In light of all the reasons God gives us to be grateful–as a society, a church, in our families, and on the nitty-gritty of our dinner tables–why do so many grumble? We whine because we want to be God. Here’s a dependable observation from a dubious source, Friedrich Nietzsche.
There is a powerful causal drive within [man]: someone must be to blame for feeling bad…And waxing indignant makes him feel better, too: all poor devils take pleasure in cursing, it gives them a little rush of power. (Twilight of the Idols)
In other words, complaining is the closest we get to being God. We know that we can’t actually control anything but if we complain about it, then we can at least make ourselves feel like we are above the problems. Only those who aren’t trying to be God can thank God for whatever He gives. Otherwise we’ll just be fussy devils.
My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.
In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.
I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.
I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.
Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.
Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.
So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.
Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,
love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)
Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.
Last week we learned of new ways that our government has been collecting data on us. Through web visits and wireless communication they gather and sift our locations, our contacts, our interests. They’ve stuck their collective nose where they shouldn’t, though we’ve given them tacit permission by voting for officials who would make us “safe.” Many Americans are surprised, outraged, and probably nervous about being exposed.
Remember, though, that our God knows not only the words we type and text, but the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We can’t get off His grid. Wherever we go, He is there, attentive and writing it all down. He misses nothing from no one, Americans included.
What does He do with all that? He judges us. He holds us to account. We cannot vote Him out of office nor can we change His policies.
But, for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. Have you gossiped, lusted, lied, been lazy, clicked into bad areas of the Internet? God knows. God sent His Son to die for that. We are naked and exposed in heart before His word but we are also clothed and covered in Jesus.
No one will find out anything about you that Jesus didn’t already know when He went to the cross. He’s your defense now, more informed than any Big Brother. He is God, the Omniscient Forgiver. As a prism separates white light into a spectrum of colors, so the cross refracts our punishment onto Christ.
Ambrose Bierce construed the verb “acknowledge” or “confess” in The Devil’s Dictionary as follows: “acknowledgment of one another’s faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.” In other words, the more we are wound by truth the tighter we put the screws on our neighbors.
We love the truth; that’s good and necessary. We are learning to confess sin, to speak the truth about sin, not only for salvation but also for worship. Appropriate confession depends on accurate truth so that we know what should be confessed, so that we don’t chase the standard around like a ball of mercury.
Loving the truth is good, confessing sin is also good. But a great temptation for truth lovers is to see it as our duty to speak about everyone else’s need for confession first. I suppose this is better than seeing no sin at all; at least we acknowledge God’s law. But if we acknowledge the truth and exalt it as the rule of life (which it is) primarily for others (which it isn’t), we double our disobedience. Denial of sin is another sin.
We also make our work double. Approaching confession in this way requires us to regard the truth in one instance and then to disregard it in another, to be smart and then dumb. Many, it seems, listened to Jesus’ words but they did not do them. They both acknowledged His word and refused to acknowledge it. James referred to the hearer-no-doer as a self-deceiver. Self-deception causes self-destructive without self-awareness. The Word is a mirror so that we can see ourselves, not a microscope so that we can scrutinize someone else.
Our highest duty as truth lovers is to love the truth accurately, as it exists on its own, and applicably, as it exposes our hearts. We have plenty to acknowledge at home before we take our show on the road.
Theologians (a.k.a. debaters) love to go around on the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Two common views are that 1) His sacrifice was substitutionary or 2) His sacrifice was exemplary. Which is it?
Without a substitution we could not have salvation. We needed someone to pay our penalty, to do what we couldn’t, so that we could be freed from the punishment due our unrighteousness. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). “God put forward [His Son] as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith so that we could be forgiven” (Romans 3:25).
Of course, that doesn’t mean that His death is not also an example. It isn’t only an example, as some liberals say, but it is an example. In fact, the willing sacrifice of Christ on behalf of others is the example. The love and patience and endurance of His suffering is glorious because it wasn’t for Himself, it was for others. His sacrifice provides both a propitiation and a pattern.
The Lord’s Table is a moving indicative, a message we receive by faith and a model we emulate by faith. By faith we give glory for Christ’s sacrifice for us. By faith we live glory as we give our lives for others.
Solomon warned that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). How does the fear of man trap us?
The fear of man catches us in the trap of comparison. Down in the pit we can’t see out of the pit to get any sort of perspective. The only ones we can see are the ones right next to us. Of course, the taste-makers themselves never disclose that they feel just as trapped, but we listen to them because we have no one else to listen to.
The fear of man catches us in the trap of confusion. We’re stuck looking at others and we can never know how to please our protean neighbor or the motley preferences of the mob. Everyone wants to be paid but everyone has his own currency of glory. Some want euros, some want dollars, and all we have is a pocketful of pesos. No wonder we’re so broke.
The fear of man also catches us in the trap of competition. The only way to get out is by climbing on top of each other. No one actually wants all the way out, though, since we still want the approval of men. They might fight us for the top spot, but we need them to be on top like the tip of the iceberg needs a base.
The fear of man leads to servitude not free fellowship. The fear of man prohibits love, makes every sacrifice selfish, and turns us into reflections of reflections which have nothing of substance to reflect. The fear of man keeps us from believing God (John 5:44) and ruins us, now and forever.
What happened when Jesus was lifted up on the cross? We don’t have enough courses in the communion meal to give us the time to drink in all the fullness. We’ll have to keep coming back Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and talk some more. We can say, in light of John 12:31-32, that we know that His death fixed the judgment of the world, the defeat of the evil one, and the salvation of every son of light. We also know that God the Father and God the Son were glorified. We know that Christ made a substitutionary and exemplary sacrifice.
The list of accomplishments is long and yet the accomplishments are only seen by faith. We do not see the final fulfillment of all things but that doesn’t mean a man is right who can’t see around the corner. We believe Jesus. We believe His Word. We believe what He told us. He will finish (in the cosmos) what He’s finished (on the cross).
What happens when believers eat and drink at the Lord’s Table? Again, more things than we have time to chew. But we believe that God does things here, things He tells us He is and will do whether or not we see effects immediately or obviously. So we eat and He strengthens our souls. We eat and He knit us together. We eat and proclaim Christ’s death until He returns. We are being changed, we are making war against the dragon, we are breaking down division among us.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like; and we like less than half of mercy half as well as it deserves. If that seems unexpected or difficult to understand, I’ll try to work it out for us. We don’t appreciate judgment or mercy very well.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like. It would benefit us to know more clearly and more fully the judgment due to sin, our sin and the sin around us. Sin is terrible. It mocks our Maker. It offends His goodness and righteousness and earns His wrath. We should like to know the law better to learn our condition better, to know God’s character better. If we only knew half of judgment half as well as we should, we would be quicker to confess. We would also be more urgent in call others to escape it.
We like less than half of mercy half as much as it deserves. Mercy is even greater than judgment. Actually, our gratitude for mercy will grow as our grasp of judgment grows. The more sin abounds, mercy abounds much more. Mercy should be magnified. How could any of us sinners get out of judgment? We all deserve all we have coming to us. Yes, but God is merciful! His mercy should be known and exalted! We should like it much more than we do, certainly it deserves the fullness of our affections.
The cross helps us know and like both better. The wickedness judged and the mercy offered as Jesus bore the punishment in His body teach us about both. We don’t need forgiveness because nothing is wrong in our hearts. He will judge us. But the fact that our hearts are so wrong doesn’t mean He won’t forgive. He offers us mercy.
Dying to serve others is difficult. It may be so difficult that, when faced with the implacable long hand on the clock, you say to yourself, “I can’t do this!” You could rephrase it, “I can’t make this many sacrifices. I don’t have the time or the strength or the energy or the patience to die as many times as I know I’ll need to.” You may say this quietly inside your head or loudly out your mouth. Either way, God hears it and He disagrees.
When we say that we can’t die, God reminds us that we already have. This isn’t to say that the mom has already changed the diaper, but rather that the believing mother has already been freed from the self-pity that tempts her to leave a stinking bottom. The teacher hasn’t already answered the same stupid question for the seventh time, but he has died to the impatient spirit that wants to blow up at the entire class.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
Each day we live out the death we have already died in Christ. He gave Himself for us and that includes all we need to give ourselves for others.
At the communion table we enjoy the fruits of Christ’s death for us. By faith we acknowledge that we’ve died with Him. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we enjoy fellowship with God, we experience fellowship with each other, and we are being fed to go and die likewise for others. After eating the Lord’s Supper, we can die it.