The Power of Thanksgiving

It’s been busy out here is Fresh Read’s world, so here is another sermonic clip on a very interesting passage – I Timothy 4:1-5

1 Tim. 4:1-5
    Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, [2] through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, [3] who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. [4] For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, [5] for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

      Do remember the discussion of Genesis 3, with the Serpent, the Woman and Adam?  God’s original command had been freedom with one restriction.  They were free to receive from any tree, except one.  Do you remember how the Serpent turned that upside down and tried to make the one command into a total negation?

            This is a pattern.  Often it is religion or it is ethics that tell us that we live in a world of restrictions with very few freedoms.  The Bible is about the freedoms nore than the restrictions.

            Here are the steps:

            “For everything that God created is good.”   Now I know you will dispute some of that.  What about illness and death?  Those were not part of the original creation, but they entered because of sin.  The world as we know it is not the way it is supposed to be.  But still the point remains that all that is in the world was made, declared good and has a purpose.

            Even mosquitoes are good and have a purpose. I do not know that that could possibly be, but I take it by faith.

             “Nothing is to be rejected.”  We can not “reject the world” like some did.  It is God’s world.  Now, I may love the sight of lions and tigers, but I need to know that it would be imprudent to have one as a pet.  I may love rhubarb, but I need to know that the leaves are poisonous.  God created sex for marriage and marriage for sex – but not all sexual choices are healthy.  The mistake is usually made by saying “If rhubarb leaves are poison, I will reject rhubarb.”  Or, “there is so much sexual sin and suffering, sex must be bad.  Or ‘Lions might eat me, they are bad.”

             “If it is received with Thanksgiving.”  Here is the power of Thanksgiving.  My gratitude to God is a principle and a test. 

            It says that in principle that God has given to us the earth to use and enjoy, as long as we recognize him as the giver and that we are the receivers.  The world as a thing loved for itself without God becomes an idol that we worship and serve.  Money as a thing loved for itself, is a source of much evil.  Food that is served and worshipped becomes a god – when it ought to be a meal to be enjoyed.

            This is a test.  I found this question in the Expositor’s Greek Testament – “Is it a thing of such a kind that I can, without incongruity, give thanks for it.”  (EGT – IV p.22)  Let me translate that into English for you.

            “Can I honestly give thanks for this thing, in the way I want to use it, without contradiction?”   There are certain products and certain companies that I do not like, and so I can not be thankful.  It is a gut-check.  I don’t want to give you my list.  The rule is this ‘can you honestly give thanks for it, without contradiction?  If so, go ahead.

             “…because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”   When we give thanks, it is the result of having considered the Word of God.  It is the word that ells us that all things are good.  It is the word that tells us that all foods are permissible.  And by the prayer of Thanksgiving we are giving thanks to God for what he has given us.  we do sometimes speak of blessing the foot – what the bible usually demonstrates is giving thanks.  God has given us a blessing in the form of food, and we bless god by giving thanks.  In the language of the bible “blessing” and “praising” can be the very same word.   The food is already a blessing, what we do is offer thanks.

Proverbs 30:1 – Textual Variants

At the start of this passage is a difficult textual problem.  If you have the NIV translation (or one of several others) you will read this:

The sayings  of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle :

This man declared to Ithiel,

to Ithiel and to Ucal

 

            I am preaching today from the English Standard Version, because it reads verse one this way.

The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;

I am weary, O God, and worn out.

            When the Hebrew of the Old Testament was first written down, they wrote down only the consonants, not the vowels.  And further, they did not put spaces in between words.  Paper, animal skins and stones were hard to come by, so they used up all the space.  Later, scholars put in the spaces and added vowels to help people read the text.  However that could lead to different understandings.  Don’t get me wrong, almost all the time, the sense of the text is clear, but sometimes you can get more than one reading.

            A traditional reading was that Agur spoke to a man named Ithiel, and Ithiel spoke to someone named Ucal.  (Ucal is the only person in the bible to be named after an American university.)

            Along with many scholars, I prefer the reading in the ESV.  I do so because the traditional reading makes no sense – we don’t know who these people are!  The ESV reading fits the text well.  Agur is a scholar at the end of his endurance.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;

I am weary, O God, and worn out.

            Why was Agur so weary?  We will see in the text.  Basically because he was a seeker of wisdom, and he had been looking – not just for knowledge, but for wisdom that explained life and gave it meaning.  He had been seeking, but he had not found.  No mater how far he ran, or walked or crawled, he could not get to this place of wisdom. Look at Proverbs 30:2-3

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.

I have not the understanding of a man.

 I have not learned wisdom,

nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

            This is the irony of human life.  On the one hand we are created in the Image and Likeness of God.  We are “a little less than the heavenly beings.”  On the other hand, we are always seeking, but never finding.  In the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11

    He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

            Despite his search, Agur could not discover wisdom and further he could not acquire knowledge of the Holy One.

            This is the history of human understanding.  We have discovered and created many things.  The grand total of human knowledge increases daily and no one person can understand even 1% of it.

            However, the more we know, the less we are certain about the meaning of life, or when life begins, or what happens after someone dies.  Further, philosophers have argued for the existence of a Designer, a First Cause, a Prime Mover, but none of them have been able to find God.

            So at the end of what we know, there is a question mark surrounded by a cloud.