Thanks for Everything?


I had this title in 2004 but without the question mark. This sermon wrestles more with the ‘everything’. Estonians have a proverb: Who does not thank for little will not thank for much. Can it be said that who does not give thanks for bad will not give thanks for good? Jewish Rabbis said, “Man has a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad as he pronounces a blessing on the good” (Kittle, IX, 410). In 2016 I cited from Lutheran Witness the terrible events surrounding the Lutheran pastor who wrote the 17th century hymn Now Thank We all Our God. Those events are regarded by other sources as legend not fact (Handbook TLH, 32). However, it’s no legend that when the Kaiser announced mobilization for WWI the crowd outside his palace broke out singing that hymn. I don’t remember anyone doing that when mobilization started for the First Gulf War. So is ‘everything’ a stumbling block for our thanks?

Note well: Paul doesn’t say for all things. I’ve got examples of people doing somersaults to be thankful for everything. A nursing home employee was always telling people how she was thankful for everything. One icy day she literally crawled to work on hands and knees. She was asked what she could be thankful for about that? She said, “That it was dark and no one could see me.” Or this joke from 2001. And elderly woman always shouted, “Thanks be to God,” and her atheist neighbor would shout back, “There is no God.” The lady fell on hard times and prayed for help. The atheist heard her and put groceries on her porch. Finding them she shouted, “Thanks be to God!” The atheist jumped from behind a bush saying, “There is no God. I bought those groceries.” The lady said, “Thanks be to God for not only sending groceries but making the devil pay for them!”

For some Christians it’s a test of faith to find ways to be thankful for ‘everything’. But Paul doesn’t say, “For all things be thankful” but literally “in all things you must give thanks.” The CEV is interpreting when it says “Whatever happens, keep thanking.” But the MSG is worse with their paraphrase “Be cheerful no matter what. GW goes even further with “whatever happens give thanks.” I’ve seen people thankful in sickness, in death, in pain, in sorrow. Occasionally, I’ve seen them thankful for such, but is this Paul’s point?

Job is often trotted out here. Job gets the news of livestock taken, servants killed, and of a wind blowing down the house where his 10 children were killing them all. Listen to his response: “He fell to the ground and worshipped…, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:20-21). When Satan strikes again taking his health, friend’s, and wife’s affections away, his wife advises him “curse God and die.” Job responds: “If we accept the good that comes from God, shouldn’t we also accept the bad” (2:10)? Back to the Rabbinic advice on blessing God for bad and good. They made this distinction, “At good news one says: Blessed be He who is good and does good. But at bad news one says, Blessed be the judge of truth…” (Kittle, IX, 410). The Lord is blessed in all things not for all things.

And the command be thankful in everything is only one of several ‘impossible’ commands. Before thanks in everything comes you must always rejoice; you must pray without ceasing. After thanks is commanded, you must stop quenching the Spirit; you must stop despising prophesies; you must test everything; you must hold to what is good; you must keep away from every form of active evil. Every one of these can be watered down, can be made doable by modifying, qualifying, editing the command. But let the Holy Spirit mean what He says and say what He means.

Of all the commands, this is the only one the Holy Spirit explains. He says, literally: “You see this is the result of the will of Deity in Christ Jesus into you.” Paul starts out by saying you are to regard all things in your life the good, the bad, the ugly, as the results of Deity’s or Divine will. This highlights the hidden will of God not for us to look into but to know that regardless of what has happened, even if we can’t get our head, heart, or hope around it, we have not slipped out of God’s will. "'The God who is hidden in His majesty does not lament death and does not abolish it, but He works life, death, and all in all. For in that realm He has not defined [revealed] Himself by means of his Word but has preserved for Himself freedom over all things" (LW, 33, 140). That is Luther in Bondage of the Will as is this: In His Word God doesn’t ‘will the death of a sinner’. But in His hidden will He does. We are to leave that will hidden and go by His Word. (Cole, trs. 173). Go by God’s revelation of Himself in Christ not by the God who Isaiah 45:15 declares hides Himself.

In the results of God’s will, even His hidden will, more is going on than we know, could every appreciate, or maybe even tolerate. For example, a soldier who crawls out of his sleeping bag only to see a rattlesnake crawl out after. Or a guy goes out front because his dog is barking. Walks out to the yard fence and back in the dark. Seeing nothing he goes back inside turns on the porch light and then sees a rattler stretched out on his sidewalk which he had stepped over going to and from the fence. Or a hunter climbs the ladder into his deer stand only to look down once it’s light to see a rattlesnake coiled at the base of the ladder. None of these guys were thankful in those circumstances till after they saw the whole picture. We never see the whole picture of God’s hidden will; we only know God assures us we can be thankful in the results of that will.

But He says also that whatever is going on in the life of the Christian is in Christ Jesus for you. God’s will in this text is a reference to the hidden, unrevealed God. The face of God that no one can look into and live. The God who even Moses himself had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock to be protected from seeing. But ‘in Christ Jesus’ points us to the revealed God. That’s the only begotten Son of God that John says is in the bosom of the Father and makes known the God no one has ever seen (John 1:18). See the will of Deity in the face of Christ. In Christ is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily says Paul in Col. 2. In 1 Cor. 1:30 Paul reveals, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom from God, namely, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Paul refers to us as being ‘in Christ” some 150 times. That’s baptismal language. God’s will for you in Christ is Baptism. It’s being rescued from Sin, Death, and Devil. God declares from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism that He is well-pleased in Christ. Your baptism puts you there. Events may terrify, guilt may chase you, but in Christ God is well-pleased with you.

God’s will is being worked out in the Christian’s life “in Christ Jesus” and “into you.” These are the Greek prepositions we talk about in Bible Class: en and eis. The first declares a state: By virtue of your Baptism, you are en Christ. And in that state, the will of God is moving into you. Correctly, most translations regard this use of eis as “for you”. Read your Sixth Chief Part; see the importance of ‘for you’ all the way through our confession of Communion. We go by Jesus words “Give and shed for you.” Likewise with Baptism: Jesus, John, and Paul all declare Baptism is eis ‘for’ the forgiveness of sins.

Keep going: The incarnation of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary is ‘for us.’ Isaiah says: “for us a Child is born; for us a Son is given.” Jesus putting Himself under the Laws given to mankind was for us. His keeping of those Laws was for us. His being held guilty, nevertheless, of breaking every one of them, and saying not a word of protest was ‘for you.’ His putting all this forgiveness, all this life, all this salvation in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion was and is ‘for you.’ We remember our Baptism and we give thanks. We confess our sins and are pronounced absolved, freed, and who can’t say ‘thanks’ for that? And after consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus in our time and place for strengthening and preserving in the true faith, what can the renewed saint say but ‘thanks’?

Now Paul tells us in our text that the crooked lines we see in our life, the cursed things we’ve done, we’ve experienced, we’ve seen, are nevertheless in Christ Jesus for us. God is at work taking our crooked lines and drawing straight lines to Him, to paradise, to salvation for us. God is at work in things we can’t understand or even appreciate giving more in cursing than sinful man can give in blessing. So in all things we must give thanks because God in Christ Jesus tells us the result is always ‘for you.’ This side of heaven our life remains the backside of a tapestry. A tangled mass of yarn and color with no discernable picture. On God’s side, a beautiful scene is being weaved. God in our text says: “You can be thankful for the result. Trust me. I see what you can’t.” It's true; “Tapestry weavers see only the wrong side (the underside) as they weave. They use mirrors…at the front of the tapestry to see what they are creating.” This led a 23 year old Florence May Gibbs to write in her 1892 poem “Weaving”. “Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;/ And I in foolish pride/ Forget He sees the upper/ And I the underside!” (

In the Hidden Will of God lie all the why’s and how’s that we can only torment ourself with because they are not given to us in Christ Jesus. But these difficult things are also a safeguard against prosperity. "Prosperity leads us to think that we have found our place in the world. Of course, the reality is that the world has found its place in us" (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 295). The Hidden Will of God prevents us from finding any home, any rest, any peace, any thanks anywhere except in Christ Jesus. Luther said in Bondage of the Will, “God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits His will and pleasure” (LW, 33, 188). True, but He has also promised that all things work for our good and will His time be beautiful in Christ Jesus. And so we are thankful in everything! Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Thanksgiving Eve (20231122); 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas