The obedient disciple: Rejoice, pray, give thanks (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

POST OVERVIEW. A series of posts based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 describing how simple obedience to basic commands in Scripture can overcome persistent disobedience. This first post gives an overview of the principle of simple obedience.

16 Rejoice always; 

17 pray without ceasing; 

18 in everything give thanks;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How does the disciple of Jesus get into trouble?

The disciple gets into trouble when he is DOING what he is commanded NOT TO DO or he is NOT DOING what he is commanded TO DO.

This includes not only what the disciple is doing in their external behavior, but more importantly includes where he allows his thoughts to roam. The truth is that it is very possible for a disciple’s external obedience to disguise a heart that is contaminated by disobedient thoughts. It is “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) that marks the truly mature disciple.

THE “TROUBLE” STATEMENT CONSIDERED

A moment’s reflection will reveal that the above “trouble” statement is not terribly profound. It is, in fact, pretty obvious, for this is basically the definition of sin. But until the truth of this statement is manifested in a disciple’s life, the disciple will regularly be in a place of disobedience. In my own walk with the Lord, I experienced an immense breakthrough when I decided to conform my thoughts to this message. In other words, I began to be intentionally aware of my thoughts and made an effort to evaluate my thoughts to increase my obedience. And here is the reason we are looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: these three verses are simple and straightforward, so whenever I found myself in places where Scripture commands me not to go, I could quickly turn to 1 Thess. 5:16-18 to get back onto the path of obedience.

SOME EXAMPLES FOR ILLUSTRATION

Let me give a couple of examples to help clarify what I have in mind. I am a person who is prone to judge others. By that I mean that I will quickly assess (“judge”) someone based on the most threadbare of information and mentally place them in a particular box with a nice, neat label. I do this, by the way, because I feel that people are safer when they are in boxes and have been assigned a label. The problem with this behavior is that the Lord Jesus (among others) has expressly condemned this behavior in Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord commands His disciples not to judge in this way. So, what do I do? First, I become aware when I am judging someone, and I am taking something they have done or said as a reason to put them in a particular box with their own label. I realize this judging is sinful (doing what I am commanded not to do) and then consciously decide that I need to discontinue this sinful behavior. But instead of saying to myself, “I will not judge people; I will not judge people,” I say to myself, per 1 Thess. 5:16, “I will begin to rejoice.” So, I was unconsciously doing something that was disobedient, and I replaced that by consciously doing something that is obedient. I realized I was judging others, so I decided to rejoice.

Another example might be when I fret about the things that our government is doing and get concerned that they are intentionally ruining our country. Perhaps this concern is understandable at some level, but it is also explicitly disobedient to the commands of Scripture. Psalm 37 begins with, “Do not fret because of evildoers and be not envious of wrongdoers,” and I am fretting and being “envious.” This disobedience is sin, but to stop this sinful behavior, I decide to consciously turn my mind to 1 Thess. 5:17 (“Pray without ceasing”) and I begin to pray. In a short time, my sinful fretting is turned to prayer.

A third example could be that there are disciples of Jesus who are anxious and fearful about many things, but our anxious and fearful thoughts become a problem when one of the most common commands in the entire Scripture, Old Testament and New, is the command, “Fear not,” and Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave a long teaching about the sin of anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34). Scripture is clear that anxiety and being fearful are disobedient and therefore sinful. What is the anxious disciple to do? First, acknowledge that you are anxious, then confess the anxiety as sin (doing what you are commanded not to do), and then, in obedience, begin to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). The obedient behavior of giving thanks in everything will stop the disobedient behavior of worry and fear.

THE PRINCIPLE STATED

The principle is very simple yet profound: consciously replace disobedient thoughts and behaviors with obedient ones. I have chosen 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 because these three verses are easy to memorize and thus, they are easy to have at the ready when needed. When I find myself involved in some thought pattern that the Bible condemns as sinful, then I immediately reach for one of these three commands and put it into effect. Rejoice or Pray or Give thanks. The Lord has ordained things such that any act of conscious obedience will thwart disobedience. I have found that, if I am at a place where I am being plagued by a particular sin, I can reach for one of these simple verses and see victory.

With that as a background, I want to spend the next several blog posts thinking through these three verses so that the disciple of Jesus can have these cocked and ready when he finds himself wrestling with sin. The next post will be about 1 Thess. 5:16 – “Rejoice always.”

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/6/2024                     #608

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