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Giving Thanks in All Things

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 15, 2015.

Today we are going to turn to the subject of Thanksgiving.  Our generation has far more material and technological help in life and yet we are often less thankful than those that have gone before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Every generation has unthankful people.  However, my point is that the abundance of things or lack thereof is not really the problem that lies behind a lack of thankfulness.  In fact, many times when we express thankfulness, we do so more because it is the socially polite thing today, rather than out of sincere thankfulness.  If we could pull back the curtain that hides the true motivations that lie beneath even the good things that are done in our society, we would be surprised at the number of people who are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

God desires His people to have a deep-seated thankfulness that is not based upon improper motives, or on our material circumstances.  He wants us to be thankful people simply because we are loved and cared for by Him.

Give Thanks In Everything

In the passage today we will focus upon the last of 3 commands that the Holy Spirit gives to us, “in everything give thanks.”  The emphasis of this is upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It would be nice to leave it at that, but in Ephesians 5:20 we are also told, “giving thanks for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus we are not just to be thankful in every circumstance, but we must also learn to be thankful for all the things we go through.  Is that possible?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul reminds us that these commands are not made up by him, but rather they are the will of God.  It is not His will in the sense that He is going to force it upon us.  But it is His will in the sense that this is what He is committed to producing within us.  He is building within us the Image of Christ, and Jesus was a thankful person.

So just what is thankfulness?  It is often the general response to the good things that we receive in life.  We are made happy by what another does and we give words back to that effect.  However, in the Bible it is more than this.  The word translated here literally means “to give good,” implying words of thanks.  The emphasis, however, is on what I am giving and not on why I am giving it.  Thus it is easy to fall into the poor habit of only being thankful to people and God when we get good things.  Yet, you can’t be a Christian long without having to deal with the fact that, though He loves us, God allows bad and difficult things to come into our life.  We are still supposed to be thankful people towards God.  Thanksgiving is about more than letting others know we are happy for giving us good.  It is something that resides in our heart despite what may be in our life.

So how can I give thanks in every situation and for everything?  Notice that the injunction to thanksgiving comes on the heels of Rejoicing and Prayer.  There is much in life that can rob us of thankfulness.  But if we make it a spiritual discipline to rejoice always, and to pray without ceasing, then we will be able to secure a heart of thankfulness regardless of what we may receive.  The preacher Spurgeon once said about this, “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.”  Thus joy is the heart of praise and worship in our Lord.  It is recognizing His greatness and our relationship to Him.  It is not based upon the circumstances of this life, but our closeness to Him.  Think of it this way.  If you receive something bad in life or from another person, does it change anything about God and His love for you?  Yes, we can doubt God’s love.  But, the cross points out the truth of the matter.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Prayer becomes that arena where we wrestle with the Lord to understand the negatives in our life and ask for His aid.  But it is also where we learn to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.”  True thankfulness is a shift of our attitude and outlook on things.  That can only happen as we are transformed through the spiritual discipline of turning to God for everything we face, and rejoicing in His love for us.

We see this modeled by Paul in 2 Corinthian 6:4-10.   “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”  At first he lists things singularly like: tribulations, needs, and distresses.  The he adds contrasting situations: honor and dishonor, evil report and good report.  But lastly he contrasts the material with the spiritual: poor (materially), but making many rich (spiritually), having nothing yet possessing all things.  You can almost feel the shifting of your own attitude as you read through this.  Our focus is moved from the thing I do not like, to those things that are far better and matter far more.  Paul knew that he was a minister on behalf of the Lord.  Therefore if we suffer we do so in the name of Jesus.  Though we may appear as lacking to the world, in Christ we lack nothing that we need.  Think of it.  If the God of the universe has guaranteed that He will take care of you, then you lack nothing you need and have everything at your disposal that He desires.  We may be tempted to complain and give “bad words” of complaining and grumbling to Him, but we must learn to trust the Lord and His discipline in our lives.

Discover Deeper Levels of Thanksgiving

It is good for us to see that there is a deeper thanksgiving that God wants to build within us.  The surface level of thanksgiving is learning to see what is good in your life over the top of what is bad.  This is important and should not be minimized.  It is Thanksgiving 101.  All of us have to learn to see beyond a difficulty and be thankful for the things we do have in our life that are good.  Have you ever noticed how certain things do not stick in our mind?  Illusionists will take advantage of this to trick our minds into seeing something that didn’t really happen.  It is common for our minds to give greater emphasis to the bad things that are happening.  They can overwhelm us to the point that we no longer see the good in our life.  Why must we only focus on the bad and not rejoice in the good even more?  The truth is that we allow our attitude to spoil because of the bad, and refuse to enjoy any good as long as the bad remains in our life.  It is a type of childish temper tantrum that we throw.  Many a person has ruined and destroyed the good things in their life because of something that they saw as bad.  A marriage can be ruined because of difficulties at work.  A family can be ruined because of the personal difficulties of those involved.  The many blessings of God can be ignored and in fact despised because I am resentful of certain things happening in my life.  This is not good.  Job reminds us of this when he told his wife that it was wrong to accept the good from God and not the bad.

However, on a deeper level, we also must learn to see how the bad is used for good in our life.  We are told in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  God is working the bad things in our life into a good goal.  Think about Jesus being crucified.  It is a bad thing to be put to death unjustly and horrifically.  Yet, the Father asks the Son to do so because of a greater good it will produce.  Of course the Son embraces the Father’s plan and suffers the difficulty by keeping his eye upon the good it was producing.  We don’t always know how God is going to bring good out of a particular bad thing in our life.  We are tempted to doubt, complain, even walk away in those times.  Remember, this verse is not given to us by a man who is not acquainted with suffering.  Paul had suffered many things that could have made him ungrateful and bitter towards God and men.  There is a mystery in life that we see.  Some who have had the worst of lives are often the most thankful, and others who have had the best of lives can be among the most unthankful.  It is not about what you got, but what you do with it.  A person who has been abused becomes a person who is keenly sensitive to the hurts and wounds of others.  They can relate with other individuals with a gentleness and wisdom that cannot be learned in a school.  It will be precisely because of the sufferings of this age, that we will be perfected and look like Jesus in the age to come.

The deepest level of Thanksgiving is to see the higher, spiritual things that are more important over the top of the lower, material things that are less important.  Thus Paul was poor in material things, but had the riches of the knowledge of God’s offer of salvation.  Paul had next to nothing in this life once he followed Jesus.  But he knew that Jesus would take care of Him.  He had learned to live with little or much.  It didn’t matter.  He had learned to go through good and bad, and all for the glory of Jesus.  The cross teaches us to look through the bad to the good that is on the other side.  Thus Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  The glory of God Himself is being caused to shine out from us.  It is impossible for that to happen without having to deal with both good and bad things in this life.  May God teach us to shift our attitude and mindset out of reverse and into a forward gear.  May we see the things of our life through a heart and mind that are rejoicing in a good and great God, and are wrestling daily with Him in prayer.

Giving Thanks Audio