The Light and Heat of Gratitude
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Let’s turn to Psalm 100. And as you’re turning there, if you don’t have an outline, today would be a really good day to have one. We have an exercise at the end. It would be helpful to have one. Even the kids, you can draw what I preach on your pads there. Psalm 100.
In the early years of the 4th Century, Diocletian, who was a Roman emperor, realized that one of his chief Praetorian Guards was a Christian and was discipling others in the way of Christ. When he realized this, he exclaimed,
“Ingrate [he’s saying this to Sebastian, this Praetorian Guard], I’ve given thee the first rank in my palace, and thou has striven against me and my gods!”
He ordered Sebastian to be tied to a tree and executed by his fellow soldiers — shot through with arrows. What is surprising about Diocletian’s response is not his antagonism towards Christianity. That’s assumed with him. But it’s the accusation he makes against Sebastian. He calls him an ingrate. What’s an ingrate? An ungrateful person. You ungrateful person, you deserve to die. Why would Sebastian’s faith in Jesus make him an ungrateful person in the eyes of Rome?
Dr. Peter Leithart, in his book “Gratitude: An Intellectual History,” talks about how the Roman culture was built on circles of gift and gratitude. For example, you study even the Roman gods would give things because they needed things and would expect getting certain things back. These circles of “I give, and you give back.” Gratitude in that culture was leveraged. Think of the phrase “quid pro quo.” Have you ever heard that in the news? Every minute. What is that? I do a favor for you, you do a favor in return. That was not unusual, that was expected, and it drove the culture of Rome. Even hospitality was a means of social mobility, upward mobility. I’m going to invite you to a banquet, you invite me to a banquet. Another friend invites you, and another friend invites me, and before you know it we’re all climbing the social ladder together. That’s how it worked. Hospitality was, gifts and gratitude were like joysticks that could be used to influence and accomplish things through other people in the name of being giving. Bonds of patronage and benefaction, benefits and favors, held families together, drove political and economic alliances. Even people were used. Historically, in general, you know of daughters were given in marriage, one ruler to another ruler, as a gift but really, ultimately to try to establish an alliance. You owe me; therefore, we’re good with each other because of the gift and gratitude. The Latin formula “do ut des” — “I give that you may give,” was not unusual, it was assumed and drove the culture. Christianity stepped in and assaulted these circles of gift and gratitude and transformed them.
Listen to what Dr. Leithart writes.
“Moses, Jesus, and Paul all speak as much of circles of gift and gratitude as Homer and Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca. What Christianity did was to expand the circle of reciprocity and extend the field of gratitude until it covered everything and every circumstance. In the process of this expansion, they burst the smaller circles of Roman gift and gratitude and seemed to leave nothing in their place.”
This is why Diocletian indicted Sebastian as an ingrate. You ungrateful person, you. I gave you a job. You owe me. I did something for you, therefore how could you question me or my gods? Do you see the circle of gratitude? I did something for you, you do something for me. But really that circle of gratitude is a shackle on someone’s conscience. And Sebastian said, “I would rather die than get caught up in this tiny circle of gift and gratitude that ultimately fetters my conscience.” Therefore, Christians from a Roman perspective would have been viewed as ingrates. We are really the most grateful ingrates.
Let’s look at those two parts. We are ingrates because we refuse to be bound or bought by small circles of gratitude, like Sebastian. We refuse to let what someone has done for us manipulate our worship. Jesus addressed this in so many different ways. Think of Luke 14:26 when he said, “If you come after me, you’re going to have to hate your father, mother, wife, children.”
What was he saying there? Literally hate family members? No, he loved his mother; he cared for her. But what he’s doing is he’s crushing the authority of this circle of gift and gratitude. This idea that I brought you into this world, I own you. No, Jesus crushed that and said “One person made you, one person owns you. He is God.” Do you see how that would be viewed by the Roman culture as absolute ungratefulness? And let me clarify. It’s not that these circles of reciprocity don’t exist. Every time you buy a burger, you’re establishing a circle of reciprocity. I’m going to give you a couple bucks, you’re going to give me a burger. We’ve created this circle of reciprocity. The difference is, it’s a free exchange. That’s why we call it free enterprise. There’s no binding of conscience. There’s no owning of one another through that interchange.
What Jesus does is he doesn’t eliminate on an economic level, but what he does is he eliminates the authority, the absoluteness of that. He says in Luke 6, “Don’t give in order to receive.” He talks about in Luke 14, and just crushes the whole social structure of Rome when he talks about, “Don’t seek the higher seat. Don’t invite someone rich to a banquet so that they can invite you to their own banquet. Invite the poor because they can’t pay you back.” What was he doing? Purifying gratitude.
In that sense, from a Roman culture, and I would say from our own culture, we are ingrates. But then we are also the most grateful of people because in Jesus gratitude shatters the little circles and goes viral. Reciprocity is still present in some contractual agreements, but it is swept in and set free by the unparalleled generosity of our father. Because ultimately, any tiny circle of reciprocity in here where someone’s done something for you or you’ve done something for them, is swept into the infinite goodness of God where he just pours out on all of us. None of us can pay God back, and actually he doesn’t need anything. Do you see how that changes everything as far as the purpose of gratitude? Listen how Dr. Leithart summarizes this.
“The key to the infinite circle is the expansion of gratitude’s ‘field of operation.’ Christianity infuses gratitude into every nook and cranny of human life. Because all comes from God [thanks to him], thanks is offered to him for everything. ‘Give thanks for everything in all circumstances’ [He’s quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:18] is as global a command as one can expect. Christianity satisfies the gratitude hunger of our age. Indeed it more than satisfies; it provides a surfeit of gratitude [an excess of gratitude, a glut of gratitude].” Christians have a glut of gratitude.
Let’s look at the roots of this in Psalm 100. This Psalm is often called the “jubilate.” To jubilate is to express great joy, and it comes from that one word in verse 1, joyful noise. “Make a joyful noise.” That Hebrew word is the word that’s used in Job 38:7 when God was flinging the universes into being and the angels were shouting for joy. That would be a concert you would not want to miss. Same word. It’s the word that’s used in Joshua 6:5 of the armies of Israel shouting victory at Jericho. It’s the word that’s used in Psalm 27:6 of the man who has been crushed by his enemies. His head is down, and God is the lifter of his head. Lifts his head up, and it literally says his “shouts of joy” are his sacrifices to God. He offers sacrifices of shouts of joy to God for lifting up his head.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord [this is not a timid psalm], all the earth! [Do you see the little circle busting going on?] … all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
Now notice the simple structure of this psalm — four stanzas, two sets of two, each stanza has three parts, and the stanzas alternate between “do, know, do, know,” between “heat, light, heat, light.” What do we mean by that? Let’s look first of all at the heat in the first stanza. What are we being called to do? This is the heat, the expressive affection, verses 1, 2, and 4. The answer to that question comes in the verbs. Look at the verbs.
Verse 1, “make.” Verse 2, “serve … come.” Verse 4, “enter … give … bless.” And each of these verbs tells us a specific way of doing what we’ve been called to do. “Make a joyful noise. Serve the Lord with gladness.” And by the way, that word “serve” is used interchangeably with work and worship because from a Hebrew perspective the two cannot be separated. Worship dries up without work and work stagnates without worship. The two go together.
Verse 2, “Come into his presence with singing!” Now there’s a progression through this first stanza. You’ll notice we’ve moved from shouting to serving to staying with, just being in his presence with singing. Shouting, serving, staying with. This is a really important point because when we gather, there are some services that are quieter than other services — fewer instruments, more quiet. And invariably people will write and say, “Oh, that was such a reverent service. You could sense the presence of God.” Because there are people who connect with God through quietness. But then we’ll have another service that has a lot of shouting and loud singing, lots of instrumentation, and to some people it feels like “Yeah, that wasn’t really a worshipful service,” and other people feel like “Finally, we were worshipping!”
Which is real worship? Well Psalm 100 is commending both. You see, there’s a place for just being in his presence with singing. You can just sense those moments where I’m not doing anything, just in his presence. And then there are other times where you’re shouting and making a joyful noise. And other times where you’re busily serving him with gladness — selling homes, making food, computing numbers — serving with gladness. It’s all worship when done in gratefulness to God. “Come into his presence.” And all of these describe a particular way of doing what we’ve been called to do. They are the heat, the heat of gratitude.
But then notice in verse 3 and verse 5 we get an answer to the question, well how do I do this? What if I don’t feel like doing this? And verse 3 and 5 provide us with the energizing education, speaking through our minds, to enable us to do what we’ve been called to do. The “dos” are embedded in the “knows.” Because light without heat is futile; knowing without doing is empty. But also, heat without light is trivial. Doing when we’re not fueled by truth is superficial. We have no desire just to drum people up in a certain emotional state. The knowing is embedded and fueling the doing.
Well, what do we need to know? Verse 3, “Know that the Lord, he is God! [There’s no other God.] It is he who made us [No one else made you], and we are his [You are owned by no one else]; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” And this would be fatalistic and fearful if not for verse 5. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love [his hesed, his loving loyalty] endures forever.” Just bask in that. His loving loyalty is not fickle. It’s not based on these small circles of obligatory gratitude. If I’ve done enough, he’ll do enough. If I do enough, he’ll do enough. This constant drive that motivates most of us to get up and pushes us through the day and we’re concerned about what everybody thinks about us. It shatters all that. “His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” He is unceasingly generous, not waiting for a favor from us. Therefore, we are unceasingly grateful. What you see here is just an explosion of kindness. God didn’t wait for us to do something in order to get something. He sent Jesus because his love is steadfast, his faithfulness endures forever. And as we just ate this bread and drank this cup we were remembering, reminding ourselves of the covenant love of God that endures forever. That is the fuel for our gratitude.
Now let’s apply this with a little exercise. If you’ll look, first of all, at the heat — what are we commanded to do? To make a joyful noise, to serve, to come, to enter, to give, to bless. And this morning some of you came in, you were ready to do that, and you just responded inside and outside. Your whole heart was there. Others of you, you feel that tension. This question is a really good question. Why might we struggle to do this today or tomorrow, this afternoon? Why do we not do this? And some of you can answer that question right now and go ahead and do that in your notes there. Why did I not come ready today or go to work ready to do this tomorrow, to make a joyful noise, to serve him with gladness, to come into his presence with singing? Why not enter his gates with thanksgiving, into his courts with praise?
We did this with the staff a couple weeks ago, this little exercise. Some of these just come from me, but some of these come from the staff when we were wrestling with this. How about, I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I’m struggling with doubts. I’m an introvert. Psalm 100 was written for certain personality types and it’s not mine. I don’t understand what it means to “bless his name.” It could be a lack of understanding. I grew up in a conservative church, and in the church I grew up in, any kind of expressive emotion just felt fleshly, superficial, carnal. I gave into lust again last night.
What is it with you? What’s holding you back? Write it down. Be brutally honest, and then look at the reasons. Look at the reasons Psalm 100 gives to address the reasons we might push back and say, “I can’t.” These are reasons to do what he’s commanded us to do. And notice how many are dependent on us. Verse 3, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Verse 5, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” And I know we can’t do this completely now, but I would strongly encourage some of you to spend some time on those two verses and to ask yourself what don’t you know that is keeping you from truly expressing gratefulness in all circumstances? There’s something you don’t know. I don’t care if you’ve been in church for 50 years. According to Psalm 100, if my heart is not full of gratitude, there is something I don’t really believe. And he’s using the word “know” here not just head knowledge, he’s using it as “know” in a faith-fueled, experiential sense. I know God is God, and my brain is not the God of me. I know that people are not God. I know he made me. And therefore, even if he made me with a certain personality type, he by his Spirit is going to give me a way to express gratefulness that may look different from someone else with a different personality type. But I’m going to find a way to do what Psalm 100 talks about.
Take a moment right now. What is it? What are you not believing about God, about yourself that’s described there? Do you believe he’s good? Because you can’t see verse 5 if you don’t believe verse 3. You will wrongly interpret the goodness of God if you don’t believe the greatness of God. If you don’t know that God is God, you will misinterpret the fact that God is good because you will filter everything that you experience through your own godness — thinking you’re the god of God, not God being God of God.
His steadfast love never stops. Right now, you can count on his faithfulness. He’s with us, wrapping us up in his everlasting arms. Some of you may just need to be honest and say, “God, I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this right now.” And then answer, what are you going to do about that? Because some of you have been sitting in a state of spiritual limbo long enough to where you’re a Christian, but anybody that’s around you would say he is/she is one of the most miserable people to be around. Perhaps you’re bound in a circle/shackle of reciprocity where people haven’t come through for you because you’re not tapped into the promises that we just read. I would encourage you, some of you, just spend the Christmas season memorizing Psalm 100 or re-memorizing Psalm 100. I memorized it in the King James, and it was so hard to re-memorize it in the ESV. Almost more difficult, way more difficult than memorizing it the first time. Let it get in your bones, your heart. Wouldn’t it be amazing if people met in Greenville, met grateful businessmen, businesswomen, people shopping, and they immediately knew that person must be a Christian because Christians are grateful people because their gratefulness is not dependent on the circle of reciprocity working well. Christians have been lavished on by the generosity of our good Father.
Father, please do this miracle in our hearts. Some of us are wracked by bitterness, bound by questioning you and others, and it has sucked the joy out of us. Fill us with a kind of joy that only you can provide as we rest in the fact that “You are good. Your steadfast love endures forever, your faithfulness to all generations.” We give you thanks, in Jesus’ name, amen.