Giving thanks isn’t always easy. In fact, when we face trials or opposition, it can be downright difficult. And yet, as the Apostle Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians, he exhorts them to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a ESV). But surely Paul must be mistaken here. What about when people do things to hurt us? Or when we lose a job? Or when we’ve just gotten a diagnosis that doesn’t look good? Can we really give thanks in “all circumstances”? Is that realistic?
If we asked Paul whether it was realistic, he’d answer with a resounding “Yes!” In order to understand why, it’s important to know a little bit about the people to whom Paul is writing. The Church in Thessalonica was founded in the midst of persecution and problems. It wasn’t long after Paul established a fledgling congregation there that some people “formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason” where Paul was staying (see Acts 17:1-9 for the whole story). But the problems didn’t end there.
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 ESV). So Paul was persecuted. The churches in Judea were persecuted. And now, the church at Thessalonica was being persecuted. There were trials and tribulations everywhere. And yet, Paul wrote, “give thanks in all circumstances.”
And he didn’t just encourage the Thessalonian Christians to a life of thanksgiving. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote almost the same thing, saying that they should be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:18 ESV). But how are we supposed to do this - especially when things aren’t going our way?
True thanksgiving isn’t about getting our way. It’s rooted in who God is, what he’s done, and what he’s promised to do. When we understand that God is in control, we can be thankful even when our circumstances are less than ideal. God isn’t caught off-guard. He’s sovereign. He knows the end from the beginning. And even when everything looks like it’s spinning out of control, he’s the one holding it all together. But God isn’t only in control, he’s also good. Bad things may happen but the Gospel tells us that bad things won’t have the final say. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has put all things under his feet - including the worst thing of all, death.
Knowing that God is both in control and good gave Paul confidence. This is why he wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). Knowing that God is in control and is good will give us the same confidence that Paul had: to be thankful in the midst of our problems. Why? Because even while we have problems and trials and temptations, God is at work. He’s using them to make us more like him. He’s teaching us through them. And, ultimately, he’s promised us that he has a future for us beyond those problems.
So even if you can’t give thanks for each and every trial, you can always give thanks for the God who loves you so much that he’s willing to carry you through that trial. No problem, no trial, no temptation, and no opposition can steal the hope that we have in Christ. And for that, we should give thanks - always.
By Marilyn Turner
Share on Facebook
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!