Give Thanks in ALL Circumstances... Really?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ Think about these words for a second. What world view lies behind them? What presuppositions about reality are required for them to make sense?

Take the words ‘give thanks’. Now I am assuming God is the one who we are to thank. I know Paul doesn't say that explicitly, but if you have any doubts, listen to these similar words from Ephesians 5:18-20.

Ephesians 5:18b-20 but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

What do the words ‘give thanks’ presuppose? I would suggest three things.

  • First, God has done the thing you are to give thanks for. You don’t give thanks to someone for something they didn't do, do you? That’s irrational. God gets the thanks because God has done the thing. This does not deny the reality of other causes. It merely recognises God's hand alongside other hands (see Acts 4:26-28).

  • Second, the thing is good for us. No one gives thanks for things that aren't good. This is not to say that the thing in itself is necessarily good, but that it has a good purpose. Think for a moment about the cross. It is both the greatest evil and the greatest good, depending on the perspective. From the perspective of God's intentions, the things we are commanded to give thanks for are good.

  • Third, we ought to delight in the intended good. True gratitude delights in what has been done. Without delight, thanksgiving is hypocrisy. Since God commands us to give thanks, the intended good must be worthy of our delight.

Now add the rest of the words. Give thanks ‘in all circumstances’. In all circumstances - not some, not most, but all circumstances. Are there any circumstances that are excluded from this command? No.

Think about what this means. Does this not presuppose that every circumstance of our life is firstly from God, and secondly for our good? What other world-view would fit this command?

Some of you may be objecting. It says give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Whether or not such a distinction makes a difference, Ephesians 5:20 doesn't let us wriggle out that easily. Ephesians 5:20 ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,’.

We can’t avoid this fact. We are to give thanks to God for everything, which assumes everything is from God, and is designed by Him for our good.

This is where the rubber of our theology meets the road. It doesn't take much life experience to realise that not everything that comes our way feels as though it is for our good. There are many things in our lives that don't seem good. It is not an easy thing to live thankfully in the trenches of life, but it is possible. Joni Erickson Tada is a living model of this reality. As a teenager she was paralysed from the neck down in a diving accident. The rest of her life has been spent in a wheelchair. Listen to how she interprets this seeming tragedy.

"But now you're happy?" a teen-age girl asked. "I really am. I wouldn't change my life for anything. I feel privileged. God doesn't give such special attention to everyone and intervene that way in their lives. He allows most people to go right on in their own ways. He doesn't interfere even though He knows they are ultimately destroying their own lives, health or happiness, and it must grieve him terribly. I'm really thankful He did something to get my attention and change me. You know, you don't have to get a broken neck to be drawn to God. But the truth is, people don't always listen to the experiences of others and learn from them. I hope you'll learn from my experience, though, and not have to go through the bitter lessons of suffering which I had to face in order to learn."

The command to give thanks is a call to look at life differently. Gratitude in and for all things requires us to learn to interpret life through the lens of a God perspective. This does not mean being blind to the evil intentions of satan and mankind. Rather, it means seeing such things the way Joseph did, so that we can say with him, 'You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good' (Genesis 5:20).

What are you experiencing in your life at present? Are you able to sincerely give thanks? If not, try looking at your life through the three presuppositions outlined above. Ask God to help you grasp His involvement and His good purposes. Ask Him to help you see that the good He is intending is worth the pain. He does not expect you to understand how it is intended for your good, only that it is. In your present circumstances, can you trust Him to be for you, and to have your ultimate good in view?

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

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