As a pastor, one of the most frequent questions that I’m asked is, “How do know or discern God’s will for my life?” What the inquirer seeks to know is oftentimes specific: I’ve been offered two jobs, which one should I accept? Should I put an offer in on this house or keep house hunting? Should I attend this university or that one? Discerning God’s specific will for a person in these matters is always extremely difficult. I admit that I’m very little help in these matters, for they require much prayer, reflection, and listening to wise counsel. Pivoting from these hair-raising issues of life, where I believe an equal amount of time is wisely spent is on knowing God’s general will for our lives. Today, is Thanksgiving and God’s clear, unmistakable will for His people is that our lives are characterized by thankfulness.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In all things give thanks, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus concerning you.” There are four insights that I would like to highlight in the passage.
- The first word in the verse is critical “in”. The word “in” is a preposition, prepositions show the relationship between two or more things. Like if I said, “The book is on the table.” I’m expressing the relationship between the book and the table. The book is on the table, not underneath, beside, or above the table. Notice that Paul in this passage says, “In all things or in everything”, he did not use the preposition “for”. Paul says that we are to be thankful at all times and in every circumstance of life, we are not expected to thankful “for” every circumstance. Loosing a loved one is nothing to be thankful for. A health scare is nothing to be grateful for. When we’re confronted with terrorist attacks or mass shootings, there’s nothing worthy of appreciation in these evil tragedies. To advocate for this inhuman response is to miss Paul’s point altogether.
- The phrase “give thanks” is an imperative. It’s not advice, wise counsel, or a suggestion. Paul is exercising his Apostolic authority to command us to act according to his instruction. Unlike the Thanksgiving holiday, “give thanks” is a verb (action word) in the present tense, which simply means that the act of gratitude is an ongoing, repeated action that never ends. So then for us Americans, Thanksgiving ends and Black Friday begins, not so with the Christian, according Paul, thanksgiving, is a way of life never ends!
- Direct your attention to the word “for”, this word “for” is a casual conjunction. That simply means that the author is preparing to disclose the ground or basis for some action. In this case, Paul is saying, the reason I’m commanding you to be grateful at all times and in every circumstance and situation is because of this reason. What is it?
- Here is the reason, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The reason, ground, or basis for the imperative is because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus. One of the aspects of the divine will that is not mysterious or unknown is the fact that He desires that our lives are characterized by gratitude. For those of us that are “in Christ Jesus” in other words: Christians, followers of Jesus, this is God’s revealed will, desire, plan, and purpose for us.
As the Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes and our bellies are satisfied from all the trimmings, my hope and prayer is that our thanksgiving might become thanksliving.
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