Human nature is funny – we say one thing but mean another. There are people, for instance, who openly admit they like being credited for their donations while others claim they don’t. In truth, however, I would wager that we all like to be given the credit we deserve. After all, the human spirit longs for recognition and appreciation. That’s why when thanking people it’s a generally accepted rule to never mention names. Not because there are those who don’t want such recognition. But because we might overlook someone and even though that someone told us one thing they might have very well meant something else altogether.
While psychologists tell us that a certain amount of reward and recognition from others is necessary in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy, does the Bible agree? When Christ talked about rewards He said: “Take heed that you do not do charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore when you do a charitable deed do not sound trumpets before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, that they have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matt. 6:1,2).
Depending on how you read this, it might sound a bit harsh. The key, however, is that God is preparing a reward for all of us.
This poses another question altogether: If God is preparing a heavenly reward for us does this mean our salvation is earned through our “charitable deeds“? The Church teaches us that we are saved by the grace of God and there is nothing that we can do on our own to produce salvation. What’s more, the Orthodox understanding of salvation is a union with God, a theosis. So it’s not good deeds that God wants from us – it’s us! Subsequently, our good deeds work towards the transformation of our entire being. They produce character which, in turn, gives us hope. And it’s character that divides us into those who do the work and those who want all the credit.
In the Old Testament there is a story about a man named Gideon who was one of the judges who ruled Israel. When God told him he would have to go to battle against the powerful Midianites Gideon was happy to announce that he already had 32,000 men ready to go. Surprisingly, God wasn’t too happy with that number. It was too much. When Gideon returned with 10,000 the Lord was still unpleased. Finally, with a mere 300 men God gave His blessings and sent them off to war. He later explained to Gideon that He was not about to give Israel a reason to boast that her own strength had saved her. Even though God would work through Gideon the credit belongs solely to Him.
As the holy Apostle says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights“ (James 1:17). We end our liturgy with these words that we might be reminded of this fundamental truth before we “go in peace“. Yet, regardless, it surely can’t be a sin to express our gratitude to one another with a mere, Thank you. On the contrary, I would imagine it going unsaid to be the bigger transgression.
Neither saying it or having it said is wrong. Seeking it from men, however, is not worth the effort.