09 August 2012

Trials, Peace and Rejoicing?

    Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)

Though favorite verses of many, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 can and does cause confusion for some. How can we rejoice always in severe trials? How can we pray always, are there not other things in life we must also do? How can I give thanks for having cancer? G.K. Beale in his commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians offers some insight to these questions.

"Paul attaches always, continually and in all circumstances to the three precepts in 5: 16-18 in order to highlight that his readers are not only to rejoice, pray and give thanks for the "good things" but also for the "bad things" that confront this church. Thus the circumstances of the readers' ordeals help explain how anyone can possibly be joyful always and pray continually. No one can literally rejoice and pray every second of their conscious existence, since this would prevent doing anything else. The answer comes from considering the following phrase: give thanks in all circumstances (or "give thanks in everything"), both good and bad. Similarly, the NIV's pray continually expresses that these activities are frequent, not literally every second. The parallelism of these three activities all being continual suggests that the phrase this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus is the ground not merely for thanksgiving but also for rejoicing and praying. During our daily activities, we must focus on the task at hand, but we should never lose sight of God in our spiritual peripheral vision. He should always be "in the background of [our] consciousness" (Findlay 1904: 127). When we are not aware of him in our "peripheral vision, " spiritual accidents occur, as can happen to us physically when we lose our literal peripheral vision."
"Martin (1995: 182) contends that "Paul never instructed the church to thank God for evil events but to thank God that even in evil times and circumstances our hope remains, and God continues his work in our lives (Rom 8: 28). " Romans 8: 28, however, does not say merely that God continues working in us in the midst of trials but that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him. " The same idea is likely in 1 Thessalonians, since Paul has said that "no one [should] be unsettled by these trials" because "you know quite well that we were destined [by God] for them" (3: 3). True, we do not thank God for bad events narrowly viewed in and of themselves, but we should thank him for such events as they are viewed in the "wide-angle lens" as part of his plan to sanctify us and to glorify himself (see 5: 23)."
"Similarly, another commentator affirms that believers should not "rejoice" in all things, such as illnesses, since "Christ did not. in any ordinary sense, rejoice on the Cross" (Whiteley 1969: 83). Perhaps, however, the key is in recognizing that Christians do not rejoice in such events in the "ordinary sense" the way the world rejoices. As in 1: 6, Paul's point is that we should have the attitudes of joy and thanks in response to whatever ups and downs we face. He has in mind a continual attitude of being aware of God's presence. Such an awareness will result in our ability to rejoice in whatever good or difficult things cross our paths under God's sovereign hand, to thank God for all these things and to pray for our needs and the needs of others. As Paul notes in 5: 18, thanksgiving has its ultimate source of being in Christ Jesus. Paul's statement that God's people are in Christ Jesus should remind them that they are to see all things through the lens of Christ and not from their own vantage point. As a consequence, they will experience peace."
Beale, G. K. (2010-02-17). 1-2 Thessalonians (Kindle Locations 2412-2435). Intervarsity Press - A. Kindle Edition.

What a gracious and wonderful God we serve who allows us to have peace in the most distressing trials of life. Consider what the Lord has done for you today.

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