16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Thanksgiving means a big turkey dinner with all the fixings. That’s what all the commercials tell us and most of our families agree with that tradition. In order to have a proper thanksgiving, there must be a Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and rolls. Throw in a football game or two, a nap and we would call it a successful Thanksgiving.
Some of us may have plans for a Thanksgiving like this, but others may not. Some of us may have to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday or a few weeks or months from now because our family can’t make it. Thursday just won’t work this year with all the busy schedules, travel costs and unexpected sickness. Some of us may be ready with the food and football, but the family feud that’s raged for years still hasn’t been resolved and we aren’t sure if the family will ever be back together. Some of us would love to put out the full Thanksgiving spread, but that kind of money doesn’t grow on trees. A practical Thanksgiving for a lot of us may not be the one we see pictured on commercials or the ideal day we have pictured in our minds.
The Thessalonians would have had a tough time celebrating the ideal Thanksgiving as well. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians revealed the difficult situation facing their churches. Paul brought them hope in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the gospel and through his preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit worked faith in their hearts, but the persecution that followed their conversion was extreme. So fierce was the persecution in Thessalonica, that Paul had to leave there during the night, traveling South and was not able to return. He wrote this letter to them from Corinth hoping to hear that they had not lost their faith in the face of constant attacks.
After he escaped, Paul was so worried about those who had come to faith, he sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to hear how they were holding up. Despite his Paul’s fears, Timothy brought back good news. They had continued to believe the message of Paul and the apostles. They held to the gospel as a message, not from man, but as the very words of God. The Thessalonians remained faithful, giving thanks to God, even as they faced constant hardships.
Paul was able to give thanks when he heard the good news from Timothy and in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote how he could relate to their sufferings. Before he arrived in Thessalonica, he had been in Philippi preaching and teaching the Philippians. While he was there, he drove an impure spirit from a slave girl, whose master had used her to tell the future. When the owner found out Paul had ruined his business, he had Paul and his companions arrested, dragged before the authorities in the public market place, stripped of their clothes, beaten with a whip, fastened with stocks (hand cuffs) and locked in the inner cell of the city prison. All of these terrible things happened to Paul, despite being a Roman citizen, which should have given him the right to a fair trial.
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by reminding them to give thanks despite their troubles. Paul and his companions had been freed from prison by God through an earthquake. He was then able to share the gospel with the jailor and his whole family was baptized. Then the officials of the city escorted Paul and his companions out of the city as an apology for not recognizing his Roman citizenship. Paul was then able to move on and share the gospel with the Thessalonians. Even more than that, he was able to hear that they continue to believe under persecution. After Paul reminded the Thessalonians of all the work God was doing behind the scenes, it was clear that they had a lot of reasons to give thanks.
You and I may not face the same hardships as Paul or the Thessalonians, but we face hardships none the less. Holidays like Thanksgiving often highlight whatever is wrong in our lives. Whether our schedules prevent us from taking time off to be with family or our families are so broken, we never see one another anyway. Whether money or sickness prevents us from enjoying the holidays as we would like, Paul reminds all of us of the true reason we can follow the command, “give thanks in all circumstances;”
Paul reminds us that we can give thanks at all times, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is only through Jesus that we can live everyday giving thanks to God. We can give thanks in all circumstances because in our Savior, we see the worst of ourselves. We see all the reasons not to give thanks. We see it in Jesus’ need to come to this world, suffer and die. It was our sin that brought the Son of God to this world to carry our burden to the cross because if left to carry it on our own, it would have crushed us. Through Jesus, we are free from all our sins and their eternal consequences.
At the end of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul assured the Thessalonians and all of us that Jesus will return to bring all of us back to life and take us to live with him in heaven. It is our hope in a greater life that keeps us from basing our thankfulness only on what we have in this world. We will face hardships and even crippling pain in this world, but it is temporary and cannot rob us of our life to come. Therefore, we need to encourage one another with God’s Word and by caring for one another’s physical and emotional needs. We do not know when Christ will return, but Paul said he will come, “like a thief in the night” 1 Thessalonians 5:2. We must always be ready for Jesus’ return and our one-way trip to heaven by loving one another through words and actions.
Celebrate this Thanksgiving and every day of your life by giving thanks to God. Not only by being thankful, but as Paul encouraged the Thessalonians, to live out our thanksgiving. Paul wrote,
“Live in peace with each other.14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
As believers, we are not only thankful one day a year nor are we only thankful in thoughts or words. We live out our thanksgiving by serving our God. Practical thanksgiving is living thanksgiving. And we will live as children of God, filled with his love until he returns. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Amen.