DO OTHERS GIVE THANKS FOR US?
by V. Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby
He will make you rich in all things so that you may be generous. Then through us others will have reason to give thanks to God (II Corinthians 9:11)
Each November we celebrate the civil holiday of Thanksgiving. While the commemoration has a secular origin, the idea of thankfulness which lies behind it is certainly a Christian concept. We readily acknowledge our need for giving thanks, particularly to God, our Creator and Redeemer. We may not always remember to be properly thankful; often we overlook or fail to appreciate fully what our God has done for us. Still, we all recognize, however imperfectly, that we should express our thanks for His blessings.
Saint Paul, however, presents us with another aspect of giving thanks. In the passage quoted above, he exhorts us to be the reason that people give thanks to God. Moreover, in his various letters, he mentions that he gives thanks for the addressees because they have been a source of blessing to him (Romans 1:8; I Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; I Thessalonians 1:2; II Thessalonians 1:3; Philemon 4)
We should seriously consider the Apostle's point as we approach Thanksgiving. Do others give thanks to God because they know us? Have we been a channel through which God's blessings have flowed to others? If not, how can we acquire and grow in this virtue? Looking at the various places where the Apostle gives thanks for what others have done can help us see the challenge contained in these questions.
Our aid to others can take many forms, and the Apostle strives to define it broadly. We can benefit others in both material and spiritual ways. The section of II Corinthians from which the quotation above is taken demonstrates both. The Apostle has been speaking about a collection of money which he was gathering in the churches of Greece and Asia Minor for the benefit of the poverty-stricken Church of Jerusalem. Certainly, material philanthropy is an important aspect of the spiritual life. Our Lord Himself includes almsgiving with prayer and fasting as the essential disciplines of piety (Matthew 6).
Philanthropy can take many forms. The primary one is our stewardship to the Church through our local parish, diocese, and national Church, by which we support and promote her work of education, evangelization, and charity. However, we should not neglect gifts to service organizations like C.A.M., and even direct personal assistance to the needy whom we may know. We should not restrict this aid to donations of money; gifts in kind and the donation of our time and talents through volunteer work are equally valuable.
It is essential to remember that what God gives us, He intends us to share. Saint Paul affirms that God "will make you rich in all things so that you may be generous." This point is made in one of the prayers in the wedding service, which echoes the Apostle's words: "Fill their houses with wheat, wine and oil, and every good thing, so that they may give in turn to those in need." As Saint John Chrysostom notes, God bestows His bounty upon us "not that ye may consume it upon things not fitting, but upon such as bring much thanksgiving to God." The Lord has not blessed us for our own benefit, but so that we may reflect His generosity in the world.
Saint Paul clearly does not mean for us to restrict our philanthropy to material things. When he promises that our Lord will make us "rich in all things", he obviously does not have in mind physical wealth alone. We see this point illustrated in the "thanksgiving" which begin so many of his letters. Typical is the epistle to the Colossians: "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints …" (1:3-4) The two particular characteristics for which he gives thanks, their faith and love, recur from letter to letter.
These two virtues undergird our Christian life. They stimulate and encourage us in our spiritual struggle. Both spring from our relationship with Christ in the Spirit. We commit ourselves in faith to His Gospel, and by His divine grace our Lord affirms, strengthens and reshapes that commitment, transfiguring it into communion in His holiness and peace. St. John exclaims, "We love, because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). The most common epithet applied to our Lord in Orthodox worship is "He who loves mankind," in Greek, "philanthropos". The English word "philanthropy" comes from this same Greek expression and means literally "love for man". Our love for Him and for others is a reflection of His love for us, which led Him to enter this fallen world, to endure death, and to rise again for our salvation. As Saint John further attests, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins" (I John 4:10).
As we are called to share our material blessings, so also must we share the Lord's spiritual bounty. Indeed, it is really easier for many of us to aid others in spiritual ways than in material ones. God does not choose to bestow earthly riches equally upon everyone. Those who are so blessed, as we have pointed out, He requires to share from their abundance, giving to those who are in need. Often, however, material things are not what people lack. Man's deepest needs are spiritual: to enjoy the love of our fellow creatures, to be assured of God's love, and to experience Christ's forgiveness and His new life of grace.
God blesses us spiritually as well as materially. Our life of faith and love, lived in Him, provide us with the courage, the moral strength, and the peace we need to face temptations and tribulations. He expects us to share these blessings with those less fortunate, just as surely as He expects us to share material goods. This spiritual philanthropy can be as simple as a kind word or a sympathetic ear in someone's time of need. It can be as life-changing as bringing them to the Church and communicating to the Orthodox Christian Faith. The form of our contribution must depend on the needs of those we are called to help. For ourselves, we must seek to be as generous spiritually as we are with material things.
As we approach Thanksgiving we should, of course, remember the things we have to be thankful for, both material and spiritual blessings. But we should also take moment to ask if we ourselves have been a blessing to others. Have we used our material bounty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless? Have we equally shared our spiritual abundance, welcoming the spiritually homeless into the shelter of Christ's Church, clothing them in the splendor of her teaching, and nourishing them with the grace of her Mysteries. Have we pursued the spiritual life, asking forgiveness of those whom we have sinned against, making amends for the evil we have done, seeking to grow though the spiritual disciplines, pursuing the virtues in the grace of the Holy Spirit? Have we then sought to share the grace thus acquired with others?
Our reminds us that we are the salt of the earth. He calls us the light of the world, and then commands us, "Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5: 13-16) Have we truly been the salt which seasons the world with repentance and righteousness, effacing the bitterness of sin? Have we been the light which brightens our world, reflecting the light of Christ to those with whom we live and work? Have we been the sort of people that others around us are thankful to know and to have in their lives? This Thanksgiving, are there others who give thanks for us?
From The Dawn
Newspaper of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America