GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
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.”
We just observed our joyful Thanksgiving. It is wonderful to remember what God had done in our lives. Today, Paul commands his flocks to be joyful always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. I pray that we may prepare our upcoming Christmas worship service with joyful, prayerful, and thankful hearts. May God bless us to have constant joy, unceasing prayers and absolute thanks in all circumstances through this passage.
PART 1. BE JOYFUL ALWAYS.
Paul pioneered the church in Thessalonica (Ac. 17:1-9) He went into the Jewish synagogue and proclaimed Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Jews believed, plus many God-fearing Greeks and prominent women. But some Jews were jealous of Paul and drove him out of town. Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians to encourage them in their new-found faith in Christ. What was his command to his flocks in Thessalonica? Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 5:16 together. “Be joyful always…” What? Be joyful always? We can be joyful sometimes but not always. What about the times that we feel like crying and screaming? What about after we failed our final exams? Are we supposed to be joyful then too? Paul says, “Be joyful always…” Being joyful always does not come from our feelings; it comes through a decision of faith. Feelings change from time to time. So if we depend on our feelings, we cannot be joyful always. But when we make a decision of faith to please God, we can be joyful always. JOY is an acronym of three words-Jesus, others and you. True joy comes from Jesus. Luke 2:10 says, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” Jesus is good news of great joy. Jesus is the source of our joy. When we do not have Jesus, we lose our joy. The Magi from the east rejoiced when they found the baby Jesus. (Matt. 2:10)
God made us to be joyful, not gloomy or grumpy. Without joy, life is boring, so boring that people sit down for several hours flicking their television remote or surfing the Internet. People are always seeking something to be joyful about. In ancient times, people sought joy by searching the truth, such as the meaning or origin of life. So there were many philosophers. Just after the Industrial Revolution, many sought joy by studying science. How about modern people? Many people seek joy through shopping. Many people went to the store before 5 AM to have discounted shopping the day after the Thanksgiving. Some people are joyful when their sport teams win. Some people are joyful when they receive presents. Many young people seek joy through drinking parties, music concerts, movies and other forms of entertainment. They feel emotional high for a short time. The problem is the guilt, emptiness and emotional let-down that follows. Where does lasting joy come from? This joy does not come from favorable circumstances. This joy comes from God. Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Joy comes from the Holy Spirit. Once, Paul wrote from prison a letter to Philippians Christians saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4) How could Paul be joyful in prison? He could have grumbled, “Lord, why are you doing this to me? How long should I suffer in the prison?” Instead, Paul was full of joy. When Paul lived for Jesus, he was full of joy through the Holy Spirit, even in prison.
How can we be joyful in our difficult human situation? Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We can be joyful in sufferings because there is God’s plan behind them. M. Abraham Moon suffers a lot but he can be joyful because God is refining his faith through fiery trials. Tommy Pham was joyful in spite of persecutions from his family when he made a decision of faith to attend our SWS to hear the word of God. Suffering made him to be strong in faith. M. Joshua Kim should have grumbled when he had so many broken appointments every week, “Lord, how long should I wait for my 1:1 sheep? I don’t know what is going on in my intern missionary life.” Instead, he prayed and God gave him immeasurable joy in his soul. Then Jason kept his appointment and he began to have more Bible studies. These days, he did not worry about his future security, but he serves God’s holy mission with joyful hearts through the Holy Spirit.
In Luke chapter 1:26-38 the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a poor country virgin, and announced to her that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Humanly speaking, Mary’s dream of a sweet home with Joseph was shattered. She had to be with child before they were married. But when she accepted God’s will and great purpose for her, she burst into praises, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Lk. 1:46-47) Women are truly great when they are used by God. Joy comes when we realize that God is using us in his eternal redemptive history. Last Spring Jenifer Roberts had to make a decision of faith to stay in UBF or join her parents’ church. She made a decision of faith to stay in UBF in order to serve world campus mission, then God gave her joy of faith comes from the Holy Spirit and now she will go to the St. George’s medical school as a sign of God’s blessing. Dominique Cadet is joyful because she loves Jesus. Ashley Fox loves to come to center because she found joy of serving Jesus. Elaine Philips was joyful when she made a decision to live in the sister’s prayer house from next year. Many students are studying into the night, after attending Christmas dancing or Tae-Kwon-do or drama practice. But they are not grumpy. They are joyful because they are doing this for Jesus.
PART II. PRAY CONTINUALLY.
Let’s read verse 17. “…pray continually.” What does Paul mean “pray continually”? Do we have to be literally on our knees 24-7? “Pray continually” means that God’s people must have a constant spirit of prayer. Praying is spiritual breathing. Praying is deepening our love relationship with God. Prayer is a potent weapon against anxieties, temptations and despair. The Thessalonians were under fiery persecutions from unbelievers. Paul encourages them to “pray continually.”
Jesus lived a life of prayer. Jesus prayed from the beginning of his ministry to the end. (Lk. 3:21) Jesus prayed very early in the morning (Mk. 1:35) Jesus prayed at night (Lk. 21:37). Jesus’ last words recorded in Luke were a prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk. 23:46) To Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ prayer life was so regular and mysterious that they once asked him to teach them to pray. So he taught them the Lord’s prayer: “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Our prayer as God’s children must advance beyond our financial situations and school studies and health and children. We must pray for others. We must pray for God’s kingdom to come in our hearts, our neighbors and our nation. It is good for us to pray for this nation to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Through prayer we come to God our heavenly Father. Jay Jagun is happy because she can call God as her heavenly Father. We are very individualistic because God created us to be unique. How can we work together? It is through constant prayers. M. David Chung wanted to compete with S. Bruce H. by feeding more sheep in the early GMU ministry. But he learned the importance of vessel making. He found that he could make a vessel in GMU only through prayers. Now God made a vessel of prayer in GMU and M. Hannah Chung prays for S. Bruce’s admission to teacher’s program even in her dream. S. Patrick has a plan to go sailing when he retires. But he realized that this was just a fantasy. He decided to join our 6 AM prayer meeting to have God’s vision.
PART III. GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.
Let’s read verse 18. “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I know God’s will for you. It is that you give thanks in all circumstances. Why is it so important to have a thankful attitude all the time? Adam and Eve’s first sin can be traced back to unthankfulness. Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In our society, complaining seems to be more effective in getting things.
Sometimes we wonder, “Why should I thank God when things don’t go well?” How can we give thanks in all circumstances? How could S. Steve give thanks when he broke his fingers while playing volleyball? He was full of thanks because God was with him. How could M. David Yun give thanks when he was sick a lot? He was thankful because of many growing sheep. We can do so when we honor God as the Sovereign God. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who has been called according to his purpose.” That’s right. God works for the good of those who love him. God is good in all things. Job was abundantly blessed by God. One dreadful day, his 10 children were killed in a house collapse. He could have complained to God bitterly. But he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
Jonah was running from God and caused a storm at sea. The sailors threw him overboard and a big fish swallowed him. Things looked dark and hopeless for Jonah. Yet from inside the fish he prayed: “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9) Our Lord Jesus Christ shared his last meal with his disciples. His heart was heavy with the suffering he had to face. Yet he took the cup, gave thanks and shared it with his disciples. He also took the bread, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples. (Lk. 22:17,19)
For what should we thank God? Firstly, thank God for the blessings of life. God gave life to each person to enjoy for a certain period of time. Our lives are not our own; they are God’s. We must thank God for the privilege to live in God’s world.
Secondly, thank God for his love and salvation. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Human love is very fickle. The words “I love you” are much cheaper than they used to be. God’s love is not lip-service love. God’s love endures forever.
Thirdly, thank God for our eternal inheritance. 1 Peter 3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.” Some people lament like Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof” saying, “If I were a rich man…” One who has an inheritance in heaven is indeed rich, even if he has few earthly possessions.
Fourthly, thank God for his holy mission. Sometimes an easygoing life seems best. Actually, an easygoing life is truly miserable. God did not create us to sit around doing nothing. God made us to do something great and meaningful. One who has holy mission in Jesus has life to the full. Abundant life is not living in a mansion. Abundant life is in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
Fifthly, thank God for blessing our nation. In late 1620 a group of Christians called Pilgrims came to America to establish a Christian community to worship God freely and become “a city upon a hill”-a model society that would reveal God’s glory to all nations. In their first winter, they were down to 5 corn grains per meal. Half of them died. But they kept their faith in God and their love for one another. The next fall they reaped an abundant harvest and shared a feast with their friendly Indian neighbors. First they ate 5 corn grains, giving thanks to God who was with them. This was the first Thanksgiving. We give thanks to God, for establishing our nation for his holy purpose. We thank God for saving us and using us to make this great nation a blessing to all nations- a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Let us be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.