In the list of one-liners that Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we find that we are called to be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God.
Paul uses the inclusive word all. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be thankful in all circumstances. John MacArthur says, “Thankfulness should be the fabric of your life as a Christian.”
Being thankful to God is more than just saying thank you with your words; it is the attitude behind it. David wrote in the Psalms, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart” (Psalm 138:1).
Really, there is no excuse for the believer to be ungrateful. Yes, we will face hardships and trials. Yes, there are the realities of sin which we are not thankful for. What Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is that we as believers are called to be thankful in all circumstances, and even in tough circumstances we can be thankful.
How can we be thankful in all circumstances?
1) A heart that has been impacted by the gospel is a heart that gives thanks.
Being thankful is not just one for Thanksgiving once a year. Thankfulness is a reflection of a heart that has been transformed by Jesus Christ.
The gospel changes us. We are not the same. We are a new creation and the old has gone (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have received a new heart; the heart of stone has been removed and we’ve received a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). You were dead in your trespasses but as a believer you are made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). Because of Jesus Christ, we do not stand condemned for our sin but forgiven (Romans 8:1).
No matter what happens, no matter what circumstance we are facing, we can always be thankful because of the work done on the cross through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
2) We need to reflect and remember God’s goodness and sovereignty.
Paul writes that we have this special relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for us. He says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).
The word Abba is endearing. It is equivalent to us saying Daddy. I love being a father and I love when I come home and my children run out screaming, “Daddy’s home!” There is this closeness; they are my children and I am their father. They can run up to me and say, “Daddy!”
Because of Jesus we are adopted into the family of God, sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16). As sons and daughters, we see God as our Father (Daddy) and we know He is good and in charge.
Paul speaks of what Christ has done, how we are set free from the bondage of slavery (sin), and are free in Christ. We don’t understand what is going on in the world but we do know this: 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).
In this statement Paul points us to two things: God is good and He does good. What does good mean? Is it just the blessings and fruit when life is going well? No, even in the bad, God is still good. Even in the hardships, we know God is good. Even at the hands of evil, God can use all things for good and His glory.
I love the reminder that Corrie ten Boom shares in her book The Hiding Place. She and her sister Betsie were placed in Ravensbruck, the notorious concentration camp in northern Germany, because they were arrested for helping the Jews flee Holland during World War II. Eric Metaxes, in his book 7 Women, retells the story of when Corrie and her sister Betsie were placed in the horrific living conditions and barracks:
It was a foul-smelling barracks with overflowing toilets and no beds—just wooden structures on which they slept. The straw that was atop these structures was rancid and swarming with fleas.
Corrie was horrified but Betsie, as usual, responded with patience. She reminded Corrie of the Scripture they just read that morning, which was 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. Betsie urged Corrie to do what the Bible says and to give thanks to God for everything in the barrack, their secret Bible, for the fact that they were hemmed into a building that was designed for four hundred people but now housed 1400 and to even thank God for the fleas.
Corrie’s response to Betsie was, there is no way even God can make me grateful for a flea. As Betsie insisted, Corrie relented and they thanked God even for the fleas.
After their hard day at the concentration camp they would always hold worship service in their barracks. The guards were present but never came in to stop them from their worship service. Corrie and Betsie always wondered why they never got in trouble for having a worship service and it turns out the guards would never enter into the barracks because of the fleas.
Even the fleas were used for good despite the tough situation. God does show His love and goodness to us because He is a good Father who is in charge of every situation.
3) No matter how bad things may get, God’s love is everlasting.
At the end of Romans 8, Paul gives us the reminder that nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. He writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37–39).
What a great truth which motivates our gratitude; God’s love will never be separated from us. I can always be thankful because no one and nothing can rob me of His love that is found in Christ Jesus.
When we think about these truths, we can be thankful in all circumstances.