Rejoice Evermore!

Pithy Pastoral Reminders of a Profound Theologian #1 of 7
Base on exhortation delivered in PCC prayer meeting on 9 Sep 2005


“Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

The church at Thessalonica was founded in the early summer of A.D. 50 by the apostle Paul together with Silas during his second missionary journey.

When they arrived in Thessalonica, for 3 consecutive sabbaths, Paul preached in a synagogue. We are told that a number of the Jews believed together with a great number of God-fearing Greeks and prominent women (Acts 17:4).

But after Paul’s third Sabbath with them, the Jews who did not believed started a riot in the city in protest against the ministry of Paul. Paul and his companions were therefore forced to leave Thessalonica rather hastily (Acts 17:10).

Well, the circumstances of their departure meant that the fledging church would inevitably be exposed to persecution and errors for which they were still inadequately prepared, because Paul and Silas did not have time to ground them in the truth.

Therefore, at the earliest opportunity Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the new believers were doing. When Timothy returned to him in Corinth (Acts 18:5) he brought good news of their steadfastness and zeal in propagating the gospel. But at the same time, he reported that they facing certain moral problems, and were struggling with some questions about eschatology.

Paul wrote to them immediately, to express his joy at Timothy’s good news and also to explain that he left Thessalonica rather unwillingly (unlike what some of his enemies were saying).

Then he began to address the problem that the Thessalonians were facing. He stresses the importance of chastity and diligence in daily work; and he assures them that believers who die before the coming of Christ would not be disadvantaged compared to those who are alive.

And then, as he ends his letter, he felt it necessary to give the church some, by-the-way pastoral reminders. This explains why the 7 instructions from verse 16 onwards are so short. Paul was ending his letter. There was no more space on the parchment. But these are very important for the Thessalonians to be reminded of these things.

Now, these are things which we must be reminded too.

Well, this evening, the Lord helping us, we want to consider the first of these 7 instructions: “Rejoice evermore” (v. 16).

Now, this is one of the shortest verse in the Bible. Like verse 17, it comprise only two words in the Greek; and yet, I believe, many of us find it very difficult to follow.

But let us consider this instruction by answering 3 simple questions: (1) What is it to Rejoice? (2) When are we to Rejoice? (3) Why must we Rejoice?

1. What is it to Rejoice
Evermore?

Well, to rejoice is simply to be happy, or to be glad. Now, this should be straightforward enough. We all know what it is to be happy, to be glad or to be joyful.

Someone gives us a gift, and we are happy.

Your guppy gives birth, you smile and you want all your friends to know about it.

Your student comes up to you to thank you for being a good teacher, and you are happy.

Your child comes home from school and says, “I topped the class!” You rejoice.

Your daughter comes to you and say, “Daddy, I know why the Lord Jesus had to die for me… for I now know how sinful I am.” You are thrilled in the heart. You rejoice and thank the Lord.

So we all know what it is to rejoice.

But now comes the difficult question. Paul says, “Rejoice evermore.” The word ‘rejoice’ is in the imperative. It is a command. It is an instruction to be followed.

But how to follow this instruction? Unless there is a reason to be happy, how can we smile? Surely Paul does not want us to be actors!

Of course not! He is not asking us to be actors. He does not say ‘Put on a smile.’ He says, “Rejoice!” He is interested in our heart. He wants us to be happy. He tells us to be happy.

But how can we make ourselves happy? Is not happiness a reaction to the circumstances around us? When my guppy gives birth, it makes me happy. But if my guppy dies, I am saddened. When someone thanks me, I am happy. But if the same person shows ingratitude, I am grieved.

Yet Paul calls us to “rejoice evermore.”  The adverb “evermore” translates a Greek word that means ‘always’ or ‘at all times.’

What does this mean? Well, unless we try to prevaricate, we have to conclude that Paul is actually saying that our happiness must not be dependent on circumstance. We must rejoice at all times, we must rejoice regardless of the circumstance. We should not allow our moods to swing up and down depending on what is happening around us.

We should rejoice evermore!

But…

2. How to Rejoice
Evermore?

Is Paul telling us to do something that is impossible for us? Is his instruction unreasonable?

We know that it is not. Though the commandments of God may be impossible for the natural man, it is not impossible for us. For Christ came to set us free from sin. Sin is lawlessness. So Christ came not only to pay for the penalty due to our sin, but also to enable us to keep his commandments. And God’s commandments are not grievous, says the apostle John (1 Jn 5:3).

So is not impossible for us to obey Paul’s inspired instruction to rejoice evermore. But how? It seems to go against intuition and nature to be happy at will!

But is it? Is it really so difficult for us to rejoice at will? Well, if you think about it, you will realize that it is not really so difficult for most of us. The fact is, our emotions is really subordinate to our will. Those who hold to Arminianism believe that our will is subject to our emotion. But the truth is that our emotions are subject to our will. We can control our emotion.

Let me give you an example. Suppose you are a homemaker, you are going to have guests coming for a meal in the evening. So you are busy cooking. Suddenly you realize that you ran out of rice. You decide to call your husband, but he had switched off his handphone; and when you finally decide you better get out to buy the rice yourself, you start crying. You are fuming.

Then the phone rings. You pluck up the phone, and say “Ya!” rather impatiently. But it is your guest on the line: “Hello Sally, can we bring a dish, please?”

What do you do with your emotion? You would not continue the conversation with a frustrated tone wouldn’t you. You would simmer down immediately; and you would speak with a rather cheerful tone. Your heart would probably be quite cheerful too.

Do you see what I am saying?

You do not have to continue to remain sad or angry. You can control your emotion. You have good reasons to rejoice. Christians can rejoice evermore because we have good reason to rejoice evermore.

The apostle Paul suggests the reason in Philippians 4:4—

“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4)

We can rejoice, firstly, because the Holy Spirit indwelling us gives us joy. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:6—

“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.”

Christians who are spiritually and physiologically healthy can always rejoice because the Holy Spirit indwelling us emanates joy.

Secondly, we can rejoice always because we know that our sin are forgiven us for Christ’s sakes, and that God is sovereignly ordering everything in our lives for our good.

To rejoice evermore, we must evermore remind ourselves of Christ and His love and sovereignty. If we would do so, we can rejoice even when the most adverse thing happens to us.

Yes, some times, because of sin and other reasons, we grief the Spirit, and we find the joy of our salvation taken away from us. What shall we do at such times? Shall we not go to the Lord in humble contrition and plead with him to forgive us and to take away the burden in our heart?

But beyond that we must still look to the Lord Jesus. We must constantly remind ourselves that our Lord is sovereign. He is in absolute control over our lives. All things that happen to us, whether they be things that make us happy or sad, are brought about by the sovereign will of our Lord.

And we must also remind ourselves that our Lord loves us dearly. He laid down His life for us. When He sends trials to our lives, it is always out of love for us. He is always doing right and always doing good to us.

It is when we think in this way, that we can give thanks in everything (v. 18), and at the same time rejoice when a dark cloud is hanging over our head.

As we look Christ, we shall be able to rejoice in Him and to rejoice evermore. We can rejoice and genuinely show our happiness even when many things trouble us. We can be as the apostle Paul puts it… “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10)

But…

3. Why must we Rejoice
Evermore?

We can think of a few reasons.

Paul suggests two reasons, v. 23—

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 5:23)

The first reason is: It is needful for our sanctification that we learn to rejoice evermore. Sanctification is a work of the Spirit to make us holy as God is holy. But unless we learn to rejoice in the Lord always, we shall resist the work of the Spirit.

And conversely, if we meditate on the sovereignty, goodness and love of Christ toward us constantly, then the Spirit of Christ will use His word which is brought to mind to sanctify us.

In other words, unless we learn to meditate on Christ and to rejoice in him evermore, we will not grow in grace and our Christian life will be stunted.

Secondly, we must rejoice evermore to bear a good testimony for Christ. Paul prays for the Thessalonians that God would preserve their soul and body blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why does He offer this prayer? For the good of the Thessalonians and for the glory of Christ! So likewise we must rejoice evermore for our own good and for the glory of Christ.

How can Christ be glorified by our lives if we are always sulky and sad?

If a wife appears to be always sulky and sad, she would bring much dishonour to her husband. For those who see her will think that her marriage is an unhappy one or that he ill-treats her. And so the wife who is always grouchy and sulky embarrasses her husband.

On the other hand, a wife who is always cheerful and happy brings much honour to her husband.

So it is with the church and with individual believers. If we are sad and sulky, will not the world think badly of Christ?

Would not the world conclude that it is meaningless to be a Christian? When that happens, will not our lives dishonour the name of Christ our Saviour?

Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, rejoice evermore. Learn to be cheerful in Christ. It is when you are full of joy that you grow in grace most and bring the most glory to our Lord.

Rejoice evermore! Do not allow the circumstances surrounding you to cause you to sink. Look to Christ! Look not to the wind and waves. Cry out to Him. He will give you joy.

When you are sinking and despairing, do not allow yourself to drown. Cry rather: Lord save me! I can no more walk on this choppy water! The Lord will stretch out His hand to save you as He saved Peter. Only believe Him. Only walk no more alone, but walk with the Lord, refusing to let go of His hand until he brings you to safety.

May the Lord grant us genuine joy in the face of hardship and adversities! Amen.

—JJ Lim