May 28, 2017
Be Grateful for the Good in People
Philippians 1:3, 5
In the Bible, there is a book of wisdom called Proverbs. It is a book full of pithy saying on how to live a wise life. One of those sayings brings up the ant. The writer observed, “Ants—they aren’t strong, but they store up food all summer.” Proverbs 30:25. Now, we know from a scientific context ants are incredibly strong. They can lift 20 to 100 times their own weight. If you thought that then you are missing the author’s observation. He’s just sayin’ look, ants can pick up a leaf but not a branch, it’s too heavy for them. I can. Therefore, they are weak.
The part that stands out to me is how ants store up food all summer. They have an incredibly intricate system of teamwork. I know this I had an ant problem in my house this spring. As soon as they found a food source they came in droves, but it was really easy to see their system of organization. We first saw a few exploring ants and then we saw the line of ants that led to their nest. Then inside the nest is the queen the nursery workers, the nest builders. They are incredible examples of teamwork.
[Ants in water video]
Here is an example from South Carolina of the kind of teamwork ants are capable of achieving. These are fire ants in South Carolina and during the flooding in 2015 countless people observed these floating balls of ants. When the flood waters hit their colony, the entire colony comes out, they put the queen in the middle, and they literally float to another place of safety. Incredibly the process of making the “life raft” only takes about 100 seconds. They are able to stay alive in the water by forming pockets of air within the raft, plus having oily bodies that repel the water. As soon as the raft hits land or a tree they disband, look for food, and start building a new nest, and continue to live.
However, don’t think that because the ants work together they really like each other. It seems the worker ants on the outside of the raft are not there by choice. The nursery ants, the ants protecting the queen, etc., literally force the worker ants on the outside of the raft. While they can float together ants cannot swim and many workers die from the flood.
[Motivational posters and ants]
If you look up on Google motivational sayings you’ll eventually see something about ants and teamwork, or ants and persistence, or ants and doing more than you believe you can achieve. What you don’t see is how they can treat each other. How one set of ants pushes another groups of ants to the outside. They don’t necessarily get along. I have found in the human world that one of the toughest skills in relationships is getting along with people who are different than you. Too often, we want to push people to the outside.
You see this problem all over our culture today. You see it in politics, in racism, in class warfare, in the High School halls, college campus protests, and it’s all over social media. Many social experts observe one problem with getting your news from Social Media is you are only getting it from other people who are like you in some form or way, and the result is this stratification where we cannot get along with people different than you. The result, people pushing people away.
I mean do you enjoy everyone in your neighborhood? Everyone? You have the neighbor throwing parties all the time. Or the There is no one who annoys you at work- like they don’t work. Do you enjoy everyone in the halls of your school? Every teacher? What about at church? Anyone ever annoy you at church? The problem I see is many of our relationships are a matter of enduring than enjoyment. That’s why we push people out. What do we do about it and how can we be better about bringing people in and not push people out?
Over the next four weeks we are going to look at four activities we can do in any relationship to make our work better, family, school, neighborhoods better, and give you some relief from the endurance. You can outlast the bad in people and embrace the good. Here are the four practices:
- Be grateful for the good in people.
- Practice positive praying.
- Be patient and look to the future.
- Love people from the heart.
Let’s look at the first one: Be grateful for the good in people.
This series of messages is based on the opening comments Paul, the great missionary in the Bible, wrote to some Jesus followers it he ancient city of Philippi. Philippi is a positive book. It is a personal book. It’s a practical book. In the first few verses he starts right off talking about people. And as we will see, not everyone in this church got along.
You see how this group of people came together back in the book of Acts, in chapter 16. Paul and his companions came into the city of Philippi and the first place they looked for was a synagogue. They didn’t find one. So they went to the next best place and that was a place near a body of water. If there was no synagogue this is where the Jews would gather for prayer. There he found a group of women studying the Jewish scriptures, and Paul and his buddies sat down with them.
After Paul shared about Jesus one of the ladies chose to believe in Jesus and her name was Lydia. The Bible says she is from a place called Thyatira, which probably means she was ethnically Asian- not Jewish. She was a businesswoman in the fashion industry and who had done very well for herself. Paul shows up and engages her intellect with the message of Jesus, she is baptized, then her household, and then invites Paul to start a church right there in her home.
Then you have the slave girl who kept pestering them, screaming her head off, “These me are from the Most High God!” She was possessed and she believed in Jesus just as the demons do. It wasn’t a saving belief but she knew who Jesus was. What’s interesting is Paul doesn’t invite her to his new church at Lydias’s house. Instead he rebukes the evil spirit in her through the Holy Spirit and then is saved. Therefore, you have a successful business woman and a freed slave girl at this church.
Next you have a prison guard. He is not a nice man. Paul and his friends have been thrown in jail for spreading the Gospel. The jailor was instructed to keep them safe, but instead he chose to torture them. He put them in Roman stocks, which would position the body in such a way causing muscles to cramp up and locking joints in place causing searing pain. This jailer is not a nice man.
Then about midnight as Paul and Silas were praying and singing in this condition. Get this about Paul. You can’t win with him concerning the Gospel. If you threaten death he says, “Well, to die is gain for me.” If you torture him he says, “No pain on earth compares to my future glory.” He is a man who cannot be conquered.
While Paul is singing and praying something incredible happens. An earthquake! The jail crumbles around the jailer. Now get this prison guard. He is not a guy who is about intellect and the law. He isn’t about all the hoopla of spiritual power. He doesn’t think about the meaning of life. He just wants to do his job well, honor the people around him, go home, get a drink, and watch a fight. He’s not rich or poor. He’s what the demographers would call an average joe.
When the earthquake happened and the jail broke the jailer knew his life was over. That was the code. If a prisoner escaped it was your life. But Paul does something extraordinary. He gets all the prisoners to stay! Paul, demonstrated an extraordinary grace here. This man tortured him and yet Paul stayed when he could have left! Then Paul shared the Gospel with guard and we learn not only did the jailer believe in Jesus, but his house as well.
Look at the relational web in this church. Paul wrote the letter 10-15 years after it came together. How are they getting along? They are different ethnicities here, Jew, Asian, Roman, and Greek. How is a slave girl relating to a business woman? Does Lydia treat her insights with value? Does the slave girl hold a grudge against Lydia because her friends own slaves? What about the jailer, has he learned gentleness after being part of such a violent profession?
We know now and then flare ups did happen in this church. Over in chapter 4 Paul talks specifically to two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche. He said, “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.” PH 4:2. Obviously, not everyone got along at church!
Paul knows the people in this church. He knows the diverse backgrounds. He knows about the relational flare ups that can happen in any relational web- church, sports team, work, or your local HOA.
Into this group of people trying to figure out how to get along Paul writes, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” PH 1:3. Paul says I like to remember the good things about people, focus on the good times we’ve had, remember the positive experiences. What do you remember about people? The good experiences or the bad ones? The good memories or the bad ones?
Paul could have easily dwelt on the bad. Paul had been tortured by the jailer. The slave girl bugged the snot out of him. He was forced to leave town. He could have focused on the bad times. Yet he says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” He chose not to remember the painful and he focused on what he could be grateful for.
Remember the best, forget the rest. Say that with me, Remember the best, forget the rest. You don’t deny your hurts, ignore them, or bury them. You don’t make excuses for other people either. That’s not good, but you can focus on the good and the strengths of people.
Maybe you have been hurt in your past by someone at work, or at school, home, or church. It wasn’t right but it happened. As a result, you cannot enjoy today. You focus on the bad and the negative. Be grateful for the good in people. Good memories are a choice. You can chose what you want to remember.
By the way, don’t you wish people practiced that for you? Don’t you wish your boss would remember the best and forget the rest, your ex, maybe someone at work who is gossiping about you? Don’t you wish they would remember your best and forget the rest. The best way to get that started is for you to get that started.
Where can you find the best in people? Here are three places you can start.
- Focus on the good deeds. Have they ever did something extra? Did they listen to someone? Did they solve a problem your company was facing? Help someone out when they didn’t need to? Lydia opened her home. The jailer led his family to the faith. The little girl rejected her demonic past. You might need to be creative to accomplish, but what good deeds has the people around you each day done? When you interact with them is this what you think about or what they haven’t done? The Bible says, “Let us consider how we might spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
- Choose to notice their strengths. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. People with dominant personality can overcome obstacles and can persuade others, but they are horrible listeners. Others are very sociable and turns every event into a party but they can take too long to communicate an idea. Some people are really good at cooperation and bringing people together but they are averse to taking on new challenges. Some people like to be extremely accurate and precise, but they can hate small talk and can turn people off as being rude. You have a choice with each person you meet. Are you going to focus on their strengths or their weaknesses? Paul, writing about the church, said, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” Romans 12:6 By God’s design, we all have strengths to share.
- Appreciate their loyalty. Paul writes in v. 5, “You have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.” Who has been loyal to you? Maybe somebody at work, at school, a friend, husband or wife. Maybe they didn’t do anything spectacular, but they hung in there with you. When you were going through a crisis, a bankruptcy, changing jobs, or when you were being a jerk to them, they hung in there and believed in you. You ought to appreciate that!
If you want to outlast the bad and embrace the good then you need to be grateful for the good in people. You need to remember the best and forget the rest!
Let me ask you a question. Who is that person in your mind right and your thinking, what I talked about today will not work. You’ve tried everything and you are frustrated and perhaps may angry or depressed. Nice sermon Kirk but you are in LALA Land. Let me give you one more place for hope.
The feelings you have are not unlike the feelings God has for your sin. The Bible says we were objects of God’s wrath. There was no possible way for us to make our way back to him. Do God, who loved you, sent his one and only son to take the wrath God held against you and your sin. And through the grace of Jesus Christ and your faith in him that wrath was lifted. It’s interesting to note that Paul wrote these words shortly after writing about Euodia and Syntyche. You’ve probably heard it before, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” PH 4:13
Paul is saying because I have Christ, because you have Christ in you as a Jesus follower, you can have the strength and the hope to follow my example. However, you cannot extend the grace until you receive the grace.
Have you received the grace of Jesus? Have apologized for our sin, humbled yourself before him, placed your faith in his work to forgive you?