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Giving Thanks in All Things

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 15, 2015.

Today we are going to turn to the subject of Thanksgiving.  Our generation has far more material and technological help in life and yet we are often less thankful than those that have gone before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Every generation has unthankful people.  However, my point is that the abundance of things or lack thereof is not really the problem that lies behind a lack of thankfulness.  In fact, many times when we express thankfulness, we do so more because it is the socially polite thing today, rather than out of sincere thankfulness.  If we could pull back the curtain that hides the true motivations that lie beneath even the good things that are done in our society, we would be surprised at the number of people who are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

God desires His people to have a deep-seated thankfulness that is not based upon improper motives, or on our material circumstances.  He wants us to be thankful people simply because we are loved and cared for by Him.

Give Thanks In Everything

In the passage today we will focus upon the last of 3 commands that the Holy Spirit gives to us, “in everything give thanks.”  The emphasis of this is upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It would be nice to leave it at that, but in Ephesians 5:20 we are also told, “giving thanks for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus we are not just to be thankful in every circumstance, but we must also learn to be thankful for all the things we go through.  Is that possible?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul reminds us that these commands are not made up by him, but rather they are the will of God.  It is not His will in the sense that He is going to force it upon us.  But it is His will in the sense that this is what He is committed to producing within us.  He is building within us the Image of Christ, and Jesus was a thankful person.

So just what is thankfulness?  It is often the general response to the good things that we receive in life.  We are made happy by what another does and we give words back to that effect.  However, in the Bible it is more than this.  The word translated here literally means “to give good,” implying words of thanks.  The emphasis, however, is on what I am giving and not on why I am giving it.  Thus it is easy to fall into the poor habit of only being thankful to people and God when we get good things.  Yet, you can’t be a Christian long without having to deal with the fact that, though He loves us, God allows bad and difficult things to come into our life.  We are still supposed to be thankful people towards God.  Thanksgiving is about more than letting others know we are happy for giving us good.  It is something that resides in our heart despite what may be in our life.

So how can I give thanks in every situation and for everything?  Notice that the injunction to thanksgiving comes on the heels of Rejoicing and Prayer.  There is much in life that can rob us of thankfulness.  But if we make it a spiritual discipline to rejoice always, and to pray without ceasing, then we will be able to secure a heart of thankfulness regardless of what we may receive.  The preacher Spurgeon once said about this, “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.”  Thus joy is the heart of praise and worship in our Lord.  It is recognizing His greatness and our relationship to Him.  It is not based upon the circumstances of this life, but our closeness to Him.  Think of it this way.  If you receive something bad in life or from another person, does it change anything about God and His love for you?  Yes, we can doubt God’s love.  But, the cross points out the truth of the matter.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Prayer becomes that arena where we wrestle with the Lord to understand the negatives in our life and ask for His aid.  But it is also where we learn to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.”  True thankfulness is a shift of our attitude and outlook on things.  That can only happen as we are transformed through the spiritual discipline of turning to God for everything we face, and rejoicing in His love for us.

We see this modeled by Paul in 2 Corinthian 6:4-10.   “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”  At first he lists things singularly like: tribulations, needs, and distresses.  The he adds contrasting situations: honor and dishonor, evil report and good report.  But lastly he contrasts the material with the spiritual: poor (materially), but making many rich (spiritually), having nothing yet possessing all things.  You can almost feel the shifting of your own attitude as you read through this.  Our focus is moved from the thing I do not like, to those things that are far better and matter far more.  Paul knew that he was a minister on behalf of the Lord.  Therefore if we suffer we do so in the name of Jesus.  Though we may appear as lacking to the world, in Christ we lack nothing that we need.  Think of it.  If the God of the universe has guaranteed that He will take care of you, then you lack nothing you need and have everything at your disposal that He desires.  We may be tempted to complain and give “bad words” of complaining and grumbling to Him, but we must learn to trust the Lord and His discipline in our lives.

Discover Deeper Levels of Thanksgiving

It is good for us to see that there is a deeper thanksgiving that God wants to build within us.  The surface level of thanksgiving is learning to see what is good in your life over the top of what is bad.  This is important and should not be minimized.  It is Thanksgiving 101.  All of us have to learn to see beyond a difficulty and be thankful for the things we do have in our life that are good.  Have you ever noticed how certain things do not stick in our mind?  Illusionists will take advantage of this to trick our minds into seeing something that didn’t really happen.  It is common for our minds to give greater emphasis to the bad things that are happening.  They can overwhelm us to the point that we no longer see the good in our life.  Why must we only focus on the bad and not rejoice in the good even more?  The truth is that we allow our attitude to spoil because of the bad, and refuse to enjoy any good as long as the bad remains in our life.  It is a type of childish temper tantrum that we throw.  Many a person has ruined and destroyed the good things in their life because of something that they saw as bad.  A marriage can be ruined because of difficulties at work.  A family can be ruined because of the personal difficulties of those involved.  The many blessings of God can be ignored and in fact despised because I am resentful of certain things happening in my life.  This is not good.  Job reminds us of this when he told his wife that it was wrong to accept the good from God and not the bad.

However, on a deeper level, we also must learn to see how the bad is used for good in our life.  We are told in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  God is working the bad things in our life into a good goal.  Think about Jesus being crucified.  It is a bad thing to be put to death unjustly and horrifically.  Yet, the Father asks the Son to do so because of a greater good it will produce.  Of course the Son embraces the Father’s plan and suffers the difficulty by keeping his eye upon the good it was producing.  We don’t always know how God is going to bring good out of a particular bad thing in our life.  We are tempted to doubt, complain, even walk away in those times.  Remember, this verse is not given to us by a man who is not acquainted with suffering.  Paul had suffered many things that could have made him ungrateful and bitter towards God and men.  There is a mystery in life that we see.  Some who have had the worst of lives are often the most thankful, and others who have had the best of lives can be among the most unthankful.  It is not about what you got, but what you do with it.  A person who has been abused becomes a person who is keenly sensitive to the hurts and wounds of others.  They can relate with other individuals with a gentleness and wisdom that cannot be learned in a school.  It will be precisely because of the sufferings of this age, that we will be perfected and look like Jesus in the age to come.

The deepest level of Thanksgiving is to see the higher, spiritual things that are more important over the top of the lower, material things that are less important.  Thus Paul was poor in material things, but had the riches of the knowledge of God’s offer of salvation.  Paul had next to nothing in this life once he followed Jesus.  But he knew that Jesus would take care of Him.  He had learned to live with little or much.  It didn’t matter.  He had learned to go through good and bad, and all for the glory of Jesus.  The cross teaches us to look through the bad to the good that is on the other side.  Thus Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  The glory of God Himself is being caused to shine out from us.  It is impossible for that to happen without having to deal with both good and bad things in this life.  May God teach us to shift our attitude and mindset out of reverse and into a forward gear.  May we see the things of our life through a heart and mind that are rejoicing in a good and great God, and are wrestling daily with Him in prayer.

Giving Thanks Audio


Our Present Life III

Today we will pick up at 1 Peter 1:22-25.  As review, Peter has encouraged them: to keep their Hope in Christ to the end, to pursue holiness, to live with a fear of the Lord, and now today, Peter encourages them to go deeper in their love for one another. 

Love One Another Fervently With A Pure Heart

Verse 22 has a lot to say, but the core of the verse is at the end.  Love one another fervently with a pure heart.  Let’s look first at the word fervently.  The root of this word has the idea of being stretched out, as in stretching out one’s hand to do something.  It can be translated as earnest.  In a sense Peter is asking them to go the extra mile in their love for one another and stretch themselves out.  By analogy, perhaps we can think of a football player who is trying the catch the ball.  Sometimes the quarterback throws it just a bit too far in front of us.  At that moment the receiver has a decision to make.  Do I stretch myself out and risk getting hit to catch that ball?  Or, do I play it safe and not try so hard?  Players who stretch out to make the catch don’t do it because they like getting creamed.  They do it because they are earnest in making that catch.  They are willing to expose themselves for the sake of making the catch.  How about you?  Do you stretch yourself out in love or do you play it safe and only meet out love in small, safe increments?

He also reminds them to love with a pure heart.  This is talking about our motives.  Do I have impure motives?  Sometimes our great successes at love were actually motivated by what we thought we would get in return.  “I’ll love you as long as it makes me feel good.  But as soon as it no longer brings me pleasure, I’m out of here.”  Or, perhaps we do loving things because of the social prestige that it gains us.  Maybe I am just conforming to expectations that I am afraid to try and break out of.  Whatever our motivation behind love, if it isn’t for the right motives then it is for naught.  In any group it is easy to give in to social pressure.  We are not to “act” like Christ.  We are to pick up our cross and follow him.  That takes some sincere and pure motivations.

Peter points out how they had been obeying the truth by sincerely loving each other.  So his main purpose is to call them to a higher level of love—a stretched out love.  If you are going to obey the truth and love then do so with all your heart and all your might.  Notice that he points out that they had been made pure by their obedience.  When we think of obedience and God’s word, a good picture to keep in mind is pruning.  God’s Word points out those dead areas of our life and pursuits of our heart that need to be cut off.  It also points out those areas that need to be cut off so that we can be more fruitful.  This “cleaning” of our hearts is what enables us to stretch ourselves out in love.

However, this cannot just be a surface obedience.  Peter mentions that they obeyed “through the Spirit.”  Their obedience was led, encouraged and corrected by the Holy Spirit.  They were responding to his inner promptings to the Word of God.

He then reminds them of their new birth.  This was mentioned back in verse 3.  This new birth was not a biological birth from the corruptible seed of man.  Biology is impotent to help us.  Even if we could perfect all DNA errors, we are passing away along with this world.  They were spiritually birthed by the incorruptible seed of God’s Word, or Truth.  The verse in Luke 18:11 points out this analogy.  “The seed is the Word of God.”  It cannot perish.  It will never pass away.  The information you start with affects the durability and outcome of what it creates.  No biology can create eternal life.  Only God’s Word can give us eternal life.

Lastly Peter ties this in with the Gospel.  The good news of who Jesus was, what he did, and what he is doing now, was the main Truth of God that they had received.  That Gospel is living in that it is active and powerful.  It is also living in that it is life-giving.  However the Gospel is also eternal.  It has been said that the gospel will never cease, although the need to spread it will.

Peter quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8.  In this verse they are reminded how the things of this world are passing away, but the Word of the Lord will remain forever.  Now Isaiah 40 is an amazing passage within an amazing book.  Scholars through the ages have pointed out that Isaiah is a mini-Bible.  It has 66 chapters like the 66 books of the Bible.  The first 39 chapters deal with Israel’s failures under the law and the judgment of God upon the nations.  However, chapter 40 begins a turning in the book where Isaiah points to the good news of God’s merciful salvation.  Just as they had received the gospel, so Peter quotes from this chapter in Isaiah that is pointing towards that very same gospel. 

It is worth it to look at Isaiah 40 for a brief moment.  It starts out with the cry to “comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God.”  Then in verse 10 he points out that the Lord will come with a strong hand and rule for him.  This hand will shepherd the flock of God and gather the lambs into his arms and carry them in his bosom.  This is clearly a picture of Jesus the messiah.  Then the chapter ends with the famous lines, “they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  The things of this world are passing away, but God’s Word is going to remain.  No matter what you are hoping in, if it is something other than God’s Word, then it is going to fail you.  Don’t let the failure of the things of this world, religious people included, take your hope off of what is true: God’s word.  We have to learn to wait upon the Lord in faith.

Here is some food for thought.  We need to ask ourselves, “What is hindering my love from being His love?”  Don’t just ask yourself if you love, but do I love like He did?  Lord, help us to remove those things that would keep us from loving like you.

Another thought is a quote that someone came up with.  A coach is someone who makes you do what you don’t want to do so that you can become what you want to become.  Perhaps those difficult things that are causing you to want to quit loving are just God’s way of stretching you.  Is God stretching you?  Have you only saw the reason why you shouldn’t have to love and not the reasons why it is imperative that you do?  May God fill us with a fervent love that comes from a pure motivation: to be like Jesus.

Our Present Life III audio