1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Christians are commanded by God to give thanks in everything, every day. This is God’s will for our life. William Hendriksen, a faithful New Testament commentator, translates this command as “in all circumstances give thanks.” In other words, the Christian is called by God to give Him thanks in every circumstance.
But how can we do that? Many circumstances are not good in themselves: sickness, death, family trials, work problems, church splits, Christian persecution, etc. How can we give thanks to God while in such trials?
First, what does this mean?
The Apostle Paul practiced what he preached. While sitting in a Roman jail, under threat of death, he described his attitude of being thankful to God, even in trials. Philippians 4:6-13 says:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Paul does not call us to be thankful for the sin in the trial, either our own or others. He was in jail because of the sin of the Jews against him. He was not thankful that they sinned against God. However, He was thankful to God that He overrules every circumstance for good (Romans 8:28). Paul calls us to be thankfully content with God Himself and to give thanks to God in every trial He brings or permits to come our way. He trusted in God in every circumstance.
Whenever I read this passage, it convicts me of how easily thoughts of fear, discontent, grumbling, anger, and worry enter my mind, tempting me to sin against God in my words and attitudes in the difficult circumstances of life. How did Paul do it? Where did he find such faith, trust, peace, and contentment in life so that he could give thanks to God in every circumstance?
Second, how did Paul find the ability to trust God and give thanks in every circumstance?
First of all, Paul had a right view of the doctrine of sin.
Paul accepted that he deserved nothing good from God because of his past and present sins. He only deserved God’s wrath in hell. Jeremiah described his attitude toward the destruction of Jerusalem and his suffering as God’s prophet. Lamentations 3:37-39 says:
“Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill [catastrophe] go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?”
The first step toward having a thankful spirit is to accept that you deserve nothing from God in view of your sins. This means not only our pre-Christian sins but our daily sins as an imperfect believer. The fact is that the best Christian still deserves nothing good in life from God in and of themselves.You cannot give thanks in all circumstances unless you accept that you deserve nothing from God. You have to believe in the doctrine of sin to give thanks.
Second of all, Paul had a right understanding of the doctrine of undeserved salvation (grace) in Jesus Christ.
Paul said that he had “learned” the secret of giving thanks while in every circumstance. To have a contented and thankful heart, you have to learn something. And what Paul learned is that to have Jesus Christ as His Savior from sin and Lord of his life circumstances was all he needed to live with thanksgiving: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He was thankful for his eternal salvation and that Jesus Christ ruled over his life. So, he prayed with thanksgiving.
Again, Jeremiah explained what he thought about every morning; even on those days when he was hated by all, thrown into a well, and saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Lamentations 3:21-25 says:
“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.”
Paul was enabled to have an attitude of thanksgiving in jail, because he had found something in life that made his circumstances secondary in this life. He had found the love, presence, and salvation of Jesus Christ to be so wonderful and satisfying that no circumstance could take away his attitude of thanksgiving to God. This is how he overcame worry, fear, anger, discontent. So he wrote: “in every circumstance give thanks.”
Third, you have to actually give thanks in every circumstance to have the peace of God. God commanded us to give thanks in every circumstance to force us to live by faith, not by sight.
And the odd thing is, when we obey Him and give thanks to God while in every circumstance, the peace of God which passes understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
All of God’s commands are good and for our benefit. How kind He is to command us to remember His grace in Jesus Christ as the greatest circumstance of our lives and to give thanks. So, let us make every day Thanksgiving Day!