I woke up early this morning with First Thessalonians 5:16-18 on my mind. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I got up and did some digging in the text. Here are some thoughts that may help shape this holiday in a Godward fashion. Bottom line? Simple. Be joyful, be prayerful, and be thankful.
These staccato exhortations by the apostle come embedded in a series of final instructions to the church at Thessalonica. Everything therein focuses on obligations for the church in community as a whole. Even the three verbs in v. 16-18 all have second person plural “we” subjects. So while I don’t think it wrong to apply commands (imperatives all) like rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the individual, personal life of the believer, Paul stresses in the text the necessity of the church gathered putting on these gospel graces. He’s adamant about this. It is the will of God for those of us who are connected to Christ Jesus by grace through faith. Corporate worship should consistently look like a joyful, prayerful, thankful affair. Do I hear an “Amen!” from the Hebrew poet (Psalm 95:1-2)? Absolutely.
The emphasis Paul puts on the need for consistency in these practices stands out big time in the Greek text. The present tense of the verbs conveys continuous, keep-on-doing-these-things, kind of action. As if that were not enough, Paul uses adverbs like “always” and “unceasingly” and the prepositional phrase “in all things.” And he places all three modifiers before each verb to punctuate the emphasis. ALWAYS rejoice, WITHOUT CEASING pray, IN EVERYTHING give thanks. He virtually dares us to miss the point. A gospel-shaped people gathered to worship King Jesus for who He is and all He has done should relentlessly manifest a joyful, prayerful, and thankful DNA from start to finish.
What embracing each of these graces looks like will have to wait for later posts. But one final consideration. The three intersect and overlap. Charles Spurgeon said it well:
When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have, and believingly pray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have, and in the prospect of what is yet to come. Those three texts are three companion pictures, representing the life of a true Christian, the central sketch is the connecting link between those on either side. These three precepts are an ornament of grace to every believer’s neck, wear them every one of you, for glory and for beauty; “Rejoice evermore;” “Pray without ceasing;” “in everything give thanks.”
When you get dressed today for your Thanksgiving celebration with whomever and wherever, make sure you put on your ornaments of grace. Wear them for glory and for beauty. And please don’t forget to do the same when Sunday rolls around and you head off to church for your Lord’s Day worship.