Eld Ko Swee Chay
The Will of God in Christ Jesus
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In our daily lives, from the moment we wake up in the morning till the time we sleep at night, we do and think of many things and make many decisions. Minus sleeping time, an adult will have 16 hours on average to do all kinds of things: eating, talking, thinking, studying, working and resting. How we spend our time and what occupies our mind - either things of the world or things of eternal value - is important. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians wrote: “16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18). In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul gives a similar exhortation: “4 Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Paul taught that in the midst of our daily busy and sometimes rather mundane routines, for our spiritual well-being and blessing it is the will of God in Christ Jesus that believers ought to exercise discipline and commit to do three things: 1) Rejoice evermore, 2) Pray without ceasing, 3) In every thing give thanks.
1. Rejoice evermore
First and foremost, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 commands us to “rejoice evermore”. This means we are to be joyful always, regardless of the circumstances we are in, either in sickness or in health, in prosperity or in poverty, in despair or in comfort. This is a spiritual joy. Because Jesus died and paid for our sins (Heb 5:7-9), we sinners saved by grace have this abundant life in Christ and the hope of eternal joy in heaven, a joy that is unspeakable and that money cannot buy.
It is remarkable for Paul, who had experienced incredible hardship and endured torture and suffering that most of us cannot even imagine (2 Cor 11:24-27), to still be able to say, “rejoice evermore”, “rejoice in the Lord always”. Being joyful always means that no matter what happens to us externally and physically, we have the confidence that God is faithful and in control of all things, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). He is working in and beyond the physical realms of our lives.
There are many things Christians can rejoice in. The words “rejoice”, “joy” and “rejoicing” appear many times in the Bible. Here are examples in the Bible on things to rejoice in:
Real joy comes from God. Jesus says “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." (John 15:11). Joy comes when we abide in Christ Jesus and keep His commandments; meaning we spend time in studying His Word and praying to Him.
2. Pray without ceasing
Secondly, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to “pray without ceasing”. The Greek word rendered “without ceasing” means “continually” (i.e. repeated frequently), rather than “continuously” (i.e. never stopping). This means frequent and regular prayers for a consistent prayer life. This means we are to pray at all times, including silent prayers in our heart throughout the day and during all waking hours daily regardless of the state and condition we are in.
As born-again Bible-believing Christians, we should pray always without fainting. Prayer is speaking and communing with our heavenly Father like a child talking to his earthly father, to do so with a total trusting and believing heart, and without barriers. Prayer is a privilege God has given to his blood-bought children. God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, except the prayer of salvation. Prayer is a means of grace for believers to seek God’s grace, face, favour and blessing, as well as to give thanks to God and praise Him for all that He has done in our lives and when our prayers are answered. Prayer is making known our desires to God. Not that God needs to be told of our wants and desires, for He is omniscient, He knows them before we tell Him. But He desires to hear from us to show our dependency on Him.
Prayer is not for man to hear, or to impress man, or to please man. Prayer is not about giving God a long list of requests, it is more than asking God for help to deal with difficulties or solve problems or asking God to give us things to satisfy our carnal lusts. Like a conversation between a child and his father, it is a two-way communication - while we speak with Him, we must also listen to what He says to us. Prayer is for our sakes to receive grace and blessing from God. Prayer is to ensure that God’s children realise their complete and utter dependence on God every moment of every day of his life, for without God we can do nothing. God does not want His children to go through life without depending on Him, for He desires to help them all the time and always. Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a great example of prayer. He prayed often and was not limited by time and place (Luke 6:12 and 22:44; Mark 1:35). He warned against hypocrisy, incoherence and long-windedness in prayer (Matt 6:5-8), but not against boldness and persistence.
Believers should know the importance of and experience the power of prayer. Through reading and meditating on God’s Word and prayer, we can draw nigh to God and maintain a close relationship with Him, to know and obey His Word and will and to do them. Even though we are commanded to pray without ceasing, yet many of us don't know how to do that, and a life of disciplined and sustained prayer can be a real struggle. Learning how to pray without ceasing is a life-long lesson.
The apostle Paul is probably one of the busiest people in his time and yet he was the one who encouraged believers to pray without ceasing. So really there is no excuse for not praying without ceasing. Daily there are many things that we could pray to God for: protection and spiritual growth for our family and loved ones, the salvation of our loved ones and friends who are still outside God’s kingdom, the ministries and leaders of the church, the spiritual and physical conditions and needs of church members, our country and government, our own physical and spiritual health - the list goes on.
We cannot spend all our time on our knees, but it is possible to have a prayerful frame of mind throughout the day in addition to regular prayers. This is built upon acknowledging our dependence on God, realising His presence in us, and determining to obey him fully. We then find it natural to pray frequent and spontaneous prayers. In school, pray for the ability to concentrate, mental capacity to understand and to remember the lesson; pray before tests and examinations for a clear and steady mind. At the workplace, pray for grace, strength, knowledge and faithfulness to perform our duties; pray before each meeting and teleconference; pray for wisdom to deal with difficult and unreasonable superiors and colleagues; pray for opportunities and courage to share the gospel with colleagues. At home, pray for family members and loved ones; pray for grace, strength and patience to do the household chores; pray for love and longsuffering to manage domestic helpers.
Learn to pray without ceasing and persevere on and experience the blessings that come with keeping our heart and mind on God all the time. The blessing is ours to receive. Prayer is to lean upon God and not on self. When we stop praying we lean on self and stop leaning on God.
3. In every thing give thanks
Thirdly, 1 Thessalonians 5:18a teaches us “in every thing give thanks” (c.f. Eph 5:20 and Phi 4:6). This means we are to be thankful and grateful for all things either good or adverse, and in every circumstance either pleasant or unpleasant. It will be clearly difficult and even impossible to obey this command unless and until we have a strong belief and great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as both omnipotent Creator and living Saviour. With this assurance, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) and therefore can give thanks in everything.
Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude or appreciation of God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things, the giver of life, the Author of eternal salvation, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The Bible is full of thanksgiving. In the OT, examples can be found in the book of Leviticus of offerings of thanksgiving, and in psalms of thanksgiving. Think of the wonderful testimony of Job. He could worship God and give thanks to Him even after losing all his possessions and ten children (Job 1). In the NT, the believer is never to pray without giving thanks (Phil 4:6, Col 4:2) for the things God has done for His people (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 2:14, 8:16, 9:15; 1 Tim 4:3-4). Often, we take things for granted and don’t bother to give thanks to God for the blessings and goodness we receive.
This command is to give thanks to God in every situation that we encounter. We give thanks for salvation grace which is so rich and free. We give thanks knowing God is reconciled with us in Christ Jesus and we are children of God. We give thanks for an infallible, inerrant, inspired and preserved Word of God. We give thanks for His grace, mercy and love. We give thanks for the church, pastor and the session. We give thanks for all the ministries and avenues to learn God’s Word and to have fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. We give thanks for family, loved ones and friends. We give thanks for food and raiment. We give thanks for health and strength. The list goes on.
A thankful heart is a heart that is grateful, joyful and at peace with God, and that remains thankful despite difficulties, circumstances, or life-changing/life-threatening health diagnosis. Quote: “Choosing to respond with gratitude in seasons of abundance and seasons of lack, leads to God’s grace being poured into our lives in incredible ways.”
Paul teaches that it is the will of God in Christ Jesus for believers to rejoice, keep praying, and give thanks. Believers often ignore or forget to obey these three commands amidst our busy lives. When we make a conscious decision and maintain discipline to do what God’s Word says, we begin to see life in a new perspective. When we know God’s Word and do God’s will, we will find it easier to be joyful always, to pray regularly and to be thankful in everything. We will be delighted to praise and thank God. We will be able to live in joy and peace with family members and loved ones. We will be able to show appreciation to others who render service to us. We will be able to forgive and forget people who hurt and wrong us. May God help each one of us to make it our aim and priority to be joyful, not forget or neglect to pray frequently and regularly, and be thankful in everything no matter what happens, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for a blessed life. AMEN.