“Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
The apostle Paul draws his letter to a close with eight short sayings which have a depth of meaning. Each of these is part of what is expected in every believer’s life, for they are given as commands rather than options. In this study we will take a look at what is meant by the first of these sayings.
We can rejoice no matter what
As believers we ought not to be known for a gloomy, sullen or sad temperament, instead each one of us has much to rejoice about. What a terrible testimony it is if all we can present to the world is a dark countenance. “Religion is not sullen and sour, but full of joy; so full that the saint can even be joyous when all the world seems to frown. He has a hidden source of joy, a present Saviour, a blessed hope” (The People’s New Testament).
What is there in that that would attract the lost to Christ? Yes, the world might be falling apart around us, but we can still rejoice in the Lord. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) … “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified” (Psalm 40:16) … “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Rejoicing proves we belong to God
“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Rejoicing is one of the attributes God shares with His own people. He wants us to have the same joy that is in His own heart. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). In fact the evidence that we have is Spirit is seen in our rejoicing, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy …” (Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit prompts us to rejoice, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13). It is a Heaven-sent joy rather than a manmade imitation.
Our joyous outlook
Over one hundred and forty times in the New Testament alone we are encouraged to rejoice, for it is God’s joy in us that is part of the victory. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). We must not live our days like death warmed up. “The dead praise not the LORD” (Psalm 115:17). We are not earthbound people; instead our destination is Heaven, that is, the presence of Christ. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). So regardless of how difficult life can be, we can rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
We are not always going to be able to dwell on the mountain tops, for we will find ourselves in the valley too, but even there we can rejoice. “I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities” (Psalm 31:7) …. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The word “happiness” comes from “happenness”, that is “the natural response to pleasant events and feeling.” Therefore, what Paul is asking here is not happiness, because our joy is not governed by the events of life. The joy we speak about is spiritual, for we can still rejoice when we feel unhappy. To rejoice is evidence of trust and faith in the Lord, and it grows out of obedience to His will. “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). John Wesley calls such joy “Uninterrupted happiness in God.”