The Joy We Should Always Enjoy (I Thessalonians 5:16)
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16–5:16
THE FIRST FEW MINUTES OF THE AUDIO OF THIS MESSAGE WERE CUT OFF. PLEASE SEE THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW FOR THE CONTENT OF THE "INTRODUCTION" AND POINT "A" FROM THE SECOND SECTION.
Joy: The Gift of Heaven’s Happiness
The Joy We Should Always Enjoy
I Thessalonians 5:16
December 18th, 2011
Way of Grace Church
What brings you joy? If asked someone close to you, what would put a smile on your face, what would I discover?
Would it be spending time with a particular person? Would it be having some time to yourself? Would it be watching your favorite team or your favorite movie? Would it be winning a particular game? Would it involve the outdoors, or the indoors? Would it involve going, or staying? Would it be "raindrops on roses" and "whiskers on kittens"? Would it be a lavish meal with your favorite dish, or just curling up with a good book?
What brings you joy? What do you en-joy?
This morning we are wrapping up our series on the topic of joy. This word that is so common during Christmastime is a word that is also extremely common in the Bible. Some form of the word joy, or synonyms of joy occur over 600 times in the Bible. Two weeks ago we learned that true joy, the joy we need is the kind God gives: "the joy of the LORD". Last week we looked at the amazing fact that Jesus secures this joy for us through His death and resurrection. And this secure joy that Jesus makes possible is the confident joy in which we should live every day.
II. The Passage: “Rejoice Always” (5.6)
This morning we are conclude this study by looking together at I Thessalonians 5:16. Turn there in your Bibles...I Thessalonians 5:16.
Now I don't want you to nod off this morning as I read this monstrous passage. So settle in and get comfortable as I read from I Thessalonians 5:16. Paul writes...
Okay, wake up. I'm finally finished. Now I know there was a lot there, but were you able to pick out the main point of this passage? Now, if you thought the shortest verse in the Bible was John 11:35, “Jesus wept”, you'd be wrong if we were talking about the original Greek. This is actually the shortest verse of the Bible in the Bible's original languages.
But this small verse has a lot to teach us this morning. So let's do this: let's look at both halves of this verse; or to be more specific, let's look more in depth at the word “rejoice” and the word “always”.
A. A Joyful Expression (5:16a)
The word translated “rejoice” here is the Greek word chairo, which is related to the Greek word chara, which means “joy”. Chairo can mean “rejoice” or “be glad”.
These are the same words used by Matthew when he wrote this about the magi who came seeking the newborn king: When they saw the star, they rejoiced (chairo) exceedingly with great joy (chara). (Matthew 2:10)
As is clear there, “to rejoice” is to give expression to our joy, whether that expression takes place in our heart or on our tongue.
This is the word used in Luke 15:5, to describe what the shepherd does after he finds his lost sheep: And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (Luke 15:5) This is what the father does in the same chapter when he recovers his lost son: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad (rejoice), for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:32)
This is, in fact, the word Jesus used in the passage we looked at last week: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice (chairo), and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:22)
In Philippians 3:1, Paul uses this same word and makes it clear the kind of rejoicing he has in mind: Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. “To rejoice in the Lord” means to give expression to “the joy of the LORD”. It means embracing, experiencing, and expressing the joy that God gives and Jesus secures.
B. A Joyful Duration (5:16b)
But look at what Paul tells us about the duration of this kind of expression: Rejoice always.
The word can and has been translated as “at all times” or “evermore”, but the sense of what Paul is saying remains exactly the same no matter which word or words you use.
But what does it mean to “rejoice ALWAYS”? Does it mean that every word out of our mouth is an expression of joy or that every second of every minute of every hour is an experience of joy? How comprehensive is the “ALL” in “always”?
Well, one thing that can help us answer that question is the context here. Look at verses 16, 17, and 18: Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
So it looks like Paul is actually teaching the Thessalonians to do three things “all the time”: to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. But can we really do all three of these things at the same time AND all the time?
Well, yes and no. it seems clear from the combination of these things that Paul is talking about the quality and perspective of our spirit.
Whether they are actually shouting, or kneeling, or proclaiming, Paul wants the Thessalonians to consistently walk in a spirit of rejoicing and a spirit of prayer and a spirit of thanksgiving. This is the kind of a heart that every follower of Jesus should be cultivating, so that no matter where we are or what we're doing or who were with, these are the things that fill our heart and affect our outlook.
III. Reasons to “Rejoice Always”
But when we focus once again on verse 16, the question all of us ask undoubtedly at some point is, “How can we rejoice always when there is not always reason to rejoice?”
How can we rejoice when that particular person is being distant or disinterested or difficult? How can we rejoice when there is never time to stop and catch our breath? How can we rejoice when our favorite team fumbles the ball or misses a critical shot? How can we rejoice when we lose the game, or are when the car is on the fritz, or when there isn’t enough money for that special meal or that special trip; when our child is struggling, when our health is struggling, when we are struggling with harmful desires or a hurtful past or the heavy burden of loss?
You see, the things that so often bring us joy are not “always” kinds of things. As we talked about last week, they are temporary and temperamental. They are fickle and fleeting. But we want them to be “always’ kinds of things, because we were made for an “always” kind of joy. And so we pursue, we chase, we strive and strain to “rejoice always”, but the objects of our joy can never meet our expectations.
But the fact that Paul’s imperative here, his authoritative command, God’s authoritative command to me and to you, to “rejoice always”, the fact that this command is at the end of this letter reminds us that Paul has already laid the groundwork for this command.
Paul has already given them in the first five and half chapters of this book so many reasons to “rejoice”. And the reasons he’s provided are, in fact, “always” kinds of things. Just as we saw back in Nehemiah 8, Paul wants the word of God to fill them up with the truth of who God is and the truth of His “precious and very great promises”, and then spill over into the “joy of the LORD”.
The Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren once said, “Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full. Do not let a hard place here and there in the bed destroy your rest. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.” (Alexander MacLaren)
What are the “crowded kindnesses’ Paul has detailed for the Thessalonians in this letter. Well, here are at least four.
First of all, the Thessalonians should “rejoice always” because God’s salvation has come and will come.
Flip back and look at chapter 1:9, 10. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has heard and is himself rejoicing over…
…how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (I Thessalonians 1:9-10)
This is the gospel-centered joy we talked about last week, joy secured by, made certain by the death and resurrection of Jesus. But what Jesus did is not some dry, historical museum piece to be placed on a shelf and admired as a interesting relic. No what Jesus did, the work Jesus accomplished on the cross is a dynamic reality that causes the past to invade our present.
This is the joy of being rescued from a burning building. This is the joy of receiving the cure for a deadly disease. This is the joy of a second chance, and a third chance, and a fourth chance, and so on. This is the joy of hunger that is always satisfied. This is the joy of being reconciled to a perfect Father whose very being defines love. This is grace. This is new life!
But it’s a past work that not only invades and renovates our present. It also transforms our future. Look over the chapter 4, verses 13-18. God’s salvation not only brings forgiveness from God and fellowship with God, but it also means, in the face of death, we (v. 13) do not have to “grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep [that is, those who have died].
You see, Jesus will come one day, and (v. 17) we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [those who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
For, as Paul writes in the next chapter, 5:9, 10, God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (5:9, 10)
And if we were to continue on to the end of chapter 5, Paul reaffirms the certainty of this salvation, this rescue. 5:23, 24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
God’s salvation has come and will come, and it is an “always” kind of thing! How you feel on any particular day does not change the certainty of how God feels about you because of Christ. He always loves you. Your struggles with sin, and shame, and guilt does not change the certainty of your standing before God. You are always justified, always acquitted because of Christ. Our wrestling with the fear of death does not change the certainty of our future hope. We will be raised with Christ and “we will always be with the Lord”.
What a reason to “rejoice always”! But there is a second reason Paul gives. We can “rejoice always” because God has built and is building His church.
In the open words of the letter, in chapter 1, verses 2 and 3, Paul writes: We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,  remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
You see, Paul provides for them an example of regularly finding joy in the reality of what God has done and is doing in the lives of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He goes on in chapter 3, verse 6 to tell them:
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.  For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.  For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
When we are tempted to believe that we are alone in this world, we need to remember that God has not only given us himself, but He’s given us himself through “the body of Christ”, the church. Through God’s people, God so often gives us that listening ear we need, that helping hand, that shoulder to cry on.
And even though we can and do let each other down, we can rejoice always that here and all around the world, we have a family that God is building, a family that God is forming to be an “always” kind of thing. Look around this morning. These are the people with whom you will be spending eternity, if your faith is in Christ as your only hope. And that eternity will only be glorious because we will be with Him. What a reason to rejoice!
But there is a third reason that Paul touches on in this letter. The Thessalonians should “rejoice always” because even affliction is part of God’s loving plan for us.
Very quickly in chapter 1 Paul reminds them of the reports he’s heard about how these believers had become (v. 6) imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Look at chapter 3, the last part of verses 2. Paul reveals here that he sent Timothy to this very young church in order to establish and exhort you in your faith,  that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
The suffering we face in this life is so often the very reason we do not “rejoice always”. We tend to think of it as our ‘hall pass’ from the homeroom of happiness, as our license to NOT rejoice. But God does not give us that option. Remarkably, God puts suffering and joy together, so that we become imitators of the perfect Son of God when we rejoice in the midst of our sufferings. God has made suffering part of our eternal destiny in Christ…”we are destined for this” (3:3).
But this is not because Christ is forming a society of masochists who simply love pain. No! We rejoice in our sufferings because of what they tell us about how God has worked and is working us. Look at some of these verses from other parts of the New Testament:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
If we are in Christ by faith, then our suffering can be and is being used by God to make us more like Jesus. Our affliction is yet another reminder of our salvation. Our difficulties should always drive us back to our deliverance. Suffering will not rob us of our joy, the joy that Jesus told us no one will ever take from us. (John 16:22)
Now, let me give you one more reason for rejoicing that Paul reminds them of in this letter. The disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica should and can “rejoice always” because genuine joy if a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 1, Pau tells them that he knows that God has chosen them, verse 5, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…
Twice in this passage Paul points out to them that the power of God has been given to them through the Spirit of God, not only to receive and believe the word, fully convinced, but also to showcase “the joy of the Holy Spirit” in the midst of their suffering. This joy is the same as the “the joy of the LORD” that we learned about in Nehemiah 8, only now, the Holy Spirit of God makes this joy available to all followers of Christ, at all times, in all circumstances.
The joy that God gives is an “always” kind of thing! Joy is not ultimately something we manufacture. It is something we manifest as we look to God and His word in faith. Paul describes love in this same way in chapter 3, verse 8, where he is reminding them of God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. He goes on in verse 9…Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…In the same way God teaches us to love, He also teaches us to rejoice.
A Christian is a person who can and should always rejoice because, unlike the rest of the world, he or she always has reasons to rejoice. And those are “always” kinds of reasons!
It is these things that lay the foundation for the temple of joy in our lives. It is these things that provide the fuel for the fire of rejoicing in our heart. It is these truths that provide the music we need for the soundtrack of joy to accompany our lives everyday. Can you hear that music this morning? You can through Jesus Christ and His amazing grace.
Brothers and sisters, as the world sees the word “joy” plastered in so many places this Christmas, what they really need to see is genuine joy at work in our lives. They need to hear the true message of joy from our lips. “Rejoice always”. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.” Let’s pray.