationship to God, the other concerning our relationship to man. The summary of the law recorded in Matthew 22 also expresses this same truth: we are called to love God and love our neighbor. Now if part of loving God consists of saying thanks to him for all the gifts he provides for us, then part of loving our neighbors ought to include saying thanks to them as well. In other words, part of showing love to our neighbor includes saying “thank you” to others. Therefore, while Thanksgiving Day reminds us to say thanks to God, let it also remind us to say thanks to all those whom God has placed in our lives.

Just as our calling to say thanks to God implies that we have much to be thankful for, so too the exhortation to say thanks to our neighbor implies we have much to be thankful for. Indeed we do. Children and young people, this starts with our parents. They have made many sacrifices on our behalf to raise us both physically and spiritually. From our infancy, our parents have changed our diapers, taught us how to use a spoon, wiped away our tears when we crashed our bike, washed our grass-stained clothes, allowed us to borrow their car, and gave us independence as we earned their trust. From a spiritual point of view, our parents teach us to pray, pay the tuition for our Christian education, go over our Catechism lessons with us, discipline us when we sin against God, pray for our spiritual welfare, provide counsel when we start dating, and encourage us to confess our faith. Our parents do all of this on a daily basis because they love us. We should say thank you.

In addition to our parents, we should say thank you to our siblings. We can thank our siblings for explaining the rules to a game, sticking up for us on the playground, giving us a turn on the computer, driving us to school, and being a godly example to follow.

Outside of the home, we can thank our teachers not only for their hard work, but also for their patience with us. We can thank our pastors for teaching us catechism and making God’s word understandable even to the simplest of minds. We can say thanks to the parents of our friends who let us come over, use their house, and eat their food.

Outside of our circles, we can thank the waitress at a restaurant who brings us our food. We can thank the mechanic who fixes the car we need to get back and forth from home and school.

Both within the home and church and outside of them, there are many people to whom we owe a word of thanks. These are just a few concrete examples to help make this article practical for all of us—from elementary-age boys and girls, young people in their teenage years, to adults living at home or on our own. Each one of us ought to express his love and thanks to God by saying thanks to others.

By faithfully saying thanks to our loved ones and neighbors we enjoy two important benefits. First, saying thanks to others represents a concrete way in which we serve God. By saying thank you to others whenever we have opportunity, we show love toward them. In showing love toward our neighbor, we express our love and thanksgiving to God, who first loved us. Thus, saying thanks out of true love for others represents the fruit of our faith, whereby we are assured of it.

Second, if we are busy saying thanks to each other whenever we have opportunity, we will have little time left for sinful speech toward others. By reminding ourselves to express our gratitude to others, we will forget to say unkind and unloving words about one another. By employing our voices to express our appreciation to our parents, we will have no breath left for speech that is disrespectful, rude, or unpleasant. Constantly telling others “thank you” makes us less likely to tell lies, rumors, and hurtful stories. Filling our vocabulary with words of gratitude will help eliminate words of bitterness, jealousy, and hatred. Therefore, saying thank you represents an example of replacing the old man of sin with the new man of righteousness.

Now that November has come, we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving Day. It will provide a break from school and an opportunity to spend time with family. In addition, this holiday reminds of our need to lead lives of gratitude toward God for his love in providing us both our salvation and our daily bread. We pray that God will give us grace to express our thankfulness in both prayer and song on a daily basis throughout the year. I pray this article reminds us all also to thank our parents, siblings, pastors, teachers, and the many others whom God has placed in our lives.

[1] By this paragraph, I do not wish to imply that good gifts in themselves are evidence of God’s love, and thereby imply a type of common grace. Rather, in writing to elect believers, I remind the reader that everything we have (or don’t have, for that matter) comes to us out of love from God.