I had an epiphany while attending a stewardship workshop a couple of years ago. (Stewardship is a profoundly rich concept that has gained a very boring reputation because it has become synonymous with “fund-raising” – which is like defining poetry as “making up rhymes.”) The presenter was emphasizing the need to “thank, thank, thank” those who give, and my epiphany was this: Nobody gets thanked in the Bible. (Well, Paul does thank a couple of people who “risked their necks” to save his life, but that’s about it – and certainly no one is thanked for giving. Paul’s style instead is to lift up the contributions of the impoverished Macedonians in order to shame the wealthier Corinthians into giving more.)
I have become convinced that a “thanks”-based approach to stewardship is short-sighted, unbiblical, and an insult to the giver, who doesn’t give in order to earn thanks, but out of a compulsion of faith and love – a variation on the old spiritual, “How can I keep from singing?”
This is not to say that Paul and other biblical writers are not purveyors of gratitude – It’s just that the one who is thanked is God. “I thank my God every time I remember you…” is Paul’s expression of gratitude for the “partnership in the gospel” that the Philippians’ have shared with him.
Jesus is not so magnanimous. Here is Jesus’ thanks to those who have accomplished something good: “When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say. ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.’”
Now, I have to confess that my “epiphany” may be a little self-serving because I do not, in fact, thank people enough – for all kinds of things. So I’m thinking of having some thank-you cards made up. To be true to my convictions I can't simply say, "Thank you," so I’m trying to decide between having them inscribed with, “I thank my God for you…” or “Dear Worthless Slave…” Hmmm….