Every Creature Received With Thanks

November 18, 2012 / No. 3646

Dear Radio Friends,
Another Thanksgiving Day is upon us. There are those who live for holidays of this sort. They do not really care about the reason for the holiday; they just enjoy spending time seeking earthly pleasure and relaxation. And the same is true with Thanksgiving Day. For all the hype of the season, there are precious few who use this holiday for the intent that it originally was established. It was established as a day that we give God thanks for the harvest of food that He once again has provided for us in the season, gone by.
But then, the unbeliever really has none truly to whom he can give thanks. He does not believe in God. So he may thank some people. He may have this feeling that he calls thankfulness. But that is as far as it goes. For the most part, thankfulness is not a part of the season with the unbelieving world. It is just another time to get off work and have a good time.
For believers, on the other hand, this is a special time of year. Thanksgiving is a necessary part of the life of the child of God. We are a thankful people. It was for that end that God chose and saved us—to be a people of thanks—and that, through our thanks, God might glorify His own name. That thanks we must bring to God every day in our prayers. That thanks we must bring before God as families in our family worship. That thanks we now have opportunity to bring on a special day of the year.
For that reason this is a special time for us. The passage we chose to speak on in today’s broadcast teaches us how we are to view this creation. We read in I Timothy 4:4, 5: For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
This Word of God teaches us about the creatures of God’s hands and our use of them. It does so in contradiction to the attitude of those who believe this creation is inherently evil. At the same time, we are taught of the relationship of this creation also to our giving of thanks. We wish to examine, therefore, how we are to view this creation and how we must sanctify what we are given out of it by means of our thanksgiving.
Paul states a simple truth in these verses of I Timothy 4. “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” It is over this simple statement, however, that there seems to be much confusion. For example, because God gives good things to the wicked man, it is thought that God’s attitude is that of favor toward that wicked man. Who can deny that the wicked, unbelieving man in this past season of the year received rain and sunshine and, in many cases anyway, good crops from the hand of God, and that these creatures of God’s hands are good? Who can deny that the unbeliever as well as the believer receives an abundance of harvest year after year in our land? This harvest of plenty is a good gift of God because all creatures of God’s hands are good.
But people then confuse these good gifts of God’s hand with God’s grace, or His attitude of favor. That ought not to be the case, however. God does not love the wicked and never smiles upon him in His favor. The provision wicked man receives is given him only in God’s general care over His creation. And since wicked man uses these good gifts to serve himself and not God, the good things of this creation serve only to condemn him, not to bless him.
But the fact does remain, that every creature is a creature of God and is good and is nothing to be refused. Bounties of the field we will eat on Thanksgiving Day in celebration of the harvest this year are good. The harvest of this year again has been good. But then, every creature is good, not just our food. For example, the transportation we are given by God is good; the houses we are given by Him to own are good. Even the riches and comforts of this world are good. Everything man has made is good and nothing, therefore, to be refused.
But there were those in Paul’s day, and still are in our day, who believed either that everything earthly and material was inherently evil, or that there were certain foods and certain institutions that were evil in themselves. It is obvious from verses 1-3 of I Timothy 4 that there were those who believed that way. We notice “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith…speaking lies in hypocrisy;…forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” These heretics in the church taught God’s people that such institutions as marriage, though perhaps necessary, were inherently evil. They taught that there were certain meats that were in themselves sinful meats, so that to eat these meats involved a person in sin. Those who went to an extreme were those who believed that earthly matter, or anything physical, was evil. The child of God must, therefore, seek in every way possible to flee the things of this present life and devote his life entirely to the spiritual. One could not enjoy this earthly creation at all because to do so was sin and was not being spiritually minded.
Such a view of this creation is oftentimes heard yet today. For example, there are those who teach that the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” does not refer to earthly bread. To pray for earthly bread is sin. We may not ask God for earthly things. We may only ask God for heavenly and spiritual things. Bread in this petition, such people teach, means Christ: “Give us Christ each day, because He is the bread of life.” That is a denial of what Paul teaches Timothy here in the passage we consider.
The Amish also hold to a form of this error. Perhaps they might not say that the good gifts of God’s creation are evil. But they would argue that the inventions of man, that is, what man has invented out of the good gifts of creation, are sinful. A tractor with tires is a sin. Electricity generated by the power company is sin. To drive an automobile is sin, and so on. The Amish believe that sin is found in these inventions themselves.
Over against this error of many today, as well as in Paul’s day, stands the Word of God before us: “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” Why is this true of the earthly and physical realm of which we are a part? Because God created it. And God beheld everything that He made and, behold, it was very good. This is a good creation—the plants, the animals, the sun and moon and stars, and the earth in which we live are all created by the hands of Almighty God and, therefore, good. God has made this earthly realm in order to work out His eternal purpose for all things. Though it is true that the heavenly is our home, though it is true that the child of God longs for that day, nevertheless, to say that life in this world must be one of misery for us because it is nothing but sin, that is wrong. God gives to you and me the good creatures of this creation to enjoy. We may live here. And we may use these earthly gifts for our enjoyment. We may set earthly goals and strive to achieve them. God commands man to discover the laws of nature and develop this creation in the service of His name. The creation is good and to be used, developed, and enjoyed. If this were not true, there would be no reason for thanksgiving this time of the year. This is a beautiful and a wonderful creation.
But that does bring up another matter, does it not? Has not the present creation fallen under the curse of sin? Does not the fall of man into sin result in the ruin of this present earthly creation so that, though God made everything good, nevertheless, now, after the fall, it is evil? That is a legitimate question. It forces us to take a close look at that word “good” used here by Paul.
You see, the term “good” can express two different ideas. In the first place, it can refer to good in the moral sense of the word. It is used in this way only when it refers to God’s rational, moral creatures—those to whom God gave a mind, will, and desires. For example, angels can be good or evil, and men can be good or evil. That is because the creatures of God’s hands were created to stand in a certain relationship with their Creator. Man either serves God, and then he is good, or he does not serve God, and that is evil as opposed to the good.
But that is not the way the word “good” is used here in the verse that we consider. When referring to a creature of God’s hand, an inanimate object, food, or even the inventions of man, we can call these good. We do so because, from a natural point of view, they are beneficial. They are of earthly value to us because we can use them for our life here below. They are advantageous to us, praiseworthy, reliable, pleasant. We speak of many things as good in this sense of the word. Every creature of God’s hands is good. Every creature is of value to man. Every creature can be beneficial. But this has nothing to do with moral-ethical goodness. There is no sin in a thing. There is no moral evil in nature itself. Inanimate objects are in this sense always good. There is no sin in that turkey that we are going to eat on Thanksgiving Day. There is no sin in a car or in a house. There is no sin in a television set or a DVD player. These are all inanimate objects containing no moral good or evil in themselves. Even the wicked and unbelieving man is fearfully and wonderfully made from a physical point of view. There is no fault in the creatureliness of any man.
It is on the basis that every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused that this particular command can come to us. We need not refuse any creature. Now, it is true, of course, that there are certain creatures that are not good for us physically. We would not keep a lion as a pet. We would not eat some poisonous mushroom or berry. We try our best to keep weeds out of our yards, usually. We would say that these are bad and not good creatures because they are not beneficial to us and are of no value to us. But these creatures, too, are not sinful. They are not morally evil, even though we might characterize them as bad things. But if there could be found some good use for these things, then they, too, are not to be refused us. We may use them. And all these things have a part in this creation of God.
But here is the point, friends: these things ought not to be refused if they be received with thanksgiving. Now we come to the important matter of this verse. All creatures are good, and we may use every creature, on condition that we give God proper thanksgiving for them.
Thanksgiving. There is that word by which this day is known: giving of thanks. What is that? It means that we express our gratitude to God because He is the Creator and He has given us all these things. We must express our deep appreciation to God for everything that we use in the creation. It means that in our hearts and on our lips there are expressions of praise and humble acknowledgment that God has given us all things. That is thanksgiving. And that thanksgiving must be there if we are to use the good creatures of this creation. This is true because thanksgiving will determine how we use the good creation God gave us. That will determine how we view Thanksgiving Day. If we do not live in conscious knowledge of our Creator and the need to serve Him, then we will not and cannot use the creation aright. Neither will we determine to give God thanks each day of our lives as well as in this season of the year.
If we are not thankful to God, we will not use the good creatures in the service of His name, but we will use them only to satisfy ourselves. And then our use of these creatures becomes sin. When we are mindful that these good things are given us to serve God, then none of them need to be refused. So the sin does not lie in the things themselves. The sin lies in the way we use these things. And if we show God proper thanksgiving in our personal lives—in our homes, and in the church—then God says, “Here is My creation. Take it, use it, enjoy it. You need refuse nothing.”
That makes what Paul tells us at the very end of verse 3 true as well. God has created these things to be received with thanksgiving “of them which believe and know the truth.” Ah, yes. God has created these things to be used by believers, because it is only the believer who gives proper thanks to God for these things. Oh yes, we hear everyone say, “I’m so thankful for this and for that.” But they are not thankful to God. Even many who do say, “I thank God,” do not reveal that thankfulness at all by their confession and walk. True thankfulness flows out of a true faith. Only those who believe, Paul says, and know the truth, therefore, are truly thankful. And for that reason, only those who believe actually use the creatures of God’s hand in the right way. All others use it for their own pleasure and their own earthly enjoyment without viewing these things as a means to another end.
God’s people truly are the only ones who enjoy these earthly blessings, because we acknowledge who gave them to us and we praise and extol our God for these things. But how does merely giving God thanks make us use His creation to serve Him? Well, this giving of thanks consists in what we are told in verse 5 of the passage we consider. Thanking God is done by means of His Word and prayer. Those who truly give God thanks know the truth. They know God’s Word because they spend time in that Word. They know, therefore, what God’s Word teaches them about the proper use of the good creation God gives them. His Word teaches, for example, that we may not be drunkards, that we may not abuse alcohol, and that we may not be gluttonous, that we abuse food. His Word teaches us that a frivolous lifestyle or a life that is caught up in the pleasures and treasures of this world is wrong. God’s Word guides the child of God into a proper understanding of the use of these creatures that God gives us and, therefore, a proper way of dealing with these things. A thankful person is one who spends time with God’s Word and oftentimes thanks God by means of those passages that speak of thanksgiving. Knowing the truth is essential to giving proper thanks to God for all things.
There is also, then, that spiritual activity of prayer. We show proper thanks only by means of prayer. We enter into God’s presence and actually lay out before Him our thanks. We praise Him. We extol Him for our salvation and for the benefits of our salvation in Christ. But we also thank God for giving us all things for Christ’s sake. We thank God for our health and our strength, for our talents and our abilities, for our daily bread and our clothing and shelter. We thank Him for all the extras—the luxuries, the comforts of this life. And we sincerely request of God that He not allow us to place our affections on the things below. We ask Him to keep our eyes heavenward so that we might put all of these earthly blessings in proper perspective. In that way we thank God.
We do that in our private prayers especially. We do that in the prayers of our families. But we do that together, too, as God’s saints in the worship of the church. We stand at the end of another plentiful year. We may not forget that what we have again received has come from God’s almighty hand.
So we give thanks, sincere and proper thanks to God in worship and in prayer, thanking Him also for His Word to guide us.
But how will this guide us into the proper use of the possessions that God has given us? When I give thanks to God in prayer, knowing what His Word teaches me, then the food and the drink I use will be sanctified. That is to say, I will consecrate them to God. Then, when I turn on my TV set or pop a DVD into the player I will consecrate what I watch and enjoy to the service of God. And if I cannot do that, I will turn off the television set. It is not an easy thing for a child of God, having just watched a movie filled with the sins of this world, to thank God for that movie, is it? I do not think a child of God would be able to thank God for that lounge or bar where he sits listening to ungodly music, drinking with those who blaspheme God’s name, and overindulging in strong drink.
Nothing is to be refused, if it is sanctified with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving will determine the sanctified use of the creatures of God’s hands. Are we truly a thankful people? Does God’s Word and our prayers of thanks determine our use of God’s creation? In everything, in everything, give thanks. Let that thanksgiving determine how we use God’s good gifts that He has given us in this life.
Then God’s name will truly be praised. Not just today, but every day among us.
Let us pray.
Our gracious heavenly God and our Father in heaven, we thank Thee for all things that Thou hast given us in Christ Jesus. And we are thankful that in this time of the year we have a time to lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving unto Thee. Make us more and more a thankful people. And may that thanks determine how we live in this life, too, that certainly we might be a people that praise Thy great and glorious name. For Jesus’ sake we pray these things, Amen.