Thessalonians 5 v 16 Rejoice evermore!
The first 6 imperative statements of 15 that Paul the Apostle wrote in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 have dealt mainly with human relationships amongst Christians. Last week we thought about two of them in verse 15 –
Revenge is prohibited!
15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man;
and the other was
Right must be pursued
but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
This morning we move to the next terse statement which, though short and memorable, has a great deal of teaching and challenge for us.
Paul next says in verse 16 –
That’s all! But is that all? By no means. With these two seemingly insignificant words we are introduced to a new section of exhortation and thought from the Apostle.
The section runs from this verse 16 to verse 22.
16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
The first thing to say is that these verbs here are addressed to a group of people. These imperatives – rejoice, pray, be thankful and listen attentively are in the plural in the original language. If they were addressed to individuals we would be able to tell from the structure of the words. Paul therefore means his words to be heard and understood by the congregation of believers in Thessalonica firstly; then other believers in other churches in Macedonia – and now that the letter is in the canon of scripture – to us also.
These verses then are designed to instruct a collection of Christians. As we shall see later, there are applications for us as individual Christians as well – but primarily they are for congregations of Christians.
For instance the prophesying in verse 20 is a public act. No one would prophesy, that is bring a word from the Lord God, to himself as an individual – the purpose in those days before the scripture was complete was to bring a word form the Lord – for the whole congregation to hear. It was publicly delivered and received.
To what area was this address to the congregation directed? It was to the area of Worship in the Assembly.
They were directions for Christians on how they were to be in Church worship and how they were to be in life!
In short these directives for Church worship are these – 1. We should be Joyful Christians in worship v 16 2. We should be Prayerful Christians in worship v 17 3. We should be thankful Christians in worship v 18 4. We should be attentive Christians in Worship v 19 – 22
We can now see a pattern – the regulations for worship that the Lord God has put in place for us to conduct and participate in worship that pleases Him are reflected here. Joyful praise; sincere prayer; humble thanksgiving and intelligent and attentive listening to the Word of God read and preached. All these elements of worship should be present in a service. And we can go further and say that there should only be these elements in any service. We are not here to be entertained – but we are here together, to corporately praise the Lord God, rejoice in His name, give Him thanks for our salvation and His many blessings and provisions for us; to pray to Him through our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ and to hear His Holy word as it comes from Him through the scripture and in the illuminating power of His Holy Spirit. These verses could almost be headings for the elements for godly worship –
Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks! Listen to God’s word!
So let us now examine this first area of worship and Christian life –
1. Joy in our Corporate Worship to the Lord.
Rejoice evermore! It would make just as much sense in English if the words had been translated in the order that they appear in the Greek. PANTOTE CHEIRETE – or
Evermore rejoice! Always rejoice! It appears that the adverb ALWAYS is placed first for emphasis. It is the same with the next two as well – WITHOUT CEASING – PRAY; IN EVERYTHING – GIVE THANKS.
Paul is very insistent here that we are joyful in worship. It is not only here in this letter – but also in Philippians 4 v 4
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
This is Paul’s specific call to Christians to be joyful in their worship. It is of the same order as those Psalms that call God’s people to joyfully worship Him –
Psalm 95 v 1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
Psalm 100 v Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Paul is not issuing an order to God’s people to be happy – but he invites them to be joyful in public worship.
This has ever been the standard for Christians to worship – to worship with the whole heart – in spirit and in truth. We should not be surprised to find this pattern for worship in our Bibles. As both the Westminster and Baptist Confessions state
“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself; and so limited by His own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men.”
Worship must be understandable and rational – we must sing and pray with the understanding. We should not be looking to have our emotions stimulated to get us into an exalted and emotional state and call that REJOICING.
On the contrary we need to be moved by intelligent thoughts providing a view of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work. Then we can have genuine and legitimate spiritual feelings. Worship is not sentiment or enjoyable emotional feelings – something that I receive and feel as a result of being here in church. If I have come to ENJOY the worship for what I can get out of it – then I have come for the wrong reason.
Joy in our worship is very much what we, as redeemed sons and daughters of the living God, PUT IN to our praise – with spiritual energy emanating from hearts that love the Lord and desire to praise Him joyfully.
John Wycliffe who was known as the Morning Star of the Reformation was strongly critical of the use of song to arouse emotional feelings in worship. He warned the people of his day in the words of Augustine
“As oft as the song delights me more than that which is sung, so oft I confess that I sin grievously.”
John Wesley wrote in 1781 to hymn singers –
“Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word that you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature. Attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, AND SEE THAT YOUR HEART IS NOT CARRIED AWAY WITH THE SOUND, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when He cometh in the clouds of heaven.”
Sadly much of the new worship at large in Christian Churches today sets out to stir emotions externally and artificially. Paul’s injunction “Rejoice evermore” does not mean stimulated joy – rather it means a reflection of the creatures exercise of the fruit of the Holy spirit – one of those listed in Galatians 5 v 22 is joy!
We should come into worship with joy. We should spend our worship together in an atmosphere of joy. And we should go out with joy – that we have met with the living God together. Joy in our corporate worship in the Lord is included in Paul’s imperative in verse 16.
Is this how we came to worship this morning? Or perhaps someone is sitting here today and thinking “How boring this is – how plain – how simple – how structured – how orderly. I want something to make me excited and I want to leave here exhilarated!”
My friend if you are thinking like that then it says much about the state of your soul and about what you came here for this morning. You obviously came to get – not to give! You came to receive not to contribute.
Worship is the creature’s response to the love of the creator God. Worship is not the love of responses that the creature supposes he or she will receive from God.
Emotions rise and fall – they wax and wain. Emotionally charged excitable experiences last a little while – but they do not endure.
True joyful Christ centred worship continues beyond the worship service – because it was there before the worship service. Rejoice EVERMORE – are Paul’s words.
Always rejoicing – continually experiencing the joy of the Lord which is the Christian’s strength – because it is the joy of our salvation that continues day after day – moment by moment.
May we all be truly worshipping the Lord in His way this morning in response to Paul’s REJOICE EVERMORE!
But there is more to say about Christian rejoicing.
Not only is it Joy in our Corporate Worship but also
2. Joy in our Christian Walk with the Lord.
There have been many Christians down the centuries who have experienced the joy of the Lord in the face of fierce persecution. Those burnt at the stake for their faith in Christ and their refusal to bow to the idolatries that Rome required of them, have with calm joy been able to testify to the goodness of God to them as they died.
Their joy has not been a natural joy – it is a fruit of the Spirit. This joy is not incompatible with suffering and loss. Joy is not dependant on our personal circumstances. It is a deep spiritual reality that is rooted in the Gospel.
Joy was especially a feature of early New Testament Christianity. Typically the good news of the Gospel brought joy to those who received it.
Did you not know joy when you first trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour? Did you not sense the lasting deep seated sense of well being that now lives in every believer? Do you have the joy of the Lord NOW?
The Thessalonian Christians had experienced this joy even though at the same time they had known bitter hostility and persecution for their new faith. Paul confirmed this at the beginning of the letter –
1 v 6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
It has been suggested that it was the presence of radiant joy in these believers that attracted many in the pagan world to the early Christians and their saviour.
So Paul’s command is to demonstrate joy at all times and in all circumstances.
Spiritual joy is more than mere human happiness. Christian joy is a conscious attitude of rejoicing in the Lord and in what he has done. We may not always feel buoyant and cheerful. We may have to go through periods of severe trial which drags us down emotionally. Yet at all times we can deliberately call to mind the Lord and rejoice in Him – always – even when worried – even when depressed – even when preoccupied. Joy enables us to come back to Christ and His work, His love, His providence and care – constantly.
The storm may roar without me, My heart may low be laid, But God is round about me, And can I be dismayed?
We can think about True Joy in the Lord Jesus Christ in two ways –
1. The ORIGIN of True spiritual Joy for the Christian. 2. The OCCASIONS of true Spiritual Joy for the Christian
1. The ORIGIN of True spiritual Joy for the Christian.
Since Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is one gift among many to the children of the King of Kings – then where is the root of our joy?
Joy has its origin in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
“Rejoice in the Lord” is a familiar expression. (Philippians 3 v 1 and 4 v 4) But it is Him, our wonderful Saviour who is the object of our joy. We look to Him and trust in Him. He has saved us – rescued us – delivered us from a certain eternity of hell and punishment.
There are several aspects of the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that inspires us to rejoice and experience His joy in our souls, and which indicate to us that He is the source of our joy.
1. His Incarnation – the angel’s message to the shepherds about the Saviour of sinners was this –
Luke 2 v 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
there was joy at the announcement of the Saviour’s birth.
2. His Power – when the Lord Jesus healed a woman who had been ill for 18 years people became joyful! He was opposed in this powerful act of mercy by the religionists – but the people were full of joy – Luke describes it in Luke 13 v 17
And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
3. His Death. Joy in death you may ask? What joy is there in death in any of its aspects?
Hebrews 12 v 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Can we credit this? That our saviour went with joy to die for sinners? With joy to endure cruel suffering? With joy to submit Himself to men’s abuse and scorn and violence?
Incredible though it seems our wonderful saviour endured all His suffering with joy.
Perhaps in this then we can see that joy does not equal happiness, euphoria or emotional elevation. We can know joy despite suffering and sorrow – because He did!
4. His Resurrection – on the third day, the day after the Sabbath following the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ the two Marys went to the grave in the garden. They found the stone rolled away and the grave, the tomb, empty. Matthew records –
28 v 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
Fear and great joy – both felt at the same time. Dismayed and demoralised disciples, struggling to make sense of the cruel death of their Master had a mixture of fear and joy when they learned of the resurrection.
And then when He came to them and they saw Him risen we read in John 20 of their reaction.
20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
They would have recalled the Master’s words in John 16 v 22
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
5. His Ultimate Triumph.
John 8 v 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
When Jesus said this He thought back to the supreme joy felt by Abraham when the patriarch saw in the future, the coming suffering as a substitute and triumph of the promised Messiah. Abraham rejoiced – was filled with joy – to see in the future what we believe happened in the past 2000 years ago. The Lord Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan death and hell. He is the mighty victor. And if Abraham rejoiced when it was only a prospect, should we the people of God not rejoice in the reality of Christ’s death for our sins and His rising for our justification?
These then are some origins of the believers joy rooted first in the Lord Jesus Christ in His person.
But there are some more grounds in which we can rejoice. The Christian can rejoice in
Salvation. Two texts here –
2 Corinthians 8 v 1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
Romans 15 v 13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
The Christian can rejoice in individual enrolment in Heaven.
Luke 10 v 20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
Does it not thrill us who believe that there is a book in heaven full of names. Amongst those names is John Knox, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, all the members listed in our Members’ roll, all the true believers in every church today who have been born again by the Spirit of God wherever they live. Jesus said that it is a cause for rejoicing to be on the roll of names in heaven.
Is your name on that roll my friend? Have you by faith been convinced that you are a child of God and that He knows your name as one of His elect? Have you trusted Him to save you from your many sins, and have you turned from those sins?
Then the Christian can rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God.
Romans 5 v 1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And most believers know that the word Hope here means a sure and certain knowledge of the glory of God. One day we will be glorified with Christ – and this should cause us to rejoice!
Lastly the Christian can rejoice in the prospect of Rewards in heaven.
Luke 6:23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
What exactly is to be our reward is not specified in scripture. But we do know that there is something glorious ahead.
1 Corinthians 2 v 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
All these things therefore are cause for us to be Joyful and rejoicing as believers in the Lord. They are facts and promises that we can cling to when happiness seems a little on the short side. It is then that joy comes to assure our hearts of God’s love and His interest in our souls.
But before we end we ask what are the life time occasions that particularly lend themselves to our experiencing fullness of Joy?
2. The OCCASIONS of true Spiritual Joy for the Christian
C.H. Spurgeon said “Blessed is the fact that Christians can rejoice even in the deepest distress. Although trouble may surround them they can still sing.”
Shadrach, Meschach and Abebnego knew joy in the fiery furnace – because of the presence of that 4th person with them in the midst of the heat.
Paul and Silas sang at midnight having suffered a beating and cruel imprisonment in the stocks in the inner dungeon at Philippi. How could they sing? It was the joy of the Lord.
Peter and other Apostles were beaten after being warned not to preach in Jerusalem in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They refused and continued to preach. But Acts 5 records their response to the beating –
40 and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame! They knew the presence of the risen Jesus and they were joyful.
Occasions to be joyful then for every Christian are these – a list
1. When we hear the Gospel – Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch – the Jews did not like it. So he preached to Non Jews – and after preaching the good news of salvation the response was this
Acts 13 v 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
They were glad – they rejoiced to hear the Gospel. Do we rejoice to hear the Gospel my friends?
2. When we suffer for the Lord. Mention has been made already of Peter and the others suffering in Jerusalem. Peter in his first letter says this –
1 Peter 4 v 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
3. When sinners are converted. There should always be rejoicing when we hear of conversions! Jesus applied the parable of the lost sheep like this –
Luke 15 v 7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
4. When believers walk in a godly way.
3 John 3 For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
The apostle John was instrumental in many coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was joy enough – but more joy followed when he knew that the converts persevered in the faith.
5. When meeting with other believers. Paul wrote to Timothy and says this in his introduction to his second letter to his son in the faith –
2 Timothy 1 v 4 Greatly desiring to see thee … that I may be filled with joy;
The apostle John has the same feeling when he writes in 2 John v 12
Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
It was a joy for these men to see other believers and to be with them. Do we have the same experience of joy in the fellowship of true saints? Is it a joy to greet each other Sunday by Sunday and at other times too?
6. When we receive tokens of love and fellowship. Someone sent Paul a gift to meet his needs – he acknowledges it in writing to the Philippians –
4 v 10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
He rejoiced greatly that someone cared. Are people rejoicing greatly because we as a church or as individuals have cared?
There are many more occasions when joy blossoms and flourishes – and time has gone to mention any more.
So we close with this thought – from the passage that we read earlier – the words of the saviour –
John 16 v 22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
No man can take away our joy my friends. Many can make us miserable; many can oppress us; many can disappoint; many can oppose; many can even kill us – but no one can take away our joy once we have Joy in the Lord Jesus Christ – therefore my friends REJOICE EVERMORE!