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Dec 01, 2013


Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: thanksgiving, thanks, gratitude, will of god, word and work of god, pilgrims


This is a Thanksgiving weekend message that looks at God's command to "in everything give thanks." Using Psalm 33, it looks at why thanksgiving is so important to God's children and how we can obey this command regardless of life's situation.



Thanksgiving 2013--I Thessalonians 5:16-18

December 1, 2013


One of the books I’ve said I will never write would be about discerning the will of God in areas that the Bible doesn’t directly address, stuff like…

  • Which job should I take?
  • What college should I go to?
  • Is this the right house to buy?
  • Should I even buy a house?
  • Am I supposed to put my kids in public or private or homeschool???
  • Where is Mosaic supposed to locate next?

You get the idea.

But there plenty of places in the Bible where God tells us exactly what his will is. Truth be told, plenty of them seem even harder to follow than figuring out those “gray areas” of God’s will. For instance, look at 3 of the shortest verses in the N.T. that pop up in the end of the book of Thessalonians that we’ve been in this fall. Their sandwiched in with a bunch of other one-line commands. But in this one, the Holy Spirit comes right out and says, “This is the will of God.” Can’t get much more direct than that, huh?

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How easy do you find it to obey each of those three commands?

  • Rejoice always?
  • Pray without ceasing?
  • In everything give thanks?

O.K. So let’s simplify that. We’ll only concentrate on the last one: “…in everything give thanks.” After all, it is Thanksgiving weekend, right? J

Before we get too far, I do want to note that God doesn’t command us to be thankful FOR everything. Prepositions matter, especially in God’s Word, and the difference between “in” and “for” is big. If one of my family members is killed or maimed in an accident, God isn’t asking me to “rejoice always” about that and be thankful for my loss. Neither should we be thankful for sin or evil or disasters or torture or starvation or a whole host of terrible things in this world.

But if I find myself experiencing any of those awful things or the effects of them, God is still telling me that I need to cultivate a thankful heart IN the midst of the suffering and sorrow and anger and hatred of evil.

Verses like Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:19-20 should be enough evidence and promise for us to hang onto and to push us into the sometimes unfathomable sovereignty of God in even the worst of times.

Romans 8:28--And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Genesis 50:19-20--19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

            Bottom line, God has promised to take the worst that this world and people can throw at us and somehow, even when evil and wrong and injustice seem to have triumphed temporarily, cause those things to become part of His good and sovereign purposes in our lives. Only our God can do that. And only loving Him through those difficult chapters of life can insure that outcome.

            So “giving thanks IN everything” is God’s will for us. My next question is, of course, WHY? Why is giving thanks always so important? Is it because God enjoys being thanked…OR because we need thanksgiving to become fully human…OR both? (Get the difference?)

I’d like us to look at a Psalm this morning that will both give us some of the reasons by thanksgiving from us to God is so important while also talking about HOW that thanksgiving can happen. So turn to Psalm 33. I’m going to ask us to read it responsively. You read the even-numbered (bold) verses and I’ll read the odd numbered (italicized) ones.

Psalm 33

1Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
For praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.

He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
14 From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
15 He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works.

16 No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
19 To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart shall rejoice in Him,
Because we have trusted in His holy name.

22 Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.

It is the last four verses that give us a clue as to why thanksgiving and gratitude to God is important to us. What is going on in the heart of the Psalmist and any who join him in this gratitude and praise? What are they engaged in that produces this gratitude?

  • Vss. 18-19—they “hope in His mercy” to help them survive in times of famine and keep them from death.
  • Vs. 20—they “wait for the Lord” to defend and protect them.
  • Vs. 21—They “trust in His holy name” which leads to rejoicing in God himself.
  • Vs. 22—They “hope in” God.

Genuine thankfulness, at least with God, is inextricably bound up with TRUST. As we will see in a moment, the psalmist has a BIG image of God and a small view of man’s greatness. God is grand in his understanding while everything else is not nearly so great.  

We will never truly thank God until we first actually trust Him. We will not be deeply grateful to God for all that we have until we first cultivate a dependence on Him for all that we need.

ILL: It is interesting that the Pilgrims of Plymouth in 1620-21 were men and women who cast their entire futures on the mercies of God. Their seven week voyage through violent fall seas of the Atlantic on a ship that leaked and appeared close to breaking up most certainly brought them to the end of themselves and to absolute if not at times agonizingly deep trust in God. These are the people who declared a time of Thanksgiving to God before they had completed even a year in this then new American wilderness.

            Arriving in what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts in November, they would lose virtually half of their number to death in the next 4 months. 13 of the 18 wives died. Only 3 families remained unbroken. Children seemed to fair best with none of the daughters and only 3 of the 13 sons dying. Yet that deepest of adversity and loss brought them to this declared time of Thanksgiving to God for His providence and care in just 7 months. I doubt whether it was a light-hearted sort of thanksgiving that many of us may have engaged in this weekend. I’m imagining that it was a very deep, profound and even sorrow-tinged gratitude to God. But their hope and trust was in God, not even in this life.

            And remember, Thanksgiving was not their only option. Anger, overwhelming sorrow, bitterness, doubt, blame, self-preservation, rage, cynicism, rejection of God…all those could have been their response. Those had been the responses of the first American settlements much farther south just a decade before. They had all perished. Instead these Pilgrim Christians chose thankfulness. And they chose it every week.

            The high point of their week remained Sunday worship. They used a field drum to summon the residents of Plymouth as well as the sailors on board the Mayflower in the harbor to both morning and afternoon services. And unlike the drab pictures you see painted of everyone dressed in brown and black, the reality was that Sunday was probably the most colorful day of the week when it came to clothing. It would be their Puritan cousins of a later generation who would hold that clothes like that were “frivolous” and connoted a frivolous heart attitude. Kind of hard to make that charge stick when half the people paid with their lives in the first 6 months.

It’s interesting that need, lack and want seem to be better soil in which thankfulness takes root. People who are handed everything seem to forget gratitude. But it’s when we come to the end of ourselves and cast ourselves in total dependence on the Lord that we begin to grow room in our souls for genuine praise and thanksgiving.

Psalm 33 was written to people like our Pilgrim forefathers. The psalmist addressed them as “righteous ones” and “the upright” (v. 1). It is written to those who are seeking to please God by living obedient lives.

But even these people need to be exhorted to “sing for joy in the Lord” (v. 1), to “give thanks to the Lord” and “sing praises to Him” (v. 2). The psalm tells us that…

We don’t know who wrote this psalm. It is sandwiched between two psalms of David, so perhaps he wrote it. David certainly had learned the lesson that the psalm communicates. David was a man of praise and thanksgiving because the Lord had put him in so many situations where every prop was knocked out from under him, forcing him to trust in God alone for deliverance. When God did deliver him, he was flooded with thankfulness and praise.

The psalm begins with an exuberant call to praise God in song and with musical instruments (vv. 1-3). There is good biblical precedence for us to use music and a variety of instruments in our worship.

Then, the psalmist gives the reason to praise God (vv. 4-5). He is going to tell us it is because of 1.) His word and 2.) His works.

Verses 6-12 develop the theme of God’s word as seen in His creation (vv. 6-9) and in His counsel (vv. 10-12).

Verses 13-22 then develop the other theme of how God works. He does not work through man’s strength or schemes (vv. 13-17), but rather through those who fear and trust in Him (vv. 18-19)…simple people like us.

The psalm ends with that final affirmation of trust in the Lord (vv. 20-22).

If the key to a thankful, worshiping heart is to trust in and rely completely on the Lord, then the question arises, “How do I learn to trust in and rely upon the Lord?” Look at the two main sections of the psalm.

The Psalmist introduces these 2 sections with these words: For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to look at this world and say, “Man, it’s filled with evil! Things are out-of-control wrong!”

Not the psalmist. Instead of focusing on the economy or health care or rouge, out-of-control nations, he focuses on God. Great advice for 21st century Christians. And he maintains that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Is that how you and I think of this world—full of God’s goodness? A thankful, God-focused heart does. Eyes of gratitude will look for the goodness of the Lord and find the earth “full of” it. But eyes that are filled first with people and events of this world will see a world full of evil. Thankfulness actually changes our vision of this world and of life.

So where does the psalmist point to for proof of this “goodness of the Lord”?

  1. Trust and gratitude come by recognizing the amazing power of God’s word through creation (33:6-12). It is that “word” which created two of the most powerful and immense parts of the creation that we can ever experience—outer space & oceanic depths.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.

  1. The power of God’s word is seen in His creation (33:6-9).

John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Ps. 33, p. 542) insightfully points out that the psalmist brings before us God’s creation of the world, because until we believe that He created all that is, we won’t believe that the world is controlled by His wisdom and power. In other words, believing that God created the world also leads us to the truth of His providence in ruling the world, which the psalmist develops in verses 10-12. So to develop a thankful, worshiping heart, we must bow in awe before the Lord as we realize His immense power in speaking the universe into existence (Ps. 33:8-9).

The immensity of the universe is staggering! Astronomers are discovering vast regions of space that are completely empty. One such “space” in space is a billion light years across. That is 10,000 times greater than the distance across our Milky Way galaxy! And there are billions of huge galaxies like our Milky Way!

God didn’t even have to struggle or strain to create the universe. Rather, He did it by His bare word (v. 6). Creation is a miracle of God’s power. He created everything out of nothing by His word alone.

As with all miracles, you cannot prove it; but you can accept it by faith…in God (Heb. 11:3). The only alternative is to accept something else “by faith”—that “nothing” produced everything, or that matter has always existed, and that in some non-miraculous “miraculous” manner, by sheer chance alone, it came to have the intricately ordered form that we now observe in our universe. Which view takes more faith?

The psalmist then goes on to consider the oceans (Ps. 33:7).

He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses.

The only ocean that the psalmist may have seen would have been the Mediterranean Sea, or perhaps the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba. He would not have known that the world’s oceans cover two-thirds of the earth’s surface. The Pacific Ocean alone covers almost 64 million square miles at an average depth of over 14,000 feet (almost 3 miles deep), with its greatest depth almost 36,000 feet (6.8 miles of water with over 8 tons of pressure per square inch)!

The psalmist pictures God as piling the water together as a farmer would pile a heap of grain in a barn. This could be a reference to God’s stacking up the waters of the Red Sea when He brought Israel safely through, or it may be a poetic description of God keeping the mighty oceans within their boundaries.

But either way, when you consider the vastness of the heavens and the oceans, the conclusion ought to be what we have in verses 8-9: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast.”

In a society steeped, stewed and educated in materialistic evolution, we have become just what Paul said we would be when we refuse to acknowledge Him as Creator—ungrateful. In Romans 1:20-22 he writes this,

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools….

There is no way to harmonize or reconcile these passages with a view of the universe that writes God out of speaking it into existence. To replace God with random chance and billions of years will lead to a loss of thankfulness.

Matthew Henry (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Revell], 3:351) comments on verse 5, “What a pity it is that this earth, which is so full of God’s goodness, should be so empty of his praises, and that of the multitudes that live upon this earth, there are so few that live to His glory!”

ILL: Katherine Mansfield was a brilliant early 20th century writer from New Zealand. Unfortunately, she rejected God and lived much of the resulting life Paul described in Romans 1. But at one point in her short life, because of health issues, she moved to Switzerland, where she found herself rejoicing in the mountain air and the beauty of the Alps. Even her God-rejecting heart seemed to touch ultimate reality for a moment.

She wrote to a friend, “If only one could make some small grasshoppery sound of praise—thanks to someone, but who?” How empty for a person to feel thankfulness and praise for the beauty of God’s creation and yet deny the Creator and fail to render thanks to Him!

So, the power of God’s word/nature acknowledged through his creation should lead to gratitude in life. So should…

B. The power of God’s word is seen in His counsel (33:10-12).

“The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.”

ILL: A story is told of a newly-elected politician who had just arrived in Washington, D.C. He was visiting at the home of one of the ranking Senators. The two men stood looking out over the Potomac River as an old, rotten log floated by. The older Senator said, “This city is like that log out there.” “How’s that?” asked the younger man. The Senator replied, “Well, there are probably hundreds of bugs, ants, and other critters on that old log as it floats down the river. And I imagine that every one of them thinks that he’s steering it.”

Proud man thinks that he is steering the course of history. But the Bible is clear that God sets up and takes down the most powerful kings in history for His own sovereign purposes. Whether it was Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, or Artaxerxes, God used them to further His purposes for His chosen people. Of course, none of those men knew God or were seeking to follow God. They were making decisions that they thought would further their own agendas. But behind the scenes, God providentially used their decisions to further His agenda. They were responsible for their decisions and they will answer to God for those decisions. And yet God used those decisions to implement His own counsel and plans.

Sometimes I don’t think that we American Christians really believe this. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been told we are responsible for electing our own leaders…and we’ve really come to believe it. While we unfortunately get just what we’ve asked for in a democratic republic, even here we either believe the psalmists words or we reject them.

            Look at vs. 12--12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

            We are the people who are “blessed” because we are that “holy nation” of Christ-followers. We are “the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” It matters not what national boundaries we find ourselves in. Our “God is the Lord”…and we don’t have to wait for this country to turn back to God. Yes, this great nation is falling. But His great Nation will never end and only grow stronger and greater with every passing day. Talk about something to be thankful for!

Finally the psalmist looks at God’s works with individuals, even the strongest of people. And he concludes that human strength is an illusion that can neither deliver nor preserve even a king.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
14 From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
15 He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works.

16 No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.

Our Pilgrim forefathers understood this too. Transplanted to a hostile wilderness where they were literally surrounded by numerous warring Native American tribes, they chose to trust God in the face of overwhelming odds. Their little band of barely 50 people who survived that winter could so easily have been overrun at any point. They buried 17 in the month of February. At one point only 4 or 5 adults were healthy enough care for the entire village, doing all the cooking, wood gathering and chopping, washing and tending to the sick. They buried their dead at night, in shallow unmarked graves, so that the Indians would not know how many they had lost.

            But then God surprised them from the least likely source in their thinking. One fair Friday in the middle of March, an Indian by the name of Samoset strode right up their main street and let himself into their common house. His first words were, “Welcome! Have you got any beer?” In English!

            If you remember your history, you know that this Native American, Samoset, had learned his English from English traders and fishermen. The following Thursday, he introduced the Pilgrims to another Native American by the name of Squanto, the only surviving member of the Patuxet tribe that had died out shortly before the Pilgrims arrived in the very area where they settled. Squanto became THE single greatest tool of God for the survival of the Pilgrims those first two years in the New World.

            His story is itself a miracle wrapped in a very sad injustice. In 1605, he and 4 other Indians were taken captive by Cpt. George Weymouth who was exploring the New England coast. He and his 3 companions were taken to England where they remained for 9 years and were taught English. In 1614, he was taken back to the Americans by Captain John Smith.

But before he could even get his bearings, he was lured onto a different British fishing ship under the command of a Cpt. Thomas Hunt and taken as a slave to be sold in the infamous slave-trading port of Malaga, Spain. There, Squanto was bought and rescued by local friars who introduced him to the Christian faith. He eventually attached himself to an Englishman bound for London (again), and there met and joined the household of a wealthy merchant where he lived until he embarked for New England in 1619 with a Cpt. Dermer.

But when Squanto stepped ashore just 6 months before the Pilgrims arrived, not a man, woman or child of his tribe was left alive. Disease had left nothing but skulls and bones and ruined dwellings of his entire tribe. He was taken in by Massasoit and through him came to actually live with the Pilgrims and teach them what they would need to know to survive.

The first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in October of 1621 along with Massasoit and 90 of his braves! The very next month would see the arrival of another ship from England, The Fortune, with 35 more settlers, none of whom had any food, warm clothes, tools or bedding. The grim decision was made that the entire settlement would go on half-rations through the winter to ensure enough food to see them into summer. At one point in the winter when supplies were running low, that meant each person was reduced to a ration of 5 kernels of corn a piece.

The following summer, there was a 12-week drought. Desperately in need of God’s intervention, the Pilgrims fell to their knees and prayed for 8 hours. God’s answer came in the form of rain that didn’t stop for 14 days! The crop was saved. And so, to celebrate, the Pilgrims had a second day of giving thanks to the Lord. Again, the Indians were invited to the feast, only this time, 120 braves came to celebrate. The first course, served on an empty plate in front of each person, consisted of 5 kernels of corn, a gentle reminder of God’s faithful provision for them.” (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p. 144)

In the midst of great need comes great provision. Listen to the words of William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Plantation as he summarizes their trials and God’s provision:

“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.” - Governor William Bradford