141214 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Last Updated on Monday, 15 December 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Theme: God's Will Is Done

We used it in church last week. We will use it again this week...and probably next week. It isn't a required part of our worship, but I can't think of many times when we worship without it. I am talking about the Lord's Prayer. Two thousand years ago Jesus taught his disciples how to pray using the Lord's Prayer, and because we are his disciples too we continue to pray that prayer today.

There are seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer, but our text for today borrows from the language of one petition in particular, the third petition, which begins with the words: "Your will be done." When Christians pray those words, we mean them. We want God's will to be done, even if we aren't always sure what God's will is.

Does God want me to apply to this school or that school? Does God want me to be a doctor or a dentist or a truck driver? Does God want my family to move to a different house or a different state or does he want us to stay put? Sometimes we wish that he would, but God doesn't always tell us what to do. He wants us to honor him in everything we do, and when we do he promises that he will bless us.

There are some times, however, when God does take the decision out of our hands. There are some occasions when the Lord tells his people exactly what he wants them to do...like today's sermon text. Paul's inspired words leave no room for confusion, not for the Thessalonian Christians who lived in the first century, and not for Christians like us living in the twenty-first century. With clarity and conviction, Paul tells God's people how we can do God's will...


I. When we live joyfully
II. When we live prayerfully
III. When we live thankfully

As a whole Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is positive and uplifting, and so is the opening phrase of our text: "Be joyful always" (16). I'm confident that the Thessalonians were encouraged by Paul's words, but why were those words necessary? If these Christians needed to be told to be joyful, was there something that was threatening to rob them of their joy? The short answer is "yes."

This is how one Bible commentary explained the situation: "Believers in God's grace came under physical attack at Thessalonica. One of the main reasons for writing I Thessalonians may be summarized in a single word—persecution."

Persecution is what brought Paul to the city in the first place. After he had been beaten and thrown into prison in Philippi he traveled to Thessalonica. Persecution in Thessalonica forced Paul and his companions to move on to Berea sooner than they would have liked. And unfortunately for the Thessalonians the persecution didn't leave with them.

It was these Christians, young in the faith and being persecuted for their faith, who were on the receiving end of this letter and Paul's encouragement to be joyful. Really? Was he serious? How could he be serious? When things got tough, Paul got out of town. He left the Thessalonians to fend for themselves. He left them high and dry. What gave Paul the right to tell them what they should do or how they should feel?

It wasn't his right, and it wasn't his idea either. It was God's will. It was God's will for them "in Christ Jesus." "In Christ Jesus." That little phrase changes everything. That little phrase makes everything make sense. Their joy didn't come from prosperity or security. Jesus was the source of their joy. Because of Jesus, because of everything he had done for them, because of everything he meant to them, they could be joyful regardless of the circumstances, and in this case, in spite of their circumstances.

That leads to an interesting question: What does a joyful Christian look like? Is it someone who is always positive, someone whose glass is always half-full? Is a joyful Christian always smiling, or is it possible for joyful Christians to cry? A funeral is an occasion when Christians shed tears, and when they do we don't question the sincerity of their faith. We sympathize with them. We grieve with them. We mourn the loss of a loved one. But at least some of those tears are tears of joy, joy in knowing that our loss is heaven's gain, joy in knowing that our loved one is with the Lord, joy in knowing that we will see each other again.

It isn't always easy to see the Christian's joy on the outside, but it's there. It's in here. It's in our hearts because Jesus lives in our hearts. He gives us joy. He gives us peace. He has given us his Word and sacrament to strengthen us. He gives us the promise that he will protect us and provide for us. And in addition to all of those blessings, Paul reminds us of one more: it is our privilege to go to God in prayer.

"Pray continually" (17). Praying continually doesn't mean that your hands have to be folded all the time. It doesn't mean that you have to be mouthing prayers from the moment you wake up in the morning until you drift off to sleep at night. It means that prayer permeates our lives. We pray in the morning and in the evening. We pray before and after meals. We pray in church. We pray at home. We pray when we everything is going well. We pray when nothing is going right.

According to Paul, prayer isn't just a good idea. Prayer isn't an ace that Christians keep up their sleeve until they need it. It's a divine command. "Pray continually...for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (17,18b). If prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian (as someone has said), are you in the pink of health, or are you on spiritual life support? Do you pray "continually," or would the phrase be more accurate if you inserted a different word to describe your prayer life, maybe "occasionally" or "sporadically"?

Most Christians will nod their heads and agree that prayer is important, but I wonder if we fully grasp how serious it is when we fail to pray. God tells us to call upon him in the day of trouble, to cast all our anxieties on him. God commands that we pray to him, so what are we saying to God when we don't?

If you give someone you love a Christmas present, and that person takes the gift and puts it off to the side and pretends that it isn't there, how would you feel? Wouldn't you be hurt? Wouldn't you have a right to be upset? Now think about how God must feel when he gives us the precious gift of prayer and we ignore it? How should he feel about us? What should he do to us?

I think we know what God should do to us. He should take away the gift of prayer. He should take away every good thing he has given us and give us the punishment we deserve. He shouldn't give us any more chances. He shouldn't listen to our cries for mercy.

Believe it or not, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. God the Father doesn't have to listen us...as long as he listens to his Son. Jesus did pray continually. Jesus offered up nothing but perfect prayers. Jesus prayed on our behalf: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). On the cross Jesus prayed for our forgiveness. On the cross Jesus earned our forgiveness. He broke down the barrier of sin that separated us from God. He opened up the lines of communication between sinners and a sinless God. Jesus is the reason we have the right to pray in the first place. That is why we pray so many of our prayers in Jesus' name. And that is why so many of our prayers are prayers of thanksgiving.

"Give thanks in all circumstances" (18a). We don't know what form the persecution took in Thessalonica. We don't know if it was verbal or physical. We don't know if these Christians were losing their homes or their lives. But no matter what happened to them, they still had reason to be thankful. Even if they lost their homes, they still had a home waiting for them in heaven. Even if they lost their lives, they had the hope of eternal life.

If you wish you knew more about the Thessalonians, if you wish you had additional details about them, if you are having a hard time relating to them, maybe you will appreciate another example, a modern example of Christians who found a way to give thanks regardless of their circumstances. If you have ever read a book called The Hiding Place, you are familiar with a woman by the name of Corrie ten Boom. She and her sister Betsie were sent to a Nazi concentration camp for harboring Jewish refugees during World War II.

The sisters had somehow smuggled a Bible into the camp, and they knew that if they were found with it they would be executed. But as the days and weeks passed, nothing happened. The armed guards didn't find the Bible. The guards didn't even come near their bunks. Later the sisters discovered that the soldiers stayed away because their room was infested with fleas, and so they decided that it was only appropriate that they should thank God for them.

When was the last time you thanked God for fleas? When was the last time you thanked God for the not-so-pleasant things in your life? It's easy to give thanks for our blessings. It makes sense to thank the Lord for the good things he gives us. But God wants our thankfulness to go beyond that. It is God's will that we give him thanks in all circumstances.

By God's grace and with God's help we can do that. Christians can give thanks in everything because we trust him in everything. We know (and in a few moments we will sing) that the will of God is always best. God will never forsake us. God promises that he will make all things work out for our good. There is no doubt that God will meet our every need because "in Christ Jesus" he has met our greatest need.

On the third Sunday in Advent we light three candles on the Advent wreath: the Prophecy candle, the Bethlehem candle and the Shepherds candle. Those candles symbolize the men who prophesied that the Savior would be born and the place where the Savior would be born and the first people to share the good news that the Savior had been born, but just for today I would like you to associate them with something else.

When you look at those candles, I want you to remember the words of our text. I want you to take to heart Paul's words of encouragement. And I want you to remember these three ways you can honor your coming King. God is glorified, and God's will is done in your life when you live joyfully, when you live prayerfully and when you live thankfully. Amen.

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