Many years ago, the teacher of my adult Sunday school class brought a hatbox to class. Maybe that is why I remember this so well. Not too many people today even know what a hatbox is. This was no ordinary box; it was very rigid, made out of very strong paper-based material [stronger than cardboard]. It was circular with a top that fit very tight. The best word to describe it was “fancy.” You might say that the box was truly designed to protect its contents, to keep an expensive hat from being crushed or soiled, to keep it in its original form. My Sunday school teacher taught that day on claiming the gifts that God has given us. His whole theme was that we go through life in this world and never really open our box of gifts.
I have commented on Romans as the book of the Bible that is the “High Peak of Scripture.” Study of that book will yield much fruit for the Christian. I have commented on Romans 8 as the “High Peak of Romans.” Understanding that chapter in that book is seminal for the Christian who really seeks the most precious nuggets of the Bible.* In the last chapter of his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer is trying to make the case that our God is adequate. He is there to meet our earthly needs. He is there to give us all the gifts that we need to live the best life we can live…right now.
In Packer’s words, the Apostle Paul in Romans “wants us to possess our possessions.”
Psalms 73: 24-26 says “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is a very strong statement.
Packer uses Psalm 73: 24-26 and then asks the question: “What then shall we say to these things? He asks that question in what he calls a hortatory manner, not a word I use very much. Hortatory in preaching means that the preacher makes a statement which is designed to call the congregation to action, to get them to respond. The pronoun “we” is used by Packer with a very serious purpose. Paul lays it all out for you; what are you going to do? How are you going to respond? What kind of life are you going to live?
He wants his readers to respond by “possessing their possessions.”
Open your box. Live your lives using God’s gifts.
Paul is writing to the people of his time period but do his words ring true for us today? He calls on his contemporary Christians to think and apply the facts that he is expressing to their lives. Packer writes that Paul knew two things about the Christian life: first all, Christians who are serious about their faith should be committed to “all round righteousness.” They are seeking to do the will of God, “no halfway measures.” Secondly, if a Christian is serious about their faith and becomes committed to all round righteousness, they will experience “material hardship and human hostility.” Packer refers to Acts 14:22 when Luke says “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”
How do we live through these hardships? One response is to “trim one’s spiritual sails” or just settle for less. God may be calling you to do more, but we can meet hardship by doing less. Maybe doing less will make life easier. Another response is to practice “universal obedience.” Packer writes that this is a Puritan concept that amounts to being strong in the face of problems: “swimming against the world’s stream all the way.”
Paul knew that when problems come, something happens to all of us. We resort to emotional thinking. Problems can cause panic, frustration, fear, doubt etc. etc. Paul is exhorting us to think instead of feel. Think about what we know about our God in the Gospel. Think against your emotional feelings. Packer writes “let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.
We know these things to be true through the Gospel. 1. If you love God and accept your Christian birthright, you will have peace. 2. If you love God you will have hope. 3. If you love God you will have joy. These are the gifts in every Christian’s hatbox; peace, hope and joy. All we need to do is pull them out of the box and they are ours.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Paul appeals to our rational brain, not our emotional brain. Argue yourself out of the gloom of life. If you have unbelief, be truthful about it and own up to it. Lay it before God and He will help you overcome unbelief with faith. Talk yourself out of letting problems control you. Let God control you. We have an indwelling Holy Spirit that insures that we have a chance to be God’s beloved children and heirs [we all know that heirs can inherit the gifts of the estate].
It is not that easy really because the emotional brain does take over from time to time. That is the popular message of the world. Even counselors urge us not to develop a habit of being negative about our feelings. Feelings exist and sometimes they rule us. That’s ok. Counselors teach that we must accept feelings, validate them and allow them to emerge so they can be building blocks to stronger relationships. Some people are told they need to express feelings because they can block taking action in a person’s life. Others think that feelings are the springboard to action, the motivation for us to accomplish life goals.
Paul just does not go there. He is trying to tell us “Think, Think, Think” what the Lord has given you! You don’t have to live a miserable life here on this earth, letting your emotions control you. With that kind of overemphasis on emotions, life can be miserable. I have heard of some who feel like life is a veil of tears. Heaven is where God’s gifts are; surely not here on earth. Rather than enjoying God’s gifts here on earth, these people look forward to heaven and slog through life here on earth.
“Earth has nothing I desire besides You.”
Where is the strength in Psalm 73: 24-26?
God is adequate. He has all that you need to live your best life now. Think! Think! Think!
Open your hatbox…
Possess your possessions…
* “The High Peak of Scripture” St. John Studies, August 26, 2020 and “The High Peak of Romans” St. John Studies, September 1, 2020,