by Scott Lawton
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:14-18
“What is God’s will for me?” I suspect all of us have asked that question at some point in our lives (probably at multiple points). Often, it was probably in the context of some major life decision: Where should I go to college? What should I study? What job should I take? Who should I marry (or should I get married)? Where should I live? Or it could have been in any number of other situations. But usually when we ask that question, we are concerned with what we should choose or do in some set of circumstances. We are looking for some secret, hidden plan that we think God has for us, and we don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. Or perhaps you can remember a time when someone came up to you and said something like, “I think it is God’s will for you to do” such and such.
But that is not how the Bible speaks of God’s will. Twice in 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells the Thessalonians what God’s will is for them. But he doesn’t tell them where they should live or what job they should have. Rather, he focuses on what sort of people they should be. In other words, God’s will, according to Paul, has more to do with our character than our circumstances. God’s will for his people is that we would be sanctified, that we would be set apart and conformed to the likeness of Christ. So Paul is not concerned with people working at a certain kind of job, but that we are not idle or lazy. He cares about how we treat others. And most of all, he cares about how we relate to God. He wants us to be joyful, prayerful, thankful people.
Does that mean that God doesn’t care about our job or our spouse or any of the other myriad decisions we have to make in our lives? Well, yes and no. God cares about these decisions, insofar as they reflect or influence our hearts. So God may not care if you work as a doctor or teacher or factory worker, but he does care if you choose a particular job out of a love of money or desire to be honored by men, or if you accept a job that will require you to compromise your faith and obedience to the Lord. He doesn’t care how tall the person you marry is, or what color hair they have, but he does care about whether he or she will lead you toward or away from Jesus.
So what is God’s will for you, brothers and sisters? That you love the Lord with all of your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, give thanks to him, and worship him in spirit and truth. Paul ends his letter by reminding us that this is all God’s work on our behalf, and so we can have confidence that he will help us to do his will.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thes. 5:23-24)