Giving thanks

I have a passage I’d like to read. It’s a very
familiar passage but one that I think we skip
over. It’s out of Luke chapter 17 beginning
at verse 11 it says, “As Jesus continued
toward Jerusalem He reached the border
between Galilee and Samaria. And as He
entered a village, there the ten lepers stood
at a distance and they were crying out,
‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ He looked
at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the
priests.’ And as they went their leprosy
disappeared.
“One of them, when he saw that he was
healed, came back to Jesus shouting, ‘Praise
God! I am healed!’ He fell on His face, down
on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him
for what He had done. This man was a
Samaritan.” The author adds that. They were
the mixed breed, they were the despised,
they were the group that a good Jew would
walk fifty miles out of his way to not even
go through their land.
And then Jesus asked three questions in this
brief, little story. Question number one, the
facts: “Didn’t I heal ten men?” Answer, yup.
Second question of amazement: “Where are
the other nine?” Third question, His
commentary: “Does only this foreigner
return to give glory to God?” And Jesus said
to the man, “Stand up and go; your faith has
made you well.”
Quick story as you’re reading through the
New Testament maybe or reading through
the Bible in a year, you know, five, six, seven
verses, read that, “Yeah, ought to be more
thankful, I guess.” “I don’t know what those
other nine were thinking,” and you just go
right on.
But let’s take a minute and just play it out. A
leper was a despised, alienated person; a
social outcast. The disease worked in such a
way and still works, but because of the
gnawing of the nervous system, often they
would lose fingers, disfiguration of the face.
They had a little bell around them in that day
so that when a leper got near you, you had
warning.
They often lived in caves together, in very
despicable situations, totally set apart now
from their family; social outcasts. Often their
colonies were built near garbage dumps
because that’s the only place they could find
food.
And, they’ve heard about Jesus, they’ve
heard about the miracles, they’ve heard Him
maybe preach or heard people talk,
I mean, from a distance. In my mind’s eye,
I’m not sure it happened like this but, you
know, how do you get close enough to a
man like Jesus with all these followers and
His fame is growing and He’s raising people
from the dead and the blind see and they’ve
got this need and they want to get close.
And in my mind’s eye I’m thinking maybe
ten of them said, “Okay, together guys.
Ready? He’s over there. On three. One, two,
three. Ready? Jesus! Master! Have mercy on
us!” I mean, how would you get His
attention?
And then Jesus, out of His compassion, did
what the law prescribed. If there was
healing thought to have happened you were
to go to the priest and show him to
authenticate what occurred.
And so the ten of them, they’re like us. When
you have no other options, it’s not really
hard to have faith. And so they made their
way toward the priest and as they were
going, that act of faith, bam! Miraculous!
They were healed.
And I can’t help but think that some of them
maybe had one or three or four fingers
gone and as they are walking, boom! He’s
got a hand! “Joe! Joe! Look at this! This is
amazing! I got a hand!” And I can just hear
Bill saying, “Forget your hand, you got a face
too!”
I mean, if you’ve ever seen pictures of lepers,
the deterioration around the nose and the
mouth, I mean, they were broken people,
social outcasts. They had been totally healed,
they’d been made whole.
I’ve got this picture of people, if it was
appropriate back then, to high-five one
another. “I can’t believe it! I can go home! I
can see my family! I can eat at a good,
Jewish restaurant now! No bell! Take the
bell! Throw it on the ground! I’m a whole
person! I’m changed! I have a whole, new
life. I was in the darkness and now I’m in
the light. No more garbage dump eating. No
more hiding out in caves.”
But then the text says that only one came
back. I’d like to suggest that all ten felt
thankful. How could you not? They felt
thankful.
In our day, I think we think feeling thankful
is the same as giving thanks and they’re
worlds apart.
It takes energy, it takes intentionality, it
takes a stopping of what’s happening and
saying, “Yes, I’ve received these gifts and I’m
thankful for the gift,” but, see, thankfulness
isn’t a feeling, it’s an act where you go back
from the gifts to the giver and you
acknowledge he gave them. The credit, the
honor, the glory needs to go to the one who
gave it.
See, like in their day I think, often, God does
a lot for us, doesn’t He? Most of you,
anybody worried about not eating this
weekend? Probably not many. Most of you
drove here. Many of you own homes.
Although there are some that have great,
physical problems, the majority in this room,
you’re healthy. You actually have people that
like you, people that love you. You live in the
most prosperous nation in the world.
If you’re a Christian, your sins have been
forgiven as far as the east is from the west;
the Holy Spirit dwells in you; you’ve been
given spiritual gifts; God is actually using
your life. You’ve got a whole, new life! But
the danger is that we get moving out on the
gifts instead of going back to the Giver.
I’d like to suggest that our response to this
passage and Jesus’ is very different. As I
read this initially I read it through my
cultural, American, New Testament eyes. And
as I saw the problem here I thought to
myself, “My response would be, ‘Oops!
Shucks. You know, those nine really should
have come back. I mean, it’s the least they
could have done. What they did was
impolite, inconsistent, not very nice, and
socially inappropriate.’”
Why? Because in our culture we’ve grown
up thinking that thanksgiving is either just a
day to remember once a year, or it’s social
etiquette. It’s important, it’s something that’s
taught to young children. You know? Like
your Uncle Ned or Aunt Judy, you’re three
years old, they give you a piece of candy,
what did your parents say? “Chip, what do
you say to Uncle Ned?” “Thank you, Uncle
Ned.” And then you get a little pat on the
head, right?
Or then you get a little bit older and
someone sends you a gift. “Call your
grandparents, tell them you’re thankful.”
“Okay.” You get a little bit older and you get
married and what do you have to do? Write
out the “thank-you” cards. Why? Because
we know it’s very socially inappropriate not
to give thanks.
But that flows more from a sense of
violating a social standard than much
theology, than much sense of a deep
meaning.
Now, what I’d like to suggest is that when
those nine did not return, Jesus was not
thinking, “Oops.” He wasn’t thinking, “Ah,
shucks, one out of ten. That’s not bad.” I
want to suggest that He was disturbed, that
He was shocked, that He was flabbergasted,
that that statement, “Does only one
foreigner come back and give glory to God?”
that He was actually angry. That He was
incredulous, that it was a sin of omission to
Jesus.
And the theological statement He made is
that when we fail to come back to the giver
and give credit where credit is due,
according to Jesus, the lack of giving of
thanks is robbing God of His glory.
See, to Jesus, accepting the gift and
neglecting the giver was robbery. To Jesus,
the failure of the nine was spiritually
scandalous. To Jesus, the giving of thanks is
very serious business.
Now, I can sort of read some of your minds.
You’re thinking, “You know what? I didn’t
listen real carefully, Chip, or I did it as
carefully as I could but in those six or seven
verses I think you got a lot more out of
there than is there. I mean, He’s angry?
Spiritually scandalous? Those are really
strong words. Do you get all that? I mean,
are you really telling me that thanksgiving
and the giving of thanks is that important to
God? You know, a little hyperbole here, little
exaggeration to help us?”
My answer: No. In fact, brief summary of the
New Testament reveals that God takes the
giving of thanks very, very seriously.
In just a few minutes, here’s what I’d like to
do. I want to give you a New Testament
survey. I’m going to go to four passages
very briefly and I want to give you exhibit A,
exhibit B, exhibit C, exhibit D. Okay? Boom,
boom, boom.
And I want you to hear just a taste, just taste
what the New Testament says about
thanksgiving and see if my evaluation of
Jesus’ serious view of thanksgiving isn’t
accurate. Okay? And then I think there’s
implications for us.
The first passage is in Romans chapter 1.
Exhibit A: It says, “For since the creation of
the world, God’s invisible attributes,” or
qualities, “His eternal power and divine
nature, have been clearly seen, being
understood from that which was made so
that men are without excuse.”
Now notice verse 21, “For although they
knew God,” general revelation, they could
see God in creation, although they knew
there was someone bigger than themselves,
that there was a Creator, “they neither
glorified Him as God nor,” look at the little
phrase, “gave thanks to Him, but their
thinking became futile, and their foolish
hearts were darkened.”
Did you notice that their thinking became
futile when they didn’t honor Him as Creator
and they didn’t give thanks. They enjoyed
the gifts of life but they didn’t look, they
didn’t give thanks. The theologians talk
about the total depravity of man.
I want to suggest that the lack of thanking
God and recognizing that He’s our Creator is
paired with this concept of the rejecting of
who He is. That’s serious.
The second passage is in Ephesians chapter
5, verses 1 to 4. It says, “Be imitators of God
therefore, as dearly loved children; and live a
life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave
Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and
sacrifice to God.”
Now this passage opens up with the book
of Ephesians is how to live this brand new
life. First three chapters are doctrine and
truth; beginning in chapter 4 it says, “Walk
in a manner worthy of Christ. Live up to this
new calling.” You’re brand new! Your old
man has died! You’ve been co-resurrected,
co-buried, you have a brand new life to live –
a supernatural, holy, pure life.
And so he’s given them a number of
instructions in chapter 4 and then in
chapter 5 he says, “Walk in love,” that’s
relationally; “walk in light,” that’s morally.
You ought to be pure! You ought to live in a
way that reflects the nature and the holiness
of God.
Notice now, verse 3 and verse 4, “But
among you,” brand new, born again
Christians who should live a new life, “there
must not even be a hint of,” one, “sexual
immorality or of any kind of,” two, “impurity
or,” three, “greed because these are
improper for God’s holy people.” It doesn’t
even make any sense. But notice it goes on,
“Nor should there be obscenity,” four,
“foolish talk,” it means “foolish sexual talk,”
or “course joking, which are out of place,
but rather,” did you get it? “the giving of
thanks.”
You see, it seems in Scripture that when
we’re told to walk in this new way of life
that when we’re said, “Avoid these sins,” six
things, pretty heavy duty ones. In my mind, it
ought to be balanced. He should have told
us six different things that we should do
positively to walk in the light. But He didn’t,
did He?
The giving of thanks is paired over and
against walking according to the flesh.
Immorality is tied with the lack of a thankful
heart. You know why? It’s pretty hard to
commit immoral acts, of any kind, if you’re
presently giving thanks for who you are and
what you have, right where you’re at.
Take the list. It’s pretty hard to lust after
someone else or commit adultery, if you’re
married, when you’re saying, “God, thank
you for this great woman,” everyday. “Thank
you for this great man. Oh, he’s got
problems, she’s got problems, we got
struggles, yeah. Welcome to life. But thank
You, thank You, thank You.”
When that’s your attitude, you don’t end up
in bed with someone else. When that’s your
attitude, you’re not trying to surf the net to
find out what images can satisfy a lack of
intimacy in your heart. When that’s your
attitude, you’re not looking for what the
world can offer.
But the moment you stop giving thanks for
what you do have, where does your focus
go? To what you don’t have, for what you
think will satisfy. So the giving of thanks not
only is paired with a rejection of God, in
Romans 1, it’s paired with living a holy life.
It’s the beginning point of the slide.
The third passage: Ephesians chapter 5,
verses 18 to 20 it says, “Don’t be drunk with
wine, for that is debauchery,” or leads to
debauchery, “instead be filled,” controlled,
or, literally, the idea is, “be drunk, be
saturated, be controlled,” by what? “the Holy
Spirit.” Be filled with the Spirit, be controlled
by the Spirit, be saturated by the Spirit.
In other words, let Him control your life,
your thoughts, your motives, your money,
your time. Let the Spirit who lives inside of
you live out Christ in you, moment by
moment, every day. It’s in the present tense.
And then He says there’s evidence when this
is occurring, “…speaking to one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing
and make music in your heart to the Lord;
always giving thanks to God the Father for,”
just the good times. “…for everything in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
See, in Romans 1, when I give thanks, I
honor God as Creator. In Ephesians 5, the
first portion, when I honor God by thanks,
he’s my Provider. When the Spirit of God is
reigning in my heart and your life, the
overflow will be thanksgiving because He’s
your Lord, He’s calling the shots.
And the lack of thankfulness in your heart
will let you know He’s not Lord right now.
And it’s hard to do sometimes, isn’t it? But
the Bible pushes it even farther theologically.
I Thessalonians 5:16 through 18 it says,
“Rejoice always,” not sometimes. “Rejoice
always.” It’s a choice. It doesn’t mean you
always feel happy but it’s a choice. “Pray
about everything; in everything give
thanks;” why? “for it is the will of God for
you in Christ Jesus.”
And this isn’t the slap happy, you know,
“Praise God, praise the Lord… I have a good
friend who has cancer. Oh, praise God. I
thank God.” No, no, no.
This is that sense that you can only do, in
your heart, as you walk intimately with your
Savior where you say, “My marriage isn’t
what I’d like it to be, my finances aren’t
where I would like them to be, some of my
children aren’t where I want them to be, I
would like to be married and I’m not, my
body isn’t working the way I wish it would
but I understand that I am made for
eternity, not simply time.
“And by an act of the will, knowing that God
is good, knowing He is sovereign and in
control, and knowing that He is faithful He
will give me grace to endure and He will
deliver me through this, or He will deliver me
out of it, or He’ll deliver me unto Himself
because His primary role in my life is not to
make me happy, to not make me a
successful American, to not get me ahead in
middle-class American life. His primary
objective is to cultivate intimacy between me
and the Father and to make my character,
my heart, and my motives more like His Son,
Jesus.”
That’s what God’s up to in your life. And
therefore, by faith, at any given moment,
regardless of your circumstances, and
regardless of mine, to say, “Thank you, God,”
is the evidence of not only being under His
Lordship but saying, “God, it is a fallen
world, I hurt, this is difficult, but I trust You. I
thank You. For this cancer? No, but that
You’ll work in it. For this marriage? It’s hard
to right now. But I want You to change me
and I’m staying in it. For this son or
daughter? Yes, because You’re a sovereign
God. As I pray you’re going to work in their
heart and they’re a grown up and they’ll
have to make decisions.”
Life isn’t easy, it’s not a fairy book, it doesn’t
always come out. We’re not made just for
time. We’re made for eternity.
And so giving of thanks, according to Jesus
and the New Testament, is serious business.
Why? Let me do a brief review.
First, it acknowledges that all that we are
and all that we have comes from God. When
I say, “Thank you,” it honors God as Creator.
Second, it keeps us from evil because it
forces us to focus on what we do have
instead of on what we don’t have. “Thank
you” for that bummer of a car you have. It’ll
keep you from envying other people’s cars.
Third, it reveals, in every circumstance, the
extent to which the Spirit is in control of my
life. It honors the Lord as your Lord and
Master.
And fourth, it demands we live by faith in
every, and all, circumstance.
In summary, according to Jesus,
thankfulness is the barometer of your soul.
It’s not your church attendance. It’s
important. It’s not your prayers. Important.
It’s not your gifts, it’s not your activity, it’s
not your service. If you want to know where
you’re at with God at any given moment of
any day, you can just, like you put your
finger up and test where the wind is
coming from, you can ask this question and
know where your heart is with God: How
thankful am I right now, in my situation?
Honestly, from the heart.
Francis Schaeffer said, “A quiet disposition
and a heart giving thanks, at any given
moment, is the real test to the extent to
which I love God in that moment.

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