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Thanksgiving Sermon (Thanksgiving in Everything) November 23, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in First Thessalonians, Religion, Sermons, Thanksgiving.
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THANKFUL IN EVERYTHING (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)

Professor John Grassmick of Dallas Seminary has called the sixteen short commands found in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 “16 exercises for body building.” Ray Pritchard calls them “Christian Aerobics.” What we want to do this morning is look at a few of these and understand what it is that God has commanded us to do that builds us up spiritually, that make us spiritually fit.

Since it is the thanksgiving season, we are going to focus on the last eight, which are centered around the command to be thankful and on how that these things are God’s will for our lives.

God’s will affects how we spend our time (verses 16-17). In other words, God wants us to spend our time developing certain spiritual habits.

We are to spend our time rejoicing (verse 16). This is a command that touches two areas of our life: how we feel and when we feel it. We are to make it a habit of our life to rejoice. This verse and none of these verses imply that we 24-7 are to be doing something but all of these commands are intended to be habits that we are to integrate into our lives. Now this is very important. I do not always feel like rejoicing but I am commanded to make it a habit of my life to rejoice. I am glad though that I am not alone in this. Paul tells in 2 Corinthians 6:4, 10a how that habitually rejoicing even during extended sorrow is not only possible but it is also a characteristic of someone who ministers to others.

How do you make rejoicing a habit? First, of all you need something to rejoice in. Twice Jesus commanded his disciples to rejoice and he told them why they should rejoice.

In Luke 10:20 we find that Jesus wants us to be thankful for who we are and not for any spiritual gift that we may have. Jesus sent out seventy men to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come to earth. These men are able to exceed expectations. In verse 9 when Jesus sent them out, he commanded them to heal the sick. When they return in verse 17 to report to Jesus on their work they are rejoicing because they have not only been able to preach and heal but they have been given power to cast out demons. They are not, however, to rejoice in this but rather that their name is written in heaven (verse 20).

In other words, first and foremost of importance is not your spiritual gifts but rather your spiritual relationship to God. The problem in this world is that most people don’t know how to become a child of God. The do not understand that they must receive Christ. They must accept as the word of God the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.

After you have become a child of God, there is a second reason why you can rejoice. Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:12 that we should rejoice because even when we are persecuted, we can look forward to a great reward in heaven. Our rejoicing is based on heavenly things not on earthly things.

Now after you know what it is that you should be rejoicing in, how do you make that a daily and a nightly habit? The answer is in verses 17-18a…

We are to spend our time praying and thanking God (verse 17-18a). Now this is not a new concept to us. In Philippians 4:4-7, a few months ago we saw that focusing on prayer and thanksgiving will produce a life that habitually rejoices in God. In this case we see that one good habit produces another. If you want to rejoice, habitual prayer and thanksgiving will produce the habit of rejoicing. You see praying without ceasing does not mean always having the spirit and attitude of prayer. I think we should always have the spirit and attitude of prayer. That is very commendable but the command here is pray habitually – pray repeatedly and often. In Romans 1:9 Paul tells the Romans, I pray for you without ceasing. Certainly, Paul does not mean, “I do not pray for anyone else” but rather, I pray for you often, over and over again I pray for you.

Prayer and thanksgiving are spiritual habits and they are the most basic of spiritual habits. It is easy for us to make excuses to neglect these spiritual habits but if we do we will be spiritually weak. For years I made the excuse that I really did not need to have a specific time of prayer because I prayed all through the day and was always in a spirit of prayer. When, however, God began to work in my life and teach me to pray, it was then that I first realized how spiritually flabby I was. I dressed well spiritually and thought that I covered up my weakness well but God was not fooled and those who knew me best were not fooled. I needed, just as you need, as time of spiritual prayer and thanksgiving.

God’s will affects how we make our decisions (verses 19-20). It is possible for us to be in the habit of making wrong decisions. God wants us to break that habit. Verses 19-20 tells us how to break the habit of making wrong decisions spiritually.

We are to listen to the Spirit (verse 19). Now your outline has the phrase, “walk in the Spirit.” This is certainly part of breaking the habit of making wrong decisions spiritually but as we look at the verse, we realize that we are looking at something more basic than living the spiritual life. We are talking about listening to the Spirit. We are talking about being sensitive to what God is wanting to do in our lives. You see, the Spirit of God is always working and He wants to change us, to shape us, to transform us into spiritually strong believers but He cannot do it if we are not willing to listen. When I coached junior high basketball in Germany, I had a number of fellows of various skill levels who played for me. There were times when a player would begin exhibiting a bad habit in their play. During practice I would spend extra time with them, trying to show them what they needed to do, giving them extra practice to break those bad habits and instill new ones. Sometimes a kid would decide that he did not want to do what I said. He would hear what I would say but he would not listen and every time that happened the kid not only persisted in his bad habit but eventually ended up sitting on the bench because of the danger of that bad habit costing us the game. In the same way it is necessary that we listen to the Spirit of God. How do we do this?

By obeying God’s revealed will in His Word (verse 20). The text says do not despise prophecies. There actually two possibilities for meaning in this command. It could mean do not despise the spiritual gift of prophecy. However, based on the surrounding commandments, I believe the second possible meaning fits much better in the context. Do not despise the Word of God. Remember, most of the New Testament had not been written. These people lived in a day when prophecy was both common and necessary because the New Testament had hardly been begun much less completed. Paul wanted them to realize that they were responsible to obey prophecy.

Now what is prophecy. Prophecy in the Bible is not foretelling the future although it might include that. It is also not simply preaching and explaining the word of God. Prophecy is God’s will revealed to a human who then tells others what God has said. Now the last chapter of Revelation indicates that there is no more prophecy. God has closed for now the giving of His Word to others. But we have in the Old and New Testaments God’s revealed will and if you are going to be spiritually fit, you must read and endeavor to understand God’s Word. If prayer is the treadmill of spiritual exercise, God’s Word is the spiritual diet plan that God has given us to guarantee that we will be spiritually nourished. Both are equally necessary.

God’s will affects how we evaluate our environment (verses 21-22). We do not live carelessly (verse 21a). Now this grows out of the first two areas of spiritual training. When one is in the game it is necessary for the player to understand the situation he is in, to evaluate what should be done. These three commands tell us that we need to establish not only good practice habits but also good game habits.

Stay awake during the game. There is no time to rest. Now the word actually means to look at something that is genuine and probably refers back to these prophecies that are supposedly from God and the fact that these people need to carefully evaluate what is true and what is not. We need to do the same. We need to be very careful and evaluate everyone who claims to speak for God, to hear from God, or to explain what is in the Word of God, evaluate whether what they say is true.

When you find something that works, that is, truth, use it, apply it! Put your mark on it. People need to know that you live by God’s Word and not by your own wisdom or the wisdom of some man but by the Word of God.

When you find something that is false, that is evil, let it alone. Paul said in 2 Corinthians that we need to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Pay attention to what you read and listen to and watch and participate in and when you find evil, let it go, leave it alone.

This is an important part of our basic regimen of living God’s will. It especially, however, impacts how we give thanks (verse 18). “In everything” implies during every situation, with every difficult decision, and within the most evil of environments we can be thankful. Why? Because God is good to us. We do not deserve to be able to rejoice. We do not deserve to be able to pray to God. We do not deserve the Holy Spirit living within us, working in our lives. We do not deserve the will of God revealed to us through the Word of God. We do not deserve the privilege of discerning between what is right and wrong. But God has given us all of these spiritual blessings and we can in respect to every situation and in every circumstance and at all times be thankful to God.

Let me remind you again of the basis of all this, becoming a child of God, a son of God. That is you must trust Christ as your Savior as the only way to be saved from your sin. Without Christ you cannot rejoice because your future is bleak. Your prayers and thanksgiving, no matter how sincere cannot deepen a relationship that you do not have. You cannot listen to the Spirit of God because He does not live within you. You cannot respond to God’s Word properly because you are already in rebellion against God’s Word because you have not accepted Christ as Savior. And you cannot properly evaluate spiritual things because you are spiritually dead. In other words, you cannot exercise spiritually until you are living spiritually. You must be born again!

Next Week: Genesis 3:14-15; THE FIRST MENTION OF CHRISTMAS

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