The church in Thessalonica was doing a lot right. They were a young church that was living out the gospel in a way that was pleasing to God. In the first three chapters, Paul devotes much emphasis to encouragement, thanksgiving and praise for this church. They served as great examples to other churches in their conduct. This was especially true in how they showed great love, care and concern for one another. In chapters 4 and 5, Paul exhorts the church on specific concerns of spiritual growth and maturity in the areas of purity, love, work and death. In this final section in chapter 5, Paul provides a cluster of imperatives as he brings his letter to a close.
Verses 16-18 seem so basic. Christians know they are supposed to rejoice and be happy in the Lord. Christians know they are supposed to pray and commune with God. Christians know they are supposed to be filled with thanksgiving, gratitude and gratefulness for God’s grace. These are simple, yet profound truths that are elementary. It is the assumption that Christians will Rejoice, Pray and Give thanks to God (RPG). But these verses say to, “Rejoice always”, to pray “without ceasing” and to give thanks “in all circumstances”. Are we being set-up for Mission Impossible Part 9!?!?
Paul is reinforcing major biblical themes to this church family in Thessalonica (and which includes by extension all Christian individuals and churches throughout history). Rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving are tied to basic discipleship and growth in godliness. Our passage this week suggests that it is the will of God that we are actively engaged in these verbs (v.18). We are called to live lives of obedience in a posture and attitude of humble submission before God, depending on him and trusting him that he knows best regardless of the circumstances. A life of joyful and thankful communion with God in prayer is exceptionally powerful! This should mark the believer in Jesus and it is possible only because God’s spirit is with us.
- Why is it God’s will for his followers to be characterized by joy, prayer and gratitude? (Read Romans 12:12, Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-7) What would it say about a master if his servants were filled with misery and despair?
- God is in total control of the world and he doesn’t change. It seems these verses are saying it is always the right time to rejoice, pray and give thanks. What about when someone sins against us, or times of suffering, or seasons of melancholy?
- We have some paradoxical examples in Scripture of joy and sorrow being compatible. We can see this especially in the lives of Jesus and Paul. Read and discuss how these things go together. Hebrews 12:2, 2 Cor 7:4; Jesus was a man of sorrow (Is 53), but also was anointed with the oil of gladness (Heb 1), etc.
- How can we rejoice in our sufferings? (Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:28-29, 1 Cor 2:9, 2 Cor 4:16-18)
- Joy and Grace both share the same Greek root word (chairo). Why do you think this is so? Is there a way to experience true, supernatural joy without grace? Joy is a command, but it’s also granted to us as a fruit of the Holy Spirit?
- It is an amazing truth that joy is the manifestation of Jesus in us. It is not joy like his, but his joy! Does knowing this truth change your view of joy? (John 15:11) Does it make your heart swell with gratitude and make you want to live in constant communion with Christ?