"Really?" That's the standard reply to express incredulity, disbelief, amazement, astonishment, doubt, skepticism. Really? "Really? You're going to stand there and tell me the Longhorns are a Top Ten team?" "Really? You think Rebecca Black is a good singer?" And who after hearing out text from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 can not respond: "Really?" St. Paul says, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Really?
Isn't this a bit extreme? "In everything give thanks." Everything? Literally it's in "all things" plural. Paul's words admit of no exceptions. It's not a matter of counting your blessings as so many do this time of year. No it's counting not only that clear bill of health but that cloudy X-ray. It's counting your family problems along with the answers. It's giving thanks for the bane not just the blessing, the pain not just the pleasure, the sickness not just the health.
Why that's just plain crazy talk, isn't it? Don't forget that little word "in." Paul says "In everything give thanks." O come on! Many has been the time after the storm of sickness, sorrow, problem, or pain that I have seen the silver lining in the storm clouds, but in the midst of the storm. Come on; get real. Many a person has seen joy come in the morning, but while the weeping remained for the night there was nothing to do but hang on and hunker down. Many a person has seen time heal a wound and been thankful for the wound then, but who is able to be thankful in it?
I don't know who's capable; I just know God Almighty commands it. This is an imperative. "In all things you must give thanks." It's not only imperative; it's present active. This makes it a policy command. It must be a matter of policy for you to be thankful in everything. Really? How bizarre. It's policy for most everybody to be thankful in good times, in riches, in health and in happiness but in everything? This makes the whole command not situational. The NIV got this right. "Give thanks in all circumstances."
This is so weird. Thankfully, and I say that intentionally, thankfully the Lord explains Himself. "In all things you must give thanks, for because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Right here the Lord has saved us from a serious mistake. There are Christians who believe if you thank Jesus for whatever is going on in your life you will turn that curse into a blessing, that pain into a pleasure, that sadness into joy. And you know, the world believes this.
The 1940s song "Accentuate the Positive" has been sung for almost 70 years. It goes, "You've got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ Latch on to the affirmative." The song claims this is what Noah in the Ark and Jonah in the whale did. Thinking that thanking God for the negative turns it in to the positive is nothing but the myth that positive thinking is a power.
But that's not what God says. He says, "In everything you must give thanks, because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Whatever you're going through is because this is what God wills for you here and now. I know; I know. That's easy to say when it's success not failure, tears of joy not misery, health not sickness. But think about it; it takes no special grace of God, no faith at all, to thank God for the good, the happy, the blessed. It's a miracle; it's an indication of God's grace and His gift of faith when we thank Him for the bad, the unhappy, and even the accursed.
Furthermore, we're in more danger from abundance than we are scarcity. Scripture says that. Hosea 13:5, "When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me." Proverbs 30 prays not to be given riches "Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, Who is the Lord?'" Luther taught it too saying, "The most dangerous trial of all is when there is no trial, when everything is all right and running smoothly. That is when a man tends to forget God, to become too independent and put his time of prosperity to a wrong use" (LW, 44, 47). The pagan poets taught this too. Vergil, for example, said that the mind of man "knows not how to observe measure when upborne by prosperity" (Aeneid, X, 501f).
Still feel a little incredulous, don't you? Let's literally flesh Paul's words out. He says that in everything we must give thanks "Because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." The word "God" here doesn't have the article in Greek. That means quality not identity is being stressed. Paul says, "Because this is the will of Divinity or Deity for you." Kind of scary, huh? Unbelief finds comfort in the nameless one of a thousand names, the faceless one of a hundred faces, a Supreme Being without flesh and blood. And that comfort is there when the times are high, the tragedy is low, and skies are clear. But when the skies cloud, tragedy strikes, and times are a changing for the worse, you're back to trying to accentuate the positive.
Paul doesn't leave us there. He puts the will of Deity in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. This "in Christ Jesus" corresponds to "in all things" in the first sentence. We can give thanks in all things because for us Christians all things come to us by God's will in Christ Jesus. Put the face of Christ on whatever is in your life: the good, the bad, the ugly. Cloth with the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus the doctor's hand who gives you the bad report; the bosses hand giving you the pink slip; the hand of "fate" that others seek their comfort in.
Why? It was in Christ Jesus that God willed your eternal salvation. Think what that means. You were headed for hell as surely as I was. Our actions, words, and even thoughts of just this year deserve nothing but punishment here and in eternity. When Americans gather around their Thanksgiving tables, they are encouraged to look back at the past year for all they have to be thankful for. Never are they asked to consider what they deserve. What did my worrying which denies that God is powerful or loving enough to take care of me deserve? What did my lust, my greed, my pride, my despair and million other sins I've forgotten about deserve?
Are you convicted, condemned, sentenced to suffering now and damnation forever? Then hear this. God willed that Christ Jesus, after living the perfect life you can't, after never worrying, lusting, despairing, coveting, or boasting, God willed that Christ Jesus should endure the punishments you fear and rightly deserve. Outside of Christ Jesus all you have is a vengeful God who will certainly get you eventually and make you pay for every sin you ever committed, but in Christ Jesus God is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful to sinners. In Christ Jesus, God is more in love with you than you can imagine and more forgiving than you dare believe.
Maybe this will help your imagination and your faith. In the Greek text "for you" is last. That means it's emphatic. "In everything give thanks; because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." In Luther's explanation to the Words of Institution he says the most important words of Jesus are "for you." Those words he says "require all hearts to believe." Really? What about me? Yes everyone who hears this proclamation is to believe that in Christ, Deity wills only good things, i.e. only things that serve their eternal salvation, so all things can only bring thanks from us.
For you not only do the fields produce, the animals multiply, and the stars shine, but for you in Christ Jesus come painful, scary, twisting paths. Why? Because God wills to do more than feed you, cloth you, and make you happy in this life. God wills in Christ Jesus to save you for eternity. Look, if He was willing to give up His only beloved Son to Sin, to Death, and the Devil himself to save you what won't He do to save you? Look, if He said it's better to enter heaven with one eye, hand, or leg than hell with two, don't you think He's willing to put you through things where you might suffer that in order to get you to heaven?
But, but, I don't need that. How do you know? We have no problem believing we know best for our toddler, yet somehow we think God Almighty might not know best for His children. We have no problem believing we love our kids enough to only want what is best for them. How much more must the God who gave up His only Son love the ones He gave Him up for?
When one person says, "Really?" in disbelief what is the usual response if the other one is serious. "Really." So let's get real. Since the Greek word for thanksgiving was also used historically for Communion, we could translate eucharisteo here "In everything you must have a Communion service." I admit; this is stretching the translation but it's not stretching the point. In everything God brings in Christ Jesus, the Christian is to see a Communion service for you. How many different rooms have I brought Communion for many of you? Has there ever been a room I couldn't enter with the Eucharisteo with Thanksgiving? Was there every a place where I said there is too much sin, too much Death, too much Devil here to give thanks?
Once more this Thanksgiving you will bring your individual offerings and place them in the cornucopia; it means horn of plenty, and it's the traditional symbol for Thanksgiving. There are different Greek myths as to where it came from. One is that Zeus as an infant was given to the care of the daughters of a Cretan. They fed him with the milk of a goat. In thanks Zeus broke off one of the horns and gave it to them giving it the power of becoming filled with whatever the possessor might wish (Bulfinch's Mythology, Crown Pub, 1979, p176-9).
The Eucharist is the Christians', cornucopia, horn of plenty. It's filled with the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. He wills forgiveness, life, and salvation for you in the Body and Blood of Jesus in every situation. Having these you are empowered in every situation to give thanks. Really? Really. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thanksgiving Eve (20121121); I Thessalonians 5:18