1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
That it would be so easy for the believers to fall into the pitfalls of despondency, Paul beseeches them that they focus not on their earthly circumstances, which could overwhelm them. In his letter to the Colossians, we read the admonishment to “keep your mind on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). And that’s what he’s saying to the believers in Thessalonica here. He is reminding them that if they remain steadfast through all of their trials, then their faith will carry them through all of their earthly trials to the promises of the world to come. See, he had previously instructed them to return good, whether it was good or evil that they had been inflicted with, and here it sort of starts to come together. Whether someone does good or evil to us, it is irrelevant, given that “all flesh is like grass and all it’s glory is like the flower of the grass.” (1 Peter 1:24). What evil could any man perform against you that would matter 200 years from now? Is it not much more important that we behave in a manner in obedience to our Lord, who warned us that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, then neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). See, only a heart that has truly been touched by the Holy Spirit would ever be able to sincerely return good for evil, and only that very heart will ever be able to find the true joy and contentment that the apostle is writing to the believers about here. The moment that we realize these things and truly understand them will be the moment that we will be able to forsake our earthly circumstances and maintain the joy that comes from our beloved Christ.
See, there’s a message in this that we, especially in this generation, need to pay very close attention to. The contemporary message of Jesus is basically boiled down to this: “accept Jesus and your life will be made easy, you’ll find health, wealth and prosperity in your life because the Lord has plans for good, not evil.” I stress that so strongly not because it’s a new message, but because, for the first time in Church history, it’s the prevalent message. It’s become about being who you truly are, embracing yourself and loving yourself, living your best life now, being friends with everyone, following your own dreams; it’s the PG-13 version of the American dream. And the biggest problem with that is that it’s the exact opposite message that Jesus taught. Jesus’ message was to deny yourself (Matthew 16:24), be hated by everyone (Matthew 10:22), and suffer trials and tribulation (John 16:33). Even Paul, writing to Timothy, admonishes us that “anyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). But, all of that also comes with the promise that “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13). We have to be careful about this cookie cutter, puppies and guppies gospel message, because it’s not Jesus’ message, which means that it isn’t the gospel. It sounds very good and very appealing to sinful ears, because it requires little to nothing on our part, but it does not have the power to save.
However, knowing these things, knowing that we will be hated and suffer persecution, is it even possible to be joyful for a moment, much less at all times? The apostle says not only is it, but even tells us how we are to do it. “Pray without ceasing,” he tells us. And what do we pray? “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God.” So, how does one pray without ceasing? It is something that requires discipline. It requires that we discipline our body, because a state of prayer isn’t a state that is natural to our flesh. Prayer is communion with God, and thus, having been separated from God through our sin, it is something that we must consciously decide to do. And only through this discipline will we ever attain to what the apostle is speaking of here. As for giving thanks in all things, we must remember that Paul was no stranger to suffering for the sake of the kingdom. As he explained in his letter to the Corinthians, “three times I was beaten with rods, once pelted with stones, thrice was I shipwrecked, I spent a night and day in the open sea, I have been in dangers from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, and Gentiles; in the city, the country, and at sea.” (2 Corinthians 11:25-26). In fact, while imprisoned and awaiting execution, he exhorted the Philippians believers, “Rejoice always in the Lord, again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4). He continues, “be anxious for nothing, but in prayer and supplication, let your requests be known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Remember his admonishment here to give thanks in all things. Now, consider this. Say you have a modest home, nothing too extravagant, but a home. And you’ve lived there the better part of ten years. Now, say that the company that you work for goes out of business and you lose that home. How do you respond? I pose this question because our natural responses would be anxiety, fear, maybe even anger. I ask this question because it shows how often we tend to look at our circumstances from the perspective of how they affect our plans. See, we get so trapped by the world that, without even realizing it, we adopt their worldview. We actually think not only that those things mean something, but that we actually own them. If we can get out of that mindset, then we can recognize that we don’t own anything. Our homes aren’t ours, they are “on loan” (if you will) from the Lord. Your wife is your wife, but she’s His daughter first. Even your money isn’t your money, it’s the Lord’s money that He has entrusted you to steward for Him. See, once we truly recognize that, then it becomes easier to be thankful for what you have been given rather than covetous for what you don’t have or despondent over what you once had but no longer have. If I consider my home is mine, then to lose it means I have actually lost something; to recognize that it is the Lord’s means that when He chooses to take it back, I can be thankful to Him for having let me stay there. When you lose a loved one, it’s easier to be thankful for the time that you’ve had with them rather than despondent over losing them if you recognize that they were never yours, but rather that the Lord had put them in your life for a purpose and once that purpose was served, He calls them away. When we can recognize those things, then rather than charging God with evil, we can say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. As it seems good to the Lord, so also it came to pass. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 LXX).
It all becomes a matter of faith, my brothers and sisters. When we truly trust in the Lord, it is easy to show gratitude, regardless of our circumstances. No matter how much something does or doesn’t align with our desires, we can be thankful to the Lord for it, because we trust that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Our ingratitude displays our lack of faith. When we complain against our circumstances, it is the Lord whom we complain against, for He is the One who has given us those circumstances. It is us, in our arrogance and pride, saying that God should have done things differently, that we don’t agree with His decisions. It is to place our own desires before the will of God, to place our trust and faith in material possessions and earthly riches, to lift up the finite over the infinite. It is to serve mammon rather than God.
No, my brothers and sisters, our lives should be marked by constant thanksgiving unto the Lord. May we never become so entangled in the world that we forget that it is the Lord Himself that we charge with injustice every time we part our lips to complain. Consider each time you even think that something “isn’t fair” that you are complaining that the Lord isn’t fair in His dealings, and perchance it will help you to repent of the thought before it even becomes words spoken. Even those things which we may not like serve a much greater purpose than we could ever imagine, thus rather than those things, let us look unto the Lord, who will help us find peace in even the most tumultuous of storms. Let us heed the words of the blessed apostle, to pray without ceasing, offering thanksgiving unto the Lord regardless of our circumstances, particularly when times seem “tough” by our standards. Let us condition ourselves to look at all things in the light of eternity, that we can join in the words of the apostle, “For I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content. I know how to be abased and how to abound…I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13). Let us remember always the words of our beloved Christ, “in this world, you will have trials, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.