Pillars of Christian Character: Thanksgiving
This morning, I want to preach on the eighth Pillar of Christian Character. That characteristic is Thanksgiving. Christians are to be a thankful people. Thanksgiving is a fundamental attribute that, I believe, is at the core of a Christ-like life. In this series, we have already looked it seven other pillars of Christian character. They included: faith, obedience, humility, love, unity, forgiveness, and joy. After this morning, we’ll have two more to examine: compassion, and contentment.
The life of the church flows from these spiritual attitudes and attributes. What people perceive this church to be, is a direct result of the character they see in the members this congregation: Is it a Christ-like character, or is it not? Outwardly, we can sing the hymns, and we can pray the prayers, and we can go through the motions of worship, and we can sit and listen to the sermons, but if those things are not transforming you on the inside, then they are meaningless. My passion for this congregation is that Christ would be fully formed inside of each of you. It’s the thing that I pray for. It’s the thing that I diligently study for so that I might present to you the uncompromised Word of God that it might dwell in you richly. It’s why everything we do as a church ought to be motivated by the desire to see lives transformed.
This morning I want us to look at the eighth pillar of Christian character. This is the pillar of thanksgiving. God desires that we would grow in thankfulness. It is an important characteristic of the Christian faith, and one of the Scriptural proofs that we are genuinely filled with the Holy Spirit.
I’ve chosen two texts this morning for us to look at. One in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and the other is Luke 17:11-19. The Thessalonian text is part of a general list of imperatives that the Apostle Paul gives to the Christians at the church in Thessolonica. He comes to the end of his letter and reals off a litany of spiritual essentials: Rejoice evermore, Pray without ceasing, Quench not the Spirit, Do not despise preaching, Prove all things; hold fast that which is good, Abstain from all appearance of evil. And in verse 18 he tells us plainly: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
The Apostle’s meaning is pretty clear. We don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder, “What did the Apostle Paul really mean when he said ‘In every thing give thanks’?”
In the Gospel of Luke, we have the story of a remarkable healing. Ten men have come out from a village to meet Jesus. But they cannot approach him because they are lepers. Leprosy was a loathsome disease in that day. It was regarded as an awful punishment from the Lord. Anyone who had was considered a sinner and spiritually unclean. In Christ’s day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. A person with leprosy was required to wear mourning-clothes, leave their hair in disorder and cry ‘Unclean! unclean!’ to warn passers-by to keep away. They could not speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in that culture this involves an embrace. Their disease cut the suffer off from every aspect of normal life. They could not hold down a job and were frequently forced to beg.
Jesus commands them to go show yourselves to the priests and as they are were going, they were healed. Ten men are miraculously and gloriously healed, but only one shows gratitude.
“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.” (Luke 17:15, NIV84)
As we read the text, I think we witness a genuine hurt over the ingratitude of nine men who failed to show the slightest appreciation for what he had done for them. Jesus had healed them of the most dreaded disease of the day. Only one comes back to say ‘thank you’.
“Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17–19, NIV84)
Among other things, it’s a story that illustrates how ugly ingratitude is. I have felt for a long time that one of the particular temptations for Christians is the danger of taking God’s blessings for granted. Like the world traveler who has been everywhere and seen everything and done everything, the Christian’s great sin is becoming blasé toward the blessings of God—getting so accustomed to them that they fail to excite us. The result is that we become thankless Christians.
I. INGRATITUDE IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF PAGAN DEPRAVITY
- in his letter to the Christians at Rome, the Apostle Paul lists the roots of the problem with the human race
- one of those root problems is thanklessness
- " ... when they [the pagans] knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful ..." (Rom. 1:21, NIV)
- men do not want to recognize and honor God’s sovereignty in their lives which being thankful to Him would imply
- Christians ought to be a thankful people, yet we often display an attitude of ingratitude which is characteristic of the unchurched
A. MANY CHRISTIANS ARE AWASH IN A SEA OF NEGATIVITY
- too many believers have forgotten how to "count their blessings"
- instead, they "list their misfortunes"
- "You wouldn't believe the week I’ve had!"
- some of the most negative people in the world can be found within the walls of a church sanctuary
- do you fuss and fume about every little thing in your life?
- are you stressed out, disappointed, or depressed by things that don’t go just right?
- do you feel that the world has not recognized your brilliance and industry and contribution to humanity?
- I think that few things grieve God more than the negativity and ingratitude of His very own people
- when was the last time you really spent some significant time thanking God for anything other than a quick grace at your last meal?
- ILLUS. If you are the average Christian you will spend 2% of your prayer time praising God; about 2% would be spent in intercession – praying for other. Probably about 90% of your prayers are spent in supplication – asking God for those things you want or need or think you need. Most of us spend only about 1% of our prayer time in thanking God for the good things He has brought our way.
B. ATTITUDES THAT DROWN OUT A SPIRIT OF GRATITUDE
- I believe there are at least four attitudes that steal away our gratitude and keep us from being thankful
- One is our pride
- this is the attitude that says, "Nobody ever gave me noth’in, I worked hard for everything I have."
- for years you studied hard and worked hard and now it is finally paying off
- with this kind of attitude, we feel that we have no one to thank but ourselves
- ILLUS. The great American writer Henry Ward Beecher once wrote, "Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves."
- instead of being grateful, this person will always find something to complain about
- this is the person who feels that life has somehow cheated them
- ILLUS. Emerson said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore.
- carelessness simply fails to notice the blessings of God
- it’s an attitude that say, “No matter what I’ve got, I don’t have what I really want. I don’t have enough. I just want more.”
- that attitude will really destroy a spirit of gratitude
- thanklessness leads to a negativity about life in general
- show me a negative Christian and I'll show you a Christian who does not spend much, if any, time thanking God
- negativity about life leads to a bitterness about your circumstance
- you see happy people all around you and feel as if God has cheated you
- bitterness leads to jealousy
- not only do you become bitter about your own life
- you become envious toward those around you who seem to be enjoying life
C. GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, FOR THIS IS GOD'S WILL FOR YOU IN CHRIST
- thankful prayer and praise is not an option for the believer
- it's God's express will for your life
- “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV84)
- he does not say "For everything give thanks"
- there are many difficulties and circumstances we cannot be thankful for
- a serious illness
- a death
- a debilitating accident
- financial difficulty
- loss of a career
- we can thank Him that it wasn't worse than it was
- we can thank Him for the strength He gives us to carry through
- we can thank Him for the promise of victory which will eventually come
- ILLUS. The 19th Presbyterian Minister and Bible commentator Matthew Henry, after being robbed by highwaymen during a trip, wrote this in his diary: Let me by thankful: First because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
- ILLUS. In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom relates an incident which taught her about being thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. One morning their bible reading was I Thess. 5:18, "In everything give thanks." Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without the guards interfering. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
- Andrew Murray, a South African missionary, wrote, "To be thankful for what we have received, and for what my Lord has prepared, is the surest way to receive more."
- a prayer of thanks offered to God is a statement of faith that says, "No matter how bad this situation might be, I know that God is going to bring me through it."
- in Luke 17 we read about ten men who were healed by Jesus of their leprosy
- out of those ten men only one came back to give thanks and Jesus said, "Where are the other nine?"
- he was the only one willing to take time to go back and say "thank you"
- because of that Jesus said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
- have you ever wondered why Jesus said that? I mean like the others, the man was already healed of his leprosy from the time they went to show themselves to the priest
- but when Jesus says to this one man, "Your faith has made you well," he wasn't just talking about a physical healing, he was talking about a spiritual one, a mental one
- the man had been made whole
- we too are made whole by our thanksgiving
- ILLUS. Psychologists today tell us that sincere gratitude and thanksgiving, is the healthiest of all human emotions. Hans Selye, who is considered the father of stress studies, has said that gratitude produces more positive emotional energy than any other attitude in life.
D. THANKSGIVING HELPS US TO RECOGNIZE GOD IN EVERY EVENT
- one leper came back to thank Jesus
- one our of ten
- “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:15–17, NIV84)
- like many of us, they took the blessings and ran, never thinking to return to the one who provided the miracle
- ILLUS. I meant to go back, but you may guess; I was filled with amazement I cannot express; To think that after those horrible years,; That passion of loathing and passion of fears,; By sores unendurable – eaten, defiled --; My flesh was as smooth as the flesh of a child.; I was drunken with joy; I was crazy with glee; I scarcely could walk and I scarcely could see,; For the dazzle of sunshine were all had been black; But I meant to go back,--oh I meant to go back!; I had thought to return, when my people came out.; There were tears of rejoicing and laughter and shout; They embraced me,--for years I had not known a kiss; Ah, the pressure of lip is an exquisite bliss!; They crowded around me, they filled the whole place; They looked at my feet and my hands and my face; My children were there, my glorious wife,; And all the forgotten allurements of life.; My cup was so full I seemed nothing to lack!; But I meant to go back, – oh I meant to go back!;
- ILLUS. We're like a little boy who went to a friend's birthday. Upon his return from the party, his mother asked, "Bobby, did you thank your friend's mother for the party?" "Well, I was going to," he replied, "But a girl ahead of me said, 'Thank you,' and the lady told her not to mention it. So I didn't."
Have you maybe meant to go back to God and thank Him for all the blessings you have received in your life? Have you learned to thank Him in every situation and circumstance? If not, you need to come and spend some time this morning at the alter pouring your thanks out to God.
Rudyard Kipling was a great writer and poet whose writings we have all enjoyed. Unlike many old writers, Kipling was one of the few who had opportunity to enjoy his success while he lived. He also made a great deal of money at his trade. One time a newspaper reporter came up to him and said, "Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over a hundred dollars a word; Mr. Kipling raised his eyebrows and said, "Really, I certainly wasn't aware of that." The reporter cynically reached down into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, "Here's a hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Now, you give me one of your hundred dollar words." Mr. Kipling looked at that hundred dollar bill for a moment, took it and folded it up and put it in his pocket and said, "Thanks."
He’s right! The word thanks is certainly a hundred dollar word. In fact, I would say it is more like a million dollar word. It's one word that is too seldom heard and too rarely spoken and too often forgotten. If we would all adopt an attitude of thanksgiving into our lives - our lives would be changed. We would savor each day.