Wide Receivers

Thanksgiving_finalPlease read 1 Timothy 4:1-5 in your Bible.

          For lots of people, football is part of their Thanksgiving Day traditions.  In my childhood years, turkey and football were a sedative that put the men to sleep while the women cleaned up the feast.  Ah, the good old days…

Of course, true football fans celebrate the sport all year round and in many different ways.  Here’s my top ten ways to tell who’s a true football fan.

#10 = They are so desperate, they watch draft day, the Hall of Fame game and the Pro Bowl.

#9 = Signs of their team are all around them: on their clothes, homes, cars.

#8 = They will have at least one player’s autograph on some bit of team merchandise.

#7 = Goes through cycles of tension during plays and relaxation between plays.

#6 = Knows team trivia and can argue statistics to prove his team is the greatest.

#5 = Plans vacations around attending games in person.

#4 = Believes the team has only three kinds of teams; his team, everybody else, and his team’s hated rival.

#3 = Has strong opinions on rules and officiating, even knowing several officials by name.

#2 = Does not use the bathroom until halftime.

#1 = Has at least one story of how he broke something in a moment of celebration or sharp disappointment.

In part, Thanksgiving Day is about being grateful for what we have received.  Today’s title, “Wide Receivers” is both a nod to football and an invitation to open your hearts to receive the wideness of God’s gifts and be appropriately grateful for all of them.

CONTEXT: This truth was revealed to Paul directly by the Holy Spirit, as he clearly said in verse one.  The phrase LATER TIMES refers to the time preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, including Paul’s time and our own; this is not a future event.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

  1. Forbidding folk follow false faith and foist it on their fellows (vs. 1-3).

Obvious opponents of our faith abandon it entirely.  They stand mostly outside the Church.  The Holy Spirit made it clear to Paul that their beliefs are from DECEIVING SPIRITS and DEMONS.  In John 8:44 Jesus referred to the Devil as THE FATHER OF ALL LIES: every falsehood finds its origin in spiritual evil.  This is in sharp contrast to the earlier reference to the Holy Spirit as the source of Paul’s true teaching.

Based on these beliefs, they abandon the faith: whether they abandon the Church or not, the truth does not find a home in what they teach. Much of the New Testament was written to expose and oppose false teachers.  It was a huge problem as our faith developed over the first four centuries after Christ.

Subtle opponents of our faith squelch it with legalism.  These false teachers are HYPOCRITICAL LIARS.  While the obvious opponents may not bother to have a pretense of faith, the subtle opponents wear church like a mask.  In fact, the Greek word “hypocrite” means “actor.”   Ancient Greek actors wore masks with built-in megaphones!

These false teachers knew enough of the truth to give a reasonable showing but only believed and practiced what they wanted.  Paul showed they could be identified by two things.

First, they had SEARED CONSCIENCES, which means hard-heartedness.  The word SEARED could be rendered as  “cauterized.”  If you’ve ever had a problem with scar tissue, you know how the dense flesh caused by a healed wound can interfere with healthy tissues and subsequent procedures in that area of your body.  Hard-heartedness is a spiritual condition where a person has made themself insensitive to God, to others, and the ethical obligations due to God and others.

Second, they were given to legalism.  In this case, they were legalistic about marriage and some foods.  Legalism is any belief that mimics godliness but is without God’s grace.  It replaces righteousness with rules.  Legalism is a religious-sounding attempt to manipulate others out of evil motives like pride, power, or money.

Marriage is something God instituted in the first days of creation.  He called it GOOD.  Contrary to that, these false teachers set up a rule that people who are holier-than-thou are celibate.  Making a choice not to marry in order to devote more time to God can be a good thing (Paul himself said so in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7) but it is not a choice others make for you.

These false teachers were also ordering people to ABSTAIN FROM CERTAIN FOODS.  Again, this is a rule they made up, it was not a command from God.  In the Old Testament Law, CERTAIN FOODS were forbidden.  But God revoked the dietary laws in Acts 10:9-15.  (See also Galatians 5:1-6.)  This was not a

  1. Faithful folk consecrate things by means of thanksgiving (vs. 3-5).

Faithful folk understand the truth and abide by it.  In this passage, the truth is two-fold.

The first truth is, EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD.  That is the clear message of the first chapter of Genesis.  God approved of everything He created.

Keep the context in mind: this truth was affirmed in the face of legalists who were saying the things they chose to be bad were God’s choices too.  False!  EVERYTHING is a key word.  EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD is a universal rebuttal of their legalistic scheme that condemned things that God approved.

The second truth is, the practice of thanksgiving has the power to make things holy.  This is our main point today.  WOW!  Thanksgiving is not just a sentiment; it is a powerful force that turns evil into good, unholy things into holy things.  Let’s see how:

The people who wield the power of THANKSGIVING are identified in verse three as THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND KNOW THE TRUTH.  In the same vein as EVERYTHING, verse four also says NOTHING; NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED.  The word REJECTED means to throw something in the trash; to treat it like garbage.  The false laws and the unnecessary self-denial the false teachers were selling was contrary to the will of God.  NOTHING was to be rejected in the way they were proposing. This is the same message as the voice from heaven that said to the Apostle Peter, “DO NOT CALL ANYTHING IMPURE THAT GOD MADE CLEAN.” (Acts 10:15).  We do not make the rules; God does.  We obey and help others to obey, but we are not free to make up stuff to suit our personalities or passions.

Note the word IF.  Here’s the condition under which NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED: IF IT IS RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING.  To receive something with THANKSGIVING is to recognize it as a gift from God and to be appropriately grateful.  Thanksgiving is entirely God-centered.  This means six things:

– It is an act of worship as we pray and tell God thank you for His generous grace.

– It is an act of fellowship as we join with other believers to express our praise.

– It is an act of stewardship to put His gifts to the most wise and righteous use.

– It is an act of service as we share God’s supply with those in need.

– It is a witness to persons outside our faith when they see our loving service.

– It is instruction to our children and to new believers when they see both God’s generosity and our joyous sharing of it.

Verse five explains how THANKSGIVING has such transformational power: BECAUSE IT IS CONSECRATED BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  To consecrate something is to make it holy, to set it apart from worldly uses for distinctly divine uses.  Consecration is done BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  When we rely on God’s revelation in all parts of life, we turn what is worldly and mundane into something heavenly and special.  The same is true of prayer.  When prayers for wisdom and guidance precede our everyday decisions and when prayers of thanksgiving follow everyday experiences, those things become something spiritual and special.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

          The point simply is this: Thanksgiving Day can be an exercise in sentimentality, a tradition that is available to people of all faiths.  That’s perfectly fine.

However, for followers of Jesus Christ, thanksgiving is to be a daily practice.  It is to be a God-centered approach to life that has the fantastic power to bring life to faith.  This is obviously not seasonal or limited to one day a week, but is something we choose to do as often as possible.

We began by poking fun at football fans.  We’ll conclude with the three things we’ve noted about Jesus followers and how they enact thankfulness.

1) They see all of life as being God-centered.

2) They see God’s blessings as empowerment for service and witness.

3) They receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

God bless your thanksgiving celebrations.  God bless you as you enact transformational thanksgiving every day.



Message #1312

Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.


Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”


Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.



Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold