What does it mean to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)?

Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to "rejoice always." This sounds like a nice command; God wants us to be joyful! But when you measure it against the suffering each person faces in his life, it seems like an impossible command. How can you continue to rejoice when your child dies? Or when you lose your job or your health? Or when you are betrayed by a close friend? We cannot just ignore these issues and put on a fake happiness. So how can we possibly rejoice always?

The Bible in no way ignores man's suffering, but we see through the examples of men like Peter, Paul, and Silas that it is possible to be "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10). The key to rejoicing always is understanding the gospel. Without knowledge of God's love for us and the lengths He went through to have a relationship with us there would no basis for hope or joy in suffering. Even times of ease and pleasure would be meaningless without the cross. In 1 Peter chapter 1, Peter describes Jesus' victory over death, resulting in a living hope and an "inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:5; see 1 Peter 1:3–12). He points out that this inheritance is the reason we can rejoice, even though "you have been grieved by various trials" (1 Peter 1:6). When you know the weight of what Christ has done for you and understand the glory that is to come, joy is your foundation through trials. You can rejoice knowing that your sins are nailed to the cross, and you now have Christ's righteousness: "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1–2).

The Bible also reveals that we can rejoice all the more knowing that we are not just hoping for eternity with our Savior, but that our sufferings produce good in us on this earth. James tells Christians to "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 nothing" (James 1:2–4). We are sanctified and made more like Christ through trials, and for that we can rejoice. God is not wasting your pain; He has a plan for pain that will result in His glory and your good. He also uses our sufferings to prove the genuineness of our faith as a witness to the truth of the cross. If we as Christians never faced hardship, or lost joy in the midst of it, we would be presenting a weak gospel to the world and a God who is unable to hold up to the evil and sufferings all humans encounter. By God's grace our suffering is a witness to the world of God's goodness and strength (Colossians 1:24).

Knowing the hope to which we are called and the purpose of our suffering gives us reason and ability to rejoice always, but that is not the end to the reasons for rejoicing! God's goodness extends further than we deserve, and He has blessed us with a multitude of reasons to be glad and take comfort:

  • We rejoice in our salvation (Luke 10:20).
  • We rejoice in God's justice and sovereignty (Psalm 67:4).
  • We rejoice because God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • We rejoice because we have victory in Christ (1 John 5:4; 1 Corinthians 10:13; John 16:33).
  • We rejoice knowing that nothing can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:35–39).
  • We rejoice knowing that God will provide for us richly (Philippians 4:19)
  • We rejoice in God's peace (Philippians 4:4–7).
  • We rejoice because God is working for our healing (Isaiah 61:1–4).

  • God has blessed us with an abundance of reasons to rejoice, and He has blessed us with a joy that is not weak. We follow the example of Christ, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). The same joy that sustained Christ in the face of the cross can sustain us through this life; therefore, we rejoice always!

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