Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
Topic: Thanksgiving Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:12–5:22
Last July, when we moved our Sunday service to the union hall in Corning for one week, I wanted to try and get rid of the smell of smoke so I bought a can of Fabrize and sprayed almost the whole can on the carpet, on the walls, in the air, on any visitors, just to try to improve the atmosphere of the place.
Churches have atmospheres – or a more biblical metaphor might be churches have aromas. Congregations get used to it after a while, but when people visit a church for the first time, they may not put it into words but they’re sniffing the air. How are they greeted as they come in? I remember visiting a church many years ago with my father in law and son Jared, and no one greeted us going in and no one greeted us going out. There were people all around, but no one even said hello. Is the aroma one of warmth and acceptance or is there a hint of religious stand-offishness in the air?
As Paul is bringing his first letter to the Thessalonians to a close, he gives them a series of imperatives that might seem unconnected, but all have to do with the atmosphere of the Christian community. These are things that should be in the atmosphere of a gospel-centered church:
• Loving respect for faithful leaders
• Peace among the members
• Honest and gracious counsel that fits the situation wisely:
o Admonishing the one who is lazy
o Encouraging the one who’s heart is faint
o Reaching out to strengthen the weak
o Patience for them all (in other words, even admonishment to a lazy person, while firm, isn’t to be impatient but loving and patient- this is masterful counseling wisdom)
• Not a spirit of retribution, but of doing good to one another
• Infectious joy
• Constant prayer
• Openness to the move of the Spirit
• Embracing of prophesy after testing it biblically
• Mature discernment: testing everything and holding fast to what is good and avoiding what is evil.
All of these characteristics combine to give the aroma of Christ. Breathe it in – this is a description of a church that exudes the grace, love, and wisdom of God. And there’s one other fragrance Paul mentions in verse 18 that I thought would be appropriate for us to consider this morning in light of this week being Thanksgiving.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (vs. 18)
It is stunning how Paul removes all qualifications from this command. All the time, in every situation. No exceptions, no exemptions. In good times and in bad times, in laughter and in tears, give thanks. We are to be a thankful people. Thankfulness is always to be in the atmosphere.
Let me pause here and say that this is an impossible command for us to obey in our own power. Apart from the grace of God, the aroma coming from our hearts is the stench of unthankfulness. The good news is the gospel doesn’t just spray Fabrize over the stench of our sinful hearts. Through the atoning death of Jesus God has removed every believer’s sin as far as the east is from the west. God has pulled out the carpet, knocked down the walls and ripped up the foundation – He has made you a new creation in Christ. He has given you a new heart. And even though the presence of sin remains in us we are able, because of His grace, to put to death sinful unthankfulness and grow in thankfulness to God.
Thankfulness in the community of believers glorifies God because by its nature it points upward to God and says, “isn’t He good? Hasn’t He been good? Give Him praise.” In the light of our glorifying God through thankfulness I want to share two thoughts, and then close by considering an honest question that might arise from this message.
I. Thankfulness humbly acknowledges that we owe God everything
At the pastor’s conference Dave Harvey shared an outstanding message on durable partnerships and one of the things he said was, learn to tell your story through the influence of others. You didn’t get where you are by yourself. Neither did I. Others played a big part and its right to acknowledge gratefully the part they played – and it’s wrong not to. But how much more to fail to acknowledge and thank the One to whom we owe everything? God created us, created everything good we have ever known, including those we love and treasure in our lives.
In Paul’s frightening description of the coming judgment of those who have rejected God and suppressed the truth in their hearts – a description of all mankind apart from the saving grace of God – Paul assigns lack of thankfulness as a major contributor to their depraved state:
Romans 1: 18, 21
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and in their foolish hearts were darkened.
Again, this is a description of where we all were at before we came to Christ. We didn’t honor God or give thanks to God. We pulled Him from the story of our lives, not because we didn’t believe in Him – the Bible tells us that every man knows deep inside there is a God – we pulled Him from the story of our lives because we didn’t want Him in the story. We suppressed the truth. We wanted to worship the creation instead of the Creator – mainly the creation we wanted to worship was ourselves. We wanted to be at the center of the universe: to live the way we wanted to live, do the things we wanted to do, ignore the things we wanted to ignore – with no regard to what our Creator expected of us. The only thing standing in the way of all that was God, so by cutting Him out of the story, we were free to live self-worshipping lives.
That brings us to the very greatest thing that Christians have to give God thanks for: God entered our godless story as a man and died on the cross for our sins – even though the core of all our sin was we didn’t want Him. He loved us while we were still His enemies. He loved us when we hated Him. For the Christian we owe Him our lives and we owe Him our eternal lives.
Brothers and sisters, do you think about what it means to be saved? What it means to know that you will spend eternity in the presence of Jesus? Do you think about what it means to be adopted as a beloved child of God and never again know heartache and sorrow and pain and sin of this life? Think about all you owe God and give thanks.
II. Thankfulness in all circumstances requires consistent listening to God’s promises and looking for God’s goodness toward our lives
In everyday life we can all find it hard to hear God’s promises or see God’s goodness.
I heard about a guy who suspected his wife was going deaf. He walked into the room one day to find her looking the other way, so to test his theory he whispered, can you hear me? Nothing. He got a little closer, can you hear me? Still nothing. Got a little closer, can you hear me now? Again nothing. Finally he was right behind her, and spoke in a half-whisper, can you hear me now? The wife replied, for the fourth time, yes!
See we can be like that, thinking the problem is with God: He’s not speaking, He’s not working. Henry Blackaby says that when someone asks why God isn’t working in their life; they are asking the wrong question. The question is why am I not seeing where God is working in my life?
Often it’s because our eyes aren’t on God and our ears aren’t listening to God’s promises: our ears and eyes are curved inward on ourselves. Grumbling and complaining is a symptom of an unthankful heart, not the product of a deprived life. If you struggle with complaining a lot, first of all, there’s a good chance you aren’t aware that you complain a lot. What you probably are aware of is what you don’t have, or what bad thing happened to you, or what that person did to you, and what that other person failed to do to you, how hard you have it, or how easy that other person has it, and such. You might really think that if your circumstances just rose to the very reasonable level of what you think they should be, you’d not only be satisfied, you’d be thankful.
But thankfulness doesn’t rise up in us as soon as we get a certain amount of what we want. If you doubt that try an experiment: if you’re the parent of a young child, try giving your child everything they want – meet every demand, grant every wish, deny them nothing (btw, if you’re not the parent of a young child, even better. Get a friend who has one to do this and you observe!). See at what point the scale tips in the child and they overflow with profuse gratefulness. The truth is that giving a child everything they want will not produce a grateful child – it will produce an ungrateful child who feels they are entitled to everything they’ve been given and more. Much, much more. (and I don’t really endorse such experiment)
The same is true in us. Our hearts are full of a constant craving that says, what I have isn’t enough, I want better, I want different, I want more. Thankfulness isn’t the product of having a lot. Patrick described people in Uganda who were so grateful for the smallest kindness, and the believers there sing with a joy that would put our singing to shame – for hours! It’s the product of ears and eyes that are tuned to see and hear the goodness of God towards us. It flows from a heart that is listening to God’s promises and looking for God’s goodness toward us. God is good to us, and His promises are precious. Do we see?
A thankfulness strong enough to hold in all circumstances must be built on the unshakable promises of God. We need to hear promises like:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
These promises also affect our “spiritual” eyesight, giving us the ability to see what God is doing and what He is going to do:
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:17-18 (ESV)
Thankfulness sees with eyes of faith and hears God’s promises with ears of faith and knows that everything is being worked out for my ultimate good and even the pain is preparing us for glory that we can’t imagine. Eternity in the kingdom of Christ, in the company of the saints, worshipping the Creator of the universe. And it’s all of grace. And we can’t earn grace, but we can be very thankful for it.
III. Does this mean we can’t be honest about our problems?
I know that there can be a question, if I mention a problem or a situation that concerns me or something I am really wanting, am I being unthankful? You can see how that can hamstring natural conversation: “hey Sally, how was your week?” “Well, after that message, what am I going to say but ‘great’!” Meanwhile Sally had a really rough week with some significant troubles – is it unthankful for her to make them known in the context of sharing with a friend? Should she be hesitant to share? Should someone be afraid to say they have a deep concern about something, or a problem, or something they are desiring that they don’t have. If we’re not honest and authentic, our relationships are going to be plastic.
I wish I had more time, but Paul gives us direction even in this letter.
a. Let thankfulness set the tone.
Paul sets the example with the Thessalonian believers, and he sets a tone of thankfulness for them:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 1 Thes. 1:2
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 1 Thes. 2:13
For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 1 Thes. 3:9 (this was when Paul and his friends were fearing for the Thessalonian church because of the suffering they were enduring that they might have moved from the faith)
But Paul has concerns – their morality, their love for one another, their fears that the Lord had already returned, and for some reason the Thess had a lot of deadbeats in it. Lazy guys who were sitting on their can trying to live off the church. For Paul, these things don’t eclipse his warm, genuine thankfulness for them, but thankfulness for them doesn’t cause him to ignore these things either. Here he’ll call them to admonish the idle (lazy) – that is to warn them with serious instruction. In fact, he’ll even instruct them in the second letter, to take the strong stand of if they don’t work, they don’t eat.
Thankfulness sets the tone, and in the spirit of thankfulness he addresses real issues. We can follow his lead. You can be very thankful for your spouse – from the heart thankful – and still gently address an issue. Let thankfulness set the tone. You can be thankful for the job you have but really hope you get that better one. I can hope the Giants beat the Eagles tonight, but be thankful if they don’t because…well, I’ll come up with something if they lose.
b. Let thankfulness set a perspective of faith
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. ~ Phil. 4:6
Thankfulness to God doesn’t deny things that concern us, but it helps us keep a perspective of faith. God will be faithful – let me lift this to Him with thanksgiving which expresses my faith that His goodness will determine my fate rather than the bad thing I fear determine my fate.
The fabrize didn’t work – the place smelled like fabrize-scented smoke. But the grace of God is working in us to produce the aroma of Christ in our lives and church, an aroma that is marked by thankfulness and that speaks of Christ and His goodness and grace. By His grace our lives won’t point inward towards ourselves, but upward to God and Jesus Christ and give Him glory. That’s His will for us. Let’s give Him thanks.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (vs. 18)