Does “Rejoice Always” Mean the Absence of Sadness?
Can Joy and Sorrow Coexist in a Christ-Centered Christian?
When Paul wrote “rejoice always” to the Thessalonian believers in 5:16 of his first letter to that young church, was this short command also meant to communicate the idea that there's no place for grief or discouragement or disappointment in the life of the believer? I don't believe so. Here's why. In that same letter, one chapter earlier, Paul acknowledged the grief they were experiencing in the face of recent deaths; over the loss of friends or family members within their own church. If you carefully consider I Thessalonians 4:13, you'll realize that Paul is not instructing these disciples to be 'grief-free', but to “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Because of the promise of Christ's return, and the promise of resurrection life in him (4:14-17), both grief and hope can coexist in those who trust God's word. In this passage, Paul doesn't seem to be describing a hope that simply drives out grief. He seems to be talking about a hope that informs and sustains us through grief. In another letter, Paul points to a similar relationship between sadness and joy. In I Corinthians 6:4-10, Paul describes himself and his co-laborers in the kingdom as “servants of God” who walk in tensions that don't always make sense at first to those on the outside. In verse 10, he explains that “we live... as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing...”. Like grief and hope, Paul recognized that both grief and joy can coexist in us; they don't simply cancel each other out. Instead, joy informs and sustains us through grief. Therefore the command to “rejoice always” in I Thessalonians 5:16 is a reminder that, because of God's promises (secured by the gospel of Jesus—1:2-10), we always have reason to rejoice, even in the face of painful or difficult realities. This gospel-inspired rejoicing doesn't guarantee the banishment of any and every sorrow, but it does anchor us in the face of such storms. And that's yet another reason to “rejoice always” in light of our new life in Christ.