2008-10-13 (Thanksgiving) 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 Give Thanks in Everything

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2008-10-13 (Thanksgiving) 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 Give Thanks in Everything

            Three instructions: “Always be joyful.  Ceaselessly pray.  In all circumstances give thanks”.[1]

          Paul tells the Thessalonians, Paul tells us, be joyful always.

          We’re to be always joyful because of the salvation bought for us by Jesus through His precious blood.  We’re always joyful because of what Christ has done, because God has made that incredible gift known to us, because we have seen it, received it, and have consumed it, when we celebrate Lord’s Supper.  It is not mere knowledge, but it is also an experience.

          Because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, we are forever right with God.  We’re eternally secure!  The same joy that was set before Jesus, before he endured the cross, that same joy is set before us!  It is the joy of our salvation; it is the joy of knowing others are saved.

          In chapter 1, Paul says of the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”  From this verse we see that joy is from the Holy Spirit, and it comes not from the absence of suffering, but even in the midst of what Paul describes as severe suffering.

          So, the joy that Christians have comes from the Holy Spirit!  This is great news!  Our joy is not based upon how well our sports teams do.  Our happiness is not based on the stuff we own.  It is not based on the friends we have.  Our joy, our comfort, our peace, our contentment is not based on our health and our wealth.  We can be healthy and happy, and we can be suffering and happy.  Not in a way that glosses over the reality of the pain, not merely trying to keep up a stiff upper lip, but one that receives joy, happiness from something that is far greater than us, something greater than even all of creation, namely, God.

          And God gives joy to us through the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit places it within us, and it is there, it is eternal, and it is perfect.

          And to encourage us in this life, we have the testimony of fellow believers.  If you attended Emily’s funeral, or if you’ve spoken to the Stauffers or visited Pastor Terry’s blog, then you will have seen such eternal joy in practice.

          But let’s also look at some familiar passages written by someone who had an intimate knowledge of suffering, the apostle Paul.  The first one is from Romans 8:38.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Here Paul professes God’s sovereignty.  God is able to take any circumstance in our lives and transform it into good. 

          Seriously, this is true!  No matter how desperate the situation, God uses these situations for the good of His people.  This so easily sounds trite, and even insensitive.  Do we think these words will bring comfort to someone who is suffering?  Absolutely.

          Paul explains how these words bring comfort in the verses surrounding verse 38.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

          That’s the source of our joy.  Our joy is not at all dependent upon ourselves.  We don’t manufacture it.  We receive it from the Holy Spirit.

          Now, can we allow our circumstances to diminish the joy set before us, the joy given to us through Christ?  Absolutely!  We can lose ourselves in the fruitless exercise of asking why?  Yes we can.

          I’m sure Calgary Flames fans are asking themselves why their team couldn’t win two games against the Canuckleheads.  Just as some are asking the less frivolous question as to why their loved ones are suffering, or did suffer, or might suffer.

          So that is why Paul tells us to focus on the true joy of our lives, the eternal joy of being forever right with God.  That is a joy that cannot be robbed by anything.

          The way we hold onto that joy is through the second instruction, ceaseless prayer.

          Remember Paul’s instruction to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.6&7). 

          So, how shall we deal with anxiety?  How shall we deal with situations in life that causes us to call out to God with the question, why?  The answer is to pray ceaselessly.  For when we pray, we ground ourselves in God.  We address God as our Father.  Jesus is such an amazing teacher.  He taught us to pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven.”  What does that say about God?  It says that He is approachable, he’s our Father.  What does that say about us?  It says that we belong to God, we’re God’s children!

          So, when we pray, we are constantly reminded of God’s grip on us, and in prayer, we grab hold of God.  In prayer, we’re like a little child who climbs up onto his father’s lap, as he watches Hockey Night in Canada.  There’s warmth, peace, security.  The child rests his head on the Father’s chest, and relaxes to the deep rumble of his Dad’s breathing. 

          That’s what prayer is!  It is being with God.  Prayer isn’t a list of demands, “Hi Dad, this is what I need.  I’ve got a pain in my side, I’m feeling a bit down because of such and such, and I’m could really use some assurance because the events in town lately have left me a bit confused.”

          No, prayer is much more than that!  It is that, it is coming to God and laying ourselves, our needs, our wants, even our demands at His feet.  King David models that kind of prayer for us.  He was bold, he even used strong language with God!  But David also models humility in the Psalms.  He speaks of God’s goodness, God’s greatness, God’s justice, and protection.

          So, when we pray, we’re reminded of who God is, who we are, and that even though in the physical world, we may suffer all kinds of things, in the spiritual world, we are totally secure and comforted.

          Hebrews, when talking about the Old covenant of sacrifices and temple worship, says that they were shadows of the things to come.  In a sense this life is but the shadow lands, the true life begins after death, or after Christ’s return, whichever comes first.

          So prayer helps us maintain our joy, that is the eternal joy through the Holy Spirit, it helps us keep holding onto God.  Consider these passages: Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”; Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Paul speaks out of his own experience in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”  2 Thessalonians 1:11 “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”  Ephesians 1:16 “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

          But what are prayers without thanksgiving?  The third command Paul gives us is to be thankful.

          One commentator wrote, “When a person prays without giving thanks, he has clipped the wings of prayer, so that it cannot rise.”[2] 

          Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.  In everything, we give thanks.  We are to give thanks when things go well, and when things don’t go well.  We give thanks in troubles, sorrow, persecution, famine, poverty, danger and even at gunpoint. 

          Standing here, in front of, in my estimation, the most incredible congregation in the CRC, if not the whole world, in a sheltered life, with a beautiful family, a great job, and all sorts of earthly comforts, I wonder how people do it when they have nothing. 

          How, how did Paul and Silas give thanks after being beaten and thrown in jail?  How do people give thanks from the cells of concentration camps?  How do people give thanks when dealing with death, grief, suffering and endless pain?

          Paul tells us that we can, and we must give thanks because of this reality: Again, Romans 8:37-39.  “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

          We are more than conquerors through Him, through Jesus, who loved us, and gave his life for us.  We’re not simply survivors, we’re not simply keep plugging away because there’s nothing else we can do.  We’re more than conquerors!  We overcome everything! 

          And because Jesus conquered death, what can harm us?  What can possibly endanger our salvation?  What can separate us from Christ?

          Nothing can separate us!  Not one single thing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.    

          Not a single experience we have here on earth can do anything to damage our position in Christ.  We’re adopted, there’s nothing that can revoke that!  We’re eternally made right with God. 

          In fact, we can give thanks in every situation because we know; deep down, that every situation is placed before us for our benefit.

          How?  How can the death of loved one benefit us?  How can intolerable pain, incredible suffering benefit us?  How can situations of utmost horror benefit us?

          They benefit us if we look beyond ourselves.  We’re eternally right with God.  That means we’re going to live for the rest of eternity!  What is the present suffering in comparison to that?

          I imagine that as painful as childbirth is for the mother, it probably doesn’t feel all that great for the child either.  When we look back on our life on earth from eternity, won’t it be something like the experience of being born?  All of us experienced it, but none of us can remember it, though it was quite a momentous occasion.  Yes, there are many shortcomings to that analogy, I know, but my point is to highlight the shortness of this life in comparison with eternity.

          All our experiences in this life are to bring about the reality of our salvation in Christ.  They make us more and more aware of God’s goodness, His strength, His power, His might, His grace, and His love for His people.     

          In every circumstance, we’re not lost in the question why, we simply know, this is God’s will for us in Jesus Christ.  This, good harvest, bad harvest, good times, bad times, all of it is God’s will for us in Jesus Christ.  So we respond simply with, “Joy, prayer and thanksgiving.  Amen.


[1] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 3: New Testament commentary : Exposition of I-II Thessalonians. Accompanying biblical text is author's translation. New Testament Commentary

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 3: New Testament commentary : Exposition of I-II Thessalonians. Accompanying biblical text is author's translation. New Testament Commentary

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