Read I Thessalonians 5:18
Because God is sovereign, wise and good, we can trust Him. If we are to honor Him in our times of adversity, we must trust Him. There are some corollary responses to trusting God that are important. They provide tangible evidence that we are in fact trusting God. One of those is thanksgiving.
In I Thessalonians 5:18 Paul instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” We are to be thankful in bad times and good times, for adversities as well as blessings. All circumstances whether favorable or unfavorable to our desires are to be occasions for thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is not a natural virtue; it is a fruit of the Spirit, given by Him. One of the most indicting statements in the Bible about natural man is Paul’s charge that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). The unbeliever is not inclined to give thanks. He may welcome circumstances that are in accord with his wishes and complain about those that are not, but it never occurs to him in either case to give thanks.
Thanksgiving is an admission of dependence. Through it we recognize that in the physical realm God “gives [us] life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25), and that in the spiritual realm, it is God who made us alive in Christ Jesus when we were dead in our transgressions and sins. Everything we are and have we owe to His bountiful grace.
The time when we have difficulty accepting Paul’s instructions to give thanks in all circumstances is when those circumstances are bad. Suppose one person is healed from a dreadful disease while another contracts one. Paul’s theology is that both, as believers, should give thanks to God.
The basis for giving thanks in the difficult circumstances is trusting that God is sovereign, wise and loving, as these circumstances are brought to bear upon our lives. In short, it is the firm belief that God is at work in all things – all circumstances – for our good. It is the willingness to accept this truth from God’s Word and rely upon it without having to know just how He is working for our good.
To derive the fullest comfort and encouragement from Romans 8:28 – and thus give thanks in all circumstances – we must realize that God is at work in a preactive, not reactive fashion. That is, God does not just respond to adversity in our lives to make the best out of a bad situation. He knows before He initiates or permits the adversity exactly how He will use it for our good. God knew exactly what He was doing before he allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. Joseph recognized this when he said to his brothers, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God…you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 45:8; 50:20).
Thanksgiving in all circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable, then, is a tangible response to the trustworthiness of God. If we trust Him to work in all our circumstances for our good, then we should give Him thanks in all those circumstances – not thanksgiving for the evil considered in itself, but for the good that He will bring out of that evil through His sovereign wisdom and love.
~ Adapted from “Trusting God” p.205-208 by Jerry Bridges