Some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Many are easy to grasp, but terribly difficult to do. One such command is a life-changer.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The command is clear. There are no qualifications. God tells us that it is his will that we give him thanks in all circumstances. Like the old marriage vows, we are to be grateful in better and worse, in sickness and health, in prosperity and adversity. And here is the stunning yet difficult truth: In all of our circumstances, the Lord is worthy of thanks.
A dear friend of mine reminded me of this verse recently. I was telling him about a hurt that I had experienced. I was discouraged. Yet, even as we talked, he was able to remind me of this call. Interestingly, he was not trying to counsel me, but was simply telling me an unrelated story. But the Lord used it to speak life into my heart.
How can God call us to give thanks in all circumstances? First, do not misinterpret the command. God is not saying that you have to give thanks for all circumstances. God is not telling you to be grateful for an insult received or an auto accident. No, God is telling us that, in all circumstances, we still have a reason for gratitude, a reason that rises to the level of an unquestionable biblical command.
Why would we give thanks in all circumstances? If you are alive, you have a reason to give thanks. If you are alive, you have not fallen under the ultimate, final, infinite wrath of God. If today is a day when you are not literally in hell, you have a reason to thank God. We deserve his wrath. Any moment he gives you without that wrath is grace.
If you are a Christian, you have an even greater reason to give God thanks. Salvation is a gift. If it is true that you are forgiven by God, you always have a reason to give him thanks. No matter how bad things get in your day-to-day, you have an eternity of joy set before you.
We also should remember that our hardships are tools that the Lord uses to sanctify us. If a person mistreats me, I should recall that there are lessons to learn even if I have been wronged. I can learn humility, as I do not deserve an easy life. I can learn dependence on God, as my hurts drive me to admit my inability. I can learn the grace of Jesus, as the nature of my sinful desires to wine or complain or fight back shows me my pride, my selfishness, my unwillingness to trust God. But my sins also help me magnify the grace of Christ. I see my failings, remember the perfect love and finished work of Jesus, and I can praise the Lord for grace.
As a Christian, I can give thanks because I know that God is sovereign. He is not defeated. His ultimate plans are not thwarted. He will use my circumstances to his glory. And his glory is the most important thing in the world, far more important than my comfort.
All these are true, but they do not make giving thanks easy. However, the command is still the command. I am learning that I must thank God in all circumstances. And, thankfully, as I do so, the Lord softens and works on my heart for his glory.