By: Bishop Scott Jones On 11/30/2010
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
As Mark Twain is reported to have said, “It is not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me.”
I understand 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 all too well. It says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
In all three of these areas—rejoicing, praying and being thankful—I think the apostle Paul is talking about cultivating a certain disposition of our hearts—an attitude toward God, toward life and toward the world. When we have faith in Christ, we see everything differently. We see all of our relationships, all of the world and all of the future in a godly light.
This attitude goes toward the deepest level of our lives. It determines the kind of people we are growing to be and the ways in which we choose to act, think and live.
When we know Christ as Lord and savior, then “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)—shape our emotions, our thoughts and our behavior. We become more and more Christ-like in every aspect of our lives.
This is what United Methodist doctrine—based on the Bible first and John Wesley’s “Sermons” and “Notes upon the New Testament”—calls “sanctification.” It is growing to become more and more like God intends us to be.
When our children were young, Mary Lou and I used to hear them say about a particular food, “I don’t like that.” Our response over the years became, “When you are grown up, you will like that food. You need to eat it today because today may be the day you are mature enough to like it.” This conversation presumed that they were growing, and it set a certain standard for how grown-up men and women behave.
God has set a particular vision of what spiritually mature men and women feel, think and do. In fact, the phrase in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” could correctly be translated as “Be mature.”
God recognizes that we are still growing spiritually. However, part of our faith is to understand what a grown-up Christian is really like because that vision shapes how we live and what we do. We know that we are not yet perfect or mature. There are times when our faith is weak or our sinful nature is strong or circumstances overwhelm us. At such times we need Christian friends to encourage us, preachers of the gospel to instruct and inspire us and the power of the Holy Spirit to propel us toward the goal Christ has set and we so ardently desire.
Grown-up Christians have an attitude of gratitude. They are thankful for the blessings they have received. They count their blessings, naming them one by one and are grateful for all that God has done.
Grown-up Christians then ask, “How can I give back to God?” “How can God use my time, my talents and my money for his purposes?” “What is God doing in the world, and how can I participate in what God is blessing?”
Many of our churches are holding their annual stewardship campaigns. Some churches are basing their campaigns on what the church needs. It is important that members be fully informed.
However, stewardship from a spiritual perspective is based on what the grateful believe God wants us to give. It is moving toward tithing, tithing or moving beyond tithing. Really, it is what Mr. Wesley used to say: “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”