Gratitude is a hot topic these days in and outside Christian circles. But meanings of gratitude and thankfulness as they are used in scripture are a little more nuanced and complex than the way American culture understands them. As a Christian, it’s important to have a solid understanding of thankfulness and gratitude in the bible. And once you have a firm foundation in truth, you can participate in a deeper and more God-honoring way of living out thankfulness and gratitude as scripture describes them.
As you pursue growth in this area of your life, you will find that choosing to have a heart of gratitude not only honors God but blesses you. Grateful people experience more joy in life and are more of a joy to be around. But becoming grateful is not easy. Gratitude isn’t natural, it must be cultivated. Below we’ll dig into what scripture says, the implications, and give you practical tips on how to apply what you learned in scripture to practical living.
Gratitude In The Bible
It’s important to understand the difference between thankfulness and gratitude – as well as the implications for people of faith. Saying the words, “thank you,” does not make you grateful. It may not even mean you’re thankful! It may mean you are polite, depending on your tone and the context.
You may say thank you all the time, but may not feel or even mean the words at all. By the world’s definition, being thankful is a self-focused feeling. Being thankful just means feeling pleased, relieved, or according to Merriam-Webster, being “conscious of benefit received.”
To better understand how the Bible defines and differentiates gratitude and thankfulness, we’ll look at several verses and get a deeper feel from the original Greek text as well as the context in which the words are used. First, take a look at Colossians 3:16-17. Verse 16 uses the word, “gratitude,” and verse 17 uses the word “thanks” (or giving thanks).
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts,” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” (Colossians 3:17, NIV).
(I’ve bolded gratitude & thanks for your convenience. The NIV doesn’t bold words.)
Definition of Thankfulness In The Bible
The word for “thanks” in verse 17 in Greek is εὐχαριστοῦντες (eucharistountes), literally translated “good grace” and means to acknowledge God’s good grace or be thankful.
This word is used by Jesus at the breaking of bread.
He used it before he fed the 5,000.
“He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so” (Mark 8:6, NIV).
And he used it at the last supper.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body,’” (Matthew 26:26, NIV).
So in verse 17, we see what’s translated as “giving thanks” means to acknowledge that God is the provider of something good. The bible takes the meaning of the word thank one step further than the world’s definition of being “conscious of benefit received.” Biblical thanks means acknowledging the giver, not just the gift. It is God-focused, rather than self-focused.
Biblical thankfulness means acknowledging the kindness of the giver. It turns the focus to the one who gives. Thankfulness in the bible means showing appreciation for the goodness, effort, and thoughtfulness of the giver.
Definition of Gratitude in the Bible
The word for “gratitude” in verse 16 in Greek is χάριτι (chariti), literally translated “extending favor towards” and means giving grace, favor, gratitude, or kindness. It is more often translated as “grace” than “gratitude.”
It’s important to o note there is a greater difference between the English definition and the Greek. According to Merriam-Webster, gratitude means thankfulness and is focused on self and personal benefit received. However, the Oxford dictionary defines it more like the Greek, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Bible Verses About Gratitude
This word for gratitude is used in I Corinthians 10:30. In fact, this verse uses both gratitude & thanks, though you might not know it from some translations.
Here it is in the NIV, “If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?”
And here is the Weymouth New Testament translation, “If, so far as I am concerned, I partake with a grateful heart, why am I to be found fault with in regard to a thing for which I give thanks?”
The first word to notice in these verses is the chariti or Greek for gratitude, and the second is the Greek, eucharisto. In this way, the Weymouth translation is more accurate in differentiating these words. So another way to put what the verse is saying would be: “If I participate in a meal, giving grace, favor, gratitude, and kindness, why am I slandered for that which I acknowledge God’s good grace for?”
So we see that in this verse chariti is about extending goodwill and gratitude towards another, in this case, God. But eucharisto means acknowledging goodness received.
Let’s look at other verses that uses this word, chariti.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NIV)
“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so” (Hebrews 13:9, NIV).
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52, NIV).
So we see the difference in the word for gratitude in the bible is more about the way you do or approach something. It is a seasoning to your actions, a sustenance that strengthens, and is a quality that makes you stand out in a positive way. I believe the gratitude here is a result of having experienced God’s goodness and in response blessing others likewise.
If you have been favored, flavored, and built up by God’s goodness, then it shows in the way you speak and act towards God and others – bringing that good essence (gratitude, grace) with you.
To show biblical gratitude is to give goodness and grace to others, as the giver has first received from God. It means to extend the joy of receiving to others and God through gestures of kindness and goodness.
An Example of Gratitude in the Bible
A great example of gratitude in the bible is found in the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. Jesus explained it to his dinner host, Simon in Luke 7:44-47.
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
This woman was so filled with thankfulness for the forgiveness of her sins and the goodness of God in Jesus, that she couldn’t keep herself from spilling that gratitude all over Jesus. She literally brought a fragrance of having been touched by God’s goodness to the party.
Why Gratitude is Important To God
God doesn’t just give us good things so we can enjoy them. Ephesians 2 tells us that we too are like this woman who washed the feet of Jesus and are called to respond like she did.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:4-10, NIV
The word, “grace” is used 3 times in these verses. In the Greek, it is this same word, chariti, also translated as gratitude. And here in these verses it is made all the more clear that you have been given the gift of salvation itself through faith by means of God’s goodness towards you. And this gift has been given to you, not so you can brag about it or sit in it. No, in verse ten it says that you are brought through this bathing in goodness and recreation in Christ, so that you can fulfill your design to do good in return.
Kindness going out towards God and others is gratitude coming alive. It means receiving the essence of God’s goodness, and having been filled with thankfulness, letting His goodness come out from you to bless others as you have been blessed.
How Many Times Gratitude is Mentioned in the Bible
Sometimes we like to know the number of times a word shows in up in the Bible in order to measure it’s importance. I think it’s also important to consider how it is used, as well.
As for the word “gratitude” (chariti & its variations in the Greek). it shows up 157 times. In English, it’s hard to account for. Sometimes thankfulness is translated as gratitude. Most times “chariti” is translated as grace or favor. In the NIV, “gratitude” only shows up twice.
But the word “chariti” and its variations show up in very important places. It is one of the first words used to describe Jesus. It is used in explaining salvation in Ephesians 2:8. “For by [chariti] you have been saved through faith…” It is a quality used to praise God and to describe the power of Jesus. When you read “Thanks be to God” charis is the word used. It is noteworthy.
As for the Hebrew, I’m not as familiar with it and can’t speak to the distinctions of thankfulness & gratitude in Hebrew.
How Many Times Thankfulness is Mentioned in the Bible
Thankfulness (eucharisto and it’s variations) shows up in the Greek New Testament 38 times.
You should note that it shows up as a directive of scripture.
- “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).
- “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, NIV).
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6, NIV).
- “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28, New International Version).
Giving thanks was a part of the miracles of Jesus. He gave thanks at the last supper. Giving thanks is worship. It, too, is very important.
5 Tips For Teaching Gratitude To Kids
As a Christian parenting website, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some tips for helping you teach gratitude to your kids. Hopefully, you understand though that gratitude can’t be forced. It is a response.
1. Practice Gratitude.
Demonstrate gratitude. Avoid complaining or talking about all that you are owed. Be careful of how you speak to your kids and the attitude you show.
I’ve caught myself saying, “How many times have I told you?..You drive me crazy…I’m sick and tired of…” This kind of talk does not correct or teach, it’s complaining.
In contrast, a response of gratitude would be to echo the thoughts of Ephesians 2, when your kid’s aren’t listening or are doing something that gets on your nerves. You might say, “While I was dead in my sin and completely underserving, God showed me great kindness and so, despite your behavior I am going to show you the same great kindness.” Or maybe you just think it and then act accordingly.
2. Set Clear Expectations.
Complaining and lack of gratitude can crop up when someone has unrealistic expectations. In Ephesians and elsewhere throughout scripture, it is made clear that we aren’t owed anything from God. All is a gift, especially His kindness towards us.
Explain boundaries and expectations to your children. For instance, if you don’t want to buy a toy for your child every time you walk by one in a store, you may want to begin your shopping trips with “We aren’t buying any toys today.” Make the expectation clear.
3. Help Them Identify Gifts and Express Thanks.
Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s a gift. We all take so many gifts for granted. Health is a good example. How often do you think about how thankful you are for good health? Usually, that comes right as you are coming out of sickness, right?
In the story in the gospels, Simon the host of the dinner party seemed to take for granted the enormity of having Jesus at his table.
Help your child see and label their gifts. Talk about the things that God has blessed you with and how thankful you are for them. As they get older you can have your child start to do it more on their own – maybe with a gratitude journal.
4. Avoid Comparison.
In the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, Simon was comparing himself to the woman. “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.'” (Luke 7:37, NIV).
It’s not uncommon for people to attempt to find gratitude by comparing to those who have less or seem than. In the old days, they’d say to their kids, “There are children starving in ______, so finish your dinner.”
But God doesn’t want us to compare. We may teach our child to be like a Pharisee or create unhealthy biases, barriers, and stereotypes about people who struggle. Instead, help your children to see those in need, and to be thankful for what they have without comparing.
5. Teach Them To Give
Teach your kids to give to others. If gratitude is about responding to the kindness, goodness, and sacrifice of the giver, it will help them to understand what goes into a gift by practicing giving to others.
Raising Grateful Kids In An Entitled World
Entitlement doesn’t look good on anybody. I think two mistaken beliefs from the world that drive entitlement in children.
- The more wealth I have, the more valuable I am.
- I can’t get things for myself, so the only way to get what I want is to demand it.
Remind your kids that they are valuable for who they are, not what they have. And don’t show favoritism towards the wealthy (James 2:1-13).
Empower your kids to provide for themselves at every opportunity. Do they want a new toy? Offer them the opportunity to earn it.
I know I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. There are times when life will appear unfair.
God doesn’t give us good things to placate our sense of fairness, but because He is generous and knows what we need and when we need it. Most often, our sense of what’s “fair” comes from comparing what we have towhat someone else has. We don’t know the whole story of what’s going on in someone else’s life or why they have what they do. Truthfully, it’s none of our business.
We should follow in the pattern of the good Father with our children. Don’t worry about satisfying their sense of what’s fair, don’t even pretend to. It rewards complaint and entitlement..
Instead, give willingly according to what each one needs and from a place of generosity.
Some Final Thoughts On Gratitude In The Bible
Biblical gratitude and thankfulness are valuable in the kingdom of God. They turn our attention towards the giver honoring their effort by responding with kindness, appreciation, and goodwill.
Gratitude is not just being thankful to have received something. It’s not just about politeness, although that has its own value too. When we come to God with gratitude, it leads to praise. Our gratitude is worshipful and honors our Creator.
Let me leave you with this final reminder of this bible verse on thankfulness. It may be a helpful one to memorize.
“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
This post includes excerpts from the Bible study discussion guide:
“Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables”
How do you demonstrate gratitude in your home?
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