Rejoice at all times
Being the season of thanksgiving, I want to draw your attention to I Thess. 5:16 because it is one of those verses that is very rare in the Bible because it contains only two words. It says, âRejoice always.”
It is unambiguous, clear, not in need of much interpretation. It needs no qualifiers, no caveats, no exceptions, no ifs, ands, or buts. It is a command.
In the Greek text the order is reversed and it reads, âAt all times be rejoicing.” So the emphasis is not on rejoicing but on at all times rejoicing. In other words your joy should be unceasing. Now I want to make a statement that may be a little hard for you to believe.
Here is the statement; there is no event or circumstance that can occur in the life of any Christian that should diminish a Christianás joy. Let me restate it from a negative standpoint. If joy is diminished in the Christianás experience, that is sin because it amounts to disobedience to this command. Given the woes of life, that may sound a little harsh, but that is precisely what this command expects of us. And it is not an isolated command. Phil. 3:1 says, âFinally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Phil. 4:1 says, âRejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” I Peter 4:13 says, to rejoice with joy.” So we are called to have incessant joy. Oh, but doesnát Romans 12:15 say rejoice with those who rejoice but weep with those who weep?
It does, but that is not talking about our internal joy. We are to show compassion and empathy and sympathy with people by joining in their laughter when they are happy and weeping when they are sad. But that weeping does not negate internal joy. Paul said in II Cor. 6:10, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing. In Col. 1:24 Paul said I rejoice in my sufferings. The command then is this, at all times be rejoicing. In our Lord’s final time with his disciples in the Upper Room discourse in Jn. 13-17 when He celebrated the Lord’s Supper and Judas was betraying Him He mentions joy eight times.
In Philippians joy is mentioned 16 times and what makes that remarkable is that Paul wrote that from prison. So joy is continually stressed throughout the New Testament. Scripture says that true joy is to be great, abundant, exceeding, animated and unspeakable.
It is a superabundant joy and it should characterize our lives. Now it is obvious that the command to rejoice is not dependent upon positive circumstances. That kind of joy is the world’s joy. That is the kind of joy people experience that is derived from the fulfillment of an earthly pleasure. If they get what they want they are happy. If they don’t get what they want they are unhappy.
–That kind of joy is delusional because it never really satisfies because desires never cease. Proverbs says the end of joy may be grief. That means you may find out that what was such a thrill for you at the moment may become a serious pain for you. That is why people move from material thing to material thing. That is why they move from partner to partner in relationships. That kind of joy is short-lived.
Job 20:5 say the joy of the godless is momentary. It just comes and goes quickly. Ecc. 7:6 says like kindling, it burns up fast. Isa. 16:10 says the joy of gladness is taken away. The joy of the world is connected to the desires of the heart and the fulfillment of pleasure. It is delusionary because it promised something it cannot deliver. We have all experienced that kind of joy, haven’t we? If we just had this house, or this car, or this piece of furniture, or that wardrobe thing, or that person, or that job, or that degree it would end all of your desires, you would have reached the summit of human existence and you would be satisfied. But that never happens because the essence of humanness in its fallen condition is to desire and desire and desire and that desire is never permanently satiated. So I am not talking about that kind of joy. I am talking about supernatural joy, something that is not natural. Where does that kind of joy come from? It comes from God. Psalm 4:7 says, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than where grain and new wine abound.” He is saying, God, you did something in my heart that is more than the natural joy that I received when all my crops came in and I had all I wanted to eat and drink and all the resources and money I needed. You did something more than that. You gave me peace so that I could lie down and sleep. You make me dwell in safety; you take all the anxieties out of my life. That is the joy that comes from God. Psalm 16:11 says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy”. So we are talking about a joy that comes from God. It is full joy. It is spiritual joy. It is a supernatural joy. Secondly it comes though Christ. God gives it, but He only gives it to those in Christ. It is reserved for us. In John 15:11 Jesus said, “These things I spoken to you that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be full”. Jesus is saying to us, you are mine and in that relationship we have you get my full joy. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is the energizer of that joy. God is the source, Christ is the mediator of that joy, and the H.S. is the energizer of that joy. Romans 14:17 says, the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking. It is not satisfaction from the physical. It is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. There is one other element. It is enhanced and enriched through trials. James 1:2 says; Count it all joy when you fall into various trials. This joy comes from God, mediated by Christ, energized by the Holy Spirit as we receive the word in the midst of trials. No acquisition affects it and no loss affects it. No gain affects it and no deprivation affects it. The kind of joy we are talking about is not related to your position in life or your possessions in life. Christian joy is an experience that springs from the deep-down confidence in the Christian that Christ is sufficient and that God is in perfect control of everything, bringing it all to our good in time and eternity. It is that joy that is unassailable because it is below the surface, unaffected by the winds and the waves of experience on a human level.
Now, what should motivate me to obey this command to rejoice? First, what should motivate me to rejoice is a response to the character of God. What do I mean by that? It is like what Nehemiah said in Neh. 8:10. The joy of the Lord is your strength. What strengthens me in the midst of difficulty and trial is the joy I find in the rock of my God. It is my knowledge of who God is as a creator and sustainer of the universe, as sovereign over everything, as the lover of my soul, the redeemer of my life, as the gracious God, as the wise God. God is too wise to ever make a mistake. God is too loving to ever be unkind to his children. God is too merciful to allow me to be devastated. God is my protector. He is more powerful than Satan and demons and overrules in all circumstances. I belong to that God. He is my God. Often we struggle with joy because we don’t understand God the way he is revealed in scripture. So what motivates me to be joyful is everything I know about my God. Secondly, I am motivated to rejoice always in appreciation for the work of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3 says we are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and rejoice in Jesus Christ and put no confidence in the flesh. Who is a Christian? It is somebody who worships in the spirit of God, rejoices in Christ and puts no confidence in the flesh. It doesn’t matter what happens to my flesh or what happens to my earthly things. What is important to me is what happens on a spiritual level. I have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. Nothing can overrule that, nothing can change that, and nothing can ever separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. I can also be motivated to rejoice because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. How can I not rejoice when the Spirit of God is leading me to understand truth? When I have the spirit of God within me, when the spirit of God has gifted me for ministry, when He is my comforter and comes alongside to help, when he guarantees my place in heaven. My joy is anchored in the fact that God will not fail me, Christ will not fail me, and the Holy Spirit will not fail me. They are all working together for my good and to accomplish God’s plan for me. Salvation is like a well of blessing and once you have salvation you can go back to the well and everything you need can be drawn out of that well. Divine providence means that God takes all the events, all the actions of all the people in the world all the time and weaves them together to accomplish his perfect plan for me. I must admit my life becomes hopelessly complicated with just a few unexpected contingencies. But God perfectly orchestrates exactly what he intended before time began. That means I don’t have to have to control everything in my life. I don’t have to manipulate everything in my life. I can let life bring what it may and move through life knowing that whatever happens God providentially orders it to work together for good to those that love him and are called according to his purposes. I can also be motivated to rejoice in response to prayer. John 16:24 says, ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be made full. I rejoice because God answers prayer. That in itself should be enough to keep the joy flowing. Psalm 119m says I rejoice as one who has found great spoil. I am also motivated to rejoice because of Christian fellowship. I don’t mind being around unconverted people, but I prefer you. I prefer to be with believers because there is a level of joy I don’t experience with unbelievers. Paul said in I Thess. 3:9. “What thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God because of you.” He says you bring me so much joy, I can’t even count it, and I can’t even sum up enough thanks for it. As Philemon 3 says, “I have come to have much joy in your love. So think of all the blessings that have been poured out into your life by God, how divine providence orchestrates everything in your life, answered prayer, Christian fellowship, and even the promise of future glory, how can you not be motivated to have joy? Maybe you are thinking, I am not very joyful. You don’t know what happened in my life this week. How can I be joyful? Then what are some of the hindrances that keep me from being joyful? If you are not rejoicing, there may be some reasons. One is maybe you are not a Christian. You are going through a trial, you’re cursing God, you’re mad at God or you generally just don’t have any joy. Some of you may be living with a spouse like that or a child like that. Someone who claims to be a Christian but they never have any joy. That is pretty good evidence that that person is not a Christian because joy is a gift from God through Christ planted in the heart. If you don’t see it then question your salvation. Trials are given to us so that when we pass the test we know our faith is the real thing. Ignorance can also steal your joy. If I believed in modern theology that says God is not sovereign, God doesn’t know the future, that God is just up there in heaven watching things happen like in a film or a movie that he has never seen, I wouldn’t have any joy. False expectations will also steal your joy You’re thinking to yourself, I came to Jesus and He didn’t make my company grow or my bank accounts grow, I lost my job. Things are a mess at home. Isn’t Jesus supposed to make life happy? Aren’t I to have his healing at my disposal? Where are all the miracles? In Jn. 16:13 Jesus aid, “In this world you will have trouble, but I have come to overcome the world“. So whatever you are going through it is not fatal, it is just part of your perfecting. It is proving the reality of your faith, strengthening it to enduring faith. Forgetfulness will also steal your joy. What do I mean by forgetfulness? Psalm 103:2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits”. Take time to sit down and remember and remember and remember the history of God’s goodness in your life because it will help you draw joy. Maybe a thank you journal will help. Self-absorption will steal your joy. We start worrying about all the little things in our life that aren’t the way we want them to be. Getting caught up in trying to analyze and interpret all the little things that happen in your life will steal your joy. One other thing will steal your joy. It is called feelings. If I do not feel joyful it is probably because I don’t have the mental discipline to control my emotions. I mean I feel highs and lows like everyone else. In fact I am prone to disappointment and depression. But I need to learn that my feelings are not to be controlled by feelings but by the truth. So in summing it up, the ground of our rejoicing is the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is the commitment of the triune God to us in that He will govern the past the present and the future. The ground of our rejoicing is that everything we need in life is available to us and provided for us and that God controls everything to His glory and our good. So the command to rejoice always is a reasonable command. A joyful Christian looks away from the changing circumstances to the unchangeable God. A joyful Christian looks more at his Lord than his personal difficulties. A joyful Christian looks more at his spiritual riches in Christ than his poverty on earth. A joyful, Christian looks more at his glorious fulfillment in heaven than his present pain.
The Rev. Dr. James Barnes is currently the pastor of White Memorial Church in Milroy.