Of Profitability, Competence in Life, and Thankfulness

2 Timothy 3:16-17

A Thanksgiving Eve Sermon

November 22, 2017

As we come to the end of a long day, I can honestly say that there is no place that I would rather be than right here in God’s house, with God’s people. Tomorrow is a day that many of us will spend in or around a kitchen, either our own or that of a loved one, and it is a day we set aside in our nation as a day of Thanksgiving — gratefulness to God for the provision of the year.

Sadly, though, we as a nation have largely forgotten ourselves…our roots as a nation. There is an old African proverb that says: “A river that forgets its course will soon dry up.” I fear that is what has happened in America.

Today, much of our culture simply sees this as a day of food and family…and worse…preparation for the Black Friday sales events…forgetting why we mark the day in the first place, or how to live a thankful life in the first place…but it wasn’t always that way in our country. Yes, sometimes people point out that it was President Franklin Roosevelt who signed the joint resolution to standardize the day of Thanksgiving, but that was just to set the date…the practice goes back to our American origins. It dates back to the pilgrims of the 1600’s who recognized the feast of thanksgiving was an honorable way to give God the thanks for their preservation in the new land. Now, on some level, that is what we learn in the history books, but often what we don’t read in the history books is more important…and in this case, it is, for the Pilgrim thanksgiving was more than just a thanks for the harvest, but it was a time to recommit to the vision and mission of their early American community.

What was that vision and mission, you ask? Let me read a little from the Mayflower Compact:

“Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia (remember they were blown off course and ended up in New England); do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together in a civil body politic; for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid (the initial purpose), and by virtue hereof, to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all divine submission and obedience.”

Sounds a lot like the beginning of a church constitution, doesn’t it? But did you catch the purpose of this colony? Was it to make money? Was it to get land? While these things did happen, the purpose is plainly threefold: To Glorify God; to Advance the Christian Faith; and to honor king and country.  I must say, that wasn’t what I was taught in school.

More importantly, then, this thanksgiving feast was a thanksgiving to God for sustaining them in their venture and a recommitment, in light of God’s sustaining, to this three-fold goal. They recognized themselves not simply as a colony, but they were to be a Christian colony.

Yet, how we have lost that truth and Thanksgiving has become more of an Autumn festival where we dress our children up in those little hats or like Indians and tell our kids how friendly and helpful they were…yeah, well, sort of…

If we wish to revive our nation from its cultural and moral decline; it can only be done if we, like that African proverb, remember our source.

So, as Christians, how do we go about changing not only our thinking, but the thinking of the culture around us to bring our attention back not simply on our American roots, but on our Biblical roots as Americans who practice Thanksgiving?

And what I am about to say might surprise you. You might think that I am about to say, “remove the commercial element from the day so people don’t focus so much on profit.” And you would be wrong because I am not going to say that.

In fact, I want people to think about profit on Thanksgiving…though I want people to think about profit in a Biblical sense… “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his soul?”

You see, Biblically, what profits you is not limited to the money that you can put in your pocket nor is it primarily a matter of cash or wealth or of business practices. It is growing close to God. That is the caring error of the prosperity gospel, people like Joel Osteen declaring that you can have your “Best Life Now”…no, you can’t…unless you are destined for hell.  The True Christian recognizes that the best life will be that in glory, but even more importantly, my “best life” is not measured by earthly wealth, success, or good health. By best life is measured by how God is glorified in me.

Now tonight we have read a long section of the book of Romans, focused on God’s redemption of his people. And that must be at the very heart of our Thankfulness. But, as we close tonight, let’s talk about putting that thankfulness to work in a profitable way — profitable as God sees it.

Notice the text we read once again:

“All Scripture is God-Breathed” (Theopneustos — God-exhaled) and what is next? “and is profitable…” Notice, that Paul did not say “inerrant.” It is inerrant by the way, because the God who breathes it out is inerrant, but that is not what Paul writes. He says “profitable.” In Greek, that word means “useful, beneficial, or advantageous.”

So, what is it saying about the Bible?

If you think that making money on a project is profitable, or studying for a degree, or working hard at a job is profitable, it is, but it is God’s word that is most profitable for us as it prepares us to do all of these things.

Interestingly, the word “profitable” is only used three times in the New Testament (here, Titus 3:8 and 1 Timothy 4:8) and in all of these references it speaks of the profit of being a godly believer. Why? The things you achieve or collect here in life cannot be taken with you. “The grass withers and the flower fades…” but our godliness will follow us eternally.

This idea should be easy to understand in principle. If you are saving up money for retirement, for example, you want to invest it in a safe place, not in a company that is here today and gone tomorrow. You want to place it in something that will provide stability…and what is more stable than eternity?

Now, let’s make sure we clarify Paul’s context… “profitable for what?” Profitable for teaching (thus if you teach without a Biblical grounding, what you are teaching will not profit your students). Profitable for reproof (literally, this refers to refuting error. One must do so with Truth; two negatives may yield a positive in math, but not in logic). It is profitable for correction (notice the aim of correction is restoration). And profitable for training in righteousness (paideia — the word from which we get “pedagogy” — the idea of instructing a person to develop a worldview or way of thinking about the world in the mind of the student. There is no such thing as neutral teaching, the question then is what worldview is being taught…sadly, much of what is taught today has a secular bent to it).

It is the Bible that is profitable for these things…not experience or good feelings or success in worldly endeavors. It boggles the mind at the kinds of people we often look to for advice in our cultures…celebrities endorsing things they are not qualified to endorse.

But is this it? Does Paul stop here? No, he does not.

What is this training, reproach, etc… for? “That the man of God (that’s the believer) may be complete (capable — being suited for a function) and equipped (competent, prepared) for every good work.

Which good works? Every good work.

So, what makes you competent to do good works? The word of God. Conversely that means that if you do not know the word of God you are incompetent to do any good work.

But are good works that important?

The Christian was created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10); Good works accompany godliness (1 Timothy 2:10); Christians are to strive to be rich in good works (1 Timothy 6:18); and leaders in Christ’s church should be models of Good works (Titus 2:7) and zealous for them (Titus 2:14). In fact, one of the purposes of our gathering to worship is to stir one another up to good works (Hebrews 10:24).

So, how do we train for good works? Scripture. One’s competence in good works is directly related to one’s competence in the Scriptures.

And, when we truly become competent in that way as a people and as a church, then our thankfulness will distinguish itself from the thankfulness of the world and we will reflect not only what our founding fathers understood about Thanksgiving, but we will reflect what God teaches us about thanksgiving…and perhaps, if the culture follows our lead on that, our river will not dry up.

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