First Mennonite Church
November 22, 2015
Gratitude: Fruit of Inner Contentment
Text: Philippians 2:12-18
Today, the church where I grew up in in Belize is having their “Thanksgiving” worship service this afternoon. It is a version Thanksgiving Day celebration that missionaries took down there, I suspect. This type of worship service is only held in the month November. When we held our thanksgiving service we used to bring to church: vegetables, fruits, cooked food, pastries, live chickens, turkeys, piglets, groceries, and in some Mennonite Churches some had brought calves and sheep. On the day we’re to have this service, we come to church in the morning as usual for Sunday school, but the time is used to decorate the sanctuary and organize everything we have brought. We hung all kinds of fruit, set flowers arrangements and on one corner, we laid the large bags of grain. Out on the lawn, we set tables on which we put baskets of eggs, and other items which we bought from the stores—wheat flour, rice, sugar, oil, canned food, etc. The animals were kept in pens outside. The church looks like a mini farmer’s market on that day. During the worship service, each Sunday school teacher would have his or her children’s class bring in their special gifts to the altar. We’d have special numbers of praise songs from the ladies group and the young people.
After the worship service the people can buy the produce and items at reduced price and the funds go to the church ministries. The grocery items were distributed to the elderly in the village. We delivered food baskets as part of the celebration.
Thanksgiving services are very lively and the people rejoice and are glad to share.
Today we are also having our Thanksgiving celebration and beside the worship service and hymn sing before it, we will eat together. So let us rejoice before the Lord and let us enjoy the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the Lord. The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 133, which in part reads:
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore (vv. 1, 3b).
Throughout Holy Scriptures we find that God has a higher expectation of conduct, value system, set of priorities, but most of all godliness from his chosen people. God always expected more from his people than from those who did not know him. We do not find in Scripture that God expected the Egyptians to behave the way the Hebrew people were to behave. We do not find the Gentiles as having to express the same devotion the Jewish people were supposed to have. Christ does not expect the unbeliever to live by the standards he expects of the believer. On repeated occasions the apostle Paul urged the church to live “worthy of their heavenly calling” (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thess. 1:11). This means that everything we do, each and every intention we have, and every means of communication we use, should reveal that we live at a higher standard. That higher standard is not based on our personal refinement or human achievement. The higher standard of living is because we have been sanctified in Christ—that is God has set us apart for himself through his Son. He has set us apart to become a people who should make him known to those who do not know him. As the apostle Peter says:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Now, when it comes to being grateful, we Christians should reflect the most genuine expression of it. And there are so many reasons why we should. If we only read Psalms 103, we will be reminded with a list of reason why we should give thanks to God.
2Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God’s favor in every way has been abundant to us. He takes care of our daily material needs. He take care of our spiritual and emotional needs. He fills us with grace and compassion. He takes care of us and in the end he offers us life eternal. God has done so much. Let your heart overflow with unending thanksgiving to the Lord. Give the Lord praises. Give thanks, for the Lord is good!
The US, “America” as is commonly referred to, is the land of plenty. But plenty can be a blessing as well as an obstacle and to our moral and spiritual wellbeing. When we have plenty we can either give thanks to God or begin to take everything for granted. When we have plenty we can practice generosity or become so selfish that we want more and more.
One day, two friends met after a long time of not seeing each other. One was known for his upbeat and outgoing spirit. While the other was much reserved. “What’s up?” inquired the upbeat one. The other friend was sort of moaning and down cast. “You know, two years ago my uncle died,” he said, “and he left me ten thousand dollars. Then six months after his death my grandmother died and she left me a clean and ready amount of $80,000” he continued. “Well, I am so sorry to hear about the deaths of your loved ones,” said his friend. “Although, I must say, you are a lucky guy,” he continued. “I mean you have already gotten almost a 100 grand. So why are you so down?” He inquired. Then his friend said, “I had not finished. Three months ago my father died and he left me 120K, but that is three months ago and since then, nobody else has died!”
Having plenty can make a person go numb and become selfish. Abundance can make us take for granted the material blessings we receive daily or already have. The result of taking the daily blessings for granted leads to complaining. Someone said that America’s pastime is complaining. There is complaint about the weather. It is either too hot or too cold. There is too much rain or it’s too dry! The politician are terrible or their policies. There is too much junk food around or that food price is hitting the sky. It’s about sickness or daily aches and pains of getting old. People complain of not having enough money or that tax season is here again!
The letter to the Philippian church is called the “letter of joy.” Although the apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, he revealed a level of joy and thanksgiving only possible when the Spirit of God dwells in that person. It is believed that this letter was sent as a “Thank You” letter for the Philippian church’s support to Paul while he was in prison. And although there is a list of instructions on godly conduct and character, they are there as a guide and encouragement and not necessarily because this church was lacking them.
Paul urge the Philippians: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Grumbling is a terrible thing. There is nothing as annoying as when a parent does or gives something to his child and instead of being grateful, the child starts grumbling about it. You cook a delicious meal and with all joy and love you serve it to your child and she goes, “I hate this food!”
In the Bible there is a number of complainers.
The first one to complain was Adam—the woman you gave me made me eat the forbidden fruit, he said to God.
Israel was found constantly complaining while it journeyed in the wilderness.
They complained about the lack of water and food. And when they had food they complained about not having the spices and the meat they were used to in Egypt.
They complained against Moses and almost stoned him to death.
The Old Testament passage Jean read this morning is about the Israelite’s complain (Numbers 11:1).
It is easy to give thanks to God when everything is going well. But when difficulty comes, when our plans do not crystalize, when we face illness, it is difficult to see God’s presence nearby us. Again, the apostle Paul tells us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). It is hard to see what good can come out of difficulties and therefore it is easy to complain instead of trusting God. Complaining is a sign of rebellion against God’s sovereignty and a sign of distrust in his word and promise. Complaining is the outward evidence of inner discontent. On the other hand, gratitude is the evidence of inner peace and contentment.
Is there contentment in our heart today? Can we truly give thanks to God and to those around us? Gratitude reveals there is contentment down in our heart. Gratitude reveals we live the higher standard that is only possible because we have found the peace that only Christ can offer.
The Bible also has a list of people who expressed deep gratitude to God.
Let us remember Noah who gave thanks after his ark touched dry land.
Let us remember Abraham who offered God the tenth of everything he had.
Remember Hannah who gave Samuel back to God as sign of gratitude.
There was the Samaritan leper who came back to give thanks to Jesus after he was healed.
Last week we saw the “sinner” woman who washed Jesus’ feet with a pricy perfume.
David in the Psalms constantly reminds us to give thanks to the Lord: Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 106:1).
My dear brothers and sisters, we live in a place and time where so often people only look after themselves. We are surrounded by so much discontentment and where people complain about almost everything. But God has called us to himself. So our lives must give witness that we live at another standard. It is a standard not set by a religion but by the example of Christ—in humility, truth and selfless giving of himself for the wellbeing of others. Let us be truly grateful. Let us not be a member of the complaining club.
Let me close here with the words of the apostle Peter.
2 Peter 1:5-11
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!