I stopped to get a drink at Sonic one morning and offered my server a small tip. He said, “I appreciate you.” His response caught me off guard. He hadn’t said “I appreciate it,” meaning the money or even the act of tipping. His turn of phrase made me sit up straighter in my car and smile. Basically, he’d made my day. His words were still on my mind when a few days later after Sunday lunch, my mother-in-law said, “I’m so grateful for you.” She gave me this compliment freely and out of the blue, and I felt valuable and worthy as a result. Obviously, she knows me well, so her comment carried more weight. But the sentiment of the two was similar because they focused their words of appreciation on me, as an individual.
Many times, when we thank a person, it is completely right and appropriate to concentrate on their actions. The Sonic server could’ve thanked me for giving the tip, and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Of course, we should thank people when they do something for us. But when we constantly thank people for their actions, our gratitude may appear transactional, not relational. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to separate who a person is from their actions because their actions are an outgrowth of who they are. However, if our coworkers, family members, or friends think we care for them only because of what they can do for us, we may diminish our relationships with them, especially with those closest to us. Love and gratitude cannot be rooted only in the things one does for another.
In letters to several churches, Apostle Paul told the congregants that he thanked God for them. In Philippians, Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3). What a beautiful sentiment that a person would thank God every time another person crossed their mind. But even Paul occasionally fell into the trap of linking his gratitude to actions. In some of his letters, Paul said that he thanked God for the people because of their faith. In his letter to Rome, Paul wrote, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (Romans 1:8). When we tie our gratitude to actions, even acts of faith, our love may seem a bit conditional.
God’s love for us is unconditional. God loves us for who we are, not what we do. While God may be more or less pleased with us depending on how we act or what we say, he doesn’t stop loving us based on our actions or how small our measure of faith may be on any given day. Even though God appreciates our acts of service, his love is not based on what we do for him. God is pleased that we are who we are, who he created us to be.
Let’s certainly thank others for what they do. Let’s applaud them when they do well. But let’s remind our people that we love them and are grateful for them simply because they exist in our world. We build others up when we express our gratitude and love for who they are, not merely what they do, and we demonstrate a small bit of God’s infinite love for them at the same time.