The Apostle Paul wraps up his first letter to the Thessalonians with a rapid fire list of commands.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The command to ‘rejoice always’ in verse 16 means that God calls his people to feel or show great delight or joy, and to do so at all times, in all situations. Rejoice always.
Does that strike you as a weird command? God commands us to be joyful, but what does that mean? Here are a couple of things to consider.
God is a joyful being. He’s not grumpy.
Do you think of the Lord as a joyful being? Or do you think of him as a grumpy God, who is always frustrated, annoyed, bored? Some people don’t really want to have anything to do with God or religion because they see it as getting in the way of their happiness. God just lays down rules that keep them from doing what they really want.
Is that really the case, though? No. In Scripture we find that God is the very definition of joy. In his presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).
God desires for you to be joyful as well.
John 15:10-11 – If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Does that surprise you? Jesus is speaking to his disciples here and he urges them to follow his commands, not to keep them from joy, but to fulfill it. He exhorts them so that they will experience the fullness of God’s love as they walk in his wise and good commands, which are given out of love.
God is joyful and he wants you to be joyful as well.
The default attitude of a Christian ought to be joy.
If Christians have no reason to smile, no one does. We have a new hope and a future. We have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. We have been adopted into God’s forever family and enjoy fellowship with him here and now. It dishonors God to live as though we have no reason to rejoice when he has spared us no good thing!
This is not to ignore seasons of depression, or to say there is no place for mourning (which we are also called to when appropriate). We will still struggle with sins in this life, and there are dark days. Sadness and depression are real. This is not a call to put on a false face and ignore the darkness we face. Rather, it is a call to look beyond our circumstances, to endure the cross and the shame for the joy set before us as Christ did (Heb. 12:2), and to remember that all things will work together of our good eventually (Rom. 8:28), and that the sufferings of this present time aren’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). It’s all about perspective – because God has wiped away not only our sins, but the causes for our eternal sadness. Our circumstances may not be agreeable, but our outlook is.
Joy is something we have to pursue, hence the command. In this way it is similar to peace, love, gentleness, patience, etc. Joy is among the fruits of the Spirit, so it becomes ours as we walk in the Spirit, as we pray, as we give thanks in every circumstance.
We are called to rejoice, which means to express our joy.
God doesn’t desire only that we feel joyful. The command is to ‘rejoice,’ which expresses the joy we experience. Rejoicing is a means of worship. It is glorifying God when we sing and give thanks to him for his goodness and grace in our lives. Rejoicing is a means of evangelism. We can express to others the faithfulness of God in our trials and the otherwise unexplainable joy we have in Christ. This can open doors to sharing the gospel to others, who do not have this joy of the Lord. Rejoicing is a means of discipleship. Make it a habit to rejoice with other believers and draw attention to the sweetness of your fellowship with God. Give testimony to answered prayers, providences, supplies of grace, and more. Share in your small groups and life groups to encourage the faith of others.
So I repeat. Rejoice always. Make it your daily habit to look past the darkness, difficulties, and pain of life to the hope, joy, peace, and life that is yours forever in Christ. Give God glory. Celebrate and tell of the good things he has done!