The Attitude of Every Christian
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 | The Attitude of Every Christian
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Today we’ll study a passage of Scripture that applies to all Christians at all times, and it involves the believer’s attitude. Google gave the following definition for “attitude”: “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior.” What kind of attitude should a Christian have?
Have you ever met a Christian with a bad attitude? Have you ever met a Christian you can never cheer up because he’s always depressed about something? Have you ever met a Christian who complains all the time? Have you ever met a grumpy Christian? Are you a grumpy Christian?
What is the message that is sent to the world when a Christian has a bad attitude?
- “Christianity is just about keeping a bunch of rules.”
- “You’ll be happier if you don’t become a Christian.”
- “Christians never have any fun.”
- Or perhaps worst of all, “There is no spiritual power in Christianity.” An unbeliever might not be able to articulate this, but he would get the impression that the Holy Spirit isn’t real, because His fruit isn’t in your life.
Are these assumptions that unsaved people already have about Christians? So why would we make the problem worse by reinforcing their assumptions with our bad attitudes? Your bad attitude can have an extremely negative affect on somebody else’s attempt to witness. What’s worse, it dishonors God’s name and displeases God. So let’s talk about the proper Christian attitude.
Go ahead and open up your Bible, and let’s see what Paul has to say about this topic (1 Thess 5:16-18)
There are three commands in this passage: “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and, “in everything give thanks.” But first, I want you to see how Paul summarizes these commands. What does the last part of v. 18 say (v. 18b)? What is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you? Well, certainly giving thanks in all circumstances. But there is also a good chance that the word “that” refers to the commands in vv. 16-17, as well, since these three commands seem to make up their own separate unit, as set apart from vv. 12-15 on the one hand and vv. 19-22 on the other.
So Christian, what is God’s will for your life? I’m not asking who you are supposed to marry or whether or not you’re supposed to move. I’m asking what is God’s will for you today, when you’re loading your kids in the car after church or trying to relax this afternoon. Here it is. (Are you ready? I’m telling you God’s will!) 1) Rejoice. Choose to be happy. 2) Pray. When you have some quiet time to yourself, turn off the TV, set aside your phone, and pray. 3) Give thanks. Don’t complain about the weather. Don’t complain about your server. Don’t complain about how much work you have to do. Instead, find something for which to be genuinely thankful.
Let’s zoom in now on command number one.
- Rejoice always.
Let’s talk about what this verse doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that Christians should never experience negative emotions like sorrow or even anger. How do we know that? Can you think of any believers in the Bible who experienced something like sorrow or anger, and it was not considered sin? (Paul, the psalmists, Jesus, etc.)
So how is it possible to be happy all of the time and yet still sad some of the time? Here’s the answer: it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time. Paul describes himself in 2 Corinthians 6:10 as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (Pastor Kit wrote a blog article on that.) You see, some Christians get the idea that if I am supposed to be happy all the time, that means I can never be sad. But that idea is simply profoundly unbiblical! There are times when you should feel sad; you ought to feel sad. There are even times when you should be angry! (Although we ought to be more careful about that one. It’s often a temptation to justify sinful anger by calling it righteous indignation. But James 1:20 says, “[T]he wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”) That said, there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to feel something other than unadulterated joy.
And yet, even in those times, we can and should–we must–rejoice.
What is it that enables a Christian to rejoice when he or someone he loves is diagnosed with cancer? It’s hope in God’s promises. It’s an eternal perspective. It’s an understanding that this world is not my home. It’s a love for God that eclipses and outshines the love that I have even for my closest family members, or even for my own life. It’s confidence in God’s character–that He is 1) sovereign, 2) good, and 3) wise–all at the same time! It’s a settled sense of peace, knowing that this trial did not surprise God. It’s the assurance that God is good, not matter what happens. It is the ability to trust His wise and loving plan. That is what makes possible rejoicing, even in the midst of sorrow.
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take much to make me stop rejoicing. Sometimes hunger or a couple of circumstances not going my way is all that it really takes. But it is one of my ambitions to grow in depth as a Christian to the point where I am able to go through significant trials and never stop rejoicing. Have you ever done that before? Have you ever surprised yourself? “Wow, this is a pretty significant trial, and I’m still pretty positive! A trial like this ten years ago would have sent me into a funk for weeks!” That, my friend, is tremendous cause for encouragement! That is what we call “sanctification.” You should be so encouraged!
But we all have room to grow in this area, don’t we? Whether you’ve been saved for a year or thirty years, there are new heights of consistent joy for you to reach. Let’s press onward at rejoicing always!
But we should probably stop to ask the question, “What does that look like?” When Paul wrote this letter, there was a group of people known as the stoics. And the stoics believed that universe is governed by fate. So in a sense, they had their own version of the command, “Rejoice always.” Except it wasn’t really rejoicing. It was more like dispassionate resignation. They really frowned upon getting bent out of shape about suffering. But they didn’t have anything to look forward to, either! They were just, well… stoic, I guess is the best word!
Now don’t get me wrong! There’s nothing wrong with being steady emotionally. In fact, in many ways, that’s actually desirable! (Of course, God makes us all different when it comes to our emotions.) But according to this verse, steadiness doesn’t cut it! You can’t just be steady, you have to be happy! And don’t make excuses and say, “Pastor Kris, the passage tells me to ‘rejoice,’ not to ‘be happy’!” I understand that that’s technically true, but you cannot ultimately separate the command to rejoice from feelings of happiness! Biblically, there’s no distinction between happiness and joy. There’s not! Now, we sometimes like to make a distinction in order to say that happiness is based upon circumstances, whereas joy is based upon truth. And that’s fine. That’s helpful. But just understand that the word “rejoice” in Scripture is not some kind of super-spiritual word that means something other than “be happy.” God commands you to control your emotions. He commands you to be happy.
You say, “Pastor Kris, what if I don’t feel like being happy? I can’t force myself to be happy!” Here’s what I would say to that: “God will not give you a command that He will not also strengthen you to obey.” So, first, run to the means of grace–Scripture, prayer, and fellowship. That is where you will receive the spiritual strength that you need to obey this command. Second, believe Philippians 3:13. “God is working in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” God gave you the desire; He will also give you the strength. Third, obey. Even if every bone in your body resists, put feet to this command. Smile. Sing a song. Listen to some happy, Christ-exalting music.
My experience is that when I follow those steps, it is amazing how God changes my attitude! It doesn’t always happen right away! Sometimes it takes several hours, during which I am fighting for joy. But eventually, God does it. And it is wonderful when He does!
Christian, you do not need to live in a constant state of depression, anxiety, or frustration. In fact, it is sin for you to do so, without fighting against it. Choose joy.
- Pray without Ceasing.
Once again, let’s talk about what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you are to pray 24/7. That would be impossible. So what does it mean? You tell me.
Some would say that it means, “Be in a constant state or ‘attitude’ of prayer.” So even if you’re not actually voicing words to God either out loud or in your head, you are aware of God’s presence. You’re dependent on Him, and you’re praising Him. And of course, we should have an attitude of constant dependence on God. But that’s not the same thing as praying. Paul could have said, “Always depend upon God.” But he didn’t; he said, “Pray without ceasing.” So what does this mean?
Basically, it means, “Pray a lot,” “pray all the time,” or, “never stop praying.”
Do you pray outside of your regular prayer times? When you’re not eating a meal, or at church, or having your devotions? Do you pray during some of your free times, or at least, during the times that your brain is free? Like when you’re driving, or folding laundry, or spraying the weeds. What do you like to do during times that your brain is free? I’ll give you a few of my favorites. I like listening to audio books and podcasts. I also like thinking about ideas or reviewing incredible stories. It’s one of the ways that I cement things in my brain so that I feel like I have a good handle on them. Sometimes I’ll have a free couple of minutes, like when I’m waiting to tuck the girls in while they are putting their pajamas on. Do you ever have times like that in your day? How do you fill them? Maybe you just sit there, enjoying the peace and quiet. I often reach for my phone and check Facebook. But what I ought to do more often is to pray. What would your life be like if you filled up the empty spaces with prayer? Would it be better or worse? Then why don’t we do it?
John Piper tweeted once, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” I’ve never forgotten that. You don’t think you have time to pray? Go to “Settings”/“Screen Time” on your iPhone and see how much time you’ve spent on social media. You do have time to pray. We all have time to pray. Ah, but it takes so much discipline, doesn’t it? That phone is just so hard to resist! Some of you probably need to delete some apps off of your phone. Maybe there are some games on there that you are addicted to. Some of you spend most of your days at home, and for you, the temptation is the television or the computer. Turn it off! Turn Fox News off! I guarantee you, you won’t miss anything all that important in the next hour, or even the next day! Get off of YouTube or Pinterest. Stop playing Solitaire and PRAY! I guarantee you your life will be sweeter! Pray without ceasing.
But before we move on, I think it is helpful to recognize that the pagans in those days often prayed a lot! They were worried that the gods might make their lives miserable, so they tried to manipulate them through prayer. Now you tell me, how is that different than Christian prayer? Well, first, we pray to the one true and living God rather than to idols. But second, our understanding of prayer is fundamentally different because we pray from a different position. God is our Father! We don’t have to manipulate Him! We just pour out our requests like a little child! “[W]hat man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” When we pray, we come knowing that we are already accepted in the Beloved! What a great motivation to pray without ceasing!
- In Everything Give Thanks.
What’s the difference between giving thanks and rejoicing? You can rejoice without talking to anybody. Whereas giving thanks is expressing gratitude to a person. There’s a specificity to giving thanks, because you are identifying your cause for rejoicing and expressing it to another individual.
When was the last time you gave thanks, either to God or to another person? There are some people who complain all the time. I think they even enjoy it! They would be grumpy if they didn’t have something to complain about! Let me ask you a question: do you give thanks more often than you complain? You say, “I don’t know….” Ask someone close to you who loves you. (And then don’t argue with them when they give you an answer!) “Tell me honestly, do I complain more than I give thanks?”
There’s a lot to complain about, isn’t there. Let’s list some of those things. What do we have to complain about? (politics, the weather, aches and pains, family, not enough money, your job, your boss, your coworkers, etc.) That is a lot! With all of those things going bad in the world, we probably don’t have any reason to be thankful, do we? We do? What are some reasons we have to be thankful? (salvation, the Bible, heaven is our eternal home, physical provision, the weather, family, your job… isn’t it amazing that sometimes the same things we complain about are really the things for which we should be thankful?) Of course, the biggest reason you should be thankful is for the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ. If you’re struggling with thankfulness, spend some time in Ephesians 1, and ask God to open the eyes of your heart in order to appreciate those blessings!
The pagans among whom the Thessalonians lived considered it a duty to thank the gods for sending them blessings. What’s the difference between that and this? Pagans thanked the gods out of obligation, and only when things went well for them (because they wanted the gods to send them more blessings!) Christians express the gratitude that comes from our hearts, and we do so at all times.
What does the phrase, “in everything” in v. 18 mean? “In everything give thanks.” It means, “Give thanks in every circumstance.” Now, notice that it doesn’t say, “For everything give thanks.” It says, “In everything give thanks.” Now, we probably shouldn’t read too much into that because Ephesians 5:20 does say, “For everything give thanks.” But I think it’s worth pointing out that technically, we do not thank God for the bad things. We thank Him for how He is using those things for His glory and our good, but we do not technically thank Him for the things themselves. I don’t thank God that fifty people were killed in a mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. That was not God’s doing. Now, in one sense, it was His doing, because God is sovereign. But in another sense, it was not His doing, because God never sins. He is not responsible for that crime. Does that make sense?
The point is that you do not need to feel obligated to feel thankful for the trials themselves. I can remember trying to thank God for the bad things themselves because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. “God, thank you that my car won’t start.” That just felt really odd, and for good reason! You don’t need to do that! What you do need to do is to thank God for how He is using those trials for His glory and your good. No matter how bad it gets, there are always lots of things for which to be thankful!
I remember growing up being struck by how many of the children’s church songs were about joy. “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and Again I Say Rejoice.” “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.” “I’m So Happy and Here’s the Reason Why.” And the list goes on and on.
Is there anything wrong with those types of songs? No! Now, some of the lyrics of some of those songs are a problem–like, “And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack.” The Bible never treats the devil with that sort of levity. But in general, it’s a good thing to teach our kids to be happy!
But then they grow up, don’t they? And they find out that the real world isn’t as happy as those songs made it out to be. Some unspeakable tragedy like 9-11 takes place in the world. People they love get sick and die. Someone wounds them very deeply, and they carry that scar through the rest of their life. Do those songs they learned in children’s church still apply?
It’s important to remember that Paul didn’t write these verses primarily for children (although there were children in the church at Thessalonica); but he wrote these words primarily for adults–adults with hard lives. We should not take these commands like some glib children’s song and assume they don’t apply to us. Rather, we should understand that Paul wanted the Thessalonians to choose joy, even when life was painful.
What painful circumstance are you facing today? Maybe you’re in some kind of chronic, physical pain. Maybe you’re facing frustration or disillusionment in your marriage. Maybe you’re dealing with the heartache of a wayward child. Maybe that stupid car just broke down for the third time this year. Paul’s message to you is simple: choose joy.
How on earth are you going to do that? You’ll need the Spirit’s help for sure, so get into the Word and pray! Pray all the time. Depend on God’s strength. But then, just do it. It’s an act of the will. And trust that your feelings will follow.
I’ve told this story before, but perhaps some of you have not heard the testimony of Ron Hamilton. How many of you know who Ron Hamilton is? He wrote the hymn, “Bow the Knee” as well as “Lord, I Need You.” Ron is about sixty-nine years old now and dealing with early onset dementia, but in his younger years, he was a gifted Christian musician. However, when he was twenty-eight, Ron started having issues with his eye. He went to the doctor, and the doctor discovered that it was cancer, and Ron’s left eye had to be removed. For most of us, that would be a devastating experience. But in the midst of that trial, Ron wrote a hymn and called it, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
God never moves without purpose or plan
When trying His servant and molding a man.
Give thanks to the LORD though your testing seems long;
In darkness He giveth a song.
O Rejoice in the LORD
He makes no mistake,
He knoweth the end of each path that I take,
For when I am tried
I shall come forth as gold.
That’s not, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” is it? It’s the mature faith of a suffering saint.
We began this lesson by talking about how Christians with bad attitudes are a bad testimony. I’d like to finish by talking about how Christians with good attitudes are a powerful testimony to the reality of the Spirit’s work in their lives! Do you want to make unbelievers take note? Suffer with joy. It is one of my greatest prayers that when you people suffer, you would suffer with joy.
We don’t live in a world free of suffering. But what a blessing that because the Holy Spirit is permanently residing within you, nothing or no one need ever steal your joy! Let’s show the lost world that there is something different about us! Let’s choose to rejoice in the Lord!