“In everything give thanks”

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The closing verses of First Thessalonians confront us at first glance with a formidable challenge. It seems that Paul is running out of papyrus with so much more to say. In particular, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 yield a series of densely packed imperatives, any one of which could be the heading for an entire chapter. In particular, the first three of these imperatives, appear as absolutes: “Always rejoice. Pray unceasingly. In everything give thanks.” Paul immediately follows these three commands with a statement that apparently applies to all three, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The challenge is formidable, not because we are incapable of rejoicing, praying, or giving thanks, but because at first it seems impossible to do these three things all the time. Changing circumstances make rejoicing seem inappropriate. We reason that praying cannot be a continuous activity, lest we neglect our other responsibilities. And how can we give thanks for the trouble, the trials, and the frequent moments when we experience out right failure, obvious inadequacy, and discouraging immaturity?

If Paul had urged us, “rejoice often, pray a lot, and find many opportunities to be thankful,” we would have reason for push-back. But that is not what he demands of us. The only way we can obey his commands is by transforming our thinking. When we look at our circumstances, we must learn to see them from God’s point of view. We tend to see events as happening to us randomly with little or no connection to what precedes or follows. God sees them as a series of opportunities for training us, contributing to his long-term goal of shaping us into the image of Jesus Christ.

As long as he is moving us toward that ultimate goal, we can be thankful for everything that happens to us. Every day that we are moving closer to resembling Jesus is a day for rejoicing and being thankful. Recognizing and maintaining an awareness of his character-transforming efforts in our behalf create many occasions for having a dialogue with the Lord. When we combine that with a sense of participation in his mission for the world, we can live every day in an environment of prayer.

It all boils down to a matter of our values. If we align our values to God’s, we begin to see things differently. Our daily successes and failures cannot be our focus, but rather the development – sometimes slow and sometimes rapid – of the mind and character of our Savior. Seeing that take place elicits from our hearts joy and thankfulness. Cooperating with him in that work, on us and with us, is what prompts and prolongs our prayers.

Want to dive deeper?

Another approach to understanding this passage is to recognize how prone we often are too individualist thinking. Paul’s use of the second person plural in these imperatives allows for the possibility that he is speaking to the congregation as a whole rather than to each individual. If we are working together as a group, it is so much easier to always rejoice, to pray unceasingly, and to maintain thankfulness. Some may be weeping while others rejoice, but we can help one another find true joy even in our sorrow (Romans 12:15-16).

This becomes a stronger possibility when we consider that the Thessalonians are undergoing a strong persecution at the time Paul writes to them. they definitely need mutual encouragement in order to survive. The morale of the congregation is a key factor in their ongoing spiritual life.

Recommended reading

Latayne C. Scott – Crisis—Crucible of Praise: Finding Grace in the Midst of Adversity (1992)

Steve has been a Bible teacher for over 30 years. He has written many articles, more than 20 e-books, and several study guides, most recently, Overcoming: Guide to Understanding the Book of Revelation. His website, DeeperStudy.com, encourages all people to go deeper in their understanding of the Word of God, the Bible, and to become authentic, New Testament Christians who serve a risen Lord.

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One comment on ““In everything give thanks”
  1. John Shasteen says:

    Thank you, Steve. This is very encouraging and thought(prayer)-provoking. 🙂 I find that a great opportunity to pray is during our “mindless” activities that most of us find boring-like washing dishes, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, and so forth. That was the essential nature of the monastic life:bringing God into the mundane activities of life and making oneself useful to God’s kingdom throughout the day. We would not be admonished to pray so much in Scripture if it were not important to the life of the church and to our own growth in Christ. I had an old coach who would say, “You can stand around looking at your belly button, or you can do what you know you need to do.” That about sums it up! We need to do our part-God ALWAYS does His part.

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