Duties Toward God

Having given several duties for leaders and the brethren to do toward each other and with regard to the church, Paul now gives several commands to be fulfilled by the saints at Thessalonica toward God. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Always Rejoice

Paul’s first commandment is for the brethren at Thessalonica to “rejoice always” (5:16). Paul gave a similar command to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Yet how can a Christian be happy when bad things happen to them for behaving like Christians. They were suffering persecution. Whereas happiness depends on happenstance, joy is not based on one’s circumstances in the world, but on one’s relationship to the Lord. Suffering in this life is inevitable. Being miserable is optional. Paul wrote about his life experience in serving God “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). When Paul and Silas were beaten and chained and put in the inner prison at Philippi they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). James wrote, “my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). True joy is able to transcend one’s troubles. True joy can have a positive inward up-look when the outlook is negative. True joy is more about attitude and expression instead of an emotional experience.

The world needs to see that living for Jesus is always and in everything a great joy. Atheist Friedreich Nietzsche said scornfully about Christians of his day, “I would believe in their savior if they looked a little more like people who have been saved.”

Never Stop Praying

The next commandment seems impossible: “pray without ceasing” (5:17). What is Paul demanding of us? Praying 24/7 three hundred and sixty five days out of the year. To answer the call some have redefined prayer to mean some sort of sub-conscious rambling of the mind to God on a continual basis. Yet nowhere in the Bible do we find evidence that this is what prayer means.

Other passages with similar commands about the prevalence of prayer in the life of a Christian might help. A widow indeed is one who “continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tim. 5:5). Paul has previously assured the Thessalonians that “night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face” (1 Thess. 3:10) and “we also thank God without ceasing” (1 Thess. 2:13). To the Romans Paul wrote that they should be “continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). Jesus spoke in a parable to His disciples “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). F. F. Bruce interprets it to mean “pray incessantly” (Bruce 124). Just as one who eats without ceasing does not mean they have food in the mouth all the time. Instead it means they never fast, they never miss a meal. A faithful child of God never misses an opportunity to talk to his Father. Prayer is a constant part of the Christian’s daily life.

In Everything Give Thanks

Christians are to pray at every opportunity and “in everything give thanks” (5:18a). Joy, gratitude, and prayer naturally go well together. Again it looks like Paul is making another impossible request of us. How is it that a Christian and be thankful for “everything”? Should one be thankful to God that the family who lived next door to them were all suddenly killed by a drunk driver on the highway? Note, Paul is not saying for us to thank God for everything but in everything give thanks. There is a big difference. For example, a little boy said he was not thankful for his poor eyesight. Yet he was thankful for his glasses. Not only did it enable him to see, but it kept the boys from fighting him and the girls from kissing him.

Do the Will of God

All three of the previous commands represent “the will of God in Christ Jesus” (5:18b). Paul is not talking about the will of God in general but the will of God that they always express joy, prayer, and gratitude.

– Daniel R. Vess

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