How appropriate that today and tomorrow we are reading 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Paul’s letters to the believers in Thessalonica. Yesterday we learned that Paul initially spent three weeks in this city preaching the gospel, and many believed (both Jews and Greeks). Sometime later, Paul sent Timothy back to the young church to help disciple, teach and strengthen their faith. Timothy brings back a report that delights Paul’s heart: they are standing firm in their faith in the face of the persecution that surrounds them. (1 Thess. 3:6-10)
It’s in Paul’s first letter that he gives us the words we love to quote on Thanksgiving: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (5:16-18)
To our 21st-century ears, giving thanks doesn’t sound like an unusual exhortation, for we have much to be thankful for. Most of us will sit down to a veritable feast today. Many will be surrounded by family and friends. We will sit on our comfortable couches and watch grown men throw a ball around and tackle each other on giant television screens. We will eat too much dessert, and go home too full, to sleep in beds with clean sheets and warm comforters. Why in the world would we not be thankful?
I also know that many of you will be alone today, perhaps facing your first holiday season without a loved one. Your table might not be so bountiful. You might be spending Thanksgiving in a hospital room, wondering if you will recover, or if the person you love will live to see Christmas. Whether by your own choices or the circumstances of a fallen world, you might not feel you have anything to be thankful for.
The believers Paul exhorted to “give thanks in everything” were facing extreme persecution for their faith. It was a time when you would almost certainly lose your livelihood and possibly your home, and even your life, just for remaining faithful to Jesus.
What gave them hope?
What filled their hearts with joy?
What was their secret?
They knew Jesus was coming back for them!
They weren’t sure of the details or the timing (we’ll get to the specifics Paul shared tomorrow), but they were fully convinced that their days of suffering were numbered. Jesus had promised to come back for them, and they were watching the skies. How much more should we be anticipating our Savior’s return? We are 2,000 years closer to His coming!
If your eyes are on this world today, you’re probably going to struggle to have a heart of thanksgiving. If you want a change of heart, remember…Jesus is coming. Look up, faithful believer, look up!