Scripture Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
In this short series about the will of God, I wanted us to explore together what it meant to know what God’s will is and to know how to pursue His will. We might assume that people want to know and do God’s will, but that may not be true. Do we really want to know His will. Most people really just want to do what they want to do. If we were honest with ourselves, we would say that we want to be in charge. We want to call the shots. We want to have our will be done, not someone else’s. We have to put some effort to put aside what we want and to surrender to God’s will. This requires discipline. It requires prayer. It requires feeding on the Word of God. And, it requires obedience. But, if we are God’s people who are following our Lord, we will do His will. Last week we explored the idea of doing the will of God. We learned from Jesus that to be His family, we ought to be doing the will of God. In fact, it may be more accurate to say that if we are truly in the family of God, meaning we are saved and adopted into the family of God, we will be doing the will of God. We found out last week that doing God’s will means hearing His Word and obeying it. Look at the following verses.
Luke 8:20–21 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Those in the family of God will hear God’s Word and do it. That seems pretty straight forward. But, can we get more specific than that? Yes, we can! The Bible is a record of God’s will for us. God has clearly told us what He wants us to know. If you want to know God’s will, then read His Word. In fact, if we do not obey the things that God has already shown us clearly to be His will, why should we think that He would reveal anything else regarding His plan for our lives? If we do not obey what He has already revealed to us, why should we expect Him to show us anything else? Many people want to know what God’s plan is for their lives. They want to know what God wants them to do, but they overlook the fact that much of God’s will is already mentioned throughout the Bible. As we seek God’s will in something very specific, we need to make sure we know what He has already told us to do and what He has told us not to do.
What Is The Will of God?
First, if you do want to know God’s will, why do you want to know it? Do you want to know it for something that is important in your life right now, such as some decision that you need to make? When that situation is over, then will you no longer want to know God’s will? Is that the extent of what you want to know from God? Perhaps, God has something bigger planned for you. Perhaps, God’s will for you is something more than a single decision, even as important as that decision may be. What has God already told you to do? In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul exhorted the church to do what God wanted then to do. What was that? Look at the following verse.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
The will of God is for His people to live a life that is pleasing to Him. God created us. He gave us life. He saved us through His Son, Jesus. God wants us to use the life He has given us to honor Him. We are to do this “more and more”. Our growth in pleasing God has not yet been completed. It is ongoing. How is your life pleasing God? Do we really want to walk with the Lord and please Him in what we do? Do we really want to live a life that honors God? Could our lives be characterized as living mostly for ourselves, doing what we want, and seeking our own will? But, we were created to give glory to God. That is His will for us. But, if that is not clear enough, Paul then revealed something very plainly that is God’s will for us. The next verse was one that inspired me to consider what is the will of God for us as His people. What has God already told us that is clearly His will for us? Look at the following verse.
1 Thessalonians 4:3a For this is the will of God, your sanctification…
Paul revealed that God’s will is for us to be sanctified. God is very concerned for our sanctification. Another way to understand sanctification is “holiness”. It means to be set apart from the rest of the world for God. It means that we are different from everyone else. To put it in a more positive light, sanctification means to be like Jesus. Paul called on the church to please God by living in holiness. The will of God is for us His people to be holy, because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:14-16). We are not to be like the world around us, but to be like Jesus. That is, after all, the main purpose for which God sent His Son to die for you and for which He saved you. Jesus did not die on the cross to just rescue you from sin. He did not come just to cure you from the disease of death. Jesus did not come to just give you eternal life. Certainly, God did all of those things through Jesus, but the main thing He desires to do, God’s will for you, is for you to be like Jesus. That is a life pleasing to God. But, that may be a bit broad. Are there some specific things, maybe at least a few, that can help us to know God’s will for us? There are at least three individual things that Paul also revealed in this letter that are God’s will for us to do. Right at the end of this letter, Paul told us the following.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
These are some things God desires for us to do. And the thing is, it is God’s will for us to do these things always. These things should consistently characterize our lives. Let us now look at each one of these three things individually.
God’s Will is For You to Always Rejoice
According to this passage, God’s will is for us to rejoice always. In fact, joy is a distinctive mark of a Christian. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to have joy. It is part of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), meaning if we are being led by the Holy Spirit, we will have joy. And yet, we will oftentimes go from day to day with little to no joy. Why is this? One reason we do not rejoice always is that we sometimes find our joy in things we should not. For instance, we may find our joy in other people, or in our work, or in our circumstances. People will fail you, and where will your joy be? Your work may change or cease to exist, and then where will your joy be? To put this more broadly, your circumstance will change. You may have excellent health today and get a bad report from the doctor tomorrow. You may find out that what you wanted is not what will happen. The reason we sometimes have no joy is that we look for it in things that will never give it. Joy can never come from our circumstances.
Our joy must be in our relationship with Jesus! That will never change. If you rejoice in Christ, then you can rejoice always in any circumstance. Even in the midst of personal tribulations Paul could find reason to rejoice. Paul could rejoice in the spread of the gospel, even when it involved the personal pain of self-sacrifice. When we look beyond ourselves and our circumstances, and see the larger picture of what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do, we can and should be joyful. Even when things change and the circumstance seems gloomy, we can rejoice knowing that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We can rejoice that God is still at work even when we might not perceive it. When we realize that we are in Christ and that our relationship with God is secure, nothing in this world can ever steal our joy.
God’s Will is For You to Always Pray
God’s will is also for us to always pray. Praying without ceasing suggests an attitude of prayerfulness. It suggests a continual, personal fellowship with God. It involves an awareness of being in God’s presence throughout each hour of each day. We should be quick to pray in all circumstances, not just when emergencies arise. We ought to pray always, not just when something concerns us or when we need an answer from God. We should be a people of prayer, but we will cease to pray and by doing so, resist cultivating our relationship with God. How will we develop a genuine relationship with the One who created us, gave us life, and saved us from death, if we do not have an active prayer life? We should also take advantage of opportunities to pray together with other believers. We should get off alone and pray to God by ourselves. We should get together with each other and seek the will of God together. Times of “corporate prayer”, of “prayerful togetherness”, are opportunities to encounter God together. But, how should we pray? Jesus gave us a great model for prayer and it even addressed the will of God. Look at the following verse.
Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Notice the way Jesus taught us to pray: “Not my will, but your will be done.” God’s will is for us to pray always, and when we pray, to pray for His will to be done. The thing is that when our will is God’s will, when we really want God to have His way, we will have our will. So, pray for that and pray like that always.
God’s Will is For You to Always Be Thankful
Lastly, God’s will is for you to always be thankful. This does not mean simply saying “thanks” for the things people do for us. We know it is possible to say “thanks” and not be thankful. We should have an attitude of gratitude. We should be a thankful people. And yet, we will sometimes stop being thankful for all things and spend more time complaining about our will not being done. That is really what it is when we are not thankful. Something has not gone according to our plans (our will!) and we are not thankful for it. Are you thankful for each day God has given you? Are you thankful for the time you were able to spend together worshiping God together? No matter how mundane or tedious or how much you really do not want to do it, are you thankful for the work God has given you? We often have no trouble doing the things we want to do, but doing the things we are asked to do is a bit different.
Being thankful, however, does not mean that we should be thankful for things that are evil. 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. We should be thankful that even in when bad things happen, God continues His work in our lives (Romans 8:28). We should be sad when tragedy occurs or when evil takes place. We should mourn with those who mourn. We can realize, however, that God is at work in all things, even in the bad circumstances. We can be thankful for a God Who cares and Who is there with us. We can be thankful for what God has done with His church and what He is going to do with His church. We can be thankful that God uses us to do His will. Are you thankful?
For those who wonder about God’s will, this passage states it clearly: this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. There is no need to search or to read books. God’s will is that we are to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful because we are His children. These are just a few things that the Bible already tells us is God’s will for us. Outside of these (rejoicing always, praying always, and being thankful always) are there other things that God desires for us to do? Sure there is! God has specific things He wants us to do. He has a plan for His church. How will we know what His will is? We should be praying for Him to show us. We should be seeking the godly counsel of others to help us see what God is doing. Whatever God has for us to do, it includes us becoming more like Christ, living a life that is pleasing to Him, rejoicing always, praying always, and being thankful always. We know whatever else the Lord wants to do or to show us, it includes those things. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.