“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” 1 Chronicles 16:8, 34

Giving thanks is a very natural reaction for anyone who has received a good outcome. What is not natural is looking beyond the good to the good-giver. Such a behavior is usually a sign of maturity and, when it comes to rightly assessing thanks to the highest good, it is a sign of spiritual life.

You have heard wise men say that there is a difference between good, better, and best when it comes to decision making. There is a similarity to be found in the way men give thanks.

Our society speaks quite often of “the greater good.” The idea can be easily perverted in meaning if it is not seen comparatively (good, better, and best). First, on an ascending scale, there is the common good (or public good), then there is the greater good, and finally, the highest good.

The common good is the general good of a society. We get the concept of commonwealth from it—a free state, representative republic, the whole body of people. Commonwealth signifies, strictly, the common good, or happiness, and hence the form of government supposed best to secure the public good. The idea is found in the publicly held property in Scottish burgs, relating to the community or public at large; the town commons, land or funds placed at the disposal of the community. All members of the community are on equal footing when it comes to common interest and representation. Common good is never an erasure of the individual, rather it is a magnifier and a protection of the individual. Many of the benefits of society for which most sensible people are thankful are the ones derived from the realm of the public good.

There are also many practical ways in which people find their needs met by civic-minded individuals. Those civic-minded individuals are then challenged to consider the greater good. Greater good is the idea of moving beyond one’s own interests to the interests of those he serves. Fathers and mothers do this all the time, taking into consideration the things that matter to their children. It is a measure of maturity to step from one’s self-interest and take on the responsibility of others. Our Lord is a prime example of such servant-leadership.

Where the concept of the greater good has been twisted is the idea that one must sacrifice his own identity for the greater good (in the political world it takes the form of supporting social, economic, and political change to the detriment of one’s own personal interests). It is true that our Lord gave His life, the Innocent for the guilty—One life so that many may live. The difference between His sacrifice and the twisted idea of greater good is quite startling. He gave His life because there was no other choice, there was no other way for sinners to be cleansed of their sin and granted eternal life. He says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” His sacrifice of life was because all other options were non-existent. His sacrifice is the exceptional form of greater good rather than the normal. By the same token, anyone who is truly a servant-leader (others-minded) after the mold of Christ for the sake of the greater good will always be full of thanksgiving.

The highest concept of good is the “greatest” or “highest good.” This is the true aim of every Christian. Philosophers have named it in Latin, summum bonum, the supreme good from which all other goods are derived. A thinking man who is spiritually awakened will easily recognize that God is the greatest good, the source and sustainer of all good and happiness. The unsaved, religious man may agree that God is good, but the purpose of knowing God is lost to him. He may be full of good works for the common good and sacrificial in his pursuit of the greater good, but he never quite arrives at what Spurgeon refers to in his Baptist Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and to enjoy him forever (Psalm 73:25–26).” John Piper adds “’Glorify’ does not mean make glorious. It means [to] reflect or display as glorious.” This is the aim of the soul who has learned to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” as Jesus said (Matthew 22:37ff). A heart that is thus captivated is the fittest to truly give thanks every day, all day.

While the worldly are generally thankful for good things received and may even be cognizant of the divine source of all goodness (James 1:17), they easily find themselves pursuing happiness through fame, riches, pleasure, status, or self-directed worth rather than making God their sole (soul) preoccupation. The reality is that every good, be it common, greater, or highest, must be seen as derived from God and defined by Him or all human purpose will be easily mismanaged. Romans 2:4 hints at this: “Or do you despise the riches of the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

“God is good” (Matthew 19:17) is more than a catchphrase to the authentic believer, it is an utterance of thanksgiving that arises from a heart bursting with worship for God Almighty because of His beneficence and His worthiness (Revelation 4:11, 5:12; Romans 8:28ff; Colossians 1:9ff, 3:17; Psalm 34:8). Strive only for the highest good and all other goods will fall in line. Trust and obey.