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A Chapel Talk

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

(Professor Clifford Kuehne’s final chapel address at Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin; May 10, 2000)

Fellow-redeemed in Christ:

That’s the third and last line of the motto that appears on the bulletin board in classroom 7. It comes from verse 18 of our text: “In everything keep on giving thanks!”

Have you ever wondered why the Bible urges us again and again to give thanks to God? Do these passages seem at times like so many commands, in which God demands that we give Him something in return for the blessings which He has given to us? Is our God like a conceited demagogue–we think of Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein –who demands that his subjects acclaim him for all of the wonderful things that he claims to have done for them? Or is our God like a self-centered society hostess, who feels that she has been slighted if her guests are not sufficiently generous in their thanks as they leave her home?

Any such thoughts about our God would surely be blasphemous. You see, God doesn’t need anything from us, not even our thanks, for He is perfect and complete in Himself. For example, in the psalm He says: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness” (50:12). Is there, in fact, any reason why God would even want our thanks–we who are sinners, we who have rebelled against every law in His Book, we who have fallen so far short of His glory?

And yet God does invite us Christians again and again to give thanks to Him. Of this you can be sure: Such thanksgiving is entirely for our benefit, not His. As we thank God for what He has done for us, we are reminded of His great faithfulness to His promises–and our faith is thereby confirmed and strengthened. When we see how truly our hymn this morning (#36 in The Lutheran Hymnal) speaks about God:

    Who from our mother's arms
    Hath blessed us on our way
    With countless gifts of love,
    And still is ours today . . .

we can rest in the assurance that He will bless us also throughout our remaining years and bring us finally to Himself in heaven.

There is another way, also, in which our thanksgiving to God is for our own benefit. Christ once said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). Part of the enjoyment of a good meal at home is the opportunity to tell your mother or your wife how much you like it. Part of the fun of going on a nice vacation is to come back and tell others about it. Our hearts, now, have been filled with the joy of God’s salvation. How frustrating it would be if we had to shut our mouths and were not able to let that joy out in thankful praise to God!

It is, then, for our own spiritual benefit that the apostle Paul exhorts us in our text: “In everything keep on giving thanks.” Even though our thanksgiving in this life is imperfect in itself, God is pleased to hear and accept it for Jesus’ sake, for our text assures us concerning such thanksgiving: “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

For what, now, will we be thanking our God? Of course we will thank Him for His saving love in Christ Jesus, who was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification. Of course we will thank Him for granting to us so great a bounty of earthly gifts in answer to our prayer for daily bread. And of course a retiring teacher like me will be thanking the Lord again and again for the opportunity and privilege of working with Christian students, staff members, and fellow teachers at a school like ILC.

But our thanksgiving should not stop with such things as this. Notice the first two words of our verse, placed there to give them emphasis: “In everything keep on giving thanks.” When the apostle says “in everything,” he means that nothing should be excluded from our thanksgiving.

But can Paul really be serious? What, thank God for the troubles that come to us in life? Thank Him when things go wrong with our social life on campus? Thank Him when our bodies are racked by sickness and pain? Thank Him when a dear relative or friend dies an untimely death? Thank Him when we feel frustrated by difficulty in learning or by a physical disability? Thank Him when in spite of our prayers and efforts our accomplishments fall short of our hopes? Thank Him when we feel shoved into a corner by unanswered questions and nameless fears? Thank Him when because of our confession of Christ we feel the sting of persecution? What, thank God also for these things?

Yes, thank God also for them–and especially for them! For when you get to heaven, if not before, you shall find that what you now regard as your greatest troubles in life have in fact been among your greatest blessings. Listen to what Scripture says of all those who believe in Christ: ” . . . all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). In another of his letters, the apostle assures us that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Our Lord Jesus has ascended into heaven, where He lives and reigns at the right hand of power for the benefit of His Christians. He is both willing and able to turn our every trouble into blessing! Therefore,

” . . . in everything keep on giving thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.