Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, for the 3rd Sunday in Advent 2020 (B), "The Will of God"
People beloved by God! Grace and peace to you!
I have often focused these last 6 months on themes of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. I sense it’s widespread today, and whether your anxiety and blood pressure rises with the news and ongoing pandemic, or someone who ignores the news but has enough trouble in your daily life alone—we need God’s constant reassurance that He’s with us and in control. Not unique to these times, we often wonder and pray after God’s will. We look at our personal situations and try to discern the future. What’s God doing in my life? What’s next for me? Where is this or that going? How do I know God’s will in all these things swirling around my life, big or small?
Well, I’ve got news for you today. I have the inside scoop on God’s will for your life. You want to know what God’s will is in all of this? We heard it loud and clear in 1 Thessalonians 5. God’s will for you in Christ Jesus is that you “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances!” Huh? I know that when you think of God’s will, you’re often imagining some personalized direction for your life. How to work through this issue. Where to live, who to marry, what’s the meaning of these big events swirling around our lives? What hidden plan links it all together?
While that may all be part of God’s hidden will, that is unknown and unseen to us, what God gives us here in our reading is His plain and open will. So all these things are happening in your life. You don’t know what to do or to make of it all? God’s will for you in Christ Jesus is “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances!” Always, continually, in all circumstances! Do you see an exception there? No! All the time! Even and especially when the hard stuff of life just isn’t going away. God is good, all the time, and it’s His continuing daily will for us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances!”. It makes me reflect on the times when we doubt just that, and we sinfully enter the mindset that God is only good when things are going smoothly and my way. Wrong! God is good all the time and He calls for our rejoicing, our prayers, and our thanksgiving, all the time!
You probably hears this and think: “Whoa! That just hits me like a baseball bat! That sounds like a lot of law! Here I am struggling and crying out to God, and He wants me to rejoice? Pray? Give thanks in all circumstances? What if I’m down in the depths, crushed, or just aimlessly wandering, searching for my purpose? This isn’t helping!” Well, if that feels like you, don’t despair, don’t tune out, because I’ve got good news for you. These instructions are especially given for the hard times in life. There’s no special need to remind us to rejoice or give thanks when all is well. Then it usually comes naturally. But hang on for some good news…
Yes, these words come as a command: to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Yes, that is God’s will. But what has God ever asked of us in His covenant of grace, that He has not supplied the means and the power for us to do? God most certainly can fill your heart with true joy, your lips and heart with continual prayers and thanksgiving! God is not commanding from us something that He cannot bring forth! He is not calling on our strength to supply what He knows we are too frail and weak in our flesh and our childlike faith to produce! The God of every good gift will richly supply us through Jesus Christ.
Let’s see how God does just that and can turn this into a living description of the new person we are made to be in Christ! First of all, notice in the following verses, how God shows the supply and positive gifts that you are connected to, and reminds you not to cut the connection. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” What source of God’s power and life are you joined to in Him? The Holy Spirit, the prophecies, the gift of discernment (telling good from evil, and choosing the good), the God of peace sanctifying you and making you blameless, and God’s faithful promise to finish what He called you to and what He started in you. That’s a pretty significant storehouse of resources that God freely gives you, and the very power God uses to turn you into the living description of one who “rejoices always, prays continually, and gives thanks in all circumstances!”
Zero in on one phrase for a moment: “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Be kept blameless…does that sound good to you? God is faithful, He will do it! You want to be blameless at the coming of Jesus, and God is the very One who has taken all your blame and shame and dark, fearful, and foreboding thoughts, and placed them upon Jesus. In the bleakest moments of the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not like He can’t relate. He relates more than you can even know!
It’s not like He only knows the cheery, bright and easy life where thanksgiving always rolls off your tongue because you always look, feel, and are blessed inside and out! He saw the darkest side of life and did not shun it! God will not shun you for bringing your grievances and complaints to Him! Don’t believe me? Just open the Psalms and start praying! Your lips will soon find the ancient laments of people who struggle just like you. “Pray continually”—through the good times and the bad. And God takes your blame in Christ Jesus, and He “give[s you] a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that [you] may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified!” What a trade! Shame, mourning, weakness for beauty, gladness, praise and strength!
Not only has Jesus been through it, but He does it FOR YOU!! And those two loaded Gospel words, FOR YOU are right there in the verse also. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus FOR YOU.” God is doing this FOR YOU in Christ Jesus. You don’t need to know His plan behind all the swirling events of life, and to figure out the next step or the purpose behind it all—you have enough to simply face life and live day by day rejoicing in His gifts, for you! As you are connected to all His gifts of grace and the life of the Spirit, that joy will well up in your heart, even in times of sadness. A deeper confidence and settled peace with God than some surface emotion. A joy rooted firmly in the Lord.
And your life of prayer, flows joyfully from God’s own ongoing prayers FOR YOU. Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit Himself prays for us when we don’t know how. Jesus intercedes for us eternally at God’s right hand. God is already moving in prayer FOR YOU, and “pray continually” is an invitation to join in and have your life and your needs uplifted into His loving plan and surrounded by His gracious supply for your life.
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” Sometimes the best way to learn the joy of obedience is simply by doing the right thing. On Thanksgiving Eve I talked about how researchers have shown the proven benefits of a thankful life. Increased health and emotional well-being, and decreased stress and illness. Don’t we need that very kind of resiliency in the face of today’s threats to our well-being? God’s tried and tested prescription is to give thanks in all circumstances. No exceptions. Doing the right thing, giving thanks, especially in the bad times is good training and discovery for the joy of obedience. We train ourselves to give thanks, not to pretend life is rosy and cheery, but to count our blessings even in rough times.
That can take a great deal of faith! Wonderful! God supplies that too! He is faithful, He will surely do it! Once again, we are under the covenant of grace. God does not ask of us something that He will not supply and produce in us. He is calling forth from us the very outworking of His grace. Surrender, defeat, is not an option! You are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. His work is happening in you, even if it seems hidden from your eyes. God is faithful and will supply faith to you abundantly through Jesus Christ. Because it’s all HIS WORK in you. It’s all FOR YOU, and there are no more beautiful gospel words. Is this gift for me?! Yes, it’s FOR YOU!
I hope I have shown enough to persuade you that the will of God in Christ Jesus FOR YOU, truly is joy! For He wants you to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.” It’s not a cruel joke mocking your struggles, because no one knew such cruelty and such struggle as our Lord. It’s not a cheery optimism that pretends life isn’t painful. He knew that as well. It’s God’s genuine invitation into living by His gifts, from His Holy Spirit to His keeping you blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. His will is for you to live in prayerful and thankful joy, and He’s already gladly working and doing that very thing FOR YOU. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it!” Amen!