In Everything Give Thanks
The Bible teaches that God gives some good gifts to every human being. Jesus said that God maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Being the sovereign of the universe, he can dispense his gifts as he pleases. No mere man has a just claim to anything.
But there is a huge difference in the way that men receive God’s gifts. Unbelievers, no doubt, enjoy the ones that they find to their liking. A successful career, financial security, a quiet and peaceful home are always welcome. Yet, they do not and cannot give God thanks for these things because they do not believe that he gave them. And if they cannot thank God for the good things in their lives, the thought of thanking him for those providences that we might call calamitous is entirely out of the question.
Believers, on the other hand, consider God’s gifts in a completely different spirit. The Word of God summons us to give thanks. In our text this is a command (εὐχαριστεῖτε). Sometimes we need to be reminded that should be spontaneous are also required. In this verse, the apostle encouraged the brethren in Thessalonica to continue doing what they were already doing. His word encourages us to do the same.
Now, here is the challenge. Note that Paul’s command to give thanks is not limited to thanking God in those circumstances that we find agreeable and pleasant. The phrase in everything permits no exceptions. God expects us to acknowledge all of his gifts with a full appreciation for the fact that they come from a God who loves us and meets all of our needs through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Everything is Fine
To show how this works out, this evening I’ll present three scenarios to you for your consideration. In the first scenario everything is going well. The second is a mixed bag —some things are okay and others are not. In the third things couldn’t possibly get worse.
Here’s the first. You have all the temporal blessings you could ever want. Your spouse loves you dearly, and your children are the most well behaved kids in the whole town. Your in-laws think you’re the best thing since sliced cheese. You really like your job. Your home and car are the envy of all your neighbors, and your income is more than sufficient to live comfortably. But even more importantly, you have spiritual blessings without number. Your devotional life is great. Everything at church is wonderful. You and your family are growing in the Lord by leaps and bounds. You’re happier, more content and more at peace with God and man than you’ve ever been before. Nothing whatsoever is wrong in your life.
As a Christian, you understand that God is sovereign and that all these wonderful blessings come from him. James wrote, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17). So, Paul’s command to give thanks to God in everything definitely applies here.
The problem is that this scenario is not very common and perhaps never occurs at all. We have no examples of it in the Bible. There is not one single person in Scripture whose life can be described like this — not Abraham, not Moses, not David, not Jeremiah, not Peter and not Paul. The Word of God says unequivocally that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Tim. 3:12). Jesus even warned those who do not experience opposition. He said, Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets (Luke 6:26).
Think about it this way. When you come to church on Sunday, how many people ask you how you’re doing or how your week has been? Probably quite a few. I’ll bet that most of the time you respond by saying something like “Everything is great” or “Couldn’t be better.” But how is that really true? Even as you’re saying that you have no problems, you’re thinking about a sick parent, a wayward child, the impending loss of your job or the fact that you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in the last three weeks? Are you really giving thanks to God in everything if you’re denying some of his providences?
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that you pour out all your soul’s anguish every time someone asks you how things are going. Not only are there some things that should not be made public, but most people have trouble being around chronic whiners. Rather, I am encouraging you to adopt a different perspective. You can still say that everything is great IF you welcome “disaster” into your life and give thanks to God for the blessings that will inevitably come out of it, even though you may not know at the time what those blessings might be. Do you rejoice in the fact that it is by God’s wise and good decree that your mother or father is sick or that you haven’t slept well in several weeks? Having a sovereign God in control means that all things, including bad things, must work together for your good (Rom. 8:28). The question is, Do you really appreciate what this means? Do you live it?
Some Good, Some Bad
In the second scenario, some major problems arise. Perhaps you discover that one of your children has been using illegal drugs or maybe your company is on the verge of bankruptcy. To make matters a little worse, let’s say that two or three such problems slap you in the face instead of just one. Are you still required to give thanks?
After thinking about this over a period of time, you realize some very important things.
First, you come to understand that what you are experiencing is not unique to you. In fact, most Christians struggle with problems that are not too much different than yours. So, if your problems free you from the obligation to give thanks to God, then so do the problems of everyone else. Paul’s words, then, would apply only to those who have no problems at all, but this cannot be correct since they were written for every believer. All Scripture is profitable not only for doctrine, but also for instruction in righteousness so that you might be equipped for every good work. One of those good works is giving thanks to God for every blessing that he brings into your life.
Second, as you think about your situation a little more you come to realize that the blessings God has given you far outnumber your trials. Look at all the blessings you have in Christ — full redemption, the forgiveness of all your sins, the imputation of his perfect obedience as if it were your own, perfect peace with God, access to the throne of grace in prayer, and the hope of everlasting life. He also sends his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. You have the Word of God as a lamp to your feet and light to your path. And further you still have numerous temporal blessings. Two or three problems, however devastating they may be, cannot nullify all the favor that God has shown you. You have so many good things for which you must be thankful, even when major problems arise.
There’s a lot said about depression nowadays. Do you know what depression is? It is an extreme self-centeredness. You can literally have more blessing than 99 percent of the people on the face of the earth and still be depressed if you do not have the one thing you want more than everything else. That one thing could be anything — a certain level of success in your work or a home in a particular neighborhood. You’ve made that one thing an idol. But it’s out of your reach. So, you wallow in self-pity. Instead of thanking God for all the blessings you have, you loathe your life because of the blessings you do not have. The funny thing is that, if God gave the thing you want, you would soon discover that it is not really a blessing at all. Why would I say that? It’s because idols by definition will drive you away from the true God. After all, what use would you have for the true God if you can put your trust in something else? In this case, the real blessing is not to have the thing that you so desperately crave.
And finally, as you contemplate whether God requires you to give things when a few things are not going well for you, you remember how all things work together for your good. Harsh providences redirect you to the cross of Jesus Christ and reinforce the need to cultivate godly virtue in your lives — things like patience, faith, hope, kindness, joy and so much more. Every time you find yourselves challenged by your trials, God has a new lesson for you to learn. The lessons vary from affliction to affliction, but they will always be for your good.
A good illustration of this second scenario comes from the 16th chapter of the book of Acts. Paul and Silas had been beaten with rods and imprisoned on a false charge of inciting the Philippians against the Roman government. But did their miserable situation cause them to stop worshiping the Lord? No, at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God (Acts 16:25). According to the rest of this verse, the other prisoners listened to Paul and Silas as they gave thanks. Of course they listened! Whoever heard of prisoners, having been beaten that very day, singing songs of joy at night? Were they out of their minds, perhaps delirious because of the abuse they suffered? Did they enjoy their affliction? No, they were neither insane nor masochistic. Rather, they rejoiced because they knew that all blessings flow from God; and therefore, even their suffering for the gospel of Jesus Christ would be used to advance his glorious kingdom, and they valued this above their comfort.
To put this incident in context, it was only a couple years after Paul and Silas suffered in Philippi that Paul penned the words of our text: In every thing give thanks. He knew exactly what he was requiring of us.
As Bad as It Can Be
The third scenario is exactly the opposite of the first: everything that can go wrong in your life does go wrong.
There is an example of this in Scripture. Job, who lived roughly the same time as Abraham, was perfect [or blameless] and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil (Job 1:1). The Lord had blessed him with a large family (seven sons and three daughters) and with much wealth. Job 1:3 says that he was the greatest of all the men in the east.
And then all in one day, four messengers came to Job with bad news (Job 1:15–19). The first one reported that the Sabeans had raided Job’s oxen and donkeys as they were plowing, took them away and killed many of Job’s servants in the attack. While he was still speaking, a second messenger came. This one announced that fire from heaven had destroyed all Job’s sheep and killed more of his servants. A third messenger said that the Chaldeans had captured Job’s camels and killed yet more servants. And a fourth reported that a violent wind knocked down the house in which all of Job’s children were eating and drinking, killing every one inside.
Think about what happened here: in a single day Job lost all his livestock, all his servants except the four who brought word of the calamities, seven sons and three daughters. At that point he had nothing left but his wife and good health. How well would you have fared under those circumstances?
Listen also to Job’s response. Upon hearing that he had lost everything, Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:20–21).
Job could not have been more right about all of this coming from the hand of God. It all started in chapter 1 when God asked Satan to consider his servant Job. Satan then undertook a massive assault on the Lord’s upright servant. But this was only the first stage of Job’s affliction. In the first few verses of chapter 2 the Lord asked Satan again to consider his servant Job. The Lord handed Job over to Satan to experience some of the worst suffering that a man has ever known. Only the suffering of Christ on the cross was greater, which also came by the hand of God. Isaiah 53:10 says, Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him.
From this point, Job’s situation deteriorates rapidly (Job 2:7–13). First, Satan went after his health and covered him with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown (Job 2:7). As Job sat in a pile of ashes, scraping the boils off his skin and contemplating his nearly absolute misery, his wife encouraged him to curse God and die. She had had more than she could handle, and she assumed that the same was true for her husband. If he would only sin, his problems would be over. But Job said, Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Later Job’s three so-called friends joined him, but they only added to his affliction by insisting repeatedly that his present suffering could only be explained by his own wickedness. Maybe they couldn’t imagine someone becoming as wealthy as Job had been without cheating others. Or maybe it was beyond their comprehension that a man could lose so much if he were not someway at fault. At any rate, his friends were less than helpful.
Although Job cursed the day of his birth at one point, he never lost confidence in God. We see glimmers of it here and there. One of his most profound expressions of continuing faith is in chapter 19. He said, For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me (vv. 19:25–27).
Now, if Job can accept all of this — not reluctantly tolerating it but embracing it as the perfect will of God — and still praise God, then how much more ought we to thank God. Few of us ever experience the depths of Job’s misery. To the contrary, we have so much to be thankful for. How well we react to adversity reveals the strengths and weaknesses of our character.
Job’s story also reassures us that God takes note of our righteous suffering and rewards it according to his immeasurable grace. Chapter 42 reports that God eventually gave Job twice the livestock that he originally had and blessed him with another seven sons and three daughters. And Job lived to see his grandchildren to the fourth generation, and died a happy man.
Does the Lord take note of your suffering? He doe indeed! Listen to the words of Jesus as found in the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel: Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first (vv. 29–31).
Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? He came into our world with nothing in order to pay the debt of our sins and thereby make us rich in the grace of God. Paul wrote, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich (II Cor. 8:9).
The exhortation, then, is to prove the sincerity of your love by giving your thanks to the God of heaven.
In conclusion, let’s go back and revisit the words of our text. It’s a short passage but it says so much.
For one thing, look at what Paul didn’t write. He didn’t tell us to give thanks for everything. Brethren, we should never give thanks to God for allowing us to fall into sin. And even affliction considered by itself without God’s attendant mercies is not an occasion suitable for thanksgiving. But if we turn to the Lord and find forgiveness, healing, restoration and help, then we should give thanks to God. The apostle is here encouraging us to thank God in every situation. He wants us to see the hand of God always bringing God’s will to pass in our lives. Whether our lot in life is joy or sorrow or whatever, we can rest assured that it is under the control of a God who has loved us from all eternity. Even in the worst times of our lives, our hope remains and God continues to work his will in our lives. Therefore, we are obliged to give thanks to God in everything.
The last half of our text is a little more challenging. Did Paul mean only that it is God’s will for us to give thanks? Or does God’s will include the three commands in verses 16 through 18, viz., rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks? Because it would be rather strange for Paul to elevate giving thanks above prayer and rejoicing, I tend to believe that all three commands express the will of God.
The effect of this is simple: we cannot divorce the giving of thanks from prayer and rejoicing. All three commands apply to the entire Christian life. If you are in a joyous season of your life, what should you do? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks. If you’re walking through the valley of despair and your optimism has shriveled away, what should you do? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks. If you are uncertain about your future, perhaps contemplating marriage or taking a new job, what should you do? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks.
Beloved, this is what God calls you to as his people. May he give each of us the grace to follow through. Amen.