“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” Acts 17:21. Thanksgiving’s over; the tree goes up today! As a culture, we’re always looking for the next best thing. TV shows, clothing, cars—we’re obsessed with “something new.” When bell-bottoms, mullets, or vinyl records come back, we say they are retro. Something old is new once again. Perhaps that could happen with values? With church attendance as the pandemic wanes? With the gospel? Paul entered a city in which the philosophers of his day were so desperate for the next best thing that they were very receptive to what he had to say about “Jesus and the resurrection” and how God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man ….” This was a new idea in the 1st century, but in the midst of many watered-down, feel-good sermons in the church and on social media the gospel preached today would be considered retro. It begins, not with Santa nor stockings hung with care, but “good news of great joy” that a “Savior” was “born” who is “Christ the Lord.” Will you find in the old, old story something new?
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” 1 Corinthians 1:4.
A busy seaport city, Corinth was rampant with idolatry and immorality. Somehow, a few turned their backs on the world and strive to walk in newness of life through Jesus, their Savior. Perhaps it was because the world was still too much within them? Perhaps they couldn’t help compromising with the culture they were immersed in to live out their immersion into Christ? But, the church there had some major struggles that Paul would address in his letters to them. Before he did that, however, he first gave thanks for them because God had given them grace that enriched them in speech and knowledge, gave them many spiritual gifts, and put them in the fellowship of God’s Son. They had everything that they needed to make good choices. Is that what we do in an affluent culture of abundance? Or do our thoughts stray toward satisfying our own pleasures? 21st century America is so like 1st century Greece. We have all we need to make good choices as we struggle not to fade away into the secular culture around us.
Will we thank God for His grace?
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Forget baseball, complaining is America’s favorite pastime. And despite scripture telling us to do everything without grumbling or complaining, Christians still partake often in this activity. Most save their com-plaining when things go wrong and give thanks when things go well. But even the lost in the world around us who don’t yet know Christ do that. What sets us apart? An attitude of gratitude. In all circumstances. While I taught, I saw a cartoon where one devil says to another about a lady walking through the fire all around her, “We’ll never get to her. She was a middle school teacher.” That’s how Christians need to be in the world that is burning all around us. This is God’s will for us “in Christ Jesus.” You see, if we have the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, nothing of this temporary world should affect us. What is perceived as bad or good here on earth does not matter because we are loved by a faithful God who has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and here it is all small stuff. Do you give thanks in all circumstances?
“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” Luke 18:22. The ruler had approached Jesus with “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, to the ears of Western culture, this may sound like he was looking for a once-and-done task that he could complete and then rest easy until eternity. Jesus does tell him that there’s one thing he lacks but then concludes with “come, follow me.” Jesus was not keeping the man away; his wealth was. The Greek words for ‘do’ and ‘follow’ have ‘abide’ in them. When we sing the song, “Abide with Me,” we want God’s presence dwelling with us, yes, but for that to happen we must be willing to abide with Him, like the ruler initially wanted to do. We can’t do that if we have something that comes between us and God. First we must remove whatever that is, and then the invitation is open; Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away. Let us not be like the ruler who, when he heard that what stopped him from abiding with Christ was not something he was willing to give up, went away sad. What do you lack to abide with Christ?
“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” Philippians 1:23-24. On this day that so many celebrate death as something to fear, we who have hope recognize it as something “far better” because it means we will “depart and be with Christ.” This understanding comes as we study God’s Word and obey the gospel but deepens as someone close to us who is in Christ transitions into His loving arms. For a Christian, death is just a change of address. Paul understood this, and that is why he struggled between the two paths we all have. He knew what he would choose but knew also that as long as he still had breath, he had work to do—as do we. It may be fun to dress up at this time of year and get together with friends to enjoy life in this festive season as long as we aren’t a stumbling block to the lost around us who don’t yet know the hope that is found in the One who conquered death. And, while we do it, perhaps we can strengthen the saved and lead the lost to the hope of the gospel. About death, are you living for Christ to be, as the KJV words it, “in a strait betwixt two”?