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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Giving thanks is God's will for us
Text:1 Thessalonians 5:18 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100
Psalm 86:1,4
Psalm 107:1-3
Psalm 136:1,2,12,13
Hymn 57

Reading:  1 Thessalonians 5
Text:  1 Thessalonians 5:18
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,


Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.  Many of us look back over the last few months and we clearly have reasons to give thanks.  God has been good.  For others among us, it’s not quite that easy.  There have been setbacks and disappointments.  Things didn’t work out the way we hoped they would.  More than ever, we’re aware that we live in a broken world with plenty of heartache and plenty of tears to go around.  Even with those of us for whom things have gone really well, we still share the burden of our brothers and sisters who have faced difficulties and trials. 


Difficulties and trials were what defined life for believers in first-century Thessalonica too.  In chapter 1 of his first letter, Paul speaks of how these believers endured severe suffering.  In chapter 2, we read of how they suffered at the hands of their own countrymen.  Throughout this letter, we become aware that the Thessalonian church was under great stress and affliction. 


The apostle Paul knew about those things from personal experience as well.  Persecuted, insulted,  imprisoned, stoned – Paul had been through it all.  This was a man who could say that he was sharing in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus.  Both Paul and the Thessalonians knew what it was to experience setbacks and disappointments.  They knew about trials and afflictions.  While their suffering may be different from ours, the fact remains that this letter does not come to us from a comfortable context.  Paul didn’t write these words from a cozy bungalow, sitting in his lazy-boy in front of a gas fireplace.  The Holy Spirit led Paul in this situation of suffering to write these words, words that should encourage us, no matter where we are or what we’re going through. 


Our text says, “...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  In some ways, it’s a simple text, direct and easy to understand.  As we’ll see, the meaning is not that difficult to grasp.  The challenge comes with putting it into practice.


The apostle instructs his readers to “give thanks.”  Expressing gratitude is basic to being a Christian.  God has richly blessed us and when you receive a gift, the natural, expected reaction is thankfulness. 


Have you ever noticed that the unbelieving world around us continues to celebrate Thanksgiving?  Some do it in more meaningful ways than others.  Nevertheless, it’s rather interesting that at least some still talk about Thanksgiving.  It’s intriguing because the whole idea of giving thanks implies that you are giving thanks to someone.  Thanksgiving always has a subject, the person who gives thanks, and an object, the person who receives thanks.  An impersonal thanksgiving is ridiculous and non-sensical. 


All of that is to say that when Paul says, “give thanks,” it goes without saying that God is the one who is to receive our thanks.  We give thanks to God.   “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  God is the one from whom all blessings flow.  God is the fountain of all good.  God is the one who should be thanked.  


Okay, but then how?  How should we give thanks to God?  First of all, gratitude is an attitude.  There’s the attitude of gratitude that should characterize our lives.  We ought to be thankful people, people out of whom thankfulness is as readily evident as the colour of our skin.  Charles Spurgeon once said of John Bunyan, “Cut him and he bleeds Bibline” – which is to say that Bunyan had the Bible flowing through his veins.  Likewise it should be said of us, “Cut her and she bleeds thankfulness.”  If the message of the gospel has truly gripped us, shouldn’t thankfulness be in our veins and arteries, shouldn’t thankfulness be the thing that characterizes our lives?  So, the attitude of gratitude. 


That attitude will express itself in concrete ways.  Thankfulness is expressed in a Christian life.  But what’s the most important part of our thankfulness?  Isn’t it prayer?  That’s what we find here in 1 Thessalonians 5 as well.  Verse 17 says “pray continually.”  Here in verse 18, the word that’s used for giving thanks sometimes is also used in the New Testament for prayer.  There’s little question that when Paul said “give thanks,” he had in mind that we would give thanks to God in prayer first of all and most importantly.


So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Many families have the tradition of having a Thanksgiving prayer before the dinner in which the father or perhaps even each of the family members prays and gives thanks for God’s blessings.  This is an excellent tradition.  There’s much to commend it; it’s completely in the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:18.  Loved ones, if tomorrow truly is Thanksgiving, we will be giving thanks to God in prayer.  But let’s not stop there.  Prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness not just on Thanksgiving.  Our thankfulness should be expressed every day.  Every day we should be praying to God, as individuals and as families, and giving thanks for his blessings.  Our Father is pleased when he constantly hears the grateful acknowledgements of his children.


That brings us to briefly consider that it is God’s will for us to thank him.  When we looked at Romans 12:1,2 a few weeks back, we noted that there are two different ways that the Bible speaks about God’s will.  We see a difference between his secret will and his revealed will.  His secret will we only know after the fact, after something happens.  But his revealed will or his moral will is found in the Bible.  This is what God wants us to be doing.  This is what pleases God.  Here in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we read about God’s will and we know that it is his revealed will.  Giving thanks is God’s will for us, it’s what delights him, it’s what he wants to hear his children doing.  Our heavenly Father loves to hear his sons and daughters speaking to him with words of gratitude. 


Let’s now take a closer look at the three words from our text that probably challenge us the most, “in all circumstances.”  “...Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Literally it says, “in everything.”  No matter what’s happening in your life, cultivate thankfulness.  Remember the person whom the Holy Spirit used to bring these words.  Paul had every reason to be the kind of depressing person that no one wants to be around.  He’d been through the ringer more than once.  Not only did he have the hatred of the world to deal with, he also had some kind of thorn in his flesh, some kind of affliction that tormented him.  Yet he wrote these words, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” and there’s evidence from the New Testament that Paul himself often was able to do that very thing.  The letter to the Philippians, for instance.  Paul wrote it from prison and yet his words overflow with thankfulness.


We could think of others in the Bible in whom the Lord was working with his Spirit.  Others who suffered horrible afflictions and yet remained thankful.  Think of the man who lost just about everything.  He lost all his livestock.  All his children died.  His health was taken away from him.  Job just about lost everything, the only thing he was left with was a wife who told him to curse God and get it over and done with.  But what did Job say?  “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  Job would not curse God, but instead praised him, blessed his name.  Job is not the only one.  I could list many more, from the Bible, from church history and from my own experiences and observations as a pastor.     


So, “in all circumstances” is not pie-in-the-sky idealism.  By God’s grace, it is possible to be thankful no matter what is happening in your life.  As a child of God, there is always something to be thankful for.  As a sheep in God’s pasture, there are always reasons for gratitude.


Loved ones, whether in times of prosperity or adversity, we need to often reflect on the many reasons we have for giving thanks.  This morning, let’s take our cue from our text.  “...Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Note those last three words, “in Christ Jesus.”  Those are key words. 


When Paul uses the expression, “in Christ Jesus,” he’s usually referring to our union with Christ through faith and the Holy Spirit.  It’s that way here too.  We could paraphrase our text to be saying, “this is God’s will for you because you are united to Christ Jesus.”


Now let’s unpack that a little bit more and we’ll see that this truth leads us to thankfulness.  Apart from Christ, people are united to Adam.  Apart from Christ, people are in the first Adam, which is to say that they are rebels against God, dead in sins and trespasses, unable to please God or even care about pleasing him.  Union with Adam is portrayed when Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.”  Being united to the first Adam is a death sentence, an eternal-death sentence.


But there is a second Adam who is the resurrection and the life.  In Romans 1, Paul portrays those who are in the first Adam as those who know God at some level, yet neither glorify him nor give thanks to him.  But there is a second Adam who always gave thanks.  When he miraculously multiplied the fish and the loaves, he looked up to heaven and gave thanks.  When he raised Lazarus from the dead, he lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”  At the first Lord’s Supper, he gave thanks for the cup of blessing. 


Loved ones, in his life and ministry on earth, our Lord Jesus was always thankful.  Do not let that fact escape you.  He was always thankful, thankful in everything, in all circumstances.  We are not.  So often we forget to be thankful – we have human weakness.  So often we neglect to reflect on the goodness of our Father – we have weakness and we have sin.  God’s will for us is that we be thankful, but we fail so often.  But consider Christ again.  His thankfulness is an example for us, but it is so much more than that.  Because as we look to him in faith, his thankfulness is credited to us, imputed to us, accounted to us.  The Lord Jesus was obedient to all of God’s commandments and also to the command to constantly render worship, praise and thankfulness to God.  This is also part of our salvation. 


When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, he paid for all our sins of ungratefulness.  He covered with his blood all the times that we’ve been like spoiled children in our Father’s house.  But the good news is not that we now have a blank slate and get to start over again, try again.  There are those who say that.  They say that the gospel is like a mulligan in golf, a do-over.  Jesus paid for all your sins and gave you a mulligan, you get to try again.  You were ungrateful before, Christ paid for all of that, but now you get another chance to be thankful.  No, that’s not the biblical gospel.  The biblical good news says that Christ paid for all your sins of ungratefulness, and also lived a perfect life of thankfulness in your place.  He perfectly obeyed God’s law for you and all of his obedience is yours.  God credits it all to you.  In Christ, he now sees you as his perfectly thankful child.  Now that’s good news, isn’t it?!


Loved ones, in Christ Jesus we have the gift of justification.  In Christ Jesus, not only are our sins paid for, but we also positively have the perfect life that God demands in his law.  In Christ Jesus, we have absolutely everything for a right standing before God.  Being found in him, the love of our heavenly Father for us will never change.  Being in him, we can be assured that even times of adversity will somehow work for our good, even if we never understand how.  John Calvin commented on this verse and said, “For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us?”  Calvin was so right:  In Christ, we can trust our Father and his affectionate love.


“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”  A gift.  A free gift.  The natural, normal reaction for someone who receives a gift is thankfulness.  Especially if you realize the value of the gift.  If you appreciate the worth of the gift.  Brother, sister, the gift is free, but its value is infinite.  You get that, don’t you?  Think about it and treasure what your Saviour has done for you and thankfulness can only grow.     


We are united to Christ in faith and by his Holy Spirit.  As we grasp these wonderful truths, the Holy Spirit transforms us to be more and more like Christ, our thankful Saviour.  Our union with him bears fruit, not only in our justification, but also in our sanctification.


Think again about his life here on this earth.  The 33 years leading up to his death was a vale of tears.  He suffered during that entire time.  He encountered brokenness and misery all around him.  He saw men and women whose bodies were ravaged by illness.  He saw a creation that had been created good but had been vandalized by sin and death.  When he lost a beloved friend and saw the grief this brought, he himself broke down and wept.  Your Saviour knows suffering and adversity.  Through it all, he was thankful.  Look to him in true faith, believe that he is your Saviour and that he cares for you, that he did it all for you, and you too will be thankful even in adversity.  You’ll be able to say, “Father, these are hard times for me, but I know that I’m still rich with you.  I still have your love and your promises.  I’m still grateful for having what is most important, for having you.” 


As you experience prosperity and good times, look to your Saviour on the third day and afterwards.  As he rose from the dead, as he ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand.  Was he and is he any less thankful?  As he lives in his glorified state, he continues be the thankful Son of God.  He continues to be so for you.  And you’re united to him in this way as well so that when times of prosperity come your way, you look to Christ and know everything good comes through him, and his thankfulness becomes your thankfulness.  You see all the lavish bounty of your Father and you say, “Thank you, Father, you’re so good to me, good beyond anything that I’ve deserved.  I’m so grateful to you.”                                          


Loved ones, the power for giving thanks, both in adversity and prosperity, is in your union with Christ.  Your being united to Christ is the fuel that drives your thanksgiving.  As you look to him in faith, thankfulness is what naturally and spontaneously results.  As the Holy Spirit of Christ lives in you, gratitude is what he produces.  That comes to expression in our prayers, but also in our attitudes and indeed in our entire life. 


So, Thanksgiving 2009 is upon us and as we celebrate we know that it is God’s will for us to give thanks to him.  He calls us to give thanks always.  In Christ he gives us ample reason to do so.  In Christ and through his Spirit he gives us the power to do so.  AMEN.  




Our Father,   


We thank you for the paternal love you have for us.  We thank you for your lavish promises.  We thank you that you promise to avert all evil or turn it for our good.  We thank you for giving us your Son, in whom all these promises are yes and amen.  Father, we thank you for your Holy Spirit who helps us to trust you and your Word.  We thank you for your Church, where we hear your voice assuring us of your goodness.  We thank you that you are a God near at hand, that your presence is always close.  We thank you for everything you are and everything you have done, and especially for our salvation in Christ.  We thank you that he has paid for all our ingratitude.  We thank you that he lived a perfect, thankful life in our place.  We pray, please lead us with your Spirit to live out of our union with him and so only grow in our gratitude towards you.  Help us to put to death all our remaining ingratitude.  Father, please help us to be a thankful people, both with our words and our deeds.         

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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