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Rushing children to urgent care for stitches is not a fun aspect of parenting. Even when the blood has been running down their face, they fight the doctor coming at them with needle and thread. Not once has my child sat still and stayed quiet during the procedure, then turned with a smile to thank me. That wouldn’t be human nature. My children thank me for things that they perceive as pleasant, not things that hurt.

Perhaps that is part of the reason that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” If it weren’t commanded, we wouldn’t do it. It’s not human nature to give thanks in all circumstances. But for believers, this practice should be a growing facet of our regenerate nature.

Just as my children cannot understand how stitches will help a cut, so we often cannot see the effects of our circumstances. Perhaps they are for our good; perhaps they are for the good of those around us. Maybe they simply, somehow, bring glory to God. As Job found out, God doesn’t owe us an explanation. He does, though, kindly assure us that He will work it all for good, even as He commands thanksgiving.

Matthew Henry, after somebody stole his wallet, wrote down several thanksgivings in that circumstance: “1) I am thankful that he never robbed me before. 2) I am thankful that although he took my wallet, he did not take my life. 3) Although he took all I had, it was not much. 4) I am glad that it was I who was robbed, not I who did the robbing.” Though he didn’t give thanks for the robbing itself—for the act of robbing itself was sin—he gave thanks in this hard situation. The reality of God’s protection and ultimate kindness was bigger than the reality of the theft.

If the Father is for us, then everything else must be subservient to that reality.

The text gives us solid reason for cultivating such a perspective: “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). The will of God, which is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), includes persistent thanksgiving to God. But here, the will qualified: it is God’s will “in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). God’s will for us is undivided from our Savior, just like His covenant love (Rom. 8:39). The New Testament often uses the phrase “in Christ” to describe believers. The term “Christian” is rare. Instead, Scripture often calls God’s elect those who are “in Christ” (e.g., Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 2:17; Gal. 1:22; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2). Just as we who believe the gospel are in Christ, so God’s will for us is in Him. The grace that brought us into union with Jesus is also the grace that wills us home to Him, dangers, toils, and snares notwithstanding.

And perhaps that last little phrase—“for you”—contains similar sweetness. When we are in Christ, circumstances don’t happen to us. Because the will of God in Christ Jesus is for us, so our circumstances will be for us. Of all people, only those who are in Christ have this grounding assurance: anything we go through happens for us, not to us. Surely this is something for which we can give thanks, in spite of grief or pain. It moves us from the stance of victim to beloved child. It lets us see things such as stitches not as torture but as medical care. It allows us to see that the difficulties of this life, though real and hard, are not ultimate. If the Father is for us, then everything else must be subservient to that reality. When the Spirit creates a Godward orientation in us, thankfulness will be able to flow, even in hard times.

This article was originally published November 25, 2020.