Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1141 MP3 Audio File Video File

Rejoicing, Praying, and Giving Thanks

(1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Delivered 11/13/22

Good morning, Bereans. We are continuing our study of 1 Thessalonians this morning. We have spent the last two weeks looking at the idea that all Christians are called to be disciples and called to live in obedience to His commands. We are to abide in Him, commune with Him. We took that two-week detour because the commands we are looking at in this closing part of 1 Thessalonians are impossible to keep apart from dependence upon the Spirit of God. It takes supernatural power to live like this. All of God’s commandments in the Bible are beyond our ability to obey in the flesh, so we must walk in the Spirit. We are called to walk supernaturally.

To see just how high of a calling we have look at what Paul said to the Ephesians.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1 ESV

"Be imitators of God"—"be" is a present imperative and has the idea "to become." They are to develop continuously into imitators of Yahweh. The Greek word for "imitator" is mimetes, the word from which we get our English word "mimic" (to mimic or to copy something). What it denotes is an actor who spends time and energy in studying a character with the view to reproducing it.

"Be imitators of Yahweh" is a command. The constant call to the Christian is to be like Yahweh. It is Yahweh's purpose that each of us reflect the image of our Father.

Now there are things about Yahweh we cannot imitate. Theologians call these "Yahweh's incommunicable attributes." Yahweh's self-sufficiency, sovereignty, omnipresent, and omnipotence belong only to Him. But Yahweh has so many other attributes to mimic! Theologians call these "Yahweh's communicable attributes." It is these we are to imitate: His love, mercy, justice, longsuffering, and grace are to be evident in our lives. Paul teaches us to imitate Yahweh by demonstrating the same kind of love which He has given to us. The entire Christian life could be summed up as a life of imitating Yahweh as beloved children as we walk in love.

If we are going to imitate someone, what is the prerequisite? You have to know that person well. You cannot imitate someone whom you do not know. To know Yahweh, we must understand who He is as revealed in His Word.

Yahweh has revealed Himself to us through His Word, the Bible. It is crucial that we come to know Yahweh as He has revealed Himself and not Yahweh as our culture portrays Him or Yahweh as we would like Him to be. So, we must learn of Yahweh and His ways through Yahweh's written revelation to us. And we must submit to Yahweh as He is revealed in the Bible.

This means that the more you know Yahweh, the more you know what you're to be. So, what is the primary pursuit then of any believer? To know Yahweh. If we are to be like Yahweh, we must know what Yahweh is like; and if we are to know what Yahweh is like, we've got to study Yahweh's character. To accomplish that, we study the Bible where we see Yahweh's character. By the way, the whole Bible is the Revelation of Yahweh. It's Yahweh's self-disclosure. We must be diligent to spend consistent time alone with Him. There are no shortcuts!

To say the least, the Christian life is not easy and it’s not natural. It’s supernatural. And it can only be lived in dependence on the Spirit.

In this closing section of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is giving instructions to the believers. He tells them how they are to treat their leaders, and then how they are to treat one another. But now he comes to a new relationship. The relationship of believers with their Lord. Beginning in verse 16 and down through verse 22, Paul gives a series of exhortations that deal with the believer's inner life, our relationship to Yahweh Himself.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Yeshua for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

If Paul had said, "Rejoice a lot, pray often, and try to be thankful," I maybe could contend that I can do that. But that is not what he said. I must cry out, "Lord, help me to live out these commands and bring glory to you."

John Stott argues that these commands are not directed to us individually but rather to the church regarding public worship. He says that joy and happiness are not at our command to turn "on and off like a tap." (The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 124)

He’s right. We can’t turn this on and off in our flesh, but these will manifest when we are walking in the Spirit. And if we are not doing these things individually day to day, how are we supposed to do them when we gather together? All these things are the duties of Christians whether done corporately when the church body is assembled or done individually. This is how we are to live at all times and in all places.

Rejoice always, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 ESV

The word, "rejoice," here is chairō which means to be full of "cheer." This is a present active imperative; it is a command. In the Greek, it says "Always rejoice." And the emphasis is on the adverb: at all times, be rejoicing. This is one of approximately 70 New Testament commands to rejoice. "Always rejoice" is the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament. But the shortest verse in the English New Testament is "Yeshua wept" (John 11:35).

Remember the context here. He is not writing to believers who are on vacation in the Florida Keys enjoying life to the fullest. He is writing this to new believers who were suffering persecution because of their faith.

that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 ESV

Paul has already noted the joy the Thessalonians experienced, even in the face of suffering.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV

These believers were imitating the Lord; they were rejoicing in the midst of suffering. And this command to "always rejoice" follows Paul’s exhortation that we should not get even when someone mistreats us. Probably Paul had in mind the words of Yeshua which he then taught them.

"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 ESV

"Rejoice and be glad" are present imperatives! Christ is commanding (imperative mood) them to be continually rejoicing (present tense) and being glad. And the Lord’s disciples did just that—they rejoiced in their suffering. Let me assure you that their reaction did not come from their own natures. God, by His grace, enabled them to rejoice. Acts 5 describes the disciples’ suffering.

and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Yeshua, and let them go. Acts 5:40 ESV

The disciples manifested God's character in that they preached the message of Christ and suffered for it by receiving a flogging. Notice their response.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Acts 5:41 ESV

These men were rejoicing. Yeshua told them in Matthew 5:12 to rejoice! The disciples left after their beating in Acts 5 and went on their way rejoicing. Why? Because they liked to be beaten? No! Not at all. They were rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ.

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Yeshua. Acts 5:42 ESV

What a tremendous example! The early disciples proclaimed Christ and suffered for it, yet they kept on rejoicing.

James told the believers the same thing that their Lord had told them.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3 ESV

So, given their difficult circumstances, this command to rejoice always has to be viewed not primarily as a matter of feelings but rather of obedience. But remember that  "rejoicing always" doesn’t mean that you always go around with a smile on your face and an upbeat attitude. If "rejoicing always" means always being upbeat and never feeling sadness, then we have a problem because neither Yeshua nor Paul were always happy. When Yeshua faced the cross, the author of Hebrews said.

In the days of his flesh, Yeshua offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Hebrews 5:7 ESV

That doesn’t sound like rejoicing. Paul describes himself this way.

as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 ESV

So, he was sorrowful and yet rejoicing. Then in Romans he says the following:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Romans 12:15 ESV

He does not say, "Exhort those who weep to stop it and rejoice!" Rejoicing, then, is not about how you feel. I think that Paul helps us understand how to rejoice always by what he said to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4 ESV

"Rejoice" and "always" are the same Greek words as in our text. Notice that it doesn't say, "Rejoice in your circumstances." This is significant because you can't always do that. It says, "Rejoice in the Lord." Now, that I can always do. I don't always like the way things are going and if I'm going to rejoice always, it must be in the Lord. I can't always rejoice in people—they come and go. I can't always rejoice in my circumstances—they are constantly changing, and often I don't particularly like them. But I can always rejoice in the Lord because He's constant!

You show me a person rejoicing in the midst of conflict, and I'll show you someone who knows God. For example, Paul, in Acts 16, has been beaten and put in the inner prison in stocks for preaching the gospel. Notice his response.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, Acts 16:25 ESV

Can you in the slightest way relate to that? They are not rejoicing in their circumstances but in their God who controls all circumstances. If you know God, really know him, it will always be easy to rejoice in Him.

To rejoice always means that we must make this deliberate choice to focus on the Lord and the unfathomable riches that we have in Him and not on our difficult circumstances. A Christian’s joy is not a natural joy that ebbs and flows according to the circumstances that surround us. It is a supernatural joy that comes from God and is rooted in our relationship with him. It is a joy that fills our hearts even in the midst of persecution.

What are we to rejoice about? Let me give you a few things. We can always rejoice in who Yahweh is. We could pick out many attributes of God that we are to rejoice in but the attribute of God that comforts and strengthens me the most in trials is the sovereignty of God. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe who controls all things. When King Uzziah died, Isaiah found his comfort in the fact that God was still on the throne.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1 ESV

Israel's earthly ruler had died but their sovereign God was still in control.

You can't steal my joy when I realize that my loving Heavenly Father is in charge of everything and, therefore, every circumstance is in his control. Nothing happens outside his control. Nothing! And furthermore, he controls it all for my good.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV

Sometimes I don't always like what's good for me, but I can always rejoice in my God. God loves us and He is on our side. We can always rejoice in who He is.

Another thing that we can rejoice in is our election.

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Luke 10:19 ESV

It would be a cause of great joy to have power over our enemies and to be unable to be hurt in the battle. But notice what Yeshua says next.

Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."  Luke 10:20 ESV

Yeshua told his disciples to rejoice in their election. Many people today get upset about the doctrine of election, but Yeshua said election should bring us joy. Our names are written in the Lamb's book of life, and no matter how tough things get down here, we can rejoice in the fact that we will spend eternity in heaven.

And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 ESV

If you have trusted Christ, you can rejoice that your name is written in the book of life. My salvation and eternal destiny are unshakeable. I will never be subject to the judgment of God because Christ has borne that for me. I can always rejoice that God has chosen me to be his child.

The church was unique in the fact that believers found joy in the midst of trial and persecution. But some felt that Stoicism, with its dispassionate indifference, somewhat approached this Christian ideal. Epictetus (2.19.24) exclaimed, "Show me a man who though sick is happy, though in danger is happy, though dying is happy, though condemned to exile is happy, though in disrepute is happy. Show him! By the gods, I would fain see a Stoic!" The joy of the Stoic was not rooted in religion nor based on hope but arose out of the separation of people from their passions and the belief in the uncontrollable nature of fate. The source of Christian joy was different. Christian joy, rooted in the gospel, is infused with hope and grows in relationship with the Lord.

If you are thinking, "That's impossible. We can’t always rejoice. What he's saying is impossible. It can't be done," you're right—from the human viewpoint. It is not natural. It is, however, supernatural joy. Galatians 5 states that part of the "fruit of the Spirit" is joy. Joy is a product of the Spirit-controlled life.

pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV

One thing is crystal clear from this verse: it is God's will that we pray. Sometimes we struggle to know the will of God for our lives. But there are some things when we do not have to struggle to know. One of them is that God's will is that we pray.

The word "pray" here is just the general word proseuchomai. It is the most common New Testament word for "pray." It could be praise, it could be thanks, it could be confession, it could be petition, it could be intercession, it could be submission, but it’s just "pray" in general.

Greek writers used the adverb adialeiptōs, translated here as "without ceasing," to describe a hacking cough. A person with a bad cough doesn’t cough continuously but rather often and repeatedly. It was also used of repeated military attacks. An army would attack a city but not succeed. They would regroup and attack over and over until they won the victory. So, "without ceasing" is a word that basically means recurring. It doesn’t mean non-stop talking; it means recurring prayer.

Adialeiptōs, "without ceasing," appears only four times in the New Testament (two other times in this letter and once in Romans). In each passage, it has to do with some aspect of prayer.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 ESV
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you. Romans 1:9 ESV

Adialeiptos is what grammarians call an iterative or customary present of what regularly occurs. It describes prayer as an attitude which regularly breaks forth throughout the day in the various aspects of prayer—confession, praise, thanksgiving, petition for others, and personal requests to God.

A good example of this is found in the text where Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the pagan King Artaxerxes, had been sad in the king’s presence. This was a serious offense and Nehemiah was afraid. He explained to the king that he was sad because his home city, Jerusalem, was desolate and destroyed.

Then the king said to me, "What are you requesting?" So, I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it." Nehemiah 2:4-5 ESV

Nehemiah silently prays to God and then spoke to the king. This would be a great habit to get into. Before talking, pray. I did this Monday as I walked into my doctor’s office.

What is prayer? The bottom line is: prayer is asking God for things. I know that we should come to God with more than asking. We should come with confession, thanksgiving, and praise. In a broad sense, prayer includes all that. But, speaking precisely, prayer is asking God for something.

There is a story about D. L. Moody’s making a visit to Scotland in the 1800s and opening one of his talks at a local grade school with this rhetorical question: What is prayer? To his amazement, hundreds of children's hands went up. So, he decided to call on a boy near the front, who promptly stood up and said, "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies." Anyone know how the boy came up with that answer? This is the answer to question #178 in the Westminster Catechism. Moody responded by saying, "Be thankful, son, that you were born in Scotland."

Be sure to notice the main thing: "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God." That is the main meaning of prayer. The assertions "with confession of sins" and with "thankful acknowledgment of His mercies" go along with the expressed desires. But the essence of prayer is the expression of our dependence on God through requests.

Now think about this for a moment. God's will is that we, his creatures, ask Him for things. And it is not just His will; it is His delight.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. Proverbs 15:8 ESV

Acceptable here is a rather weak translation. The Hebrew word here is râtsôn which is better translated as delight. Most translations translate this as delight.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah, And the prayer of the upright is His delight. Proverbs 15:8 YLT

If prayer is asking God for things, and He delights in our prayer, then God loves to be asked for things. But why does Yahweh delight in our prayers? I think that it is because prayer is an act of dependance. It is an opportunity to express our devotion to Yahweh and our dependence upon Him. It is an act of dedicating ourselves, saying, "Yahweh, I need You." The biggest reason we don't pray is that we don't feel a dependence upon God. If this is true, and it is, then we must admit that prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency. To not pray is to say to Yahweh, "I don’t need you!" We think we can do it ourselves. Ever since Adam and Eve, man has vastly overestimated his ability. Therefore, we think, "I don't need to pray, because this is something I just do." Our biggest problem is admitting we need God's help. You have to be honest with God by declaing, "I admit I am inadequate. I am helpless. I need Your help in this situation."

As long as you think you're self-sufficient, prayer can have no meaning for you. You think you've got it all together. Prayer is an act of dependence that is expressed as "Yahweh, I admit I have a need. I need Your help in my life." Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon Yahweh. It's our way of saying to Yahweh, "I need your help, I can't do this myself." And Yahweh is glorified in man's dependence.

So, let me ask you, "Do you pray? Or are you so self-sufficient that you don't need Yahweh's help in your life?" Paul had a prayer list for the Church—shouldn't we? From Genesis through Revelation, we find believers praying to the Lord. Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel offer wonderful examples of believers bringing needs and praises before Yahweh. They did so consistently, even if it meant personal peril. Prayer was a priority for them. We can surmise that one of the critical reasons for their deep spirituality was that prayer had a place of priority in their lives.

The same is true in the New Testament. We see that our Lord gave priority to prayer. We read through the book of Acts and find the early believers praying privately and corporately. Paul's Epistles are filled with examples of his own prayers, demonstrating that he gave priority to this spiritual discipline.

Prayer is vital to a believer's spiritual health. Prayer is a life priority; it connects me with Yahweh, and it connects me with Yahweh's provision for my life. The great preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, once wrote, "What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more." That is a very powerful statement.

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Yeshua for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

"Give thanks in all circumstances""give thanks"—is the Greek word eucharisteo which means "to be grateful, to express gratitude." This is another present active imperative; it is a command. That little phrase ("in all circumstances") in Greek is en panti which means in connection with everything that occurs. No exceptions, no excuses. Nothing is outside the parameters of "in everything give thanks." With everything in life give thanks, no matter what it might be.

Now you may question, "How can we be thankful for everything?" The answer is that we don’t give thanks for everything but rather in everything. We recognize God’s sovereign hand is in charge and not blind fate or chance. Let me tell you a story that will help you understand this. Corrie Ten Boom, in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident which taught her this principle.

She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet—Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop  complaining and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.

I'm sure that there are some "fleas" in your life, things you are not too happy about. But we are to have an attitude of thanksgiving because we never know how God is going to use those "fleas" for our good. Sadly, most of us are not thankful for the "fleas" in our lives.

How can we develop a habit of thankfulness to God in every situation? First, and most importantly, we must deepen our understanding of God’s sovereignty and goodness. Giving thanks for all things is an outrageous idea unless we have a deep, biblical theology of Yahweh's sovereign goodness. Should Jacob have been thankful over the loss of his two sons?

And Jacob their father said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me."  Genesis 42:36 ESV

Were all these things against him? No, all things were working together for his good. He couldn't see it, and he didn't understand it. He needed to trust in Yahweh.

Should Joseph have been thankful that his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery? Yes, because through it, Yahweh was working for all their good.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20 ESV

All that happened was for their preservation as Yahweh's people. Evil (e.g., being sold into slavery) is a part of the "all things" that Yahweh works together for good for His chosen ones (Rom. 8:28).

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!  Psalms 100:4 ESV

Why? Because we are to always enter God's presence with thanksgiving. William Hendriksen writes, "When a person prays without thanksgiving, he has clipped the wings of prayer so that it cannot rise." I believe that Paul teaches this in Philippians.

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 ESV

The words "with thanksgiving" in the Greek are meta eucharistia. Meta and the genitive means "with," but this is meta and the accusative. In this form, it never means "with" but rather means "after." After thanksgiving, make your request. What Paul is saying is instead of crying out to God in your difficulty with doubt, questioning, dissatisfaction, discontentment, or blaming God, cry out to Yahweh after a time of thanksgiving. Why? If you have a thankful heart your prayers will be right.

I'm convinced that the single greatest act of personal worship that you can render to Yahweh is to be thankful. Job said:

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."  Job 1:21 ESV

In other words, I thank You, Yahweh, when you give, and I thank You when you take away.

The Spirit-filled Christian is evident by his on-going thanksgiving expressed in the name of Christ to the Father. Such thanksgiving not only recognizes the existence of Yahweh but also His sovereign involvement in the life of the believer. It recognizes that all that happens in the believer's life is from Yahweh, that every good and perfect gift is from Him (James 1:17), and that even suffering is a gift (Philippians 1:29) which comes from God for our good and for His glory (see Romans 5:3-5; 8:28). It recognizes and responds with thanksgiving for God's gracious involvement in our lives as the result of His fathomless wisdom.

And so, in everything that happens to me, I give thanks because God is controlling those happenings and is governing my life. In summary, I give thanks because He loves me, because He's in control, because He is guiding the things of my life, and because He's going to work out His good eternal plan and purposes in me.

After each one of these exhortations (rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances), we are told to do this because it is the will of God.

"For this is the will of God in Christ Yeshua for you"—virtually all commentators agree that "this" refers to the previous three commands and not just to the third. Rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks are always God’s will for you in Christ Yeshua.

When the Bible talks about God's will, it can be referring to one of two things: God's sovereign will or providence (His predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe) or His moral will (that which is revealed in the Bible that tells us how to live).

As we know, God's sovereign will is always carried out. His moral will, on the other hand, is not. Do all believers rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances? No, but it is God's moral will that they rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.

Believer, this is how we are called to live. If you want to know whether you are controlled with the Holy Spirit, then all you need to do is ask yourself, "Do I rejoice always? Do I constantly pray? And am I increasingly thankful?" And if the answer is "no," then you need to work on being controlled by the Spirit. Now the question is: How are we controlled by the Spirit? Ephesians 5:18 tells us to be controlled by the Spirit, and I believe how we do this is clear from this parallel passage in Colossians 3.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:16-18 ESV

The results are the same in both passages, and so I think it's safe to say that to be controlled by the Spirit, we must have Christ's Word dwelling in us. Paul tells the Colossians that they are to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly. "Dwell"—is from the present active imperative of enoikeo which means "to live in," or "to be at home." Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. As we study God's Word and submit to its teaching, the Spirit will empower and control our lives. Believers, we must be spending time in the Word of God in order to live as God has called us to.  

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