As we have all enjoyed the blessings of a Thanksgiving holiday just a few days ago, I thought it appropriate to spend some time on a little understood aspect of gratitude, or thanksgiving. We of course understand how pleasant gratitude is. In addition, we readily grasp the duty of expressing our thanksgiving to God. We grasp that gratitude is something that is critical in keeping our faith renewing and constantly growing. The spiritual food we partake of every Lord’s Day is called the Eucharist, from the Greek word for giving thanks, which is eucharisto.
But what I want to focus on this morning is what might be called the authority of gratitude.
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Philippians 2:14–16).
Summary of the Text
The opposite of thanksgiving is grumbling or complaining. The carping, critical voice is one that repeatedly came under the judgment of God in Scripture, and being under the heavy hand of God is the very opposite of growing into an authoritative position. Paul here instructs believers to do everything without complaining (v. 14) The result of this is that it will not be possible to assign blame or fault to such a one—“blameless and harmless” (v. 15). It is fitting that there be no blame or rebuke because we are the sons of God, and we are to contrast sharply against the backdrop of a crooked and perverse generation. It is as though they are the pitch-black sky, and we are the stars arrayed across that sky. Such non-complaining Christians are privileged to hold forth the word of life, and this is a cause of great rejoicing for Paul. His race was not run in vain, and his work was not conducted in vain (v. 16).
Paul requires that we do everything without complaining or grumbling. Realize that word everything encompasses quite a lot. No complaints about the weather, or the food, or the traffic, or the husband, or the wife, or the children, or the economy, or the administration, or the tool that just broke.
Now there is a tightrope to walk here. This is a very imperfect world, and many things in it require correction. Many professions are correcting professions, and they are lawful professions—coaches, teachers, copyeditors, judges, policemen, reformers, guitar instructors, driving instructors, pastors, parents, and so on. Now with so much correction being required, what are we to do with this requirement to do everything without complaining or grumbling? We are to enter into the task of helping others without exuding the sense that we are personally aggrieved by the mistake or shortfall. Those in positions of authority over others must banish from their lives every trace of selfishness or ego-interest.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Three Markers of Authority
In this short passage, Paul gives us three phrases that we can tie into the gift of authority. Those phrases are sons of God, lights in the world, and holding forth the word of life.
Sons of God: There is authority involved in becoming a son of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power [authority, exousia] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). There is authority in putting to death the sins of the flesh. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And there is an authority that is building to a crescendo. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Lights in the world: Shining as lights in the world is something that the world knows how to link back to the Father in heaven. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).
Holding forth the word of life: A messenger or a sent one always brings with him the authority of the sender. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; That bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; That saith unto Zion, thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7).
When our lives are characterized by gratitude, and we are freed from the whining spirit that affects us so easily, what does this do? It proclaims that we are living out the message that we are holding in our hands. It means that we shine like an array of stars against a very dark night. It means that we are the adopted sons of God, and that when the world comes into its rights, we will be manifested as the sons of God. And all of this, taken together, means that authority will come to you naturally. It is not something you will need to raise your voice in order to get. In fact, just the opposite.
Gratitude is one of the basic foundation stones of all true authority.
The Thankful Christ
In this, as in everything else, our task is to look to Christ. We look to Him first as our Savior, and then, having received the gift of a full and complete salvation, we look to Him as our example. If you look to Him as your example first, there will be nothing for you there but despair. You can’t jump that high.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
We look to His suffering first. And then, after that, we follow in His steps. And what does Christ do after His great triumph? He praises God in the midst of the congregation (Ps. 22:22, 25). He sees the travail of His soul, and is satisfied (Is. 53:11). He did what He did because of the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). And He, with the most gratitude, has been granted all authority (Matt. 28:18-20).