Giving thanks – Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Stopping to give thanks for our blessings is a simple thing to do, but at the same time is such an important lesson.  In the story above, only one out of ten did so.  Presumably the other nine did go on to show themselves to the priests, thereby obeying the command of Jesus and fulfilling the letter of the law.  That’s not bad, but returning first while praising God with a loud voice was even better.  Jesus remarks how odd it is that they didn’t all return together.

But isn’t that just like us sometimes?  We perform our duties, we get the job done, but we fail to acknowledge the wonderful hand of God in the process.  God gives, we receive and then just go about our business.  Paul reminds us of the importance of thanking God in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, saying

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How often have we wondered about God’s will for us?  There it is.

Now in my estimation, that verse from 1 Thessalonians is hard enough, though I admit that doing God’s will is essential and truly works for our eternal benefit.  But this one,  Ephesians 5:20, is harder yet.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to give thanks in all circumstances, quite another to give thanks for the circumstances themselves.  And yet “giving thanks always for all things” sure seems to include not only difficult circumstances, but pretty much anything we can think of, good or bad.  The lesson here is that if God allows something into our lives, it is somehow intended for our good, though that good may not be easy to see at the time.  I think of the book of Job or any number of tragic stories that we are personally familiar with.

These lessons are the advanced class.  If you are like me, we need to go back to the story of the lepers and remember to thank God for our blessings,  That should be easy and yet I too often fail even there.  Let’s begin with the basics.

 

Faith that overcomes – 1 John 5:4-5

The truest kind of faith thrives in situations where it looks like it is losing.  The Christian martyrs of old, and for that matter, of the present day, die passively.  They may anger and irritate their attackers, but they clearly do not oppress them.  They are and look like victims.  One might imagine they were defeated souls who were finally giving up, and in a way that is true.  There is a sense in which faith is a form of surrender, not to the bully, but to Christ.  It is evidenced by taking up our cross and following him.

The Apostle John wrote the following after all of his fellow apostles had already met untimely deaths at the hands of their persecutors.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Faith lives while imprisoned, exiled and sometimes put to death.  If we think an overcoming faith needs to look victorious on the outside we get it wrong.  It doesn’t have to look like anything in particular.  Paul knew this when he said, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7).  Faith may be inspiring, but it is not intimidating.  

The important thing about faith is that it just keeps going no matter what happens to it.  Consider that the words faith, faithful and faithfulness are all related in the languages of the Bible as they are English.  At times, in fact, the word translated in the Bible as “faith” needs to be translated as “faithfulness.”  For example, in Romans 3:3, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”

So a wavering, sometimes uncertain faith can still be real.  The faith of the underdog may be more authentic than the faith of the perpetual champion.  The champion is certainly more tempted to trust completely in himself and his abilities.  The faith that is baffled by circumstances, but nonetheless rises to meet its next challenge, may be the greatest faith of all.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up nicely.

Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.*

 

* Chesterton, G. K.. The G. K. Chesterton Collection [50 Books] . Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition, location 87385

Of course it’s worth it – Luke 14:26-33

There is a paradox involved in serving Jesus.  We know we are saved by grace and that the eternal life we receive from God is nothing but a gift from him.  At the same time, Jesus makes it very clear that discipleship is truly costly.  This is a cost we all need to count.

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

First some clarification of that love/hate thing.  Those words, love and hate, were used in that culture at that time as comparative terms, not necessarily opposites. Matthew makes this clearer than Luke, in Matthew 10:37-38.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

But the point Jesus makes is still stark.  Our love of God and determination to follow Jesus must be our highest affections.  No person or thing, not even our own lives, can stand in the way of our commitment to Christ.  Nothing can be held as superior to him.  

These are serious words and must be taken as seriously as they are meant.  Jesus encourages us to count the cost.  Are we ready to pay this price?  Can we finish building the tower?  Are we ready to go to war?  Remember, we need to renounce all that we have.

Of course the most faithful, fully devoted discipleship worth any price we might pay.  Does  t bring tension into some relationships?  It’s worth it.  Do we even lose one or more of those relationships as result of following Christ?  Will it affect us materially, in the realm of our career goals, wealth or possessions?  Probably so, according to Jesus, to all of the above questions.  Still, it’s worth it.

Paul served Jesus a long time and endured far more than most in exchange.  Let’s remember the conclusions of his thorough assessment in 2 Corinthians 4:17.  No matter what we face as we follow Jesus, it is nearly nothing.  The glory that awaits us is better to an absurd extreme.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

We need to count the cost of discipleship, but of course this will only determine for us that it’s worth it in the end.

Fulfilling the Law of Christ – Dr. Harold Netland

This is from April 30, 2019.  The subject matter is related to our previous series on Unity, Diversity and Our Identity in Christ.  Dr. Netland is one of my instructors and one of the readers putting me through my doctoral project.  (Not sure why, but it doesn’t seem to want to start at the beginning.)