The Grateful Christian


1 Thessalonians 5:1-3.8-18                                              Dedication Sunday

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          16 November 2014

 

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3,8-18

 

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!

 

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

 

Grateful Christians recognize the brevity of life – each day, week, month, year is a gift not to be wasted or taken for granted.   Go ahead and make peace with your fellow Christians because you know you will be together for eternity, and God will tolerate embittered attitudes.  In fact, I doubt you will see much of eternal love until you release your bitterness and forgive all the people against whom you are holding grudges or those whom you judge.  The thief that comes in the night will feel more like sudden destruction and the labor pains will be more severe if you are still clinging to these unhealthy, unchristian attitudes.   There is no escape because God loves you and God will have you, but God cannot force you to love, only keep inviting you until you at last discover it is the only way.

So since we belong to the day, we wear not the armor of defensiveness but faith and love and hope.   Oh, I think we have heard those words before.  Faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is….love.   A grateful Christian recognizes the brevity of this life and is focused on the eternity of the life to come, a life in which there will be no more tears or pain, no more bitterness, war, hatred, cruelty or suffering.   Grateful Christians knows that they have not achieved salvation by works but by the gift of God, through grace.   But grateful Christians never, ever, ever take that gift for granted.   Grateful Christians know that they must participate in/work out their own salvation not with malaise and complacency – but with fear and trembling.

 

Because the grateful Christians understand that they have nothing on which to stand but the grace of God, so they are patient with the weakness and failures of their brothers and sisters.   They offer encouragement more than judgment.   They build each other up, knowing that when we are enveloped in love and acceptance we become our best selves.  Andrew’s University sends the parents one of those daily quote calendars with the tear-off pages.   I have been living with this one quote for one month, thinking about it, dwelling on it. “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”  (Stephen Covey)   I would say that Christian encouragement is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.   I would say that Christian parenting is communicating to your children their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.  Grateful Christians encourage one another and build up others because they never stop imagining what good God can do in them.

 

Grateful Christians are respectful and peaceable.  They do admonish those who are not doing what they should.   Yes they do.  For to ignore someone’s weakness is to demonstrate a lack of love.  The word translated idler could be translated trouble-maker.  So we challenge the troublemaker or person who is not doing their part.   We do it directly and in love.   And we encourage, we give courage to those who are depressed or down-hearted.   Grateful Christians help the weak rather than judging them.   And most of all, they are patient…patient…patient.   Patience is not just the ability to wait, but how to behave when you are waiting.  (Joyce Meyer) Think about it. 

If I am standing at the door waiting with a frown on my face, yelling to Richard that we are going to be late, or worse saying, “You always…..”  then I am clearly not exercising patience but impatience.

 

And here’s the toughest part of the passage.   Do not repay evil for evil, but seek to do good to one another and to all.   Ummm-huh.   This is the hard part.  And it is not the only place where the Bible instructs us not to repay evil for evil.   Jesus says it.   Paul says it again in Romans.   It is very clear that we must find a way to do good to those who have done us harm.  Is this not what Christ himself did?   Is this not what he really means when he says “take up your cross and follow me?”   It does not necessarily mean that we literally have to die on a cross, but that we should be willing to sacrifice our wishes for the sake of loving others.  

 

It means relinquishing your need to be in control and your need to be right.  And when you do that, you cannot play the blame game.  If I had a dollar for every minute I have spent in twenty-four years of ministry and twenty-six years of parenting, trying to help children of God see that blaming another or holding a grudge against another or assuming the worst from another is an exercise in making yourself miserable, pulling yourself away from God’s grace and peace, I’d have a million dollars, and we’d be building the sanctuary right now year with my personal gift to the church.  

 

Here’s the thing – anger is good if it propels us to seek solutions to a relationship problem with ourselves or with others.  But too often, we let anger at ourselves or others or at some situation turn to bitterness because we know we cannot act out our anger in wrath.  So instead of finding good ways to express it, we bottle up our anger and sip a little of its bitter poison daily.   We feed on bitterness rather than grace, because bitterness is so easy to drink.  It seems so sweet to the taste, so satisfying in the moment, but it slowly kills us – like the frog that never jumps out of the slow warming pot.  Until we really decide to see and to seek the best for every person and situation, no matter what, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the disease of bitterness. 

There will always be hurt and misunderstandings.  Unless we are so focused on rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances, we will never become authentically grateful Christians.   You cannot be a truly grateful and loving, if your gratitude and love is dependent on things going your way and people understanding you and being kind to you.   

We tend to treat others based on our perceptions of them.  If we see people as evil, we treat them accordingly. (notice this phenom in all the global conflicts)

If we judge a woman to be greedy, we are unlikely to extend aid to her. If we interpret a man’s actions as arrogant, we will probably keep him at arm’s length.   But I have the power to control my perceptions of people.  So I choose to affirm and to believe about every one created by God: You are a beloved child of God no matter what I think of you, I will keep repeating that to myself.   I will keep seeking to see and to know and to say what is good in you, what is true, what is just, what is worthy of praise.   I will think on these things, as Paul said in Philippians.  

 

I will actively refuse to dwell on what’s wrong with you or what’s wrong with the world.   I will dwell on the amazing presence of a loving Christ and rejoice.   I will not dwell on how I have been hurt by a person, but on how I can help that person become the healthiest child of God they can become.   I will give thanks for my circumstances because I know that if I am willing to grow, God will use all things for my growth and blessing, turning the bad to good, and to better good than would have been if the bad had never happened.  

 

So, my friends, I am thankful.   There is absolutely nothing that anyone can say or do that will take my gratitude away, because God is supremely good and God’s in charge of this world.   So with everything in me I want the mind of Christ.   I don’t want a sickly mind, full of angry or proud thoughts.  With everything in me, I want the heart of Christ -- with everything in me.   I don’t want a sickly heart full of bitterness and shame.   I relinquish my right to hold onto that bitterness and shame and all its poison in my life.   I want to be free.   I want to be a new creation in Christ.   I want the soul of Christ, spacious enough to hold the hurt of others and still keep loving.  I want my life to spill over with love and joy overflowing.  I want to be a truly grateful Christian, trusting God’s ability to provide everything I need emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, materially, futuristically.  I want to be a truly grateful Christian, giving back to others with a reckless generosity that refuses to worry or calculate that I’ll not have enough one day.   Because God is our Provider.

 

We’ve been talking about God First for five weeks.   Well, God first means I surrender my will to God’s will. I ask God’s help to pry my little fingers of every control, so I can surrender completely and be free of worry.  

I want to be more than I am, through Christ, and the truth is, I AM more than I am, as I make room for Christ to live in me.   And so are you!  

 

(Will you pray with me?)

 

Please take us, Jesus, every one of us and every part of us and make us new.  We will rejoice, we will pray without ceasing, and we will give thanks, trusting always in your goodness and giving as much of ourselves as we can possibly give, because we know that as we truly give, so we truly live.