Give Great Thanks

Pastor Rudy Olivo

I have had in my life the same conversation with multiple men about how each views Thanksgiving versus Christmas. The conversations generally go like this: “I like Thanksgiving so much better because there is no stress of buying a perfect gift, no need to decorate my place with lights, and (if they have kids), no need to put together a bunch of toys. At Thanksgiving I can eat, sit back, relax, maybe watch some football, kind of do nothing, and you know, just give thanks.”

This line of thinking has always struck me for multiple reasons. First, its interesting to me that I’ve heard it from such different places… The guys who have spoken it don’t know each other. Second, it seems these guys are finding a way to eat a great Thanksgiving meal, yet they do nothing in the process. No watching kids, no taking dishes to the sink, no setting up tables/chairs or smoking turkeys, nothing. Third and most importantly, the thing that really hangs with me is that these guys believe they can do nothing while living in gluttony and that somehow equals what great thanks is all about.

This morning as we engage Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we are going to challenge this Butterball American world view that great thanks happens only when others serve us, when little is expected of us, and when we consume until we pop. Paul’s letter serves as a guide to the only way to true great thanks, which is by way of right relationship.

As we read this passage we’ll uncover the recipe for right relationship with others, with circumstance, with the spiritual realm, and with God:

12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil. 23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 NRSV

You see, in order to live this life of great thanks, the first kind of right relationship Paul calls us to is a right relationship with other people. Paul reminds us in verses 12-14 that we should find people we love and respect enough to ask, allow, even hope they’ll speak into our lives and when they admonish us, hold them in high regard. Likewise, we are to be in close enough relationship with others that we can do the same for them. We are to warn others when they are at risk, encourage them when downhearted, and so forth. And all of this must be done with utmost patience. We are talking about human beings after all!

In verse 15 Paul instructs that no one pay back wrong for wrong; rather that Christians do good for each other and for who? “And to all” (v.15) For us as Christians, our job is to always do good to all. Even those people who do not believe the same things we do. But there’s an important distinction for how we are to interact with non-Christians: We do not have the same level of holding them accountable for every one of their actions like we do for others in the Christian community. We are called to go to them and bring the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that every one of us is a sinner, that Christ loves them, and we are to show love in that way. And then if they come into relationship with Christ and are walking with us, then we hold one another accountable. That’s the way we get into right relationship with others. This is a marker of what great thanksgiving is.     

When we’re living in right relationship with others it helps us with the second kind of relationship Paul writes about: our relationship with our circumstances. Verses 16-18 are the quintessential church answers to difficulty, right? Maybe you’ve been in a hard place and someone has dropped these verses on you and you’ve been like, “Yeah, thanks. Very helpful.” In that moment, when your car has been repossessed or you’ve lost your job, your home, a family member or whatever the case may be, it can be hard not to just throw up your hands and say, “REALLY!?!?”

I don’t know about you but I’ve struggled in life. In the deepest, darkest valleys of my life, when I have been able to grab hold of the truth – that rejoicing always does not mean that tragedy is not real – it has taken me from the dark place, and has been the mechanism by which God has taken me from sorrow to joy. So this is what I want you to hold on to: If life is rough and you don’t want to rejoice, I’m not asking you to say that life is not painful. I’m not asking you to say that you don’t have valid hurts in your life. Rather I am asking you to grab hold of one or two or three little events in your life, every day, every week, every month, that say, “I’m here for a reason and I can overcome this.” And not only, “I’m here for a reason” but “This God who put me here for a reason is walking along with me and He will empower me to overcome this.”

And this is what rejoicing always is all about. When we do those things and we grab hold of the truth, it gives our souls the simple message: Evil won’t win. We all need to tell the darkness over and over again that “there is light and it’s coming to get me.”    

To be people of great thanks we must also be in right relationship with the spiritual realm. Verse 19 tells us that the Holy Spirit is always at work. We need to let him work and not quench him. In verse 20-21 we’re told that prophecies speak God’s truth into our lives and that if something seems wacky we should test it. Verse 22 instructs us to reject evil. To sum all this up: There is good and evil in our world in ways seen and unseen. If we don’t acknowledge this, evil has the foothold. If we do and seek God, through the Holy Spirit, all we have to do is hold on. That holding on to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, keeps us in right relationship with the fourth and final relationship Paul writes about: our relationship with God.

As we think of our relationship with God, it’s appropriate that we understand who is the primary actor in the last two verses of this Scripture: God. He is the one making us sound (complete) and blameless. God is faithful. God will do it. Hear that? God is at work, not us.

You see, we can’t will ourselves to great thanks, but we can be in right relationship with God, with the spiritual world, with our circumstances, and with the people around us. When we give ourselves in commitment to these right relationships what flows out is true thanksgiving.