“To live above with saints we love – oh Lord that will be glory!
To live below with saints we know – well that’s a different story!”
I do not know who penned these words, but we must admit that they are all to true!
At the beginning of this year we have been meditating on 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 and it has been my intention to remind you from the Scriptures that our life together as saints of God is ordained by God to be lived in purity and holiness (4:7). This principle must not be scorned. Paul admonishes the Thessalonian Christians: “whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” We have every reason to work hard at matters of sanctification with the enabling power of God who gives His Holy Spirit to us:
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling , for it is God who works in you , both to will and to work for His good pleasure “ (Phil 2:12.13).
Obedience is pleasing to God, and it is the end to which we are created: To please God for “…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10).
Knowing the Thessalonians , and knowing that ‘the gospel had come to them in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction’ ( 1 Thess. 1:5) Paul provided them with a whole list of things in which they were in fact already pleasing God ( 4:1) and yet needed to do so more and more (4:1,10).
The issues addressed were sexual purity (4:3-8), brotherly love (4:9-10), not to be a burden to anyone, and not to be idle, but to work with their own hands (4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:6-12); to respect their elders (5:12-13), to relate well to one another (5:13) and to help those that are struggling in various areas of life (5:14) and to refrain from evil, doing good (5:15).
This is what we have covered so far, but we are not yet done with our text!
We are now ready to consider some further aspects of sanctification. In preparation for Prayer Week 2010, I am therefore particularly pleased that we, in the providence of God, can deal with vv. 16-18.
(i) Always rejoice (v. 16)
(ii) Always pray (v.17)
(iii) Always give thanks (v.18)
• These verses present three positive commands each are governed by the phrase "for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (v.18).
• This is the second time in this letter where Paul declares what God’s will is (see 4:3ff).
We must therefore understand that “praise, prayer, and thanksgiving “are not optional extras for the Christian. God wills this. In the Greek this is reflected in the imperative mood (indicating a command) and in the present tense (indicating a present and ongoing action) – giving thus the force of “Do this continually…” This is God’s will for us, and we do well to examine ourselves whether these aspects form a part of the ongoing sanctification process of our lives.
1. "Rejoice always" (v. 16)
It is the will of God that all believers should always be rejoicing in every circumstance in life. The “joy” aspect is not difficult, but when we consider the “always”, it becomes difficult. This includes times of suffering. Paul had suffered much . The Thessalonian church had suffered greatly (1:6). If you are a Christian you will suffer (1 Peter 4:12).
How can we rejoice even in suffering? This is very difficult to explain to people whose faith has not been forged in the fire. But to those Christians that have been forged in the fire they will tell you that while such an experience was not pleasant, yet through that experience they have experienced joy and a peace that has transcended their understanding (Phil 4:7). I have a friend in England who has just been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. It is heartwarming to read of his peace and joy even in this difficult trial.
Maintaining a joyful spirit is always difficult when your focus is wrong - when your eyes are on the difficult and challenging situation. But when your focus and faith is in the Lord (His person, plan, principles, promises, and purposes), then even in the midst of setbacks, hurts and sufferings you can rejoice because you know that God is in control.
Christians therefore learn must equip themselves with the knowledge of the Word of God.
• When you suffer rejoice by thinking of Jesus’ power (Luke 12:17), His resurrection (Matt. 28:8; Luke 24:52), His presence with the Father (John 14:28), His presence with believers (John 16:22; 20:20), His ultimate triumph (John 8:56).
• Then think of your place in heaven (Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3); your hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2); your prospect of eternal rewards (Matt. 5:12; Luke 6:23).
• Then think of some more aspects that fill your heart with joy: Hearing the gospel (Acts 13:48), receiving the Lord (Luke 19:6; Acts 8:39), suffering with Christ (Acts 5:41, cf. 1 Pet. 4:13), suffering for the gospel (Phil. 2:17; Col. 1:24), the conversion of sinners (Luke 15:7; Acts 15:3), the manifestation of grace (Acts 11:23), the godly walk of believers (Rom. 16:19; 2 Cor. 7:4; 3 John 3, 4), the godly order of a church (Col. 2:5), receiving support and fellowship (Phil. 4:10), the rejoicing of others (Rom. 12:15, 2 Cor. 7:13), hearing of the well-being of others (2 Cor. 7:16).
When you think of the many ways in which the grace of God is manifested in the course of your every day, then it is not difficult to see how your joy can become constant (“always”).
Then think that this attitude was also in Christ (Hebr. 12:2). and if Christ lives in you then it can also be in you (Gal 2:20). Neh. 8:10 says “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy has wonderful side effects. It gives you strength to carry on. It takes the burden out of difficult service and gives strength to endure. Joy is also a part of the fruit of the Spirit’s control as described in Gal 5:22f. The capacity to love people, to be longsuffering and to be kind is directly related to inner joy. Thus, it is needed always.
2. "Pray without ceasing" (v. 17)
“Pray always …” This is closely associated with the ability to ‘rejoice always’ and the ability to ‘give thanks always’. As mentioned, these imperatives are each stated in the present tense. So prayer is here commanded as an ongoing habit of the day. It may be in the form of praise or confession or thanksgiving or intercession or perhaps in the form of a personal request to God.
The word used here for prayer suggests the worshipful nature of prayer. It is derived from a preposition of motion and direction, [pros], “to, toward,” and a verb [euchomai], “to pray.” God is the object of prayer. He is the One you are moving towards. Prayer speaks to a Person. We plead and speak with God personally and persistently like the widow in Luke 18:1-8. This kind of prayer is not a meaningless babbling into space like the pagans who think that they will be heard because of their many words (Matt 6:7). It is not like the mechanically repetition of numerous ‘Hail Mary’s , or the endless mantras of the Hindu or Buddhist worshipper. Christian prayer is a personal, ongoing conversation with God. Prayer is the language of dependence, and the more dependent you are upon God, the more you pray. Remember that this is God’s will for you!
3. "Give thanks in all circumstances “(v.18)
This threesome series of commands is now completed with giving thanks in all circumstances. We have no problems in giving thanks when favorable events happen.
But what about the unfavorable events? “… I have lost a job. My wife has got cancer. I am a widow or a divorcee …”
How can we be thankful when the situations we face are so painful? We have substantially answered the question in v.16, but it might help if I explained this point again.
Ultimately we can only accept such things if we believe the Scriptures which reveal to us how God sovereignly uses suffering as a tool in accomplishing His sovereign purposes in this life. This leads us to the conclusion that no thing that happens to us can be termed “bad”, because God never leaves us not forsakes us (Josh 1:5; Hebr. 13:5). He ordains everything for our good. (Rom 8:28). Life’s difficulties are a temporary part of a larger plan for our spiritual well-being. When we can see this we will always be able to have a cause for thanksgiving! Consequently, we see how Christians can abound in thanksgiving’ (Col. 2:7; cf. Col. 3:15, 17; 4:2; Eph. 5:4, 20)
The Justification: "For This Is God’s Will …" (v. 18b)
The statement, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” looks back to all three commands, Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks! “
Ultimately obeying God’s will is to submit to His designed purposes as He has revealed them to us in Scripture.
What if I don’t desire God ‘s will in these matters ?
John Piper has written a very helpful book entitled, “When I don’t desire God” – subtitled “how to fight for joy”. In this book Piper has laid his finger on a substantial truth. Christians are designed for joy. God Himself is the supremely happy and joyful God. Everything that God does is for His own glory and joy! It is the goal of history and of the future.
But now you say perhaps , ‘I really don’t have that desire for joy and prayer and thanksgiving '.
John Piper helpfully reminds us that “When all is said and done , only God can create joy (and prayer and thanksgiving) in God … To be satisfied by the beauty of God does not come naturally to sinful people. By (our sinful) nature we get more pleasure from God’s gifts (rain , sunshine , food …) than from God Himself .”
What we need then is for “the eyes of our heart to be opened to the infinitely desirable person of God. He made Himself known in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.” (Hebr. 1:3)
So when you struggle with an abiding sense of Christian joy and prayer and thanksgiving, then it may be that your focus is on the process (or the gifts) more than on God the Person (the Giver). The problem is that you are not really a worshipper, and when you’re not, and then you will be frustrated in these areas.
To be honest, it is impossible to enjoy the Christian life when God is not at the center.
To put that differently: you will always struggle in these areas when your religion is man centered, and when your goal is personal comfort and security, and when your desire is for God to bless you materially.
We have seen that in ourselves, we have neither the desire nor ability to accomplish His will. That is why the will of God in these matters can only ever be accomplished “in Christ Jesus“. Apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15). It is only through our union with Christ that we find the capacity to fulfill the will of God.
Therefore, at the end of this service and at the beginning of this year, I want you to know that there is a Saviour, who will not only save you from your sins, but who will also sanctify you (give you power to live the Christian life) as long as you live. If you have been frustrated in your joy and prayer and thanksgiving in all things then on the basis of Christ’s Word, I invite you to come to Him now.