Twenty years ago, on Oct. 15, 1993, Southern Seminary inaugurated Mohler as its ninth president in ceremonies that included evangelist Billy Graham and theologian Carl F.H. Henry. Twenty years later, Mohler preached about the place of gratitude in Christian life and theology in a special chapel service Oct. 15 as a part of the seminary's annual Heritage Week activities.
"A bit more than 20 years ago, I was given the unspeakable opportunity to serve this sacred school as president and professor," said Mohler, who, at the time was only 33. "Let me ask the question that others were clearly asking at the time: 'What were they thinking?' It has been 20 years that can only be summarized in one word: 'gratitude.'"
Mohler based his sermon, "What Do You Have That You Did Not Receive? Gratitude and Christian Discipleship," on 1 Corinthians 4:1-7, where the apostle Paul establishes the proper relationship between God and His servants.
Mohler emphasized the relevance of Paul's letters to the Corinthian church, noting, "To one extent or another, every one of our congregations is a Corinthian congregation; every one of our congregations has, at the very least, its Corinthian moments and is perpetually afflicted by the Corinthian temptations."
One of the problems in the Corinthian church, Mohler said, was "the perpetual sense of spiritual superiority that was lorded over by some believers over others because of their spiritual gifts." Paul's answer, Mohler said, is to remind the Corinthians that all they have is from God.
"We are all tremendously shaped ... by the simple declarative sentences of Scripture, those sentences which establish the truth of the Gospel, the reality of the one true and living God, the substantial and accessible, forcible, eternal truth of God's revelation to us," Mohler said. "We live on those.
"But I am sometimes, I must admit, more attracted to the questions asked in Scripture. Some of these haunting questions sometimes seem to reveal even more than those declarative sentences."
Referencing verse 7 of the passage, Mohler said, "Here is one of those questions I think should frame our thinking as believers: 'What do you have that you did not receive?'"
The correct answer to this "incredible question" frames Christian theology, and should define the believer's life, Mohler said.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing" is the answer, he said.
"We know that God is Himself the giver of all good and perfect gifts, the source of all that is good, including life itself. And thus we understand that thanksgiving and gratitude are the Christian's portion. This is our natural and rightful response, not only to who God is, but to what He has done for us. Understood rightly, there is no more inherently theological act than thanksgiving."
Mohler, expressing his thanksgiving to the seminary community, said, "When I look out at this room, I see what I had no right to expect to see 20 years later: you," looking back to early days of his presidency, many of which brought struggle and difficulty. "And beyond you, so many who have gone out; and beyond you so many who are now coming. This is God's doing, and it is marvelous in His sight.
"And what's our response to that? Mine, first of all? Gratitude. Gratitude for all. Gratitude at the beginning, gratitude at the end, gratitude at the top, gratitude at the bottom, gratitude at every point, gratitude at every moment."
He continued: "The Christian life and all true theology begins and ends with the right answer to that one question -- and the right last word to this sermon. What do we have that we did not receive? Nothing."
At the beginning of his sermon, Mohler noted how "special" the seminary's Alumni Memorial Chapel is to him. He catalogued his experiences in the building as a prospective student, student, employee, graduate and then as president -- his daughter, Katie Mohler Barnes, was married in the chapel this summer.
Also during the service, trustee chairman E. Todd Fisher read a resolution of "thanksgiving and appreciation," unanimously adopted during the Oct. 14-15 semiannual meeting, that traces Mohler's stewardship of the seminary through two decades. The seminary presented Mohler with a framed copy of the resolution. In response, Mohler told the seminary community the recognition is "humbling" for himself and Mary. "And what an incredibly moving day."
Audio and video of Mohler's sermon are both available at www.sbts.edu/resources.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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