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Thanksgiving and giving thanks

Sunday School Lesson

November 29, 2013

John Ditty


(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)


We’re coming up to that time of year when we are called on to stop for a minute, join hands and hearts, and watch a parade and a football game. Well, not exactly.


Let’s start again. We’re coming up to that time of the year when we are called on to stop for a minute, join hands and hearts, and express our thankfulness.


For many this will be a challenging, even a daunting task. This year has brought many changes into the lives of seemingly countless families. Prices are up, jobs are down, and there seems to be no promising end in sight.


Sadly, some people will add to that the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a child how has moved away and for the first time ever their feet will not be under the table on Thanksgiving Day. Are we all now duly discouraged?


But this is Thanksgiving. Surely there is something to be thankful for.


Enter the God of the impossible. The paragraph above is ripe for the work of the God of the Bible. A casual reading of His book reveals many folks like those described above. Such being the case, God must have some words for the wannabe thanks giver. He does…in abundance.


For instance, there is 1Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”


Take a moment and exam these verses. Within them the author, the Apostle Paul, brings a God-size challenge from the Lord. The passage is not complex; but the challenge is just that, a challenge. In this passage there are three commands that when followed will lead a person into a genuine season of thanksgiving. Let’s examine each one.


First, the reader is exhorted to “rejoice always” (v.16). The word “rejoice” means to be glad. It is used seventy-four times in the New Testament. It is the reaction of the magi to the star (Matthew 2:10). It is the feeling of the shepherd finding the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:13). It was response of Abraham when he saw Jesus’ day (John 3:29). It’s what filled the heart of the disciples when they saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion (John 20:20). As well, it describes an intense joy like that brought by the angel announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem’s manger (Luke 2:10).


Now it is doubtful that any would argue that a person, especially a Christian, ought to have many moments of joy in their life. But the catch in the command is the word “always.” How can one rejoice at all times?


The answer is found in the phrase, “in Christ Jesus.” (v.18) God is not calling for a giddy, silly happiness that never sees a concern. Rather He is reminding the believer that the source of joy is Jesus. He, not the circumstance, brings joy. When a person holds to their relationship with the Lord they can indeed rejoice always for they understand that Jesus is there no matter the situation. The psalmist wrote, “I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:2)


The next verse commands the Christian to “pray continually” (v.17). This does not mean that a person is constantly praying. Instead, it describes the Christian being in the position to pray at any time.


Like rejoice, this word for praying is used often (90 times) in the New Testament. Each time it speaks of communicating with God. Such an act is both a demonstration of humility, understanding that I cannot make it on my own; and trust, that I can bring Christ my direst care kind of trust knowing that He that cares. Peter said it this way, “Cast all you anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We cast, our anxious spirits on Jesus through praying. We also praise God the same way.


Again, who would argue the point about praying? But look at the adverb that modifies the action of praying – continually. This speaks of always being ready to talk to God. In other words, when the need arises your spirit is in tune with His, your heart is fully His, and your actions are imitating His. This is indeed a challenge but the results make for a powerful prayer life. How can we do this? Remember, you are “in Christ Jesus.”


Finally, Paul writes that the Christian is to give thanks in all things (v.18). To give thanks is to express gratitude for a gift. Space does not allow a list, but all believers surely realize that God’s goodness and grace are not entitlements and a genuine thank you is always in order. Also, the words “give thanks” describe feeling thankful as well as saying thank you. It is an expression freely, not begrudgingly, given.


But then here comes the extra words – in all things. These words are simple to understand, but really hard to implement. Nevertheless, it is the command. Christians need to take on the attitude of Job when he said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) Could it be that God is calling on His people to learn to see events and circumstances through eyes of faith? Is He calling on His children to trust Him and with gratitude know that He is working His will out in all that comes into their days? How to do this? Once again, remember you are “in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is working in you for His glory which must be the grand desire of the true servant of God.


All of these things are part of the will of God for His people (v.18). That’s why these are commands; that’s why we do these things. Doing God’s will brings Him glory and that gives Christians something to be thankful for.