Live audio recording of Lessons & Sermon:
Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 4:4-5
Date: August 24, 2014
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
1 Timothy 4:4–5 (NIV84)
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Rejoice in God’s Gifts with Thanks
Is God primarily concerned with your spiritual health or your physical health? That feels like kind of a false distinction, doesn’t it? The one who created your soul also created your body. The one who rescued us from hell also provides our daily bread. While obviously eternity matters more than our finite lives here, God is concerned about both and he promises to provide whatever it is that we need.
We saw perfect examples of that in our First Lesson and Gospel this morning. God did not want his people to be starving during the years of famine that would best Egypt and the surrounding areas, so God used great adversity in Joseph’s life to eventually put him in a place to ensure the whole region, and especially Jacob and his sons, had food during lean years. Jesus did not want the crowds to be hungry simply because they followed him to a remote area to hear him preach. We’re told he had compassion on them and spent extra time teaching and then working a miracle to provide more than ample food for everyone who was there.
God provides for our needs, he takes care of us, and he loves us. In fact, if we look at what we have, we recognize all of us, whether by our nation’s standards we are considered “rich” or “poor” or somewhere in-between, we are all wealthy beyond imagining. We all have far more than the bread and water we might need to simply survive. We drove here in automobiles, selected clothing from multiple options, had our choice of any number of things for breakfast. We have the luxury of choosing between different types of entertainment at times, from TV shows to movies to plays to concerts, to parks. We have so much to be thankful for!
But there are times when we let that abundance get to us a little bit, don’t we? Perhaps we’re filled with some guilt that we have more than someone else. Perhaps we think we have too much and we start wanting to be rid of it. Perhaps enjoying the blessings that God poured into our lives starts to feel like a burden or even wrong when others go without. There are those who will say that your enjoying the gifts and blessings God has given to you is even wrong, that you should really deprive yourself, that a lack of “stuff” and “things” is the only way to become closer to God, and thus ignoring the fact that it all came from him.
Of course, if material things become our god, become the sole focus of our lives, that is wrong. But Paul isn’t condoning the over-valuing of earthly goods in our brief lesson this morning, he’s directly combatting that idea that depriving yourself of what God has given is good. In the verses just prior to our lesson, Paul says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Not long after Paul’s ministry, the philosophy of Gnosticism would take hold, especially amongst Christian groups. Gnosticism taught that you needed more knowledge than the Bible, you needed a secret knowledge only available to a select few. Part of that “secret knowledge” was that all physical things were worthless and all spiritual things were the only thing that mattered. Those teachings would warp into the ideas of asceticism and depriving one’s self. It eventually led to the idea that you could be closer with God, you could even manufacture forgiveness for your sins by depriving yourself of earthly pleasures and comforts.
Paul says in no uncertain terms that that is hogwash. Denying yourself the blessings that God has given to you is like handing a Christmas present back to the person who gave it to you and saying, “Thanks but no thanks.” Instead of bringing you closer to God, actually, it drives you farther away from him, as you start to lean on your own strength and might, and you start telling God that he was wrong to give you this blessing or that gift.
No, instead, we use our gifts and enjoy them. Look at the heart of God who has given them to you. That heart is one of unending love. The greatest blessing he’s given is a gift that we literally cannot live without: Jesus. As Jesus brings to us the forgiveness of sins by dying in our place and rising from the dead, defeating our sin, we have the most amazing blessing coming: eternal life in heaven.
In the meantime, has God given you a special talent or interest? Don’t hide it away but use it to God’s glory! Has God given you the ability to travel, or go to school, or go out to eat once in a while? Enjoy what God has given you and thank him for it! He’s given you more than you need, yes, but there’s no reason to feel shame over that. It’s but another reminder of the God who loves you, who saved you, that he will bring you to a place where he will provide for every need and take care of every concern.
And while we enjoy the blessings that we have, we are still keenly aware of the needs of others. Has God given you an abundance to hoard it or to share it? Is the way to thank him for what you’ve been given to keep it all to yourself or to let others benefit from it as well? Of course, we are called to share, aren’t we? That why you given generous offerings to this congregation, to support the work here so that you can share with them the most precious gift of all—the message of a free heaven. That’s why you give to support others in need because, by doing so, you are thanking the one who has given you so much. That’s why you ought to seek out way to help those less fortunate that yourself, perhaps in our congregation, your neighborhood, state, nation, or even beyond our borders. And of course, in the end, the richest treasure you have to share is your faith. In addition to supporting this congregation’s ministry, you seek to share what you’ve been given by God in the comfort and certainty of eternal life. As Jesus said to his disciples before they went out to preach, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
But perhaps our problem comes not because we think we have too much, but because we have too little. We see the way others our blessed, be it in talents, finances, time, family, whatever, and we become envious, jealous. We want what they have; we don’t want what we have. Why would God give me this when I really want that?
Of course, the key word in all of this is “need.” God provides what we need and more so. But while I may recognize that I have what I need, I’m also keenly aware that I never have everything that I want. I may see the gifts on my plate, in my closet, in my driveway as unsatisfactory, especially when my friends or neighbors or even fellow members at church have things that are so much nicer, or more fun, or whatever. We don’t hear the people on that hillside asking Jesus if he had something else to eat because this miracle bread and fish wasn’t their favorite. We don’t hear of the people who came to Egypt, starving, looking to buy food when they had none complaining about what was give to them. Instead they were thrilled with the blessings God gave to them.
Can we be any less thankful for what God has given us? How could we possibly take God’s gifts for granted? It’s much easier to receive [our gifts] with thanksgiving if, as Paul says, we are setting them apart by the word of God and prayer. That is one action, not two. Studying God’s Word and prayer are two sides of the same conversation. God speaks to you in his Word and you get to speak to him in your prayers. If the conversation is one-sided, one way or another, that’s of no use to anyone. But used together, and seeing our particular gifts and blessings through the lens of that divine conversation, can bring about thankfulness and contentment that the world knows nothing about.
Are you lonely and looking for some companionship in your family? Read and pray! Are your finances in trouble and needing a boost? Read and pray! Are you continually passed over for recognition or promotion at work? Read and pray! Like a child asking his father for something special, we are never at fault in asking God for blessings that could be ours but are not right now. But, if we’re praying as we should, that God’s will ultimately be done, we should be ready for God’s answer.
God’s answers to prayers are often, “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Maybe God has close, family companionship waiting for you, but it’s not quite the right time. Perhaps God has chosen to not fill your financial cup to the brim because in that way he keeps you centered on him and always recognizing that your daily bread comes not from the big balance in the bank but from his gracious hand. Perhaps that job promotion wouldn’t be the right fit for you because you’d be put into a work situation where your faith would come under constant mockery and ridicule and the temptation to give up on your Savior would be too strong. We cannot speculate on what God’s motives and reasons are most of the time, but we can know what he’s promised: that he will take care of us and work everything out for our eternal good.
So my brothers and sisters, instead of focusing on what you do not have, focus on what you do have. Rejoice that the God who made you, body and soul, takes care of all of you. You have the food you need, the clothes you need, the shelter you need, and probably even have the means to lend a hand to others in some way.
Ultimately, if you’re feeling dissatisfaction with your blessings in this life, or guilty about what you do have, look again to that ultimate gift. Your Savior loved you enough to die for you. He’s paid for every sin, from greed and discontent to ignoring the needs of others. You are forgiven, and that’s a blessing that is for everyone. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). If you have any doubts or reservations about God’s love for you, the cross and the empty tomb will change that right away. If he’s given it to you, it’s for your blessing and enjoyment; if he’s withheld from you, that too is for your benefit.
Whatever blessings you have, take extra time today, and every day after that, to receive [them] with thanksgiving, because [they are] consecrated by the word of God and prayer. Amen.