“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Paul begins his exhortations on some details of Christian living with what some would consider “tall orders.” However, I want you to notice how these things take our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances and put our focus rightly on Jesus Christ and our relationship with God!
Remember the similar instruction Paul gave the church in Philippi in Philippians 4:4-6, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
So, likewise, Paul told those in Thessalonica, in verse 16, they needed to “rejoice always” – the Thessalonians needed to be encouraged in this area. So do we today! Though as God worked in them to be good witnesses of faith, hope, and love, we’re also aware that there were significant times of great sorrow. As is common for all of us, their joy likely ebbed and flowed, as they wrestled with thoughts in their own hearts, as well as struggles and trials all around them. So, Paul’s instruction and encouragement for them to abound in these three graces, his encouragement for them to live lives that were solidly grounded in Christ, with eyes and hearts wide open to the hope that was within them, again – true Gospel impact, even the hope of their salvation, the hope of the return of their Lord and that great Day to come, from this flows the fountain of true rejoicing.
Know that joy is an affection that springs up from hope. Indeed, there are times of sorrow and mourning. However, the Bible tells us rejoicing ought to be a constant practice. Spiritual mourning, by God’s grace, will end in joy. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30). The word “always” that Paul uses means “at all times, even evermore.” So, on the one hand, you may find yourself asking – “Pastor…Always?? How can I? That isn’t possible. Look at all that’s going on around us. Plus, let me tell you about the pain and discouragement in my life, or that of my family or friends.” I hear you, but keep in mind the Thessalonian church wasn’t free from affliction, persecution and struggle and yet they were to rejoice. Considering the glorious truths and our hope in Christ, how can we not rejoice? Think about this – as joy springs from hope, and as hope should be a foundational piece of how we walk in this world, then rejoicing goes beyond our circumstances. Regardless of whether we are in times of trial or peace, there is always occasion and reason to rejoice, even in the worst situation on earth!
Paul again taught the saints in Colossae in a similar way as he did those in Thessalonica. In Colossians 4:2 we read, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” What is prayer? “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” (WSC 98) Here, we learn, that amongst other things, prayer is a means of grace God has given us to maintain and grow in our rejoicing. In many ways, we would rejoice more if we prayed more!
Paul isn’t saying that we should do nothing but pray. There are definitely a variety of things we’ve been called to do in Scripture, in addition to praying. However, nothing we do should hinder prayer and we should be fervent in praying. Paul exhorts us earlier in this chapter to be watchful and alert as we live now with Christ’s return in view. We should be so in our prayers also. We shouldn’t interrupt, delay, or even not pray for the sake of other priorities. Peter said as much in 1 Peter 4:7 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.”
Evaluate and examine prayer in your life. Do you pray at other times besides meals or at church? Do you understand the purpose and importance of prayer? As you understand its importance more, are you committed to be fervent and diligent in prayer? The coming approach of the end is a powerful argument to make us serious in prayer. The covenant relationship we have with God is also an important reason as to why we should be serious in it. We must recognize prayer as a privilege and duty and be diligent to communicate and commune with our God.
Always, without ceasing, in everything – Paul is telling us that joy, prayer, and thanksgiving are essential for the Christian! When we have joy springing from hope, mercy by prayer, we are greatly moved to give thanks. Everything we have- our very beings, breath, and lives are from the Lord. As we see and understand more and more of the gracious giving, saving, sustaining, and preserving work of God in us, we have every reason to give thanks in all occasions, and no excuse not to! When we’re healthy and well, we are to thank Him. Though it’s quite tempting for our thankfulness to wane and be absent in the trials, suffering, and valleys we go through, those are the times, and especially the times, that we ought to be thankful, even more deeply thankful. For though this should be true in all occasions, it’s in those times that we, by God’s grace, more vividly recognize His sustaining grace, His lessons, His carrying and preserving us to the end. We are thankful for His loving presence and care.
Why should these three duties be important to us? Paul says, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Seeing Jesus has reconciled us to the Father; in Him, through Him, and for His sake, He works in us by His Spirit to rejoice, pray, and appoints us in every thing to give thanks, bottom line- It is pleasing to God for us to do these things, and they therefore should be a matter of diligence for us.