Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Do you know what the shortest verse in the New Testament is? The obvious answer is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” It is the shortest verse in our English translations of the Bible. But the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” It is a little verse with big implications.
A Call to Joy
The word “rejoice” is a call to joy. The term was a watchword among early Christians. More than a term of worship, it was a word of salutation. Jesus used it as a greeting (Matthew 28:9). Paul used it as a farewell (2 Corinthians 13:11). We typically greet one another with “Hello” or “Goodbye.” But what an encouragement it would be if we entered and departed one another’s presence with a call to rejoice.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means, “Keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:6 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?
The Standing Orders of the Gospel
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and any situation. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlook: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do you want to know God’s will for you in any situation? It is God’s will that you rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. You are in spiritual rebellion if you are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for your life is about more than circumstances you face. It is about how you respond to those circumstances.
It is the will of God to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.
As he concluded the Upper Room Discourse, the Lord Jesus gave a provocative explanation for these final instructions he gave to the disciples: “I have said these things to you, that in me you have may have peace. In the word you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The Lord wants his disciples to live in peace. But true peace is not the absence of negative, painful, or difficult realities. The fact is that disciples of Christ will have tribulations in this world. We are not exempt from trouble because we are in Christ. To the contrary, following Jesus will bring faith-testing, soul-burdening, and life-threatening pressures. Sickness. Heartbreak. Persecution. Rejection. Disappointment. Disappointment. Loss. We will even face death itself. Yet we can take heart in the midst of it all, because Christ has overcome the world.
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Here are two essential things you need to know about the world, as a follower of Christ. First of all, the world is filled with tribulation. But, more importantly, it is conquered tribulation. The Lord has overcome the world! This bold declaration of sovereign authority is not a post-resurrection claim. Before the cross, with all its moral injustice, physical suffering, and spiritual agony, Jesus had already overcome the world. The one who was crucified for our sins rose again to declare, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
The tribulations of life are inevitably. But they do not have the last word. The crucified and risen Christ is the world conqueror. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth. This includes all of the blessings and burdens of your private world. Rejoice in this glorious truth now and forever.
Have you learned how to rejoice in the Lord always?