Today’s passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV)
Remember reading about the church at Thessalonica in Acts 17? We continue our blog together with a series of thanksgiving readings. Today’s text comes what is recognized by many as the oldest preserved Christian writing from Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians from Corinth and formed this church shortly after he left Philippi. His focus is on the distinctive life of love and holiness that this church must live out before others as they wait, with assurance, for Christ’s second coming.
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” (5:16) In every circumstance? In all things? Most of us would look to temper Paul’s words a bit – qualify them a little. Maybe it would be better to say, ‘in some circumstances’ or ‘in some things’. That sounds more doable doesn’t it?
But he says ALL. Paul does not qualify the circumstances does he? To help punctuate ‘all’, what comes right before this is “rejoice always, pray without ceasing”. Is Paul asking the impossible? Is there any chance a person or group of people can face persecution or abuses every day and give thanks…think about the people in the Philippines or the people in Coal City or Washington, Illinois in the wake of a typhoon or tornadoes. Give thanks in everything?
To fully understand what Paul is getting at comes from the previous 4 chapters – but you also have pretty good insight as well from reading the entire book of Acts…Paul’s focus is on a basic truth. Paul’s truth is that worship of God is the context for all of life – not just in the temple…or the sanctuary. More simply stated, if all of our life is a living worship to God, then thanksgiving is the obvious byproduct. Said a little differently, thanksgiving is not determined by circumstances – it is about a life of worship with the result being perpetual thanksgiving.
The Thessalonian church was deeply disturbed that Christ had not yet come again – maybe they had been bypassed – and Paul is trying to calm their fears by helping them deepen their faith. Being able to live in a time of trouble requires them to know that Christ’s death and resurrection secures salvation thereby providing them with a solid rock upon which to stand and live out a life of worship to God, no matter the circumstances…and without worrying about when Christ will return.
Give thanks in ALL circumstances? Paul thinks we can do it if we lead our life in a context of worship of God ALL the time. Our joy comes not from our circumstances but from the blessings that are ours by being in Christ. As we pray and act for those who have experienced devastating loss in the wake of typhoons, tornadoes, life issues….and as we live our individual lives…let us do so as living worship of God in Christ Jesus through his Holy Spirit. Sounds like a great message to start our thanksgiving blog time together and lead us into Advent!