Bob's Sermon for Sunday, November 19, 2017

 

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“Do you know the Bible’s shortest verses?”

 

(1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 NIV)

 

     (1 Thessalonians 5:12) “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (13) Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

     (14) “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (15) Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

     (16) “Rejoice always,

     (17) pray continually,

     (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

 

     This text deserves lots of attention. First, its insights help small and large church groups deal with thorny issues that commonly plague them. Second, it is notable for a piece of trivia. You possibly know: “Jesus wept” is the shortest Bible verse in most English versions; yet in the original languages, it ranks third at best. As far as I am aware, the shortest verse in the Bible is Job 3: 2, consisting of 13 Hebrew letters: ויאמר איוב ויען Reading right to left, “And answering, Job said.”[1]

 

     1 Thessalonians 5:16 has 14 Greek letters: Пάντοτε χαίρετε, Reading left to right: “Always rejoice.”

 

     John 11:35 contains 17 Greek letters: Έδάκρουσεν ό  ’Ιησους[2] Reading literally left to right: “Wept, the Jesus.” The “ό” between “wept” and “Jesus” is a masculine definite article pronounced hō. Before proper nouns or names, it is usually not pronounced in English (or translated into English). As you can see, verse 16 of our text is probably the New Testament’s shortest verse. It is part of a brief series of instructions Paul gave the new church in Thessalonica.[3] “Rejoice always, (17) pray continually, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

     Are you aware of God’s will for you? If the Lord had a one-on-one talk with you at this moment, what do you think he might say to you? He would get very specific with us; true? I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard him clearly say to me: “Go apologize to Norma!” Many times he has spoken this way to me. He has told me recently that I owe numerous other apologies. 

 

     The Lord gave Norma and me four beautiful children. Instead of encouraging the kids to work out things using God’s word and principles, I often tried make myself look righteous and capable. I tried to impress them how smart, wise, and exact I was. Rather than exalting God and his way, I was attempting to show them how good I was. They are all reliable, trustworthy, and love their families.

 

     I have expressed my regret for this failure to God. During my prayers of thanks for our children, the Lord has been telling me I need to apologize to them also. All of us have let him down in our own ways. For sure, God’s word “judges the thought and attitudes of our hearts.”[4] Only you know what God would say to you. As Paul told the Christians in Philippi: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”[5]

 

     All of us are accountable for our actions; each of us must answer to God. Recall the parable of talents. Each servant was responsible for the talents he received, not for what others were given.[6] Only you and God know your secret life and what God has given you; you are accountable to Him for your deeds. Yet God expects certain attitudes and actions from all of us. Our text contains several of them.

 

     One of them is in this terse Greek verse:

           1.      “Always rejoice.” It is short, but it is tough. Try being joyful all day sometime.

 

     A few Decembers back, I was working on our annual Christmas letter. I try to create and write them when I’m fresh and alert, usually to the accompaniment of a Christmas CD to create the right mood. That day I was in the midst of cheerily writing extra greetings in those letters and the telephone rang. Norma answered the phone and handed it to me. One of her relatives was calling for my advice.

                 

     He related the story I heard him tell many times. For the 50th time, he talked about a decision that he was considering. He wanted to know what I advised. “It is the same advice I gave you three days ago, and weeks before that. Nothing has changed my opinion,” I told him. He offered excuses why he couldn’t do what I suggested. “My advice is not going to change; excuses are pointless; you are perfectly capable of doing this,” I said. He angrily slammed the phone down.[7]

 

     My Christmas mood was gone. I was about 90% exasperated with Norma’s relative and about 10% with Norma for handing me the phone when she knew who was calling.  I had to stop writing greetings. Those 14 letters in our text (our short Bible verse) had little effect on me that day.

 

     If the Lord graded you on this verse—“Be joyful always”—how would you do? Are you at least making progress? It’s been a hard challenge for me. Rejoicing in every situation is difficult isn’t it? We excuse ourselves by saying, “I’m usually easy to get along with, but he was over the line.” “She rubbed me the wrong way; it was more than anyone should have to take.” I do not see any exceptions for those excuses in verse 16, do you?

 

     In other words, the Bible does not say: “Be joyful most of the time, but under certain conditions, it is all right to lose it.” I also owe our kids apologies for being cranky and taking out my frustrations on them. Only you and God know how well you do in “Rejoicing always.” But you do understand its importance. So how can we possibly rejoice in every situation?

 

     Significant factors should keep us Christians rejoicing always.

·         God controls history. No human being does. We should rejoice because our Creator knows what He is doing. By His timing, He will bring things to a proper conclusion.

·         Here’s the second reason we can rejoice always. The Lord will deal with all unrighteous people and rectify every wrong.

 

     Society is saturated with angry people. They are so angry at “injustice” and the actions of others, that they cannot get anything done and rarely see their own imperfections. God did not assign us the tasks of trying to fix society, straighten out other people, or judge them. The Lord will take care of those matters. That truth gives us another reason to rejoice always.

 

           2.       “Pray continually.”

     In praying continually, we submit ourselves to God’s control. We do not depend exclusively on our acumen and genius; we rely on God’s wisdom and knowledge. A few years ago, our daughter Janice sent us this story that she found on the Internet:

     A wealthy man decided to go on a safari in Africa. He took his faithful dog along for company. One day the dog starts chasing butterflies and before long the pooch discovers that he is lost. So, wandering about he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the obvious intention of having lunch.

 

     The dog thinks, "Oh boy, I'm in deep stuff now." Then he noticed some bones lying nearby on the ground and immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard is about to leap, the dog exclaims loudly, "Wow, that was one delicious leopard. I wonder if there are any more around here." Hearing this, the leopard halts his attack in mid-stride, and slinks away into the trees. "Whew," says the leopard. "That was close. That dog nearly had me."

 

     Meanwhile, a monkey had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree. The monkey figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. So off he goes. But the dog sees him heading off after the leopard and figures that something is amiss. The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans about the dog's ruse and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard. The leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, "Hop on my back, monkey, and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine." The dog sees the leopard coming with the monkey on his back, and thinks, "Oh boy, it looks like I've really had it now."

 

     But instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to the leopard and the monkey and pretends that he hasn't seen them. Just when they get close enough to hear him, the dog says, "Where the heck is that monkey? An hour ago, I sent him off to get me another leopard and he's still not back.”

 

     Wouldn’t it be great to be clever and shrewd enough to handle every situation that way? We do not possess super-intelligent, brainy or gifted minds and we cannot reliably read others’ minds. They are unnecessary if we do God’s will. We simply do things God’s way as outlined in His Word, we pray, and we leave things beyond our control to God.

 

     Jesus told a parable in Luke 18 to tell his followers: “That they should always pray and not give up. (2) He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (3) And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”  In all societies, is any class of adults more helpless and vulnerable than poor widows? (4) “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  (5) yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

 

     Some scholars say there is basis for this understanding. The judge’s greatest concern was not that the widow would hit him in the face, which is a literal reading of the Greek word describing his remark about the widow attacking him. Rather that Greek word might be an idiom reflecting that the judge worried that the widow might expose him for what he was, because she knew the truth about him.[8]

 

     Do you suppose there might be politicians of both major parties, and other eminent people who are nervous today that certain women might come forward expose them for what they are? From generation to generation, life does not change. We human beings have tendencies to perversity. Only God and his word are purely dependable. That’s why we constantly keep in touch with him and follow his counsel: “Always pray and not give up.”

 

     We “Pray continually.”

 

          3.      Finally, we “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Real gratitude is not just saying thanks now and then, at bedtime, or on Thanksgiving Days. Thanksgiving is a controlling attitude. It is being perpetually conscious of God and his goodness.  “In everything, we give thanks.” What’s the first thing that you do when you get up in the morning?

 

     Well after you’ve used your Listerine or Scope.

 

·         Blindly make your way to the coffeepot?

·         Put on your clothes, head for the barn, the computer, or office?

·         Turn on the news?

 

     Have you tried spending a few minutes praising and thanking God?

 

·         “What a beautiful sunrise you arranged, Lord!”

·         “It is marvelous how you built birds to fly and cows to supply steaks and milk—and not necessarily in that order.”

·         “Lord, thank you for the big sale I made yesterday.”

·         “I am grateful for the raise I received.”

·         “Thank you for giving me such a wonderful spouse.” 

 

     Ninety nine percent of the people I have counseled are angry and ungrateful.

     We improve our lives by regularly—daily praising God. 

             Accept this challenge:

·         Spend one day this week thanking God in every circumstance.

·         Get a pencil and paper and list the reasons you are grateful; do it on your computer if that is more convenient.

·         Do not criticize anyone.

·         Do not grumble about anything.

·         If bitterness comes into your mind, quickly replace it with gratitude. 

·         Be present every time the church doors open to praise, thank, and honor the God of the Universe. 

 

     You will live longer. You will enjoy life more. You will become more likeable.  It will make you far more acceptable to God. You will enjoy his salvation and find his promised rest because you have conformed to God’s will. True thanksgiving says to God publicly, that is, in the presence of others, “Lord your good works fill the universe.” And, “Lord, because of my arrogance and blundering, I’m not worthy of your love.”

 

     Real thanksgiving enumerates examples of God’s greatness and power as in Psalm 100: “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

 

     Norma and I have been married for nearly 62 years. She’s a wonderful wife and companion. Suppose that every night before we went to bed, I sat down with her and enumerated all the good things she had done that day—laundry, ironing, three great meals, making the beds, etc. That would be good for both of us. But suppose also, that even though I always did that, I never said anything in public about her, never brought her out. You would wonder about our relationship. “Is Bob married? If so, what kind of relationship do he and his wife have?” “It’s strange that he never talks about her!”

 

     Unless we publicly acknowledge all God does for us, our thanksgiving is inadequate, terribly incomplete. This year, heated discussion has arisen about appropriate dinner topics on Thanksgiving Day. According to certain folks, you cannot mention various topics. I do not know what unbelievers should say. It is clear, however, what all believers should do and discuss. We share with people in need. We openly, lovingly, praise and thank God without shame or embarrassment. 

        

     He is the eternal God of the Universe.

 


[1] As I noted before, a local pharmacist first pointed this out to me.  

[2] The upsilon “υin Jesus (Ιησους) lacks a circumflex accent mark. It is not

   available on my computer program.

[3] Because chapters and verses were added centuries after all Bible books were completed, the brevity of the verses has nothing to do with the intentions of the authors, or of the Holy Spirit, who inspired God’s Word. .

[4] Hebrews 4:12 NIV

[5] Philippians 2:12b, 13 NIV

[6] Matthew 25:14-30

[7] Admittedly, my advice might not have been good in the first place.

[8][8] See article on ὑπωπιάζω - Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, Ed., Volume VIII,  article by Konrad Weiss, pp.  590, 591

 

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

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