Be Grateful

(Below is the manuscript for the Thanksgiving Service.)

There is an old Persian fable of a hen, a mouse, and a rabbit who lived together in a little house. They were happy and contented because they shared all the work. The rabbit cooked the meals. The chicken carried in the firewood. The mouse brought the water from the nearby brook. Each did his work faithfully and contentedly.

But one day while the hen was going to the forest for wood a busybody crow asked her what she was doing. When told, the crow complained that the hen was doing the hardest part of the work and that the rabbit and mouse were making an easy-mark of her. Try as she would, the thought kept rankling in the hen’s mind, and when she returned home with her load of wood and her still heavier load of discontent, she cackled: “I do the hardest work ever. We ought to change our jobs.”

Discontent spreads, as you know, and immediately the rabbit and mouse also thought they had been doing the hardest work. They agreed to change jobs: the mouse would cook, the rabbit would gather the firewood, the hen would bring the water.

As the rabbit hopped into the woods, a big fox trailed him, caught him, and ate him. The chicken put the pail into the creek, but the current pulled the pail down under, and the chicken with it. The mouse wondered why they did not come back, but not for long. While he was sitting on the edge of the big pot of soup, he lost his balance and fell in. Through discontent all three not only lost their happiness but their very lives. [1]

Complaining has become a stable in our fallen world. If you turn on the TV and listen, you will hear a lot of complaining. Our culture is plagued by complaining. And unfortunately, that complaining and discontentment continues to seep into our churches and homes. If we are not careful, we may not lose only our happiness, but our very lives.

Complaining, at its root, is an issue of pride. We believe our way of doing something or our way of thinking is just better than someone or something else. And because it is better, now it is my right to state my opinion or I am entitled to complain. Wasn’t this what we saw in the Garden of Eden? Satan was able to make Eve believe that God was withholding something from her. Genesis 3:4, “4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” She wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. She believed her way was better than God’s. In her heart, she was complaining about God’s way.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:14 and following, “Do everything without arguing and complaining so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life-in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” Complaining and arguing is destroying fellowship and unity in our churches and in our homes. Instead of being blameless and pure children of God without fault in this depraved generation as we hold out the word of life, we become guilty and defiled along with this depraved generation. And without being separate from the world, we are not holding out the word of life which brings salvation. Complaining and arguing are no small sins for it keeps us from completing God’s mission. If we are going to reach the world, we must be different from the World. Christians must speak with grace and purity without arguing and complaining. For if we are full of complaining (proof of worldly discontent), Paul says he labored in vain. Paul wanted to boast on the Day of Christ that his labor produced God-fearing Christians who lived to reach a corrupt world with the gospel. He did not want to labor in vain as the people were corrupted by the world. The church will either purify the culture with gospel living, or the culture will corrupt the church. If our churches are full of complaining, we have lost sight of our mission and we have been corrupted by the world.

We are called to do everything without arguing and complaining, how do we do that? Well I think this evening text gives us the solution. If you want to be faithful to God and honor the Holy Scriptures by doing everything without arguing and complaining here is what you need to do: Be Grateful. We need to be a grateful and thankful people. We are going to look at three things, this evening, that no matter what you have going on in your life, no matter what you think you have the right to complain about, that you can always be grateful for. Ready for the three things: We Need to be Grateful for God, for Hope and for Growth.

Grateful for God

Look back at v.3 Paul starts his letter, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s view of the church at Colossae is informed by his Theology, his view of who God is and what God is doing. Many in our culture will stop this week and thank God for their blessings. And many of those same people will forget God the following morning as they are fighting for the best black Friday deals. Beloved, God is not pleased when his children give thanks to Him in the same way as world does. We do not want to thank God tritely and sporadically but joyfully and regularly thank Him for who He is and What He has done. And Paul does that here. He thanks God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has revealed himself specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We do not just worship and thank God; we worship and thank God for how He has revealed himself in the Bible. We need to have informed opinion about God.

The Holy Spirit reveals through Paul, that we pray and give thanks to God the Father, through Jesus Christ. The only way we can get to God is through Jesus Christ. Paul calls Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word for Lord, kurios, is filled with meaning. It is referring to his divinity and kingship. Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is equal with God. Listen to 2 Corinthians 8:5-6, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. [2]Paul is showing that there is no conflict in Jewish Monotheism and Jesus Christ being Lord.[i] We worship a Trinitarian God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We should be grateful for this Trinitarian God. For only in the Trinity can we have salvation and life. God the Son offers His life to the God the Father on our behalf and we are regenerated by God the Spirit. All three persons of the Trinity are involved in our salvation. So when we give thanks to God, we are giving thanks to God the Father, through God the Son, and in the power of God the Spirit.

But is giving thanks or being grateful to God really that important? Will that actually change my life? Listen to Romans 1:21-23,

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. [3]

When we do not give thanks to God, we become empty and foolish. We exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. How does this work? So remember how I said that complaining is a form of pride. We complain because we feel our opinion is better than someone else’s. Do you ever complain about God? Do you ever believe that your way of doing something is better than God’s? Every time you sin and disobey God’s Word, what you are saying is that you know better than God. You do not give thanks to Him and honor His good, pleasing, and perfect Word, but rather you exchange the truth about God for a lie and chose to worship the creation, yourself, rather than Creator. For example, God says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses; neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” But there are times when we do not forgive others when the trespasses against us. We say things like, “but you do not know what they have done to me or I can never forgive her for what she did to me or my God would never make me forgive them after that.” By choosing not to forgive you are going against God’s Word and replacing His Perfect Word with your own. Are you holding a grudge against someone this morning? Are you withholding forgiveness? Turn back to God.

Beloved, God’s Word and His way is better than anything in this world. Do not become futile or empty in your thinking, but rather Be Grateful for God. He is our ever present Help in time of need. He will never leave you or forsake you. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore. No matter what you are going through, what struggle, what pain, do not complain, but be grateful for God.

Be Grateful for Hope.

The second thing we can always be grateful for is Hope. As with giving thanks, hope is often expressed in our culture. Our culture loves to use the word hope. But most often when they use the word, it is not grounded in truth. We hear things like, “I hope things will get better for you or just have hope that your relationship will improve.” They are well intentioned statements, but they are not grounded in anything. We want a hope that is grounded in God. I know that many you have heard the saying, “You are so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” According to the Scriptures, being consumed with a heavenly hope actually affects how we live in the here and now. Look at the end of v.3 of our text, “when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints---the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” The hope that is stored up for us in heaven is referring to the eternal salvation that we have in Jesus Christ.

Look at what Paul says about the Colossians, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.—the faith and hope that springs from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.” The love that was expressed to the saints was not in spite of their focus on heaven, but because of their focus on their heavenly home. Our problem is not that we are so heavenly minded we are no earthly good, but rather we are so earthly minded we are no earthly good. The Colossians were so heavenly minded that they were full of earthly good so much so that Paul heard about their love expressed in acts of good deeds and grace to all the saints.

As Christians, we live in and with hope in our heavenly home. No matter how bad things get in our lives, we know that we have a heavenly home. Listen to Romans 5:3-5:

And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We can rejoice and be thankful in all circumstances because we know that our sufferings will produce hope in us. Suffering can never take away our hope, but actually helps to produce it. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. He died and rose again.

I think that a lot of the reasons that we complain is that we are so focused on earthly happiness that we forget about the living hope we have in Jesus Christ. Christian, is your life hard? Absolutely. Are our struggles real? Amen. But remember this; the greatest problem that you have ever known has been solved in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will no longer be punished for your sins. You will never be put to shame. You are forgiven. Your debt has been paid. The Bible says you are raised with Christ and a co-heir to the kingdom of heaven. I do not want to minimize your problems, but I want to maximize the hope that you have in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us not put hope in our earthly circumstances, but rather let us be grateful for the Hope that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian, Jesus Christ has given us a living hope. We have a hope that is unfading, imperishable and undefiled. The only hope that will last is the hope held out in the gospel. 1 Peter 1:3-5, “3 blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [4]” Be thankful this Thanksgiving season, but let us not be thankful like our world. Our world rejoices in the gift rather than in the Giver of life. Our hope is not grounded in this world. Church, where are you placing your hope? Our world is full of false hopes. Do not be deceived by false hope. Our hope is a living and true hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Non-Christian, where are you placing your hope? Financial security? A spouse? your family? Will your hope stand if it is tested? If you could lose it, then it is a false hope and not built on a sure foundation. Can I challenge you this morning, to consider building your hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness? Jesus is the only true hope in this world. His hope is the only hope that you cannot lose and that will last forever. If you want to know more about this hope, you will have a chance to come forward following this message or ask someone seated around. I am sure they would love to talk with you about the hope they have in Jesus Christ.

Be Grateful for Growth

Lastly, let us look at our last reason to be grateful from this passage: Be Grateful for Growth. Look at verse 6. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” Paul did not start the church at Colossae. It was most likely started by someone from Colossae named, Epaphras. It is reasoned to believe that he traveled to Ephesus heard the gospel while Paul was there and then came back to his hometown to share the message. He was a faithful minister on behalf of Paul because he was a faithful to the gospel.

Epaphras ministry among the Colossians proves that we can be grateful for growth. Paul writes that the gospel is “bearing fruit and growing, just it has been among doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in truth.” It is important to see that the verbs bearing and growing are present participles which mean ongoing continuous actions. The gospel just does not grow once in a seed of faith, but continues to grow and bear fruit. Once the Colossians heard and believed the gospel they were planted on a continuous growing trajectory towards Christ. This growth is seen both inwardly in their own lives and outwardly in others responding to this gospel message. Isn’t it comforting that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing? I love this because this verse shows me that if we continue to proclaim this gospel message in truth that growth is going to happen. Growth is of God. Our job is to be faithful to proclaim truth and it is God’s job to cause growth.

Look back at v. 6, growth was not something that was just happening in the Colossians, but all over the world. The same experience that the gospel had in Colossae was happening all over the world. Remember that this is an epistle written by the Apostle Paul. Paul had a missionary heart. We wanted churches to look beyond their gathering to the lost world. Listen to Paul’s heart in Romans 15:20-21, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” Paul wanted to the Colossians to remember that the hope held out in the gospel is for the whole world. I think that Paul is gently reminding the church that growth is not only for their church. The growth in the gospel is for the whole world.

So church, what happens in our gatherings, is also happening on the plains of Africa, in the caves of Pakistan, on the shores of India. We are part of something much larger than ourselves. We are able to participate in a gospel that is bearing fruit and growing. What a great God that allows us to participate in his mission of growth!!

Would you rejoice if growth came to Park Baptist? Would you be happy if growth came to Calvary? What about Northside? Or Eastside? Would we be happy if the growth that comes is different than our expectations? What if the growth came from people that looked different than us? If growth is God’s, we have to rejoice in how God wants to grow his church and build his kingdom. We cannot be churches that complain about the growth that God gives, but rather we must be churches that rejoice in any growth that comes from God and His gospel of truth!! That is why at Park, we pray publicly for Pastor Reggie and his faithfulness to God’s Word. We want Calvary to grow, because we want God’s Kingdom to grow. I pray you at Calvary will pray for us.

Beloved, we need to take a long look at our hearts. We need to have hearts that are more about the Kingdom of God than our own churches. So let us be faithful to present the gospel in truth and rejoice in any and all growth, where ever it comes; for all growth comes through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We also must remove our blinders. We must realize how our complaining affects our mission. If our churches are full of complaining, we will not effectively hold out the word of life. Our complaining affects people’s ability to hear our message. But the opposite is true. A grateful church will be better at making others grateful in God. Our gratefulness, not a temporary Holiday induced gratefulness, but true heartfelt continual grateful will help to open people’s ears to the gospel. A grateful church will call the bitter and the angry to be grateful in God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

So beloved, will you be grateful? Will you be grateful for God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Will you be grateful for the eternal hope offered in Christ Jesus? Will you be grateful for the growth that God gives? Let us throw aside sinful complaining rooted in pride and let us be grateful for all that God has given us in Christ Jesus.

[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Co 8:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 1:25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Pe 1:3–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[i] New International Greek Commentary. Colossians.