Sometimes God puts us in situations that make and mold us into the people He wants us to become. It may be easy when those situations don’t come with much opposition, but when things get tough, that is when the real challenges begin.
Many scholars believe 1 Thessalonians is most likely the earliest letter we have from the apostle Paul. He and Silas had visited Thessalonica where many people were converted to Christianity and had begun to gather and worship in the name of Jesus. However, in Acts 17 we read that the Jewish leaders became jealous and the Gentile rulers became threatened that people were defying Caesar and proclaiming Jesus as the one, true king. This led to persecution against Christians in the city. Yet, despite persecution, the believers in Thessalonica continued to stand firm in their faith (1 Thess. 3:7–8).
In the final two chapters of his letter, Paul challenges his readers to grow by living a counter-cultural lifestyle. In our text today, Paul gives a few final instructions on how to do this. Along with living respectfully, peacefully, and kindly, Paul admonishes them to be joyful always, pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances (vv. 16–18). If there was one person who had the authority and experience to talk the talk and walk the walk it would have been Paul. He had seen his fair share of good times and bad, and regardless of situation, he thanked God in all circumstances.
One of the interesting things about verses 16–18 is that it is one long sentence. Permanent joyfulness, continual prayer, and constant thankfulness go together. Paul concludes by stating that all of these actions are God’s will for the people in Thessalonica. We can say that it is God’s will for us, too.
You may be experiencing difficult times right now, and perhaps giving thanks to God is the farthest thing from your mind. You may think, “Well, if only Paul knew my circumstances, he wouldn’t have written that.” Paul may not have known your story, but the Holy Spirit does. Through hardship you may learn lessons you could learn no other way.