In Everything Give Thanks!

Pithy Pastoral Reminders of a Profound Theologian #3 of 7
Base on exhortation delivered at PCC prayer meeting on 11 Nov 2005


“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is the third of seven terse but inspired instructions of the apostle Paul as he concluded his letter to the Thessalonians.

Paul has said: “Rejoice evermore” (v. 16) and “Pray without ceasing” (v. 17). Now he adds a little more wordily:

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

We are taught 3 things here. First, we are taught to give thanks; Secondly, we are taught to give thanks in everything; and thirdly, we are taught that this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.

1. Give Thanks

Gratitude is a human virtue. There is Chinese idiom to describe an ungrateful man. He is said to be no better than a dog (忘恩负义 猪狗不如).  An English idiom on the same theme speaks of the dog biting the hand that feeds it.

An ungrateful man is worst than a dog. It is no wonder that the Scripture reminds us over and over again to be grateful.

We must be grateful to the people who have been a blessing to us in any way. We must especially be grateful to God from whom all blessings flow.

How should we show our gratitude? We may show our gratitude by saying ‘Thank you’ to the person who has been a blessing to us. We may also show it by returning kindness for kindness shown. So if someone helps us in one area of our lives, we may want to return help to him in another area in his life whenever the opportunity arises.

But how should we show gratitude to the Lord?

We may show gratitude to the Lord in the same way: by living a life of gratitude and by expressing our gratitude in words of thanksgiving.

In every thing give thanks,” says the apostle. We must have a thankful heart. We must manifest our gratitude to the Lord by making decisions and doing things which tend to magnify the name of the Lord. We must also verbally communicate our thanksgiving to the Lord—both privately and publicly.

Yes, God knows all things. God knows our heart. Yet He has commanded us to pray. He is pleased to hear our petitions and to give us what we desire with His blessing. And He is especially pleased to hear our words of gratitude. “In everything give thanks.”

But that our words may be sincere rather than mechanical, let us pause to think how the Lord has indeed been a blessing to us.

Let us thank Him for daily mercies. Let us thank Him for good health. Let us thank Him for our daily bread. Let us thank him for our jobs, our family, our church, and our friends.

Let us thank Him for spiritual blessings: A victory over particular temptation and sin; a lifting up of our soul when depressed; a fresh understanding of biblical doctrine; or clarification on a matter of confusion, etc.

Let us learn to count our blessings. Let us learn to name them one by one.

But let us remember to thank Him not only for the things which we perceive to be blessings. “In every thing give thanks,” says the apostle.

2. In Everything

God’s blessing may not look like blessing at first look. An illness, a broken relationship, a job-loss, an accident, a death, etc. We may not see these things as blessings, but all things, says Paul, work together for good to them that love God. So he says, “In everything give thanks.”

The story is told about how a woman in Western Montana USA hired a stagecoach to bring her to another town on a bitter winter day. When the stagecoach driver knew that she was not properly dressed for the bitter cold, he kept talking to her to keep her awake so that she would not doze off and freeze to death. Though it seemed cruel, he would not allow her to sleep.

Then at one point when she was no longer responding to him. He stopped the coach, shook her and dragged her out of the coach very roughly. “What are you doing!” she screamed.  He ignored her and simply dumped her by the side of the road and simply drove off. The woman got up on her feet and started running after the coach.

It was a after a distance of frantic running and screaming before the driver allowed the woman to get back on the coach.

The woman did not understand it then. But it was the rough action of the stagecoach driver which saved her life.

The patriarch Joseph had the same experience. What could be worst than being hated by your own sibling? Being sold as a slave! What could be worst than being sold as a slave? Being thrown into prison! Yet, God meant it for good in all these. Joseph was only able to see it many years later.

So the apostle Paul says, “In everything give thanks.” Even in things that we cannot see as being good for us, let us learn to give thanks. “Lord, I cannot see how this thing is good for me. But Thou hast a purpose in all things. I thank Thee for what Thou hast apportioned to me. Help me to understand thy goodness towards me.”

“In everything give thanks.”

Yes, even when your heart aches and you find tears pouring down your cheek. Learn to give thanks for God is sovereign. Confess that your faith is weak, but acknowledge that the Lord is wise. Let not your heart be troubled. Believe that He is yet on the throne in control of every minute detail in your life.

Let us give thanks in everything, for the apostle Paul teaches us thirdly, that…

3. It is the Will of God in
Christ Jesus Concerning Us

You must have read this verse many times. But have you ever wondered why the apostle adds these words. Why does not say: “Rejoice evermore, for it is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”? Why does He not say, “Pray without ceasing, for it is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”?

Surely these two instructions and all the rest are the will of God. Why does the apostle Paul remind us that to give thanks in everything is God’s will for us in this portion of his letter where he seem to be running out of parchment space.

Why can’t he just say “In everything give thanks”? It seems almost tautologous to say: “for it is the will of God.” Of course it is the will of God if we are commanded to do something.

Why then does Paul highlight it as the will of God?

We can think of a number of reasons:

First, it is easy for us to forget to give thanks because we have a tendency to take blessing bestowed for granted. I think it is a fact that most man and woman in this fallen world tend to remember the negative things that happen to us more than the blessings.

If we sit down to think about it, we will quickly realize that everyday, the LORD is showering upon us blessings upon blessings. Not only does He give us the things that we need to live by day by day,—the food and drink, sunshine, fresh air, etc. He also gives us blessings through the relationships that we form,—a word of encouragement from someone, an act of kindness, a warm embrace, a hearty laugh, a beautiful smile, etc.

We have much to thank God for. But we tend to take these things for granted. Paul is reminding us that we must learn to count our blessings and to thank God for them that we might cultivate a grateful heart. It is not an option for us. It is not for us to decide to give thanks or not to give thanks. It is the will of God. We must subject our will to the will of God and so train ourselves to have a thankful heart.

Secondly, Paul reminds us that it is the will of God for us to give thanks in everything because it is difficult for us to give thanks when things do not turn out as we had desired.

You are sitting for an exam. Of course you would pray and desire that you pass with good grades. But it turn out that you fail it. Will you have any inclination to give thanks for the result?

You go on a vacation, and you are expecting a happy time together with your family, but an accident happens and one of your children is killed. Will you have the inclination to give thanks?

You are serving the Lord happily in the church, but something happened and the church split into two. Will you be able to give thanks?

Paul is reminding us that to give thanks even in such circumstances. It is God’s will for us to give thanks in everything. Therefore we must go against our feelings and give thanks.

Thirdly, Paul reminds us that it is God’s will for us to give thanks because this is a heartfelt response of a regenerate soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Since God has reconciled to us in Christ Jesus and has in Him, through Him, and for His sake, given us reason for rejoicing, He expects us to response with a grateful heart of thanksgiving.

While the unconverted person has little reasons to be thankful when things do not turn out well for him, it should not be the case for the believer. For the believer knows that for Christ’s sake, God is working all things together for his good. So Paul reminds us that it is the will of God for us to give thanks in all things.

Conclusion

Of course, Paul’s instruction can be easier said than done. But I believe that as long as we are not walking with the Lord with a grateful heart, we shall not be a good testimony for Him. We shall be as salt that has lost its saltiness and as a lamp that is altogether covered with soot.

But how may we cultivate a grateful heart? How shall we excite ourselves to give thanks? I can think of no other way that but to think much about Christ Jesus.

When you suffer physical pain, think about how much He suffered for you. Did you fall from a bicycle and cut both your palms and feet. Think about how Christ was pierced hands and feet for you.

When you suffer emotional hurt because someone you trusted have said something nasty behind your back, think about how Christ your Lord was hurt not only by the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, but also by His beloved friend and disciple, the apostle Peter.

When you suffer because of a failure in an interview or exam, think about Christ how He was mocked and derided by the Jews and the Romans for your sake.

When you suffer because of a particular lack in your life. Think about how Christ, the Son of God, gave up heaven’s glory and had no place to lay his head in order to live for you.

When I think about Christ in all these circumstance, I cannot but give thanks unto the Lord with a heart overflowing with gratitude!

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Amen.

—JJ Lim