The Joy and Beauty of Thanksgiving Part I
1 Thessalonians 5
Introduction: The two-part series: Thanksgiving: Its Joy, Beauty, and Necessity addresses a commonly misunderstood and ignored command and gift – thankfulness.
Believers are called to be thankful people. What is a thankful person? It is one who says thanks! He is grateful for something. What is that something and what are the ways to say thanks? To answer the question, you need a frame of reference and a relationship. What are yours?
Saying thanks must begin vertically – Godward. God is Creator and Giver. All things flow from God’s sovereign hand – His power and authority. Every person’s time is in God’s hand (Job 14:5; Psalm. 31:15). That fact is often denied or rejected at various times when hard providences come such as when a person is faced with the loss of a loved one.
An equally often denied truth, if not overly at least covertly, is God’s good, purposeful control. At times believers function as if God should treat them better than He did His Son! God and His providence whether pleasant or not is the object of the believer’s response. Thanksgiving is the proper response because God acts in the best interest of Himself and His people. That latter statement is often misunderstood and neglected. Thanksgiving too often focuses on the gift rather than the Giver. When it does, the believer misses the joy and beauty of thanksgiving.
Saying thanks may be in words or deeds or both. Gratitude is a duty and a command but more importantly, it is also a privilege and blessing (1 John 5:3). Paul wrote: Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The object of the gratitude is God and not necessarily what is given. God has a purpose for everything He gives.
Paul closed his letter by reminding the Thessalonians that God had changed them through regeneration. He gave a series of exhortations in chapter 5 verses in 12-22. He told them that the Holy Spirit had “lighted a fire in their hearts” and they had no business quenching it – they were not to attempt to put out the fire (v.19). He prayed for their continued sanctification – growth in Christ (v.23-24)
Why give these commands? As saved people believers are the most changed people AND they are to be the most changing people. Therefore they are to be the most thankful people. Paul expected God’s people to be quick to acknowledge God’s presence, power, promises, plan, purposes, and provisions. These six words must be understood under the rubric of God’s control, power, faithfulness, and goodness. God is good and all that He does is good. He is forever and always faithful and trustworthy (Psalms 100:5; 119:68).
Earlier in chapter 4, Paul heartily and joyfully acknowledged their growth in Christ (4:1-2). He did not stop there! He encouraged them to grow more in Christlikeness because it is God’s will for them (v.3). Was God not satisfied? It does not appear that He was. He had begun a good, a great and supernatural work in them (Philippians 2:12). But His work had only begun. There was life after salvation. Growth in Christlikeness would continue. Jesus is the one person that God is fully satisfied and pleased. God’s people are to become more and more Christlike in thought, desire, and action (Philippians 2:13).
The issue is Christlikeness through sanctification which was and is God’s will for all of His people (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Paul knew that God was completely satisfied with and in His Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). He also knew that God is glorified when believers (and only believers can!) put on the character of Christ more and more. He knew that believers were changed at salvation but that was only the beginning. There was life after salvation.
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to look at the “big” picture. With that perspective, God’s commands would be a blessing in direction. It was a reminder that the Lord had blessed His people with provision after provision. He wanted the people to get busy and live as God’s children – because they were!
Rightly understood God’s people have so much to be thankful for. This includes the fact that the Creator and Controller God is their personal God who bought them, brought them, and holds them close to Him. Rightly impressed, they should be thankful people. It is the most logical response to the Triune God!
You might say: my circumstances tell me differently. My life is so hard. Here are some examples: I have physical problems; I was and I am being sinned against; and I don’t have a job or a good one. These are realities in God’s world. As hard as those situations are they are not the standard for thankfulness. Circumstances don’t trump God’s goodness and power. You must interpret the circumstances through the God of circumstances. Our understanding is limited but we know what God has revealed to us in His Word and in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Long trusting obedience and obedient trust in the same direction is a manifestation of wisdom and thankfulness. The cross attests to and the resurrection affirms the duty, privilege, and blessing of being a thankful person.
1. Develop a thank list. Include all your provisions in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
2. What is your response to these provisions? Give reasons for your answer.
3. Observe your priorities: do they begin with you, others, or God?
4. What must you do to grow as a thankful person?
The Joy and Beauty of Thanksgiving: Part II
Luke takes up the matter of the joy and beauty of thanksgiving in Luke 17:11-19. You may know the story. Jesus first came to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). His intention was to bring all His people into His kingdom but He had an order of priority (Isaiah42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32). He began with Israel.
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem (Luke 17:11-19). He had kingdom business there (Luke 9:51). As He entered a village, He encountered ten men with leprosy standing at a distance. The leper was considered unclean, unworthy of the presence of anybody except their own. In the Old Testament, the leper was put outside the camp and in Jesus’ time he was quarantined. Isolation was his destiny. Lepers were considered unfit, social outcasts, and exiles (Leviticus 13:45-46; Numbers 5:2-4; 12:14-15). Jesus in the Gospels used leprosy, a physical condition, as a description of sinful man’s unclean and putrid heart.
The ten men were apparently of mixed nationality which was not uncommon in the area where two provinces met. Their condition bound them together in spite of their national rivalry. Samaritans were Israelites who lived in the northern kingdom and inter-married with Gentiles after the Assyrian invasion. They were rejected by the Jews in the intertestamental period. Perhaps the most notable enmity in the land of Israel in the first century A.D. was the bitter animosity between Judeans and Samaritans.
By including a Samaritan in the group of lepers Jesus transcended the racial and religious boundaries of the times. He put together both the Jews and the Samaritans as fellow Israelites (see Luke 10:25-37). In doing so, Jesus overturned the prejudices of the first-century Jews and Samaritans toward each other and ultimately toward God. However Jesus’ teaching was concerned with more than religious discrimination. Jesus emphasized grace and not position, pedigree, and performance as Paul did pre-conversion (see Philippians 3:3-6). Each person cried out to Jesus for healing. As a group they we bound together as needy people. Only one learned the proper definition of needy and thanksgiving.
Luke described the lepers in a familiar position: they stood at a distance (in contrast to Luke 5:12-16) as they cried out to Jesus. The cry was one of strength and confidence much like the cry of Jesus on the cross as He breathed His last (Luke 23:46; John 19:30). The lepers expected Jesus to help – to have pity on them. They were asking for mercy not a handout. Grace and mercy differ in that mercy focuses on misery and the consequences of sin and its relief, and grace looks more at the guilt of sin and forgiveness. Interestingly, Jesus directed them to the priest. All ten left and presumably headed to the priest. Jesus would not have sent a Gentile to the priest.
Verification of cleansing, but not healing, was required by law (Leviticus 14:1ff). The word for cleansing is katharizo. In the New Testament the removal of leprosy is called cleansing and not healing (Matthew 8:3; 10:8; 11:5; Mark 1:42; Luke 4:27; 7:22; 17:14, 17). The removal of diseases is spoken of as iaomai and therapeuo which emphasize healing, most often of the body. We get such words as therapy and therapeutics from the latter word.
The concept of cleansing should return all Israelites to the book of Leviticus. Daily, the Israelites were faced with the admonition to be holy as I am holy and to distinguish between unclean from clean (Leviticus 10:11; 11:44-45; 15:31). Entering into God’s presence required cleansing and purification through the shedding of blood by way of the sacrificial system and by an ordained priest. The system pointed to Christ, the true Israel, the true Priest, the new Temple and Zion, and the true Sacrifice. Jesus was the Way into God’s presence – see the book of Hebrews for full understanding that Jesus is the once-for-all perfect sacrifice.
Ten people left unclean and headed to the priest to meet the requirements of the law. All were cleansed but only one returned to Jesus. The nine missed the real issue: a new system of reality and a new mode of existence had come on the scene in the person of Christ (John 1:1-5. 9-11). His healing ministry was a sign for all to see. This healed person was not your typical Jew. The other nine which represents the majority view of Israel missed the reality of Jesus and His ministry. They missed it because of the condition of their hearts which was self-focused, self-exalting, and self-serving. Jesus was presenting Himself as the Way.
All ten were blessed but only one truly understood. Thankfulness may have been a motive for all ten to go to the priest but they missed the big picture – the Cleanser Himself. The Samaritan, the one on the “wrong side of the tracks,” knew the object of his gratitude. He had been blessed by the Blesser. He went, not to the priest, but to Jesus. He was more concerned with praising God than with showing himself to the priest. Jesus acknowledged the Samaritan’s faith and its expression. Jesus told him that his faith had made him well. The word for well is sozo a common term. It means to save or to deliver; the word refers to both physical and spiritual deliverance. The Samaritan had proven faithful. His faith was active and vibrant.
The Samaritan showed spiritual maturity; he understood and display the joy and beauty of thanksgiving. the others did not. Why? The nine lived according to their own law-keeping and ritual-keeping. They did not grasp their real need: a Messiah Who kept God’s law perfectly and would die a perfect death because He was the perfect sacrifice. They did not grasp the significance of the old creation which was steeped in foolishness, personal law-keeping, and misery. Biblically, the nine Israelites were much like the spiritual leaders and the people of today. They knew nothing of their deadness and darkness and consequently failed to grasp the light and the truth – Jesus Christ and His love. They rejected Christ as the God-man. In contrast, the despised Israelite got it. He was a man of gratitude for the gift and the Giver.
1. A common problem joined ten people and all ten looked to Jesus. What does that action say about the people and about Christ?
2. Thankfulness begins vertically and extends horizontally. Explain and give reasons.
3. Explain the statement: healing is both spiritual and physical.