1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
In the fledgling Church at Thessalonica there was growing concern that believers were starting to die and Jesus had not yet returned as he promised in Matthew 16:28: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Paul had devoted the last part of Chapter 4 and the first part of Chapter 5 to correcting their thinking about this, pointing out to them that although it is not ours to know exactly whenJesus will return we can be sure he will, and that when he does, believers who have already died will certainly participate in the general Resurrection.
He therefore urges them to live EVERY MOMENT in such a way as to be READY for him. His words of advice are very practical, very clear and unambiguous, and very appropriate to Christians of every age, especially ours. The three points in today’s verses are no exception: always be JOYFUL, always PRAY, always GIVE THANKS.
Why is such an attitude/behaviour so appropriate? It is because God IS sovereign, and every single thing that happens to us is exactly what HE has planned for us: every accident and every tragedy as well as every success and every blessing. We should note that ‘all circumstances’ is not a good translation in verse 18; a more literal translation is: ‘give thanks in every circumstance, for this (CIRCUMSTANCE) is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’. It is not the ‘giving of thanks’ that is God’s will (although that is also true!), but the CIRCUMSTANCE ITSELF for which we are to give thanks, WHATEVER it is that has happened to us.
Of course, there are times when this is far from easy for us to do – times when we find God’s providence quite perplexing – but at such times we just have to grit our teeth, take hold of God’s promises, and say with the Apostle Paul, “And we KNOW that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)! This truth is stated well in the description of God’s Providence in Q.27 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “… [God] so rules … that leaf and blade, rain AND DROUGHT, fruitful AND LEAN years, food and drink, health AND SICKNESS, prosperity AND POVERTY – all things, in fact, come to us NOT BY CHANCE but FROM HIS FATHERLY HAND.” Are we able to give him genuine thanks for the ‘lean years’, the ‘sickness’ and the ‘poverty’ HE sends our way? ‘He loves, he cares, he knows; his love, though never dim, can only give the best to those who leave the choice WITH HIM.’