I would consider myself to be a somewhat gifted communicator. Sometimes I can get going and stay going for an hour without pausing; especially when I know what I’m talking about. Often times, when I get in the zone, I drop truth bombs and wisdom grenades that even catch me off guard. Then, smack dab in the middle of talking I say something that is either in direct contradiction to everything that preceded the statement, a lie or something that sounds great but holds no value.
Sometimes when I read certain passages of Scripture I can’t help but wonder, did the authors suffer from the same condition that I do? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Thessalonica, he penned these words:
12 Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
16 Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. (1 Th. 5:-22, HCSB)
Did you catch it? Read it again; slowly.
Two statements in this passage recently stood out to me. I mean, I’ve read the words before, but the other day as I was reflecting on this season of “Thanksgiving”, the phrases:
16) Rejoice always!
18) Give thanks in everything…
stood out to me like sore thumbs as if the verses had been misplaced. Immediately questions began to formulate in my mind concerning the two verses. Rejoice, ALWAYS? Give thanks, in EVERYTHING?
Did Paul really mean to write those words? Or was he just in the zone? Is it even possible to respond the way he exhorts his readers to?
I’m sure if you’re reading this, you and I could both create a long list of things and situations that would not naturally cause one to rejoice and/or give thanks. So was Paul being serious? Should this be our response to life (not just Thanksgiving season)?
Yes; the answer is yes!!!
How do I know this? Well, if you pluck these verses out from the larger context of the chapter they would definitely seem unreasonable, but if you read the verses in light of entire chapter (dare I say the entire letter and Scripture in general) it makes perfect sense.
Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to rejoice always and give thanks in everything for two reasons;
1) Christ is coming (5:2) – Yes, the King of Glory is sure to return and in light of this truth we can rejoice because for those of us who are in Christ, we know that in Him we are eternally secure. There’s hope in the fact that there is life beyond this life and are life is in Him. He is our life, He is our hope. There is life beyond our present circumstances, beyond our failures, beyond our crushed dreams, beyond our pain, beyond our persecution.
“And this is the promise that He himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, HCSB)
This life is not the end. Cancer is not the end. Divorce is not the end. Homelessness is not the end. Why? Because Christ promises us life; eternal. Therefore, even in unfavorable, uncomfortable, inconvenient situations and circumstances we can choose to rejoice. We can pursue joy. Always.
Another definition for the Greek word used here “to rejoice” means, to be well and/or thrive. Friends, we can be well and thrive in any situation because we know to Whom we belong and we know that He is in control. He is active. He is with us. He is coming. The King is coming.
2) God is working (5:23-24) – Paul concludes the letter with a prayerful declaration that looks toward God’s completed work in our lives. He prays and declares that the work started at the moment of regeneration would be brought to completion by the Faithful One who began it. If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that God is working, transforming, purifying, making you fit for service to Him and for Him. He is doing the work. He is using our circumstances as tools to shape us and mold us and conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Every trial and every test, every victory and every failure, every hurt and every moment of delight can be used by God for our good and for His glory. Why? Because He is good. He is faithful. He is in control. He is God.
Let us therefore this season and every day of our lives,
1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
3 Acknowledge that Yahweh is God.
He made us, and we are His[a] —
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
5 For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations. (Psalm 100, HCSB)