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Scripture Memory Meditation | 1 Thessalonians 5:18

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Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CSB)

Many people regard Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church as one of his earliest letters. This short letter is best known for its treatment of the end times, though other significant pastoral matters are addressed. Still, the entire letter appears to address a fundamental confusion about the return of Christ and the nature of the end times. In their book, The New Testament and Its World, N. T. Wright and Michael Bird point out two main problems resulting from this confusion: anxiety and anticipation.

The church was anxious about what would happen to Christians who died before the return of Christ. In addition, in the church’s anticipation of Christ’s return, some abandoned their occupations and daily endeavors. We could rephrase these two main problems with the question, “What is our only hope in life and death?” The New City Catechism answers the question in this way: “That we are not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”

How should people who belong to God and Jesus Christ in life and death live as they await the return of Christ? Throughout the letter, Paul provides instructions for daily life that sidestep the anxiety and (misplaced) anticipation that troubled the church. In his closing remarks, Paul includes a flourish of exhortations that describe God’s will for those who are in Jesus Christ, including the appeal to give thanks in everything.

Wherever Christians find themselves, and in whatever circumstances they are navigating, they are to be thankful. More immediate to the context of 1 Thessalonians, we might say that whenever Christians find themselves, they must be thankful. In other words, Christians ought to be filled with gratitude regardless of where they find themselves on the timeline of redemptive history. Our thankfulness to God is not determined by the age in which we live but by the future hope of Christ’s return and the present faithfulness of God. We do not wait until the end of this age to be thankful or to live as Christians, but we pursue sanctification to the very end.

This short, terse command (paired with the exhortations to rejoice always and pray constantly) reframes how Christians should relate to the end times. Paul does not pair eschatological doctrine with fear, cynicism, or ingratitude but with joy, prayerfulness, and thanksgiving. Instead, Paul’s vision of the end times breaks into the present in the pre-figuring of joy evermore, communion with Christ, and life everlasting in the church’s rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving.

Although the end times and God’s will are often spoken about with an air of mystery, Paul’s commands emerge with astounding clarity. There are moments of confusion and uncertainty that accompany the Christian life, yet, in these commands, there are anchors that provide stability for the Christian to proceed in faithfulness wherever (or whenever) they are.

Although the commands provide stability for the Christian life, they are not ultimately the source of the Christian’s security. Despite the clarity and simplicity of these commands, Christians regularly fail to live out the joy, prayerfulness, and gratitude that accompany our new life in Christ. What, then, is the Christian’s security? That the God of peace himself will sanctify you completely . . . He who calls you is faithful; he will do it (1 Thess 5:23-24). The God who reveals his will for his people will act to bring it about in his people with the result that every Christian will be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grounded in this great hope, we can proceed as those who are always rejoicing, constantly praying, in everything giving thanks.

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Book Recommendation: Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context by Trevin Wax

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