Sunday morning at Legacy we wrap up a ten week series on Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians with what appear to be just random instructions and commands at the end of the book. We’ll look at how those imperatives do all come together to speak to our relationships and responsibilities within the church setting. But I want to focus on one of them today.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, right in the middle of Paul’s final exhortations, he writes, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
It’s impossible, in the world we live in, to be happy all the time. But that’s not what Paul’s saying. What he’s saying is that the church’s joy comes from God’s activity in and with his people. And that is constant. In chapter 1 he says the joy comes from the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2 Paul says the church itself was a joy to him because of everything Christ was doing there in Thessalonica. Chapter 3 says the joy comes from being in the presence of God. What Paul has learned is to see the hand of God in whatever is happening to him or around him. God is working through and in the shipwrecks and beatings and stonings and prison sentences and pain.
God is working in and through everything that’s going on with me. Regardless of what the doctor says, despite the fact I don’t have a job, although my children are grieving me, even though my husband is leaving me, whatever. I am certain of my salvation from God in Christ. And it’s this stable and deep-rooted joy that enables us to cope with disappointments and see them in their true perspective. In any and all circumstances, God is at work among his people. And that gives us reason to rejoice, reason to give thanks, and that fulfills God’s will for his church.
And he says give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. You don’t thank God for the dirty dishes at the end of the day, not unless you’re some kind of sicko. You thank God for the food he gives you to dirty all those dishes. You don’t thank God for the car accident. You thank him that nobody was injured. You don’t thank God that Sue Godwin has cancer. You thank God for giving you the opportunities to serve her and her family in his name and for deeming you worthy to minister to them in his name.
Give thanks in all circumstances. Even in the awful reality of death in our number, in our church family, we give thanks. Thanks that death is not the last word. It’s not the final act. Thank you, Lord, that you have the last word and that you always write the final act. Thank you, God, that you give us resurrection and life.
The four-day weekend is upon us. Carrie-Anne and the girls and I are heading up to Lake Texoma this morning with several other friends and their families until Saturday night. Sunday should be as busy as ever with three worship services amid the chaos that is Give Away Day set up. And we’re planning to spend Monday at the great State Fair of Texas.