By Pastor Glenn Pease
The concept of the impossible changes from generation to generation. Much of what we do today was once thought to be impossible. Because of this, we are more cautious today in what we include in the category of the impossible. We are no longer quick to say it can't be done. What is apparently impossible no longer causes a defeatist attitude in which no attempt is even made. Men go ahead and often discover that what was thought to be impossible is not only possible, but even indispensable to further progress. To attempt the impossible is essential for growth in the scientific, social, and spiritual realms, for in each we find that what is apparently impossible is absolutely indispensable.
We know for example that deadly poisons such as sodium and chlorine are incompatible with life, and yet, their combination which makes salt is necessary for life. In other words, the very elements that can make the ongoing of life impossible are indispensable for the ongoing of life. We know that oxygen is highly flammable, and is essential to the existence of fire, and that hydrogen will also readily burn. A commonsense conclusion based on these facts would be, that it is impossible to put out a fire with two such flammable gases, but in reality, they are the two most indispensable fire fighting elements, for their combination makes H20, or water. So we add two poisons and get life preserving salt; we add two flammable gases, and get a fire extinguisher.
Physical reality is filled with mysterious paradoxes, and so it ought not be surprising when we find them in the spiritual realm. The cross is the most magnificent of paradoxes. This greatest of man's acts of evil and hatred is the means whereby God redeemed us from evil and hate. It is both a symbol of man's sin, and of God's salvation. Life from death would seem to be impossible, but the death of Christ was indispensable if we were to have eternal life. In all realms of reality we find that the paradoxical and apparently impossible are very real. In verse 9 Paul is speaking of an indispensable impossibility in the Christian life, for in this verse he brings out the fact that-
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPRESS AN ADEQUATE THANKS TO GOD.
Alfred Plummer in his study of the Greek says, "The question implies that an adequate thanksgiving is impossible." When Paul heard the good news that these Christians did not lose their faith when confronted with temptation and tribulation, he was so overjoyed he was tongue-tied in the presence of God. He didn't know what to say because he was so thankful.
Certainly all of us have had the experience of not knowing how to express our gratitude. Thanks sometimes seems so inadequate, and even when we add thanks so very much, and thanks a million, it leaves us with a sense of having very poorly expressed how we feel. How much more impossible is it to express our thanks to God for His mercy, love, and blessings? Paul had this experience time and time again, and on one occasion when he was considering the greatest of all God's gifts, he burst out with a shout, "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift." The point is, Paul knew it was impossible to ever thank God enough. He knew there was no way that human language could adequately express the thanks due unto God, but he did not let the fact that it was impossible stop him from making the attempt. On the contrary, thanksgiving was an indispensable part of his life.
The gift of God was inexpressible, but that did not stop Paul from spending his whole life trying to express it. Paul could never thank God enough for the way He used him to establish churches and win men to Christ, but he never ceased to try.
Rom. 1:8, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all...."
I Cor. 1:4, "I thank my God always on your behalf..."
Eph. 1:16, "..Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers."
Phil. 1:3, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you."
Col. 1:3, "We give thanks to God....praying always for you."
I Thess. 5:18, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God...."
Paul knew it was impossible to be thankful enough, but nevertheless, it is indispensable in the life of one who loves Christ. Paul was a grateful man, and that is why he was a great man. Paul was never complaining in spite of all the problems he had. He was so busy attempting to express the inexpressible, and do the impossible, there was no time left for negative trivialities.
When thou hast truly thanked thy God
For every blessing sent,
But little time will then remain
For murmur or lament.
Some years back a young man in Germany was laying on an operating table. The surgeon approached him and said, "My friend you have now an opportunity to say something, but remember, they shall be the last words you will speak. He had cancer of the tongue, and was about to lose that organ of speech. After some thought, his lips parted, and his words brought a visible emotional response from those listening. He said, "Thank God for Jesus Christ." Here was another attempt at thanking God for his inexpressible gift. All the words of a lifetime cannot do it adequately, but what could be more appropriate than using one's last words in an attempt.
The very fact that it is impossible to thank God enough is what makes it indispensable that we thank Him all we can. This impossibility is to be a challenge that pushes us on, not a crushing idea that paralyzes us into inactivity and frustration. It is impossible to gain all knowledge of the Bible, but that ought not to cause us to give up in despair, but rather to be all the more ambitious in learning all we can. In the face of the impossible task of thanking God for what He has already done, Paul does a very interesting thing in verse 10: He asks for further blessings. Paul did not say, Lord I'll never be able to thank you for what you have done, so I'll never ask you for anything again. You have heard of people in desperate need say something like that. Lord, here me now, and I'll never ask you for another thing. This is sheer nonsense. Paul reveals the true spirit and says when his cup is overflowing, give me a larger cup, for I want even more of your blessings.
Paul wasn't worried about going over his head in debt to God. He knew he would be eternally in the red anyway, and so with true wisdom he concluded the best way to attempt the impossible task of thanking God is to increase his capacity to receive more of God's blessings. The poet expresses the feelings of many Christians.
My cup is full; yet oft I think
It holds scarce anything at all!
Not because life lacks abundance,
But because my cup is small!
Paul's prayer is, Lord help me to thank you by being of greater service, and, thereby, expanding the cup. Helen Keller said, "There is no lovelier way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark."
Another major attitude of Paul's thanksgiving is the sense of humility that underlies it. Paul had done all the work among these Christians. He did the preaching, and it was his labor that he feared could be in vain. Yet, when the good news of success came, he did not congratulate himself on his good work. He knows he only planted and watered, but that it was God who gave the increase. Sometimes Paul seems to almost be bragging when he defends himself as to his character and conduct, but when it comes right down to the ultimate source of their steadfastness, he takes no credit, but thanks God.
J. C. Ryle wrote, "Thankfulness is a flower that will never bloom well excepting upon a root of deep humility." Humility recognizes that we have received what we do not deserve, and that produces the spirit of thankfulness. This is why the proud are not thankful. Grace is not in the vocabulary of their experience. They feel they merit all they have, and owe no one any thanks. Pride leads to ingratitude, and ingratitude leads to all other sins. That is why Shakespeare says,
I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood.
Ingratitude turns the child against his parents, society, his country, and God, and leaves him totally self-centered, and capable of betraying anyone or anything. On the other hand, humility that recognizes that all he has done equals nothing without the grace of God, leads to a grateful heart. And one whose heart is grateful to God will be a trustworthy person, for he will attempt in every realm of life to express his thankfulness to God. Gratitude leads to happy people, families, citizens, and servants.
In 1519 Cortez landed in Mexico, and left a bloody trail as he conquered many Indians with 500 men who were seeking gold. In 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth seeking freedom to worship God, and their hearts were filled with thankfulness. The history of the two countries is an illustration of the difference between building on selfishness or thankfulness. A little girl at a banquet paused before she told what she was thankful for, and then she said, "I'm thankful that I'm thankful." May God help us to recognize with Paul that though it is impossible to thank God adequately, it is indispensable that we thank Him always, and like the little girl, be thankful that we are thankful.