23rd Sunday after Pentecost November 13, 2022
1 Thessalonians 5:14-24
606, 400, 608, 609
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Lord God Almighty, even as You bless Your servants with various and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, continue to grant us the grace to use them always to Your honor and glory; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (NKJV)
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
These days, the word “sober” is most often used of someone whose faculties have not been impaired by too much alcohol. But we do still use it in other ways. We may speak of someone who is stable and well balanced as a “sober minded person.” When we hear news that is unsettling and troubling, we may refer to it as sobering news; it wipes the smiles from people’s faces and gives them a serious state of mind.
The word “sober” is an important word in the Bible. It is used several times in New Testament in passages where Jesus and the apostles exhort believers to “soberness” in our way of life. The idea is that we should cultivate a state of mind that is serious and well-settled. It is a condition of mind that comes from being well-grounded in the teachings of God’s Word. If we are firm in the faith, we will not be quickly or easily upset by the changing scenes of life. If we are sober in the biblical sense, we will not easily be caught up in passing fads; we won’t be given to foolish hopes or foolish despair. Christian soberness is not to be confused with stoicism, which is a sort of resignation to the ups and downs of life. Christian soberness is a fruit of faith; it goes together with the hope of eternal life and stands side-by-side with a growing joy in the Lord and the salvation that we have in Him. We can see this in the exhortation of Peter, “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully on the grace of God that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)
To be sober minded in the biblical sense is also to be serious and sound in our estimation of things. This is the sense in which Paul encourages soberness in our text. He calls on us Christians to “think soberly” about ourselves and our God-given gifts. Soberness, then, is a quality of mind that we want to cultivate as those who look for the second coming of Christ. We want to “watch and be sober” as we wait for His return (1 Thessalonians 5:6). AS YOU WAIT FOR THE LORD’S COMING, PRACTICE SOBER THINKING.
Paul writes here about the evaluation and use of our God-given abilities. And this relates directly to the second coming of Christ. Christ Himself emphasizes the importance of making good use of what He has given to us as we await His return. He does so in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the story of a man traveling to a far country. He gives to each of his servants a sum of money to manage until he returns. He doesn’t give the same amount to each one, but he expects each of them to make good use of whatever he has entrusted to them. When the master returns he calls his servants to see how they have used what he had entrusted to them. He commends the one who received five talents for gaining five more, likewise the one who received two and gained two more. But he rebukes the servant who received one talent for taking it and burying it in the ground, for making no use of it at all.
By that parable we understand our Lord to mean that He has given to each of us gifts and abilities which we are to use in serving Him until He comes again or until He calls us home. The gifts that He gives aren’t the same for everyone; they differ not only in kind but also in amount. Some are extraordinarily gifted; others have gifts that are more humble, at least in appearance. But no one should despise what the Lord gives, though it be much or apparently little. Christ intends that every gift be used for His glory and the extension of His kingdom.
Our text can be viewed as a commentary on the Parable of the Talents. Paul here speaks of various gifts that Christ gives to His disciples: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and showing mercy. These are examples of gifts that can be used to glorify Christ and extend His kingdom. The first thing that Paul says to us about these gifts is that we should think soberly about them. We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We should make an accurate appraisal of our gifts. We shouldn’t overestimate them; that is, we should not pretend to have gifts that we really don’t have. Luther in his commentary on our text gives as an example some in his day who wanted to be teachers in the church but who didn’t have the aptitude to teach. They did a lot of harm. Likewise, we do no good by wanting to do things for which we don’t have the gifts. But a sober appraisal of our gifts will also keep us from underestimating what God has given us. And I believe that this is a more common problem in the church than the overestimating of gifts. Let us not be like the man in the parable who hid his one talent in the ground.
A sober evaluation of what we have from the Lord will lead us to use what He has given to us. If we look soberly at what He has given to us, we will see that it is of great value. Jesus intends that each of us should be a blessing to His church, and He has equipped us for that. We are like the many members of the body: they have different functions but together they make up a well-ordered whole. What one lacks another makes up. What one member does benefits the entire body.
Let’s especially remember that our gifts differ “according to the grace that is given to us.” All of Christ’s gifts to His church are gifts of grace: they are generous gifts, undeserved gifts. The remembrance of that truth will move us to use our gifts and to use them unselfishly. The thrust of the series of admonitions here is that we should use our gifts and that we should continue to use them as long as the Lord gives us the strength and the opportunity to do so.
I came across a wonderful example of this once in a news story of a woman in Chicago who passed away at the age of 100. What was remarkable about her was not just that she lived to such an advanced age. She was a teacher at a Lutheran elementary school, and she continued to teach up to and past her hundredth birthday. She was probably not a full-time teacher in later years; the exercise of one’s gifts may need to change with the passing of time. But the feature on her that ran on a network news program showed her working with students, one-on-one, teaching them to read. When asked when she planned to stop teaching, she would reply, “The Lord will show me when it is time to quit.” Not many are given the years and the strength to continue serving as long as she did, but her story is an encouragement for us to continue to serve as long as we are able.
The admonitions about gifts here are not just to exercise them but to do so in a way that glorifies Christ. The gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the church are not for personal glory but to be used humbly in service to Christ, to fellow Christians, and to others. Take for example the gift of prophecy. Paul says, “If prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Prophecy here isn’t necessarily the revelation of future events but the preaching of God’s word. All who preach God’s word speak in His place and make known what He has said. But prophecy isn’t for personal glory. It needs to be in proportion to faith, that is, in harmony with faith. The one who preaches God’s word needs to be careful to explain a passage of Scripture in a way that is in harmony with Scripture.
True service to Christ is sincere service rendered from the heart: “He who gives (let it be) with liberality,” generously, not grudgingly; “He who leads (let it be) with diligence,” not half-heartedly. “He who shows mercy (let it be) with cheerfulness,” as one who wants to help, is glad to help.
Above all, let us think of our abilities as a trust from our Lord. Remember again the Parable of the Talents. Our Lord is like a man who has gone to a far country. He may be gone a long time, but He will most certainly return. Jesus has ascended into heaven after paying in full the debt of our sins and removing forever our guilt before God with His sacrifice on the cross. As our living and exalted Lord with all power in heaven and on earth He has richly endowed us His disciples; He has given us great resources to use on His behalf. The parable impresses on us our responsibility to Christ. But it is also a mighty encouragement. In the parable the two servants who used what their master gave them doubled what he gave them. The gifts of teaching, service, exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy all bear fruit when they are used, for they are God-given resources. Through them souls are brought to Christ, weak and faltering believers are lifted up and strengthened, Gospel ministries are supported and enabled to grow. And when Christ comes again that gain will be revealed. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.