Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 November 20, 2022
“Give Ye Thanks”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
We arrive again today—for the twelfth time in my tenure here—at the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps we anticipate a number of welcome mercies on the day, such as rest from our ordinary labors, or the company of family and friends, or great, plenteous food before us, or enjoyable activity, or other similar blessing. Perhaps, alas, our anticipations are less rosy. We have no relief from our work, or few folks with whom to share the day, or some other trial to bear. God’s Word helps us today with either situation. Let’s hear the Lord speak to our souls from this brief verse within Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian Christian households.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The Lord led Paul to write this letter to the Thessalonians—a struggling, infant church located in southeastern modern-day Greece—early in his second missionary journey, ca. A. D. 49 (Acts 17:1-9). Paul, upon his arrival in Thessalonica, proclaimed the Gospel in the synagogue there for three Sabbaths before being driven out by those Jews hostile to the Gospel. This is hardly the contemporary recipe for effective church planting. Nor do I suppose that Paul’s ejection served the Thessalonians ideally. Nevertheless, Paul wrote this letter not long afterward. He feared that his work among the Thessalonians would prove to be in vain (2:17-3:5). Then Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith, came from Thessalonica and reported of their perseverance—over which Paul rejoiced (3:6-13). This letter, then, encourages the infant church amid its struggles. Our verse for today stands within a final salvo of things to do (12-28)—most of which may stand alone such as “Rejoice always” and “Pray without ceasing.”1 Ours today is no exception; let’s turn now to it.
Paul begins this verse, by the Spirit’s leading, with a command, “Give ye thanks.” The underlying Greek verb is plural—a fact lost in translation.2 Hence, we may understand our command in two senses. First, each one of us must give thanks for his blessings and benefits, and, second, we must give thanks, all of us, together—for example, either when we meet corporately or when we agree to give thanks on a date and at a time when we are apart from one another. We may also add two further sense to this giving thanks. We give thanks actively by expressing thanks to the Lord for His blessing and benefits, and we give thanks passively when we are being thankful because of His blessings and benefits.3 Let us, then, with our understanding thus enriched, give thanks to the Lord.
Furthermore, let us give our thanks to the Lord in all things. The Greek text gives us, according to the Lord’s will, en panti (en panti), that is, in all. There is no other explicit word here; we must supply other words to complete the thought, such as in all things (my translation), or in everything, or in all circumstances (ESV). Hence, let us thank God in all circumstances: in all times, in all places, in all situations. Let us thank Him for things evidently favorable, to be sure, but also let us thank Him for things apparently adverse.
This, after all, is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you—one and all. Our thanking Him in all circumstances is His desire and intention for us. He desires our thanksgiving, first, because it pleases and glorifies Him—and this is the chief end for which we are made (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question and answer 1). He also desires our thanksgiving, second, because it’s good for us. Our souls abound as we count our blessings and we render our thanks—and our good God gains glory for Himself by bestowing good upon us.
We close today with two dangers associated with thanksgiving—and I suppose that the greater danger to each of us rest upon the situation we currently enjoy. If we find ourselves generally in prosperity, then we run the hazard of forgetting to thank God for our prosperity. This was a danger as far back as the end of Moses’ life, and he warns God’s covenant people of this in Deuteronomy 8:10-20. I think this is the general condition of the world—a world alienated from and hostile to God. I also think our situation in the Body of Christ, the Church, is somewhat different.
For many, perhaps most, in the visible Church today find themselves enduring adversity—and the tempation amid adversity is to sink into despair. There are times, perhaps even today under the preaching of this portion of God’s Word, that you (singular or plural) cry internally, “Am I supposed to thank God for that?!” You perhaps think of the traumas inflicted upon your body and soul—or those inflicted on a loved one of yours. You perhaps think of deprivations and disappointment along life’s way. You may think of a host of other maladies that you would not wish on your worst enemy—yet they have come to you in dismal abundance. How can you thank God for these? Let’s examine one possible solution.
Look at what God does with our providentially ordained adversities. He uses them to bring us to maturity and completeness, not lacking anything (James 1:4). That passage started with trials of various kinds, and it ends with maturity and completeness. God also uses adversity to produce hope within us (Romans 5:5). Again, that passage starts with trouble, and it ends with hope. Moreover, God uses adversity in our lives to prove our faith genuine (1 Peter i.6-7), a faith more precious than gold refined by fire. Finally, for our purposes today, God uses adversity to conforms us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). All things work together for good—the good being conformed to the image of His Son, with all the good that entails.4 Perhaps these meditations help to frame your adversities with God’s overarching purposes—and, perhaps, now you can be at least a bit more thankful in your adversities.
Hence, this Thanksgiving Day week, enjoy the blessings God has given you. He is a good God, and delights to do good (cf. Psalm 119:68). Thank Him Who is good, then, for you blessings and benefits—and do it in every circumstance, whether bounteous or adverse.
1Note the arrangement of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 in the NA26 version of the Greek New Testament. The editors indented each of these verses, almost in bullet-point fashion, presumably for emphasis.
2Yet we may determine a plural context, independent of the underlying Greek, from verse twelve: “We ask you, brothers (or brothers and sisters, Greek adelphoi [adelfoi]).
3Greek eucharisteo (eucaristew), from Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).
4I am indebted, for this insight in Romans 8:28-30, to Dr. Kelly Vickers, registrar of Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, Georgia, in his address on the history of that College, with his Christian testimony interwoven, November 11, 2022.