November 26, 2016

November 24, 2016 - Thanksgiving Day

Theme: Learning the Secret to Being Thankful
1) It is related to contentment.
2) It is a product of Christian maturity.
3) It is strengthened by Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don't say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-- whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (HCSB)

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well-known passages of the Bible and one of the most widely used. You often see people use it in public. Athletes and celebrities are not afraid to quote it as a measure of their confidence. Thanksgiving is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in our nation. It’s fitting that it would go well with Philippians 4:13. The idea of finding strength in Christ is just as popular as gathering for Thanksgiving. But, what exactly does Christ empower us to do and how is that connected to being thankful? This is the main thought we’ll focus on today as we think about the secret to being thankful.  

So often we associate power with getting what we want, but is that what Christ is doing for us? The unique aspect of the power of the Christian shows itself when we don’t have what we want and when things aren’t going our way. Paul trusted in Christ’s power because He absolutely needed it. And that power gave him confidence even when he was lacking or was in need. In fact, it was in those very moments that the power of Christ displayed itself most fully. 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here we see that being thankful is closely connected to being content. It’s easy to act thankful when things are going your way, but a heart of true gratitude shows itself when the going gets tough. Paul writes that the power of Christ allowed him to master any situation he was in. Whether he was having a good day or a bad day, he was thankful to the Lord, and in large part because he was content. Paul knew what hardship was. He described that in depth in another letter: 2 Corinthians 11:25-28 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-- 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

Paul had physical toils and mental concerns, but in all matters he was content. He learned the secret that His Savior taught when He said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses (Luke 12:15)." Therein is why contentment is so important to thankfulness. It’s not the perils of the world that will rob you of happiness, rather it’s the riches and prosperity. Many, many people have fallen prey to the allurement of greed, only to be “pierced through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).”

Part 2
However, as we know by experience, contentment is not an easy virtue to have. It takes maturity. Paul doesn’t use the word maturity in our text but it really comes out clearly in the way he writes. You can almost sense the calm and peace with which Paul reflects on the many trials of his life. He had grown and learned throughout the process. We talk about the same thing, too, when it comes to the various tests that God gives us, but it’s a lot harder to go through it.

It’s helpful to remember that God is building our maturity as Christians. We know the same to be true in the much smaller matters of life. As adults, we think of the things we spent our money on when we were younger, the way in which we managed our time, and how we treated others. Sometimes we cringe at those memories don’t we, but that’s okay, because they are a testament to how much we have grown. Younger members here are either in the process of experiencing this very thing or leading up to it. If you can sense the value of maturity in those areas of life, how much more so in your faith in God?

Paul also reflected on this very thing in another letter, 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Notice how he applied his growth as an individual directly to his earthly life as a Christian. As believers, we share in the same struggle. We have a relationship with God by faith today, but interacting with God is like looking at a fuzzy image in the mirror. We sense that God is present in our lives but it’s hard to make out all the details because our sins blur the image. We were created to be pure, crystal-clear, reflections of our God but we have fallen significantly. Sometimes, our wickedness is so prevalent that we can’t even see ourselves as His children, let alone those who witness our actions, thoughts, and words in our lives.

Part 3:

Christian maturity is just how Paul described it, it’s a mystery that must be revealed to us. It’s like finding the answer to a secret. That answer, for us, and for all people, is Jesus. Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Here we see the importance of v.13 in our text and why it is so treasured and beloved by Christians. Jesus reveals the mystery to us. He tells us the secret to these hidden treasures of contentment, maturity, and thankfulness. He gives us power to do the things that He has called us to do, not the things that we wish or desire for ourselves. Perhaps, it is God’s will that a particular possession be taken out of your life. Perhaps it’s His will that you go without a certain need for a time. These are things that God has every right to do and He calls you in Christ to trust His plan. Remember, contentment and maturity are needed precisely in the hard times, not the easy things.   

We asked at the beginning, what exactly does Christ empower us to do and what does that have to do with being thankful? For many people, the power of Christ is a catchphrase, a popular statement that sounds good, but is often thrown around devoid of the context in which Paul wrote it.   

Can we be thankful even if we don’t have everything we want in life? Do we have strength in Christ even when things aren’t going our way? Absolutely, in fact, that’s the true path to thankfulness. If our gratitude and willingness to give thanks hinged only on how good things were, there would be no need for Christ’s gifts of contentment and maturity. If the measure of our thankfulness is having what we want, then what happens when we don’t get our way? Our thankfulness will suffer.

Think of the story of the ten lepers. All ten got what they wanted. Perhaps we could even say they got what they needed, at least for their bodies. But even then it’s not as if good health is a given here in life. But, even though all ten were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. They all received what must have been considered a basic life necessity, namely good health, but it still didn’t lead to hearts of gratitude. Perhaps those that didn’t return thanks did so because they were too busy looking for the next thing they wanted, instead of being content with what they had. Maybe they were so concerned about their physical bodies that they lacked the maturity to realize that Jesus could help them with a much bigger disease than leprosy.

Easy to judge from a distance isn’t it, but we know these things to be real possibilities because thy same attitudes have reared their ugly heads in our lives. Contentment and maturity stress to us that Jesus helps us with much greater things than the things of this life only. When we confess that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us, are we thinking about the most important things? Remember, the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those blessings can’t be bought by money, only by perfect blood of Jesus shed for sinners.

Solomon called the pursuit of only worldly things “vanity”, when he wrote, Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 All the labor of man is for his mouth, And yet the soul is not satisfied. 8 For what more has the wise man than the fool? What does the poor man have, Who knows how to walk before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

Christ empowers us to something greater, something eternal, and along the way He give us contentment and maturity to see the difference. This is why we bless His holy name today, and return our thanks for being healed. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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