It’s All a GiftNovember 22, 2023 | Brandon Cooper
The sermon discusses how Fyodor Dostoevsky’s near-execution experience made him realize that life is a gift from God. It says that according to the Bible, everything we have is a gift from God so we should be thankful. We should also be humble because we are unworthy of God’s gifts. True thankfulness means willingly sacrificing what we have been given to serve God and others. The speaker encourages developing a heart of gratitude over pride and serving like the selfless apostles did.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Good evening. If you wanna go ahead grab your Bibles and open up to First Corinthians chapter four. First Corinthians chapter four will be in verse seven, especially tonight as you’re turning there in 1849, which is by the way before crime and punishment or The Brothers Karamazov, or the idiots or anything like that. Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death for conspiring against the Tsar Nicholas the First. He and a group of kind of like-minded, you know, young people gotten into mischief in the cafe’s kind of thing and so sentenced to death for this, and so, they’re, they’re on their execution day Dostoyevsky’s forced to kneel he’s, you know, allowed to kiss the cross kind of as his last rites. There’s a sword broken over his head as a symbolic beheading that he undergoes, and then he and his co-conspirators are tied to two pillars and blindfolded so that they can face the firing squad, and as they’re, they’re waiting to head to the great hereafter. Pardon arrives from the Tsar. So instead of being killed, they’re just going to be sent to Siberia for four years of hard labor. And you can imagine the effect that this had on Dostoevsky to think that that was it, you’re dead now. And then all of a sudden to be granted an almost miraculous reprieve. It would really mess with you and would probably change your outlook on life. He wrote to his brother Mikhail about this, he says, I am reborn. When I turn back to look at the past, I think of how much time has been wasted. How much of it is lost in misdirected efforts, mistakes, idleness and living the wrong way? However, I treasured life and how much I sinned against my heart and spirit. My heart bleeds now, as I think of it, life is a gift. But it took his almost miraculous escape from death in order for him to recognize this, that life is a gift and that he’d been squandering it in idleness and whatnot. Without that jolt, since most of us don’t have that kind of last-minute reprieve without that jolt, we can easily take life for granted. That is, we’re in great danger always of just kind of a thoughtless ingratitude. Not realizing how much we have been, given how much we owe to say the people who formed us, like parents and, educators, coaches are the amount of information that we have at our fingertips. I mean, what we can look up with devices that we hold in our pockets would have been the envy of philosophers and ages past, or, you know, for a few bucks a month on Spotify, you have access to all of the world’s great symphonies. And you think to yourself, well, I, you know, I paid for this. So you know, I paid my few bucks. And so I am now owed, you know, Beethoven’s Ninth or whatever. But how exactly do we repay? What listening to Ode to Joy stirs in our souls, the fire that it creates inside of us? We might speak of a convict, you know, repaying his debt to society or something like that. But how do we repay our debt to society, all the good that has been showered on us, and for that matter, whom exactly do we repay for all that we have? For family, for the culture around us, for technology, for the DNA that we were given for life itself, for that matter. You can understand why Dostoevsky, after his reprieve, took the calling humanity, the ungrateful biped. That was how he described us, we walk on two legs, and we’re ungrateful. That’s what it is to be human. Because we need a national holiday in order to stop and actually ask these questions. owlbear commu, the French existentialist author, said that humanity’s first faculty is forgetting. That’s what we’re best at is forgetting. In particular, all that we have been given. You hear it and words that we use regularly, like, Oh, he’s a self-made man. No, he is not. He has got all sorts of people who have built into him. He’s got, you know, society as a whole, helping him along, and we talked about pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. That’s kind of the American ethos, isn’t it? And yet it is, of course, impossible, not just physically but, you know, figuratively as well. That is why our whole culture tells us you owe nothing. You’ve earned this you deserve. This is what the advertisers always tell us, right? And yet all of life, never mind the Bible, answer in reply, no, you owe everything, everything. That’s what Paul says in our passage this evening. First Corinthians four verse seven, starting the second sentence, what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Gratitude, of course, is our theme for this evening. Gratitude is just the acknowledgment that we have received all that we have. All is a gift. All is Grace. Let’s put Paul’s questions here in some context, though, just so we know how we got here. So the Corinthians have formed factions behind their favorite apostles, Paul and Apollos and people like that. And so they’re at this point, the modern equivalent would be like rabid football fans, you know, right. I’m for the Bears. No, I’m for the Packers. I’m for the Lions, which is, of course, the right answer this season. But that’s the type of like cliquishness that they’re falling into at this point, these warring factions and into this Paul speaks chapter four verse one, he says this, then is how you ought to regard us Paul and UPAF Apollo’s and all the other apostles, you should regard us as servants of Christ. And as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed, Paul says we’re nothing special. We’re just servants who’ve been entrusted with something special, the mysteries of God. That is the gospel, which, of course, is the good news of the gift that we have been given in Christ. All of this exalts the giver and not the gifted. Like Paul, he goes on in verse two to say how this gives Paul a God word orientation. He says, Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. So he’s not overly concerned with the opinions of people. He just wants to know, am I faithful before God? That’s what he says in the rest of that paragraph. Instead of the next paragraph in verse six. He says, no, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and apologize for your benefit. So that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, Do not go beyond what is written, then you will not be puffed up and being a follower of one of us over against the other. He says if you apply this truth of sticking close to the text, in other words, it’s the authority of God. It’s what he teaches, not what the apostles are teaching. But what God teaches is what he’s done for us. That’s what matters. If you apply this truth, you’re not going to be puffed up. Because who makes you different from anyone else? And then the questions have already read, what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did not receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? So that’s our main idea. We’re going to kind of unpack our main idea as we go tonight. But it’s right there from verse seven main idea, because everything we have we have received, we should be three things will take them in turn. First of all, we should be thankful. Because of everything we have we have received, we should be thankful that flows, right? From verse seven, of course, what do you have that you did not receive? Well, if everything we have is a gift, gratitude is the obvious response. This is what your parents make you do, and you get a gift. You get to write a thank you note afterward. Gratitude is the obvious response to a gift. Now, I realize this isn’t always how we see life. We sometimes look at what we have, and we think this isn’t a gift. This is mine. The great American philosopher Bart Simpson put it like this. In a prayer. He was asked to say, Dear God, we pay for all of this ourselves. So thanks for nothing. And you understand the idea because, of course, we do this. You go to all the you swipe the credit card, right? That’s your money. Absolutely. But behind that kind of surface-level truth is a much deeper untruth. It’s not biblical, of course. Jesus teaches us to pray. Give us today our daily bread before we head out into the fields to labor for our daily bread because it is still a gift. So it’s not even it’s unbiblical. But it’s just also not in line with reality because you could go out into the fields and labor for your bread. And you can control your work habits, of course, but you can’t control the weather, can control all sorts of other factors. ever mind that you’re probably using technology that you did not invent. So that would be a gift then, as well and on and on and on. And, of course, you’re enjoying life itself, for which you most certainly did not labor. Get the idea we have 1000 A million blessings showered on us every day that we overlook. And all this despite our manifest of thankfulness. We are the cosmic equivalent of surly teenagers, whom parents just keep loving, even though we know we don’t even make eye contact, just grunt instead of Thank you. This is part of why Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving all those years ago. He said this we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. Not about the numbers but the wealth and power, even truer today than when he said those words. So we’ve grown in these ways that no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God. Nevertheless, God has not forgotten us. And for that, especially, we must be thankful. Must be thankful for grace. In 1546, Michelangelo did a sketch of the PA TA for his friend Victoria Kelowna. And if you know the PA Tada sculpture, Mary cradles her son, Jesus, but in this sketch, she’s not cradling him. Instead, she has her hands stretched upwards toward heaven, crying out to God and inscribed on the vertical beam of the cross in the background behind her as a line from Dante’s Inferno. No one thinks of how much blood it costs. We must think about the cost. We have forgotten God. We are by nature ungrateful and self-centered, and yet he remembers us. Merritt alluded to this verse in his prayer, Romans five, verse eight, where Paul writes, God demonstrates His own love for us in this While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were at our worst, God loved us the best. What sort of gratitude should that produce in us, except a life wholly surrendered to the one who has loved us so? Well? Perhaps we should pray with the poet George Herbert, you have given so much to me. Give me one more thing, a grateful heart. unceasing gratitude for the cross for Grace should radiate outward into every nook and cranny of our lives. We should be like Dostoevsky. Because, like him, we were condemned because of our rebellion against the king. And yet, like him, we have been pardoned. We should be crying out with him that I am reborn. Life is a gift that should give us a totally different outlook. Because everything we have we have received, we should be thankful for the cross of Jesus, above all. But it doesn’t stop there. We should be thankful. But also humble. Because everything we have we have received, we should be thankful and humbled. This comes out of the next question that Paul asks. And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not use his point? Gratitude engenders humility. It’s received as a gift. So you can’t take credit for it. That’s simple. And really, the less worthy you are of the gift, the greater humility you should experience in receiving it. Let’s take an illustration from traffic to make my point here. Have you ever had that thing where you didn’t realize that the lanes merged? And so you’re the guy who pulled all the way up at the end, while everyone else was waiting patiently in the line? And you got to do that, like, sorry, and you know, kind of duck in. Alright, the person lets you in graciously. You’re unworthy of the gift you’ve just received. But you know, it was nice and whatnot. What does that elicit in you? Alright, that’s it. That’s all you do. Okay, thank you. Wait, that’s all you got. Now, let’s reverse roles, though, for a moment. So let’s suppose that happened to somebody else, they pull up next to you, and you do what your sinful flesh wants to do at that moment, right up to the bumper guy in front of you, and you kind of edge the other one out, you know, he’s up on the curb. Now you’re flipping the bird. He finally gets behind you. You do that thing where you slam on the brakes a bunch of times in a row just to really irritate him. He can see you in your rearview mirror. It’s clear that you are cursing him out. You slow down at a yellow light and then speed through it, so he gets stuck. And then you blow out your tire, and you realize you don’t have a spare, and who should pull up behind you to help you change your tire and give you his spare? But this person that you’ve just so monstrously abused. Now, what do you do? That’s a little more than a wave at this point. The less worthy we are to receive the gift, the more humility it creates in us. Now, one reason we’ve forgotten God is because we’ve puffed ourselves up. We don’t see ourselves as unworthy. Of course. It might even be worse than that. We don’t even think we’re in need of the gift. We think we’re self-realized we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. after all. I like the way Oz Guinness said it in his book, the call and speaking of gratitude, and all of that and receiving things as a gift. A lot of what I’m saying tonight is owed to Guinness in that book, but he writes this he says formerly, the philosopher atheists would shout defiantly there is no God. Now, the practical atheist, who is the modern manager, marketer, expert or consultant, says with quiet professional authority, there is no need for God. And frankly, this is not the time and place for such questions. That is the great boast of which humans today are guilty and the transparent untruth. Which we believe I can do this myself. You can’t. In fact, Jesus came because you couldn’t do it for yourself. Paul tells us in Ephesians two verse one you were dead in your transgressions and sins. Like Dostoevsky, right sentenced to death condemned, and here’s the thing about dead people they cannot make themselves alive. If you are sick, you might be able to make the radical lifestyle changes you need in order to stay living. But if you have already died, the time for change has passed, and you cannot raise yourself. You cannot exchange a heart of stone for a heart of flesh. That is not something we are capable of. But of course, I’m preaching mostly to the church tonight. group of people who believe what I just said, Yes, I was dead. Yes, Christ did raise me, but there is still a Christian way to do that, to have that same self-reliance. Because, like the Pharisees, we can so quickly fall into moralism and don’t have a need of grace. I mean, I’ll pay lip service to it, of course, and Christ alone. Yes, yes, yes. But I have no need for grace because I can meet the requirements myself. And by the way, if I’ve met them, and she hasn’t, well, guess what, I do have something to boast about them, don’t lie. This feels like the parable that Jesus tells of the tax collector and the Pharisee. The Pharisee comes in and lists all of his accomplishments and also says thank God, I’m not like that tax collector who has none of those accomplishments. A tax collector just says, God have mercy on me, a sinner and Jesus tells us only one of them left justified that day. Or maybe we’re more like the rich young ruler, and Mark 10, who comes to Jesus and says, What must I do to enter the kingdom? How can I prove myself here? Jesus scrolls through a list of commands that we’ve been scrolling through the past few weeks here. And the rich young, you rulers feeling pretty good about himself? All these I’ve kept? Of course, as we’ve learned in the past few months, probably not right? Not if we’re doing the expansive obedience thing, but he thinks he’s checked the boxes. So I’m good, right? And Jesus says, one thing you lack, one thing you lack. Grace. Grace is what he lacks, by the way, because he loved his stuff more than he loved God because his heart was bent inward. He was spiritually dead still. And Jesus was saying to him, if you just leave your stuff behind and come follow me, I can raise you to new life, and the man walked away dejected because he loved his stuff. Moralism leaning on our behavior and our performance, is the great danger that faces us. I’ve earned this. I deserve this. And therefore, there’s no need for gratitude, no need for humility. This attitude rephrases Paul’s questions, doesn’t it? What do I have that I didn’t earn? And if I’ve earned it, then why shouldn’t I boast about it? But if we recognize grace, it becomes impossible to boast, except, as Paul says, In Galatians 6, man never boasts except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The only boast I will make is not in what I have done but in what I could not do and what he did. For me, all of life is a gift. So I’m grateful. And it is a deeply undeserved gift. So I’m humble. With a humility that says, It’s not about me, thank God. It’s about a grace that is unbending to me. Because everything we have, we have received, we should be thankful and humble. And then lastly, servants. We should be thankful, humble servants. We see this in where Paul goes in the next paragraph, I’m actually going to read it all for us, verses eight to 13. And Paul says, already, you have all you want, already, you become rich, you’ve begun to rain and that without us, How I wish that you really had begun to rain so that we also might rain with you. For it seems to me that God has put us, apostles, on display at the end of the procession like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are honored. We are dishonored. To this very hour, we go hungry and thirsty. We are in rags. We are brutally treated. We are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed. We bless, we are persecuted, we endure it. We are slandered. We answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world right up to this moment. Paul says the Corinthians are living like kings already, and here’s the thing about kings they get waited on. It’s good to be the king. Now in a sense, this is true, of course. We are royalty in Christ. We will reign with Christ in glory, but for what purpose? Have we been raised now? Before glory? Because Jesus was King also. And he didn’t exactly take advantage of his kingly prerogatives when he walked among us. This question is, it’s like an 18-year-old who’s, you know, comes into an inheritance, a trust fund or something like that. This huge trust fund, you know, she, she’s a millionaire. Now just like that, she has a choice to make, if you’re gonna live it up, or give it up, she’s gonna turn to self-indulgence, or self-sacrifice. It’s the question before us. We can see which direction the apostles went. They were willing to be foolish and weak and Dishonored, homeless and hungry and persecuted all for the sake of the gospel. All so that more could come to know this ridiculous grace that we can receive all in Christ. The apostle set the pattern for us; we should be humble, thankful servants. Humble gratitude leads to selfless service inevitably, reminds me of the story Martyn Lloyd Jones tells. He says, imagine you came home from a vacation or something like that, as you’re, you know, bringing your suitcases into the house, your neighbor pops on by and says, Hey, I paid your bill for you. How do you respond? When all depends on what bill has been paid? I’m gonna paraphrase Lloyd Jones here a little bit. But you know, if it was a matter of cash on delivery kind of thing, it was a buck 50 For you to get your package, I paid the buck 50 the package here it is, you know, kind of thing? What are you gonna do your say? Thanks, I’ll hit you back next time. You know, whatever. It’s nice and easy. But if your neighbor says it was a goon squad of goons, thugs, you know, from the local crime syndicate who are here to beat the living snot out of you and your family because you owe millions upon millions in gambling debts. And because I just got this huge trust fund yesterday, I paid it all off for you. They’re not coming back. They said your debt is paid. It’s over. You won’t see them again. How are you gonna respond now? Little differently, Fall on your knees before them, kiss his feet, all that kind of stuff? How can I ever repay you? Right? How we respond depends on how much we have been given. And we have been given everything. The debt that Christ paid in our place was infinite, far greater than just millions of dollars. So we owe all to Christ. Which means we willingly, joyfully serve Him. Not to try to repay the debt because we don’t need to, he didn’t ask us to. But because of the gratitude that we feel in response, we serve Christ by serving others. Jesus says as much. Matthew 25. Whenever you did this, one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me. It’s baked into our mission statement as a church. Even right, we’re made to magnify Christ and then sent to serve others for Christ. And in that, we follow Christ’s example. Of course, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. If he did that for us when he owed us nothing. Well, that compels us to do that for him. And to do that for others for his sake because we owe everything. What this means is that true Thanksgiving is not just gratitude, for the abundance of our possessions, for our gifts and talents, capabilities for time for life itself. True Thanksgiving is a willing sacrifice of all of that for the sake of the kingdom, knowing that it has been entrusted to us that we might steward it for God’s glory and the good of those around us. So as you go from me here, as you sit around your table tomorrow, give thanks. Yes, by all means, give things but give more than thanks. What can I do with all that I have been given, none of which I deserve? That is the question a thankful, humble servant asks. And because of everything we have, we have received from a gracious, loving God. We should be thankful. humble servants. Let’s pray. Lord, we stand before you now. Aware that everything we have received, we have received Even from you. All of life is a gift. And certainly, our spiritual life in Christ is a gift. We have to think about how much blood it costs for us to have that life. Lord, may the reminder of the gifts we have received. Transform us change our hearts even now, soften them before you that we might be thankful, humble servants expressing gratitude to you in the ways that we serve others, humbly before you stooping low in love, in order that you might be glorified in us, that others might come to know this remarkable gift as well. We thank you and love you and pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.