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Don’t Expect Thanks: Give It!

Luke 17:7-19

I shall be reading to you from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke beginning at the seventh verse. Here we have recorded a parable and a miracle. This is the Word of God. “Jesus said, ‘Will any one of you who have a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field come at once and sit down at the table?’ Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me and gird yourself and serve me till I eat and drink, and afterward, you shall eat and drink? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants. We have only done what was our duty.”’ 

“On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When Jesus saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well.’”

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. 

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. 

Today, I want to give you a medical prescription. And believe it or not, it’s absolutely free. And it comes from a doctor, that’s right, a very distinguished doctor at that. As a matter of fact, this particular doctor is the patron saint of the whole medical profession. His name is Luke. He was the personal physician to the great apostle Paul. And he traveled with Paul on all of his missionary journeys. Now, Luke, being a physician, was concerned about people’s health. We know that because later on, he wrote the Acts of the Apostles, but he also wrote the third gospel, which bears his name, a gospel which, may I add, places special emphasis on the healing ministry of Jesus. So Luke, the doctor, was concerned about people’s health but not just about their physical health, though that too, but also about their moral health, their mental health, their emotional health, their spiritual health. And I think maybe that’s why as he was writing this gospel that bears his name in the seventeenth chapter, there, he placed right together a parable of Jesus and a miracle of Jesus.

Because you see, the theme of both the parable and the miracle is gratitude. And when you put both of them together, when you put the parable together with the miracle, you come up with Dr. Luke’s prescription for a healthier, happier life. Here it is: Don’t expect thanks. Give it. 

Now for just a few moments, I want us to analyze that prescription for a bit to see if we can determine some of the results and also even some of the side effects of that particular prescription. 

Let’s begin with the parable Jesus told. 

Here’s the story. A man was hired to work on a farm. All day long, he was out in the fields plowing the soil and tending to the stock and doing all of the necessary chores to keep the farm operating. At the end of the day, he would return to the farmhouse with an aching back and an empty stomach to be sure. And what would happen at that point? Would the owner, the master, the boss of the farm, would he say to him, “Ah, my good man, you’ve worked hard all day long. In gratitude, I’m going to ask you to come in, and I’m going to set the table for you. And I want you to sit down, and I’m going to prepare the meal and serve it to you.” Is that what he said? “No,” Jesus said. The boss said to Him, “You’ve worked hard all day long, good. Now there’s something more to be done. Fix the meal, serve it to me, that I may eat and drink, and only then, only then, may you eat and drink.” That was not a request. That was a command.

And the hired hand responded. He didn’t expect to be thanked for his work in the fields all day long. That was part of his job. He was hired to do that. And not only that, he was hired to serve the evening meal. That was his duty. It was his responsibility. He was simply fulfilling that which he had been called, hired to do, and he didn’t expect to be thanked for it. Now Jesus says, tucked away in that little story, there’s a great lesson we need to learn in our lives. You see, there are certain responsibilities that we have in life which we’ve got to fulfill, there are certain acts of service which we have got to perform, simply because it is our duty to do them. And when we perform those duties, those responsibilities, when we do our job, when we do what we’re supposed to do as Christian people in the world, then we ought never expect to be thanked for doing it. Jesus says, “Does the master thank the servant for working in the fields?” No. So when you have done what God has commanded you to do, simply say, “I have done it because it is my duty to do it.” Now there is a lesson tucked away in there. But I think in order for us to grasp it, I need to encourage you to look with me at two aspects of our lives where that lesson can be very important.

First, I would point to the home. Oh, you know, home would be a heavenly place if all of the members of the family would all say thank you at all of the appropriate times. Home would be glorious if all the children were constantly and consistently thanking their parents for providing their clothing and cooking their meals and paying their tuition. But Heaven help us, if that’s what we expect, it just won’t happen. But you know, there are some parents who do seem to expect it. You’ve encountered them, I’m sure, I mean, those parents who go around complaining about their ungrateful children who don’t seem to appreciate all the sacrifices that they’ve made for them as if love could ever be anything other than making sacrifices. Let’s remember, children do not ask to be born. We bring them into our lives and into our hearts and into our homes for our own pleasure and our own satisfaction and our own fulfillment. And that means that we have a responsibility to them and a responsibility for them. We are called by God to love them, to care for them, to support them, to encourage them, to provide for them, to educate them, to see that they are prepared for life in the adult world. That is our duty. And my friends, we would enjoy our children a lot more and we would be healthier and happier ourselves if we simply perform those duties without ever expecting to be thanked for them.

Now, the second area of our lives to which I would point would be the church.  I’m absolutely sure that somewhere along the way, you have encountered those disgruntled church members who say that no one ever appreciated their efforts. All of these years, they’ve taught Sunday school or sung in the choir or worked in the kitchen, and no one ever bothered to say thank you. You know, I wonder from whom do they expect the thanks? From God? I mean, after all, all of our Christian service, whatever form it may happen to take, teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir or working in the kitchen or whatever, all of our Christian service is to be for God and God alone. From where do they expect to receive the thanks? 

Lloyd C. Douglas, in his novel Magnificent Obsession, speaks the same truth but in a slightly different way. He says, “The only Christian act of any real moral value is that which we do in secret.” In other words, the only Christian service which we perform which ultimately is going to give us any real sense of satisfaction in life is that service which we do without ever expecting to be thanked for it. Now it’s very important here that you not misunderstand what I’m saying. I do not intend to try to say to you that we ought to go around through life ignoring other people’s discourtesy just so that we won’t be too disappointed in life. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

No, the fact of the matter is this world is absolutely filled with marvelously grateful people, who at times when you least expect it, will warm your heart with their expressions of gratitude. Now the point I’m trying to make is the point I believe Jesus was trying to make, and it is simply this. We are to give ourselves in the service of God through Jesus Christ without ever expecting to be thanked for it. 

You know, maybe, just maybe, Dr. Luke was right. Don’t expect thanks. Give it. Well, that’s the parable that Jesus told. 

But now let’s look at the miracle Jesus performed. 

The miracle is not a made-up story like that parable was. No. The miracle’s a true story. It was an actual occurrence. You know, I preached a sermon on that particular miracle two years ago. I have to tell you something. I missed something in the story the first time around. Here’s what happened. Jesus was on His way from Galilee through Samaria and suddenly confronted there at the side of the road a group of ten lepers. It would have been a dreadfully repulsive sight. If any of you happened to see the classic movie Ben-Hur or, more recently, the movie Jesus Christ Superstar, you were treated to sordid scenes of the valley of the lepers, and you are made graphically aware of the fact that lepers in those days were forced to live a wretched, helpless, hopeless, hellish existence. And these ten, a congregation of disaster, would have been an awful sight to behold.

They cried out to Jesus for help, and Jesus said to them, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” That seems a rather strange thing to say until we remember that the priest in those days were also the medical officers. And a leper who happened to be cleansed always had to have a certificate of health from the priest in order to be able to reenter society. And so Jesus said to them, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” Now at that point, they must have said, “Why? I mean, look at us.” But something, I don’t know what it was, maybe it was just the tone of authority in His voice, but something made them obey Him. And so they headed off down the rode, and the Bible says so simply, so beautifully, “As they went, they were cleansed.” I can never read that without trying to imagine what that must have been like on the road that day. The sudden burst when these men suddenly looked down and saw their festering, rotting flesh being restored so that their skin was being made clean and smooth and soft once more. Why, they must have split the air with shouts, the great singing, leaping, unbridled joy. But in the story, the joy so quickly turns to sadness because the story takes a strange twist at the end. The Bible tells us that only one of them, he was a Samaritan, he was a hated and despised foreigner, he was one who was ugly and unclean on the outside, but it turned out very clean on the inside. This one, this Samaritan, stopped and came running back down the road and fell at Jesus’ feet offering gratitude. Just one came back.

Here’s a more modern story on the same theme. Some years ago now on Lake Michigan, there was a terrible shipwreck. Of the 393 persons on board the vessel when it sank, 297 of them lost their lives. But among those who survived, there were 17 who owed their lives to the efforts of a young college student whose name was Edward Spencer. You see, that day, Edward Spencer happened to be walking along the shores of Lake Michigan. And he saw the accident when it happened. Without thinking, he plunged into the icy waters of Lake Michigan and swam out to the sinking ship. And 17 times, he made that swimming journey from the shore to the ship. And every time he swam back to the shore, he pulled 1 more person to safety. 17 times. 17 lives saved. But what Edward Spencer did that day was such a terrible strain upon him physically, and the icy conditions were so terrible that literally broke his health. And Edward Spencer spent the rest of his life as an invalid confined to a wheelchair. Some years later, in a magazine interview, he was asked to share his most vivid memory of the day when he had saved 17 people’s lives. Do you know what he said? He said, “The fact that not a single one of them ever came back to thank me.” How sad.

Two stories. Both of them true. Jesus and the 10 lepers, Edward Spencer and 17 saved lives. Two stories, both with the same message. 

Wait a minute. Do you remember I said just a few moments ago that when I preached on this passage sometime back, I missed something the first time around. Well, I did. I don’t know if you caught it in the reading just a moment ago or not. But the passage says that this Samaritan when he came back and fell at Jesus’ feet, Jesus lifted him up and said to him, “Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well.” Now what does that mean? Does that mean that he was, in fact, the only one who was healed, and that the other nine, because they didn’t come back, didn’t receive the healing? Is that what it means? No. No. I think the story is quite clear. All ten men were healed of their leprosy. But this one man, this one who came back to say thanks received an additional cure, an additional blessing. I think it’s quite clear in the King James version of this particular passage where Jesus’ words are translated like this. Listen closely. Jesus says to him, “Arise and go thy way for thy faith has made thee whole.” Whole. Jesus healed his body. But the man by his expression of gratitude healed his mind and his spirit. It was his gratitude that made him a whole person. By expressing that gratitude, he received, oh yes, the healing of his disease. But he received an additional blessing. He became whole.

The message, I think, is quite clear that gratitude is the way for us to have a healthier, happier life, to become whole as it were. I think you see that so clearly in the experience of G.K. Chesterton, the English Christian. As a young man, Chesterton became muddled and confused about what he believed. He was in real trouble spiritually, as a matter of fact. He said at one point that he didn’t know what to do with life or what to make of it. He was walking through a dark valley of doubt, and he couldn’t find his way out of it, and God no longer seemed real to him. But unlike so many other young people who are in that kind of circumstance, G.K. Chesterton resolved not to cast aside his religion. He didn’t have much religion. Oh, it wasn’t much at all. But he resolved that he would hold on to what little religion he had, and he would cling to – and this is phrase, he would cling to “one thin thread of thanks.” That is, he would thank whatever God there happened to be for the fact that he had life that he could breathe. That’s all. That was his whole faith. That, and nothing more than that. Just one thin little thread of thanks. But because of that, he resolved not to feel sorry for himself because his life wasn’t shaping up the way he thought it ought to shape up. And so he said to himself to try to change the things in his life that he could change and to accept the things that he couldn’t change. And instead of being plunged into despair because there was so little goodness in the world, he decided that he would celebrate whatever goodness he could find wherever he happened to find it, and that’s what he did.
And ultimately, because he was clinging to that one thin thread of thanks, G.K. Chesterton was recaptured by the reality and the radiance of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And he went on from that point to become one of the greatest Christian thinkers in the 20th century. All because, and this is his word, listen, all because he made a conscious decision to take life for gratitude and not for granted. Yes. That’s it. We are to take life for gratitude, not for granted. That’s the message of the story. This one Samaritan came running back down the road and threw himself at Jesus’ feet crying out in thanks and gratitude. And Jesus says to him, “Praise God. Your faith, your gratitude will make you whole.” Your faith, your gratitude will make you whole in Jesus Christ. 

Dr. Luke’s prescription for a healthier, happier life: You take this prescription once a day by simply repeating these words, “Don’t expect thanks. Give it.” 

Let us pray. Merciful God, we thank you for the supreme gift of Jesus Christ, a gift to each one of us. In the power of His redemption, we commit ourselves to lives expressing gratitude through committed, loving, redeeming Christian service. In the name of Jesus, amen.


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