1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Key Verse: 5:18

First of all, I want to thank God for what he has done among us this year. God has healed HK from her illness. God has saved DS Jr. and given him a new life. God used LH and TP as short-term missionaries. God has used each of us to preach the gospel and serve Bible students. I believe that God knows your hard work and suffering for the Lord. William Faulkner said, “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” Let’s thank your neighbors, saying,  “Thank you for your hard work for the Lord. Thank you for your suffering for the Lord.” In the passage, Apostle Paul says that we should be thankful in all circumstances. Let’s find out why we should be grateful.    

It was about 50 A.D. During his second missionary journey, Paul preached the gospel in Philippi, where the first church in Europe was established. After that, Paul went to Thessalonica and preached in the synagogue for three weeks. As a result, some Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks became believers. But the Jews got jealous and made a riot to arrest Paul. Paul barely escaped to Berea. He was so concerned about the believers in Thessalonica who were suffering from persecution and trials. So, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they were doing. Meanwhile, he went to Athens and then to Corinth, waiting for Timothy to come back. Finally, Timothy came back with good news about their growing faith despite their persecutions. Paul was so happy that he wrote this letter to encourage them.

Here, we can learn that the Thessalonian Christians were quite new converts to Christ and that they were undergoing suffering and persecution. So, Paul’s words in the letter are very gentle, encouraging, and full of love and concern, without rebuking. He encourages them to live up to God’s calling. Finally, at the last of in his letter, Paul says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

First, be joyful always.  The NIV 2010 reads, “Rejoice always.” One of the most outstanding characteristics of Christianity is joy.  I can’t imagine the Christian life without joy. I did not become a Christian to be serious or sad. Did you? Christian life should be joyful and delightful. However, it is not easy to rejoice especially when we are in troubles.

As I said, the Christians in Thessalonica are undergoing suffering and persecutions. They are disadvantaged in getting jobs and in their social life simply because they are Christians. No one wants to be a friend with them in Facebook. Some of them were dragged to the city officials to be tried. Their faith looks like a stigma on them. It looks like they do not have any reasons to rejoice. Even making a smile is not easy for them in such a difficult circumstance.

However, Paul is telling them, actually commanding them, to rejoice. This does not mean that we Christians have to rejoice ourselves or force ourselves to be joyful. We can’t make joy by ourselves. How can we rejoice then if we are in troubles? It is rather discouraging when we are told to rejoice when we can’t.  How would you feel if you were sick and someone said, “You must be joyful. That is what Christians are supposed to be”?  Should we then make a plastic smile? Here, Paul is not talking about plastic smile. Nor is he telling them about how to live a positive life. He is telling them about Christian life. When he says, “Rejoice always,” there should be a good reason for that.

In 1:4-6, Paul reminds them of how they received the gospel at first: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” When they heard the gospel, they were convicted and accepted it with joy which was given by the Holy Spirit. They rejoiced in the gospel. They were delightful in the forgiveness of God and Jesus who rose from the dead. True joy cannot be made by man but it is given by the Holy Spirit when we accept and keep the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians already have been given that joy. Their salvation is guaranteed by God no matter what happens. So, Paul is commanding them to keep that joy and rejoice all the more.

One day last summer, we heard that DS Jr. was drowned and was in comma. His condition was so bad that we thought he could not make it. When I visited them in the hospital, I did not know how to comfort M DS and AS. But surprisingly, they were not sad. They said that they read the Bible to DS Jr. who was in comma. While they were reading the Bible to their son, God reminded them of Jesus’ death and resurrection and then they realized that what Jesus had done for them was much greater than anything else. Their hearts became peaceful and joyful. I saw them rejoicing in the gospel of Jesus though his son was still in comma. And then three days later we saw a miracle. God healed DS Jr. completely and revealed his glory among us.

As such, our suffering is painful but cannot take away our joy in Christ. Our joy cannot be overshadowed by our sickness, our failures, or any troubles and difficulties we are having. Actually, because we have sufferings in this world, we have more of hope of Jesus Christ and so our joy grows even more. The joy in Jesus Christ is our great privilege. This joy is God’s enormous grace to all believers. God does not give this joy free of suffering because this joy shines more in the midst of suffering. Thus, do not let your suffering overshadow you. Rather, let your suffering help you to stand firm in the Lord. And remember that though we suffer now, we will not suffer God’s wrath at the last days. So, we can and should rejoice always in Jesus Christ.

Second, pray continually. Other translations read, “Pray without ceasing” or “Never stop praying.” This means nothing should stop you from prayer. It means we should never give up the habit of praying. How is it possible to pray continually? Tradition says that Apostle James was nicknamed “camel knees” because he was constantly kneeling before God in prayer. I wish I could pray more and longer like Apostle James did.

However, praying continually does not mean that we have to kneel for the rest of our life. We can still do other things. In fact, the more we pray, the more we will find we can pray anytime and anywhere, even while we are driving, studying, walking, or shopping on the Black Friday.

By the way, what is prayer? It is defined and understood in many different ways. Some say that prayer is a communication between God and men, worship, or petition, and I agree. But I like the following definition better: “Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God.” (From CARM) In other words, we pray to ask God because we are helpless and powerless but only God is in control. Prayer is our total dependence to God and our acknowledgement of his sovereignty. In the book of Thessalonians, Paul seems to use the word prayer in this regard.

As I said earlier, the Thessalonians are new Christians. They are vulnerable to Satan.  They are a strange minority among the pagan society. Their shepherd Paul cannot be with them anymore. What they can do is to rely on God alone through prayer. If they stop praying, it is hard for them to keep their faith. Though we Christians are saved, that does not mean that we are strong or self-support beings. Still, we are weak and we have more difficulties than before when we were unbelievers. But Satan and our busy life make us to pray less or even stop us from prayer. What if we stop praying? For a while, you may not see the effect. But soon later, you will find yourself dried and powerless. You cannot survive without prayer. Prayer is like breathing. We need prayer as we need air. Our Lord Jesus prayed ceaselessly even though he is the Son of God. How much more then do we have to pray?

I am almost fifty years old. When I was young, I was proud of myself; I was diligent and smart; I was healthy; and I had a kind of exotic appearance among Koreans.  But as I am getting old, my memory is getting deteriorating, my vision is getting worse, my hairs are getting whiter and my face is covered with wrinkles and spots. These days, I have no more pride in myself. Rather, I feel I am so weak and humbled. While trying to raise Bible students and my children, I am learning that there is nothing I can do for them by myself. However, as I get weaker, I am compelled to ask God for help more than ever and moment by moment. These days, M Sarah and I are trying to have more time to pray together because we know without God’s mercy and grace we can do nothing. The more we depend on God, the more we cannot but pray.

God is with us constantly. He is privy to every moment of our day. Praying is being aware of this God and relying on him moment by moment. That is praying continually. So I can say that prayer is not just a daily act, but a way of life. So, someone says that prayer is the most important among the three commands we are studying this morning because prayer helps us to be joyful and give thanks.

Third, give thanks in all circumstances. Here, “give thanks” means to offer thanks to God. When do you give thanks to God? We usually give thanks when something good happens to us, like when we receive gifts, when we get A’s in school, when someone buys us dinner, or when things are going well. Yes, we should be thankful for those things. We should be thankful for even small things.

Other translations read, “In all circumstances give thanks,” which seems to put emphasis to “in all circumstances.”  Here we should take a notice of the difference between “for all circumstances” and “in all circumstances.” We don’t have to thank for all. When men missionaries play tennis, we thank when our opponents make mistakes. BTW, I am one of those who are thanked a lot. “In all circumstances” means no matter what circumstance we are in. In other words, we should be thankful regardless of our circumstances. That includes bad or adverse circumstances.

It is hard to give thanks when you suffer or when things are not understandable or fair. I hope that everyone here have had a great time this year. However, probably not every single moment was pleasant. Someone was so sick that the person should suffer pains day and night. Still some others are suffering sickness. Some coworkers suffered from financial problems. Some Bible teachers suffered from unfruitfulness. Some young people suffered from loneliness, peer pressure, and pressure from their parents.  Some coworkers were hurt while co-working together with others. Though you work hard, sometimes you may feel that you are not appreciated or recognized. We may feel empty or even have bitterness. Nevertheless, Paul says that we Christians should be grateful to God. Why? Why should we be thankful for such unfortunate things and those who hurt us? Let’s read verse 18 together. We should be thankful in all circumstances because this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

God’s will for us is not complaining, sadness, despair, bitterness, or giving up. Remember that we are in Christ Jesus; we belong to Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are different from what we were when we did not know Jesus. Because of Jesus, now we are God’s people. We are his new creations. Through him, we have everything we need. We can give thanks even for our suffering. This is God’s will for Christians who are in and belong to Jesus Christ. God is pleased when we give glory to God through our sufferings.

Before going to Belize as a short-term missionary last summer, LH had not been happy about himself. And in Belize, he suffered from different food, weather, culture, and their life style. But he worked hard there and served some Bible students. I was surprised when he came back because he lost lots of weight. I felt that he suffered too much and so I thought he would complain. But he said that he was so thankful for his suffering as a short term missionary in Belize. When he learned the meaning of suffering in Christ, suffering was not suffering anymore. Through his suffering, he learned more of God and came to have a clear direction for his life in God. Of course, he was thankful for the loss of his weight as well.

I also thank God for TP. He served God in Indonesia about three years as a short-term missionary and came back this fall. He suffered from relatively unclean environment and unfamiliar food there. Most of all, what bothered him the most was the loud noise that came from the nearby Mosque every early morning. He could not sleep well. He became very weary and tired. But he learned what suffering is in Christ and came back to prepare for the next stage of his life in God. Rom 8:28 reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him.” Give thanks to God that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ. 

As such, our thanks to God are not cheap. It involves your sacrifice. However, it pleases God and renders glory to Him. The more we give thanks, the more joy and thanks overflow in us.

Let me share one of my thanksgiving topics this year. It is about Daisy. Who is Daisy? My daughter Susan likes pumpkin soup. Last year, my wife bought a pumpkin for Susan and threw the seeds into our backyard. In the spring this year, we noticed that a vine was growing in the backyard where my wife dumped the pumpkin trash. Amazingly, it grew very well and I became excited because though we did not plant it we could get pumpkins this year. But strangely, it did not produce any pumpkins though it was already October - lots of leaves but no pumpkins. I got disappointed and even upset about it because the unfruitful pumpkin vine reminded me of my unfruitful ministry. I complained that it took up too much space in our backyard without any pumpkins. So, I was going to remove the cursed, unfruitful pumpkin vine and forgot about it more than one month. Then, one day Susan came in, screaming, “Mom and Dad, you guys have to see this.” And we went out and found a big pumpkin in the backyard. That was the only pumpkin we got this year. We were so happy and named it Daisy. God taught us a lesson through Daisy. God’s work is not done by us at all. God himself plants and grows Bible students. We are used for his work by his grace. My wife and I also could envision that someday God would grant us a big one like Daisy for us. Most of all, we learned that we should give thanks to God though we could not see much fruit in our ministry now. Until last year, I wrote down good things for my thanksgiving topics. But now I have learned that bad things and sufferings should be also my thanksgiving topics as well. Actually, our sufferings can be more blessings. Therefore, all we should do is to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us in Chris Jesus.

Lastly, in many places in his letters (1:20; 3:12; 2:19; 4:13-5:11; 2 The 1:5; 2 The 1:11), Paul encouraged the Thessalonians with the coming of Jesus and his kingdom. Especially, in chs 4 and 5, he helped them to look forward to the coming of Jesus who will judge the world and take all believers to his kingdom. Based on this eschatological view of Christianity, he encouraged them to rejoice, pray and give thanks.

While he was arrested in Rome, Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.The coming of Jesus was the source of his strength and his joy. Jesus is coming again and we will be victorious and glorious together with him.  All our sufferings will go away. Revelation 7:16-17 say, “Never again will they hunger never again will they thirst…For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That day we will not remember the sufferings we have now; we will become holy; no more sins with us; we will be with Jesus forever. Therefore, no matter what happens, we can rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances because Jesus is coming again.

Now count your blessings, and also count your troubles as well because in Christ they are blessings too. May God fill your hearts with joy, prayer and thanks! I pray that our God may be glorified by our gratitude for our sufferings.