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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Monday, October 09, 2006

The First Key to a Grateful Heart

TIME in the Word - Daily Devotional
Together for Inspiration, Motivation, and Encouragement

Verse of the Day - 1 Thessalonians 5:15
See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

Daily Scripture Reading - Romans 12

Puritan Catechism
Question #44 - Which is the second commandment?

Answer - The second commandment is, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Ex. 20:4-6).

Devotional Thoughts

The First Key to a Grateful Heart: Pursue What is Good

In our study from Ephesians 5 we have learned that there is a simple and effective weapon that we can use to successfully fight the battle against lust and immorality. That weapon is not only an attitude or a way of thinking. It is a way of life. This amazing tool has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the writing of Paul.

Often we read a verse or a passage of Scripture and overlook the simplest things. We either read too quickly, find our minds preoccupied with other thoughts, or find such wealth in what we read that we cannot take it all in. Often too the Word of God is studied and perused and investigated with the hopes that we will find helpful advice, wise counsel, instructions for dealing with life's difficulties, and steps to overcoming sin. Numerous books have been written trying to uncover hidden messages, codes, mantras, and other methods for living a successful Christian life.

It is time though that we look again at a familiar passage to see what we may have overlooked. In Ephesians 5:3-4 we are given a fantastic message. We are told the answer to one of the most asked questions by Christians around the world and all throughout time. That question? "How do I overcome lust?" Specifically, this question is born out of the desire to live in victory over immorality in our thoughts, words, and actions. It is a yearning for freedom from lust and the habitual sins of the mind and body.

The truth here is that we do not need a special secret super weapon to live the life that Christ has called us to live. We do not need to buy and read a library full of books that cover every angle of the whys and wherefores surrounding this struggle. We simply need the right perspective. We need the right heart attitude. We need to understand what it means to be grateful!

Ephesians 5:3-4 tells us:

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

In answer to this long list of sinful attitudes and actions we are given the antidote. On one hand we have immorality and uncleanness, idolatry and greed, filthy thoughts and obscene speech. And on the other hand we have the "giving of thanks." Obviously then giving thanks, or gratitude, has to be more than we have learned it to be, because we have not been taught just how powerful and effective thanksgiving is in the battle with self and sin. What we fail to understand is that these sins all connected with the lust of the flesh are sins based in greed and self fulfillment. And the opposite of this selfish indulgence is gratitude. It is the giving of thanks in thought, word, and action.

This week then we will spend a little time in 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22 where we will learn Five Keys to a Grateful Heart. These keys will help us learn how and why we are to be a grateful people. And in the process of learning to be truly thankful we will learn how to walk in victory over lust! Today then we see that the first key to a grateful heart is pursuing what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 tells us, "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all."

We find another passage that helps us understand this verse in Romans 12:9-21. Here we are taught how it is that we pursue what is good.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “ If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Often we think it is an easy thing to love, but here we are told to let our love be without hypocrisy. That means it is to be a love that is sincere - without play acting or pretending. When we love like this we put others first. Simply put, if we are putting others first then we cannot put self first, and putting self first is the first step in falling to lust.

As we love sincerely we find it difficult to lust. Love gives while lust wants to get. Love overlooks sin and forgives while lust harbors hurt and desires revenge. But if we are being "kindly affectionate" and putting each other first then we will pursue what is good. Remember that "good" means that which is clean, or that which promotes health. And to pursue good is to be motivated to give instead of get.

Specifically, if we fight the good fight and have a truly grateful attitude then we will not seek to defend ourselves or hurt those who have sinned against us. We are to bless those who persecute us. While it may be our natural inclination to curse and fight and harm those who hate us and seek to persecute us, we are instead to bless. We must leave vengeance to the Lord and do what we are able to do to be at peace with all men, even those who are our enemies.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in this text is found in how people interpret and apply verse 20. We have been taught that if we do good to those who are seeking to persecute us then we are heaping coals of fire upon their heads. Some even tell us with glee that if we do what is right to those who are doing what is wrong to us then we will "get them in the end." We are led to believe that heaping coals of fire on their heads harms them or somehow makes them pay for their evil.

But this misses the whole point of the passage. We are to love sincerely even our enemies. And loving those who curse us is not hoping that we can hurt them and make them pay by being good to them. In fact, to think we are doing good but to do so with the motive of hurting someone is really not to do good at all. It is an evil intention that corrupts otherwise obedient behavior.

To heap coals of fire upon their heads is to love and speak the gospel to those who hate us. It is to love our enemies to the point that we share with them the good news - we tell them how they can be set free from their sin. We witness to the truth of the claims of Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions. We bless those who curse us with that which is the greatest blessing known to man - the hope of the gospel.

In this, we overcome evil with good. This is pursuing good for all the right reasons. Pursuing good is necessary if we are to have an attitude of gratefulness. Pursuing good, even in the midst of persecution, means that we are living a life that puts others first and this is absolutely necessary for overcoming the selfishness that feeds our lust. Gratitude is founded on a proper perspective of self and of others.

Often when we think we are grateful the focus is still on ourselves and how our needs have been met. However, we learn here that true gratefulness is focused on the Giver, not the gift. We have been given the ability to love as Christ has loved us. In giving thanks to God for His saving love shown to us in Christ we are empowered and enabled to love others no matter what they have done or said to us.

The first key to a grateful heart is found in pursuing what is good. As we think on, speak about, and act out what is good it is impossible to seek to fulfill our own desires and lusts. This is how we overcome greed. And this is the first step in living a life of true and lasting gratitude to God for His grace.

Links for Further Study
(links to study each daily topic in more detail if you have the desire and the time)

A Discourse On Meekness and Quietness of Spirit
by Matthew Henry
Fundamental Christian Attitudes: Thankfulness
by John MacArthur

Bible Reading For Further Study

Recommended Songs for Worship

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