Thankfulness 2) Whiner or Worshipper

Whiner or Worshipper

Text: Philippians 1:1-26

 

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Fanny Crosby before, but she was one of the most prolific hymn writers in history. She lived from 1820-1915, during which time she wrote almost 9,000 hymns, like ‘Blessed Assurance’ and ‘Jesus Is Tenderly Calling.’ Probably the one that we are most familiar with is ‘To God Be the Glory.’ But what you might not know about Fanny Crosby is that when she was only 6 weeks old she had an eye infection. Her doctor prescribed hot compresses, which rather than helping caused extensive scarring that left her permanently blind. But rather than become bitter towards the doctor, or her parents, or even God, she was actually thankful for the blessing of blindness. At eight years of age she wrote the following poem,

Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see,

I am resolved that in this world contented I will be,

How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t,

So weep or sigh because I’m blind, I cannot – nor I won’t.

Later in life she wrote ‘It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation.’ Fanny Crosby thanked God for her blindness. Even though she was blind she wrote, ‘To God be the Glory!’

I tell you this story because there tend to be two types of people in this world – people who are grateful and those who are ungrateful, people who are optimists and those who are pessimists, people who take and those who give, people who whine about their circumstances, and those who worship God despite their circumstances. Fanny Crosby was one of those who despite her tragic circumstances worshipped God. What about you? Are you a whiner or a worshipper? Are you grateful or ungrateful? Are you thankful or unthankful? This morning I want to paint two contrasting portraits comparing people who worship with those who whine.

 

1) Reasons to Whine

Philippians 1 is such a beautiful and uplifting passage, but what we often forget is that Paul had reasons to whine. In fact, I can find three good reasons in that passage that Paul had to whinge about.

a) Prison

The first is the fact that he was in prison when he wrote this letter. Now prisons back in the 1st century weren’t like prisons today. You didn’t have gyms or TVs or even three square meals a day. According to tradition, the prison in which Paul was held was the Mamertine prison in Rome. It consisted of two underground levels with iron shackles fixed to the walls. Paul mentions these chains in verse 7 and 14. One Roman historian describes the Mamertine prison as ‘disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness and stench.’ Later in the letter to the Philippians Paul mentions ‘25 …Epaphroditus… whom [the Philippians] sent to take care of [Paul’s] needs. (Phil 2:25b)’ Epaphroditus probably brought Paul food and water every day and even cleaned the filth out of his cell. It wasn’t a pleasant place.

b) Trouble

But even worse Paul talks about people who were trying to cause him trouble while he was in prison. He talks about people who were trying to ‘17 …stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. (Phil 1:17b)’ According to Paul these people were ‘15 …preaching Christ out of envy and rivalry… (Phil 1:15a)’ and ‘17 …selfish ambition… (Phil 1:17a)’ It’s not enough that Paul was in prison, these people were trying to make matters worse.

c) For Christ

And even worse than all this was the fact that Paul was in prison and facing trouble for Jesus Christ. Paul writes, ‘13 …it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (Phil 1:13)’ Paul isn’t in chains because he has done the wrong thing. He’s not in prison because he broke the law. He’s in prison because he’s been sharing the Gospel, because he’s been telling people about Jesus Christ. Paul has been doing what God asked him to do, and instead of being rewarded he’s been chucked in prison, instead of being celebrated as a hero he’s been chained as a criminal.

Application: What reasons do you have to whine about?

Paul had plenty of reasons to whine, what about you? What things do you have to whine about? We all face stuff that isn’t pleasant. We all go through stuff that isn’t right. We do our best by our kids, and they throw it all back in our face. We work hard, but we don’t make ends meet. We help people in need but they never seem to return the favour. There are countless things in life, small and large, that make us want to complain or grumble about our lot in life.

 

2) Responding in Worship (7 characteristics of a grateful person)

But despite the horrendous conditions in which he is in, despite the fact that people were trying to cause him trouble, despite the fact that all of this is because he was faithfully following Jesus and being obedient to God’s call over his life, Paul doesn’t whine, instead he responds in worship. Instead of grumbling he is grateful. Instead of raising his voice in protest, he raises his voice in praise. In fact, the Philippians church was started on that very foundation. In Acts 16 while preaching in Philippi, Paul and a guy called Silas free a slave girl from demonic oppression and the result is that ‘22 …the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison… 24 …[and the jailor] put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Act 16:22-24)’ But the most amazing thing is that instead of complaining about their treatment, Luke records that ‘25 …Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God… (Act 16:25a)’ Instead of whining they worship God. Instead of sooking they sing. This morning I want to take a look at 7 characteristics of a grateful person, a person who instead of whining about their circumstances instead worships God.

a) Grateful people are humble, while ingratitude leads to pride

The first characteristic of a grateful person is that they are humble. It’s interesting that Paul begins his letter, ‘1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus… (Phil 1:1a)’ Paul doesn’t lord it over other people, Paul doesn’t talk about his credentials, or his great achievements, rather he humbles himself, he refers to himself as a servant. Like Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, so Paul comes to serve his fellow brothers and sisters. Paul never forgot that the only reason he was alive, the only reason that he was an Apostle, the only reason he got to plant churches, was because Jesus had touched his life and saved him from his sin. Paul even refers to himself as ‘16 …the worst of sinners. (1 Tim 1:16b)’ Paul humbled himself because he understood that without Christ he deserved God’s condemnation and judgment. Paul’s gratitude for what God did for him in Christ made him a humble person. Later he writes, ‘3 …in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Phil 2:3b)’

The flip side is that ingratitude leads to pride. The sin of the Pharisees is that they thought they deserved God’s blessings. They thought they were entitled to God’s favour. Their ingratitude towards God led to spiritual pride. Later in his letter to the Philippians Paul talks about the things that he used to take pride in, ‘5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Phil 3:5-6)’ But then he says now that I know Christ, ‘8 …I consider those things rubbish… (Phil 3:8c)’ The only thing that matters is God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

If you struggle with spiritual pride, with the attitude that I deserve to be saved, that I’m better than those people, then you haven’t understood the gospel. I want to ask you this morning: has your gratitude for God’s grace towards you in Jesus made you a humble person?

b) A grateful person is other-centred, while an ungrateful person is self-centred

Secondly, a grateful person is other-centred. You can’t escape that fact reading our text this morning. Paul is in prison, Paul is chained to a wall, people are giving him a hard time, but he doesn’t talk about himself, rather he’s completely focused on the needs of others. Paul is sitting in prison thinking about how he can encourage the Christians in Philippi. He’s not sitting in prison thinking about his problems, rather he’s sitting in prison praying about their spiritual progress. He says stuff like ‘I remember you (v3),’ and ‘I’m praying for you. (v4)’ He remembers how they partnered with him in the gospel (v5). His confidence is in the fact that God will complete his work in them (v6). He talks about how they are on his heart (v7), and how he longs for them with the affection of Christ (v8). His desire is that they would grow in love and discernment and righteousness (v9-11). His desire is for their progress and joy in the faith (v25). Paul is completely other-focused. When our needs have been fulfilled in Christ we are able to focus on the needs of others. If you are truly grateful for what Jesus has done in your life, you will want to reach out into the lives of others. Later Paul writes, ‘4 …look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:4)’

Ungrateful people on the other hand tend to focus on ‘my needs’ and ‘my hurts’ and ‘my feelings,’ and ‘how I have been neglected, or mistreated.’ An ungrateful person is so consumed by their personal circumstances that they seldom consider the needs and feelings of others. Often self-centred people are completely unaware that they only talk about themselves. If you haven’t asked someone what’s going on in their life by the third or fourth sentence maybe you have a tendency to be self-centred rather than other-centred. I want to ask you this morning: Are you more focused on your own needs and feelings than on the needs and feelings of others?

c) A grateful person has a full heart, while ingratitude leads to an empty heart

Which leads us to the next characteristic of a grateful person, their hearts tend to be full. Again we see this in the life of Paul. Paul is sitting in prison, he being harassed by trouble-makers, but he’s not having doubts about whether he’s loved, or whether he’s made the right decisions. Paul isn’t sitting in prison thinking he’s a failure. Rather he says stuff like, ‘18 …because Christ is preached I rejoice… (Phil 1:18b)’ and ‘19 …what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Phil 1:19b)’ In fact he says,  ‘20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed... (Phil 1:20a)’ Because of what Jesus has done for him Paul’s heart is full of joy and hope and confidence.

The interesting thing about western culture is that even though over the last fifty years people’s income has doubled, and the size of their homes have doubled, and life expectancy has increased, and we are more prosperous than 99% of people who have ever lived on earth, we aren’t any happier. In fact, the number of people struggling with depression is on the increase. The difference between a full heart and an empty one isn’t whether you’re rich or poor, healthy or sick, well fed or hungry, but whether you are thankful or not. The problem is that people try and fill their hearts up with stuff instead of with God. Nancy deMoss writes, ‘Gratitude is often the only difference between pervasive sadness and pure satisfaction. (Nancy demos, Choosing Gratitude, p87)’ Do you find your joy and hope and confidence in the fact that you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ? Is your heart full, or are you always trying to fill it with something or someone else?

d) A grateful person is contented, while ingratitude leads to discontent

Fourthly, a grateful person is contented. It’s amazing that Paul is even content while in prison. In chapter 4 he writes ‘11 …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil 4:11-12)’ Because of his gratitude for what Jesus has done for him Paul isn’t concerned about what he does or doesn’t have in this life, rather he is content with whatever God sends.

However, people who aren’t grateful for what God has done for them quickly become unsatisfied with their lot in life. Because they think they deserve better, when things go wrong they think God has let them down in some way. However, the exact opposite is true. What we deserve is eternal punishment, but instead God gives us so many good things, and ultimately he has given us eternal life though Jesus Christ. So I want to ask you: Are you content with what God has given you, or do you find yourself resenting difficult circumstances? Do you become depressed or unsatisfied with life when it doesn’t turn out how you expected?

e) A grateful person is encouraging, while ingratitude results in complaining

Fifthly, I grateful person is an encouraging person. And again we see this principle in the life of Paul. Despite being in prison, despite his troubles, Paul writes to encourage the Christians in Philippi. He talks about how God ‘6 …who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion... (Phil 1:6b)’ He talks about how we wants to ‘25 …continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. (Phil 1:25b)’ Even in prison Paul exists to encourage other people.

And the opposite is true as well, an ungrateful person is a person who often complains. It doesn’t take long listening to someone complain about all the woes in their life to realize that they aren’t grateful for what they have. Paul warns the Christians in Philippi, ‘14 Do everything without complaining... (Phil 2:14a)’ I want to ask you: do you spend your time counting your blessings or your problems? Do you build up those around you with encouraging words, or do you just complain about the struggles that you have in life? Are you a whiner or an encourager?

f) Grateful people are refreshing, while ungrateful people drag others down

The next characteristic of a grateful person is that they are refreshing. Grateful people want other people to remember God’s blessings. Grateful people lift you up. It’s interesting that Paul starts his letter from the confines of prison with the words, ‘2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:2)’ and he finishes it with ‘23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Phil 4:23)’ Paul wanted people to know the grace and peace of Jesus Christ at work in their lives. Paul didn’t want people to just be happy, he wanted them to know the eternal joy found in Jesus Christ, he wanted them to know the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4:7). People ought to be able to see your gratitude for God’s grace. It was said about the famous preacher Matthew Henry that, ‘he possessed the desirable disposition of looking on the bright side of everything, which caused others to feel “how happy a thing it must be to be a Christian.” (Nancy deMoss, Choosing Gratitude, p91)’ Grateful people are like a breath of fresh air.

But the opposite is true also, ungrateful people have a tendency to drag others down. Listening to someone complain about their life is emotionally exhausting. Ingratitude is toxic, it poisons relationships and homes and workplaces. It’s not that it’s inappropriate to share your troubles with a close friend, but before you do so, you first need to share how good God is and how blessed you are to be one of his children. If you are sick of living in a home where all the joy and beauty has been sucked away by negative, unappreciative words and attitudes you can choose to become the kind of person that causes others to feel “how happy a thing it must be to be a Christian.” You can become a person who speaks grace and peace into the lives of others. We’re going to look at how to choose gratitude next week. But today I want to ask you: Are people refreshed and encouraged by your thankful spirit, or are they weighed down by your negative, ungrateful words and attitude?

g) A grateful heart is God-centred

Finally, a grateful person is radically God-centred. Even in prison Paul can say, ‘3 I thank my God… (Phil 1:3a)’ And Paul finishes his letter off to the Philippians in worship, ‘20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Phil 4:20)’ Paul doesn’t whine about his circumstances, rather he worships God despite them, and even because of them. And Paul’s worship, even in the most difficult circumstances flows from the fact that he is eternally grateful for what Jesus Christ has done for him on the cross. Paul is thankful that ‘14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Phil 1:14)’ What matters to Paul is that God is glorified, that the Gospel is preached, that God’s people are encouraged. 

 

I’m sure like Fanny Crosby or Paul you could list off all the reasons that you have to whine or complain, or the things in your life that haven’t turned out the way you expected, all the ways that people have hurt you or disappointed you. But like Fanny Crosby and Paul my prayer is that you will instead worship God. Don’t allow ingratitude to lead to spiritual pride and self-centredness. Don’t allow ingratitude to result in emptiness and discontentment. Don’t allow ingratitude to drag others down with your complaining. Instead allow your gratitude for what God has done for you in Jesus Christ make you a more humble and other-centred person. Allow gratitude to fill your heart so that you are content in any and every circumstance. Allow gratitude to flow out of your life in words of encouragement that refresh those that come into contact with you. You have been saved from your sin by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross, so don’t whine about your circumstances, instead worship our gracious and loving God. Amen.

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