Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Thankful People
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 28:7-10
When God uses you to minister to someone it’s natural for them to become grateful to you. It’s hard for people to distinguish in their minds what part of that wonderful blessing you did, and what part was God. They realize their help came from God, but it was God through you. And they’re so grateful that you were faithful to do what you did, or say what you said, or pray what you prayed, that they want to find a way to bless you in return. They’re not trying to pay you back; they just need to express what’s welling up in their hearts.

Being thankful is a good thing. Jesus wondered at the nine who were healed but didn’t come back to thank Him (Lk 17:15-19). But such thankfulness can also present a danger. The person receiving thanks can be tested by it. Even if the person giving thanks isn’t able to properly distinguish between the human and the divine, between what you did and what God did, the person receiving the thanks must. To accept more than is your due is to take for yourself a glory that belongs only to God. It places you in a position between God and His thankful people, and if that is not corrected it will bring His judgment. He will stop ministering through you. Power and humility go hand in hand. The more we are careful to turn all the glory and thanks back to God, the more we understand that it’s His power and not ours, the more He is able to use us. As we have read through the Book of Acts, we’ve watched Paul perform amazing miracles, and we can’t help but notice that as the years went by that power didn’t leave him. Here on Malta God’s Spirit was still working mightily through him, and one of the reasons is because he always pointed thankful people back to God. We must do the same.

Ministering on Malta (Acts 28:7-10)
• DBS (Mon-Wed)

By this point in time, Paul has been serving Jesus Christ for nearly three decades. He’s been beaten, slandered and jailed repeatedly. He’s now a prisoner on his way to a trial in Rome, but the power at work through him obviously hasn’t declined at all. He’s still prophesying with stunning accuracy and healing multitudes. If anything, he seems to be getting stronger. But not everyone who starts out well finishes well. Most of us know someone who was full of boldness and power years ago, but today isn’t even serving God. Some believers can only tell stories about what God did through them many years ago. They only had a “season” of ministry, but not a lifetime of ministry. For those who are just beginning their walk with God, here are some important truths you must learn if you want to keep “burning” for Jesus. And for those who can only remember days when you felt the Spirit working through you, there’s a path back, if you’ll take it.

A time to receive (2Ki 5:9-27)
A Syrian general who has been healed from leprosy is deeply grateful and wants to give Elisha a gift, but Elisha knew that if he took the gift the spiritual lesson God was trying to teach Naaman would be lost. Saving this man’s soul was the issue, and he had to be forced to see that what had just taken place wasn’t some form of magic which he could purchase from a holy man. He had been touched by the true God, and had received a grace for which he could never repay. Elisha would take nothing because he wanted Naaman to know he had done nothing. He wanted the man’s thankful heart to lead him to God. And into that incredibly holy moment stepped Gehazi. All he could see was a lost opportunity: this rich man’s thankfulness could have been turned into a huge financial gift. He thought Elisha was a pious fool, so he took matters into his own hands and spoiled the lesson. He placed himself between that man’s thankful heart and the God who deserved his thanks, and God judged him severely. In effect, what Gehazi did was worse than if he had murdered Naaman. For money, he was willing to steal his salvation. We can only hope God was able to overrule Gehazi’s greed. The prophet Elisha still asks all of us who minister: “Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive gardens and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?” (v26). The answer, of course, is “No! Our reward awaits in heaven.”

Judas’ frustration (Mt 26:6-16)
This blindness to see why God works through us, is the very reason Judas Iscariot turned against Jesus. It was when he finally realized that Jesus did not intend to set up a kingdom on earth and make them all rich, that he became bitter. We can only imagine how many miracles, healings and signs he watched, and he may even have ministered such things himself (Lk 9:1-2), but he never really appreciated why those things were happening. He never saw himself as God’s servant, as merely the human vehicle through whom a heavenly Father was rescuing those He loved. And obviously, he never fell in love with Jesus, and didn’t long for others to love Him too. He simply wanted to use Jesus, to ride His popularity into a position of riches and power. Listen: Matthew 26:6-16.

This was a very holy moment. A thankful woman was prophetically preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Through her, the Father was showing His Son how precious His death was to Him. Very soon men would do horrible things to Jesus, and His body would be treated with contempt, and as He went through that hour of shame, He would be able to remember the sweet smell of that oil and how His Father had honored Him. The value of the perfume itself was about one year’s wage, but rather than being grateful to see such worship poured out on his Lord, Judas, like Gehazi, merely saw one more opportunity wasted. And I think it was this event that pushed Judas over the edge. Then and there he decided Jesus was a hopeless fool, so he would, at least, get something by selling Him to the religious leaders.

The best man
There is no one in the Bible who better models the right attitude than John the Baptist. John had been enormously popular. The attention of the entire nation was focused on him, but after he baptized Jesus, the crowds that came to him began to diminish. People started following Jesus instead. That situation could make anyone feel competitive and jealous. But John understood his role. He described it this way: John 3:22-30

He said God had sent him ahead to prepare the Bride to fall in love with her Groom, not him. For him to be successful meant the people he ministered to would follow Jesus. This is the heart that allows God to continue to use us. This was Paul’s heart.

The human and the divine
The longer we walk with God the more aware we become of our own weaknesses, but at the same time, if we serve Him faithfully, we also become aware of the amazing things He does through us. And as long as we stay conscious of both truths, the experience of being used by God won’t inflate our price, it will humble us. We marvel that He would use us, and keep on using us. We don’t have to pretend to be humble because it becomes glaringly obvious to us that what was good came from Him. We are able to separate the human from the divine.

Yes, we have a role to play in ministry. We must do our part, but the portion of what I said that was truly wise, the statement that suddenly helped you see the situation differently, the power that flowed through your body when I laid my hands on you, the peace that came and drove the depression away when I commanded it to leave in Jesus’ name, the sincerity you could see in my eyes when I was finally able to say I was sorry and mean it… these and countless other moments are gifts from God, not us. The part that was real, the part that had life in it, the part that made a difference, the part where you stopped listening to me and started listening to God… that’s the part people are so grateful for. It’s the part that didn’t come from you, it was given to them by God through you. And that’s the part we must never take credit for, never make money on, never be proud of, never let anyone think came from us because that part belongs only to Him, and He’s a jealous God who will share His glory with no one.

The greatest joy
Keeping this right perspective is like tending a garden. Weeds come along and have to be pulled. Pride arises and has to be refused. Envy and greed emerge and have to be confessed and repented of. Even self-pity can develop in us after years of selfless service, leaving us bitter toward people and resentful toward a Master who works us hard (Mt 25:24). But when we feel these things we need to remember that God has not forgotten us. In the midst of serving Him we’re given the greatest joy of all: we can sense His pleasure in what we’re doing, feel His Spirit working through us. We get to know by experience the meaning of His promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Paul’s response
So, how do you suppose Paul responded when people came up to him with tears in their eyes or a handmade gift to express their thanks? We know he was very careful about not taking money, but I’m sure he was gracious and thanked them, and then said something like this: “Yes, you’re right what God did for you was wonderful. He did that because He loves you, and wants you to believe in His Son so you can be with Him forever. And by the way, I so enjoyed being there and watching Him care for you. Isn’t He wonderful!”

1) Think of a time when you knew God was using you. How did you know He was there? What did He do? How did people respond?
2) Have you ever confused the human and the divine, either by thinking it was you who did the work or by focusing too much on the human God was using? Without naming names, what alerted you to this? 

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