Being Thankful is a Response, not a Command (Luke 17:1-19)


Thursday, Nov 24, is Thanksgiving Day. But being thankful is so darn hard. One painful reason is that we expect rewards and commendation for our good works. So instead of being thankful, we expect reward for "good Christian behavior."

Truth be told, there is always SOMEONE we are upset with, or angry about, or hurt by, or disappointed with. What are the reasons? They disrespected me. They disregarded me. They gossiped about me. They slandered me. They lied about me. They did not support me. They cared only about themselves. They don't love me. They caricatured me. The reason could even be, "They are not thankful." It is almost comical to say or feel, "I am so unhappy and unthankful because that guy is so unthankful!"

According to the Bible, how can we be thankful?

Luke 17:1-19 seem to be isolated disconnected teachings of:

  • Jesus teaching his disciples about sin (1-4), faith (5-6), and duty (7-10).
  • Jesus' healing of 10 men with leprosy (11-19).
How are these seemingly separate teachings related? How do they connect together?

My theme is that "Thankfulness is a response, not a command." My thesis is 2 fold:

  • No one can be thankful or happy if they think they are owed something from God or others. No one can be thankful if they think that their sacrifice, faithfulness and good works obligates God and others to reward or honor them.
  • No one can be thankful or happy if they strongly desire something else more than Jesus.
3 Things Christians should always do (Jesus' teaching about sin): Jesus' teaching about sin is that his disciples should do 3 things (Lk 17:1-4):
  1. Never cause others to sin/stumble (1-3a).
  2. Always confront others' sin (3b).
  3. Always forgive others when they sin against you (4).
How easily do we cause others to sin! It could just be a subtle look or a body gesture of disgust, and we might cause others to sin.

How can we always confront others when they sin? It is easy to smash others by self-righteously pointing out their sins. It is easier to ignore others when they sin. To truly confront others when they sin requires deeply bearing the pain and grief of their sin, and approaching them gently with humility, tears and trembling (Gal 6:1).

How can we always forgive others when they have deeply hurt us or betrayed us? How do we forgive others, not just once or twice, but 7 times (Lk 17:4), and then 70 X 7 times (Mt 18:22)?

Increase our faith (Jesus' teaching about faith): When the disciples heard the 3 things Jesus said about sin, they knew it was impossible for them to do. They cried out, "Increase our faith!" (Lk 11:5) Jesus' response was not that they needed a greater quantity of faith, but they simply needed faith, even "faith as small as a mustard seed" (Lk 11:6), which is proverbially the smallest of seeds. How can our faith increase? Luke tells us Jesus' parable of a nasty landowner (Lk 17:7-10), followed by Jesus' healing of 10 lepers (Lk 17:11-19), which teaches us 2 things about faith:

  1. Faith is knowing that our good works do not count (Lk 17:7-10).
  2. Faith is treasuring Jesus more than our heart's desire (Lk 17:11-19).
God is not obligated to you by your good works (Jesus' teaching about duty): This is really a hard and bitter teaching (Lk 17:7-10). When we do good we want and expect respect, honor and appreciation. But our faith is that just as God does not hold our sins against us, God also cannot credit our good works to us. Why not? All of our good works and righteous acts are tainted by selfish impure motives (Isa 64:6), even the selfish motive of being honored and recognized! So, we are upset if we don't get it.

What do you want more: Jesus or your heart's desire? (Jesus healed 10 lepers) When Jesus healed 10 lepers, only 1 returned to thank Jesus. If they were asked whether or not they were thankful, the other 9 would surely answer "Yes!" Yet Jesus lamented, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Lk 17:17-18) The other 9 would insist that they are thankful for being healed of their leprosy. But their actions testified otherwise. Though they were "thankful" to Jesus for healing and blessing them, their heart's desire was to be cured of their leprosy, which they already received. In effect, they no longer needed Jesus, since they already got from Jesus what they wanted. Only 1 man truly loved and valued and treasured Jesus more than being cured of his leprosy. Only 1 man out of 10 was truly, deeply thankful.

The Bible says, "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18). It is an imperative command. Yet it can only be obeyed in response to what we are thankful for. When we think we are worthy of something, anything, we will not be thankful and happy. But if we know that we are unworthy servants, we will be thankful and happy. If we are overcome by our natural desires, our emotions sway with the wind. But if Jesus is our ultimate Treasure, we will be happy, like the thankful leper.

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