Thanksgiving [11-6-22]




What a way to start your morning. The day I began putting today's message together, Mr. T tweeted this out:

I just want to say, "Good Morning Lord and Thank You Jesus for waking me." You Didn't Have to Do it, But You Did and I'm so Thankful!...

…This is the most important part of the day. I'm so thankful!!


Our focus today is on thanksgiving. Not the feast…but the attitude. It's very appropriate on the first Sunday of the month of feasting to begin our series on Paul's letters to the Christians at Thessalonica. Every week we'll be feasting on the spiritual attitude of thanksgiving. We Are So Thankful!


Let's read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord

Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us

from the wrath to come.


There are so many beautiful things going on here. We're not going to be able to highlight them all. You might want to explore more of this first chapter on your own. Today, we're going to touch on the primary reasons Paul gives for thanksgiving.


First, Paul was thrilled with what was happening in the lives of the believers in this church. As Paul wrote, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Clearly, Paul thanks God for their vibrant faith and active Christian life. He knows of their Christian character. They are wheat…not weeds. They are sheep {remember what Jesus said about sheep, how they know his voice when he calls them}…not goats. They are doers…not sayers. Paul is addressing a real church…a true church.


Here's the first thing you might want to write down:

THERE IS AN INTENSITY TO PAUL'S LOVE FOR THE THESSALONIAN BELIEVERS.


Now, don't read the wrong thing into that observation. The intensity doesn't primarily have anything to do with anything they bring to the table. Paul's love for them is primarily driven by what God has done in the life of each believer. Are they perfect? Of course not. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely. But, as we saw last week, all those who have been called by Christ to follow him are saints.


Here's how Paul spells it out in verse four:

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.

This is such a profound truth. The word translated, chosen, is from the Greek "eklogen." Literally, it means "called out from or to." From that word we get the other Greek word, "ekklesia," which refers, in secular Greek, to "an officially summoned assembly of citizens." Here it describes the people of God, whether summoned together for worship or not.


So the Thessalonians were the called out ones. In theological terms,

chapter one sets us on the firm foundation of what it means to be the elect of God. They were chosen by God from eternity past for salvation and eternal glory. That's what it means to be the elect of God. That is what we are. That is who we are as Covenant Church. Remember the order of things. Paul thanks God for their faith. All the great and glorious things that have happened in the Thessalonian church are because of God's election. They had nothing to do with it. So God is the One to whom thanksgiving must be given.


Make no mistake. You're a Christian and I'm a Christian because of God's sovereign loving choice. Our salvation has nothing to do with anything we've done. We did not choose to be saved. We did not independently come to an intellectual or emotional decision that we needed to believe in Jesus in order to be saved. God in eternity past - as we saw in Revelation, "from before the foundation of the world…" - apart from any influences from anyplace, sovereignly chose to save us. Then, prompted by the Spirit of God, we live out of the reality of our salvation. We move forward in faith because God has empowered us to do that. It is all a gift from God.

Here are two passages that emphasize this first reason for thanksgiving:

  • "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." {John 17:9}

  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." {John 15:12-17}


There are more. They all point to the next thing you might want to write down:

OUR SALVATION…OUR WELL-BEING…RESTS NOT IN OUR OWN HANDS, BUT IN THE WORK OF GOD.


Paul is thankful…we are thankful…because from before the foundation of

the world, God wrote our names down in the Lamb's Book of Life. We are the elect…the called out ones.*


Second, prayer is the primary manner of expressing thanksgiving. Paul connects his prayers with giving thanks to God rather than asking God for things. That is contrary to how many people think of prayer. They primarily ask God for things. Paul uses prayer primarily as a means to express gratitude to God. There's a line from the Heidelberg Catechism {1563}, a Reformed confession, on why we need to pray:

"Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us."


Too often, people primarily think about God as a kind of jolly, good-natured uncle who loves to give people a helping hand. How many people do you think prayed to win the lottery? We've seen, through the Prosperity Gospel, the bastardization of the One True Gospel. Hence, prayers get focused on what God can give to me or do for me so I can enjoy my best life ever. The goal, for many, whether directly verbalized or not, is to be happy and feel good about oneself. And we can access all that through prayer. We ask God for stuff. And things. And an easy path. Prayers get driven by a wish list of wants and needs.


What does Paul do? He uses prayer primarily as a way to express gratitude.


The third foundation for thanksgiving is found in verse three:

Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Someone has called these qualities, "A shorthand summary of the essentials of Christianity." In other words, like Paul's description of the Fruit of the Spirit, these qualities give evidence of our election.


With calculated quickness, let's flesh them out.


Work of Faith = Out of loyalty to Christ, we worship together, love each other, and love our community. Our lives exhibit good works not in order to be saved but because we have been saved. Hence the prayers of

gratitude. Our good Christian activity grows out of our faith.

Labor of Love = The specific way we express our love for each other in our everyday dealings. We lovingly pray for each other, encourage each other, forgive each other, support each other, and build together a church rooted in joy. To quote an old Ringo Starr song, you know it don't come easy. But, the same God who wrote our names down in the Lamb's Book of Life before the foundation of the world, can certainly supply the strength for a bunch of imperfect, broken people to love each other.


Steadfastness of Hope = This reflects their faithful perseverance even in the face of affliction and opposition. Life was hard for them. They lived in a pagan, garbage culture. Because they refused to worship the cultural gods and Roman ruler, they were considered atheists. In Thessalonica, sexual immorality ran rampant. Divorce was frequent. Their form of abortion was to abandon unwanted to babies to the trash heaps outside the city. While the technology has changed, their pagan culture of Thessalonica wasn't much different from ours today. The list could go on. The bottom line is that they stayed true to the gospel in spite of the cultural pressures not to.

Steadfastness of hope and labors of love and works of faith were all evidence of God's electing grace.

In light of these three essential qualities, let's think together about our lives. Life isn't always easy. Bad things happen. Illness. Disease. Bad choices we make. The bad things others do to us. We live in a culture that is, in so many ways, offensive to God. Relationships can be tough. And we aren't always the easiest people to be around. Mel Brooks made a movie, years ago, titled "Life Stinks." If we're honest, that rings a bit true.


Here's a great line from the song, "If We're Honest," by Francesca Battistelli:

Don't pretend to be something that you're not Living life afraid of getting caught There is freedom found when we lay Our secrets down at the cross, at the cross So bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine 'Cause love can heal what hurt divides And mercy's waiting on the other side If we're honest If we're honest

I love that song.


Whatever the source, don't let the hardships of the world break you. Don't let the disappointments wreck you. Don't let the wickedness drag you down to its level. Don't let your own stumbles and failures beat you up. Persevere. Have steadfastness of hope. That is the kind of faith we give God thanks for. Here's something else you might want to write down:

OUR CHRISTIAN JOY HELPS US SEE BEYOND OUR PRESENT SUFFERING TO OUR FUTURE DELIVERANCE.


Let's Pray:

FATHER, THANK YOU FOR CALLING US OUT OF THIS BROKEN CULTURE TO BELIEVE IN YOUR SON AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR. THE JOY IN OUR HEARTS IS A GIFT FROM YOU, AND YOU ALONE. THANK YOU FOR OUR CHURCH AND THE LOVE WE HAVE FOR EACH OTHER. WE THANK YOU THAT IN THE MIDST OF STRUGGLES AND TRIALS AND DIFFICULTIES AND PAIN, WE HAVE GREAT JOY. THANK YOU THAT YOU HAVE CHOSEN US TO LOVE YOU AND SERVE YOU AND WORSHIP YOU. WE PRAY THESE

THINGS IN CHRIST'S NAME. AMEN.


*"Salvation is something that God does in us and for us, not something that we in any way do for ourselves."

- R.C. Sproul