Rejoice Always, Really?

So the Apostle Paul is problematic.

He says things like “Pray without ceasing” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thes. 5:17)

As I said in an earlier article about the “pray without ceasing” admonishment from the same text—this one is a bit difficult.

Okay, it’s a whole lot difficult.

Life gets really tough—there is sorrow, suffering, loss, anxiety, and loads of stress for just about everyone. It seems in certain seasons of life all of these just mount up all at once and life gets grueling.

Paul tells us to “rejoice always?”


God Wants You to Be Happy?

I’ve heard a lot of folks say (especially doing the therapy gig) that “I know God would want me to be happy.”

This is usually part of a reasoned justification for why someone just did something utterly sinful and destructive.

Where in Scripture are we told that God wants us to be “happy.” What is happiness?

I would suggest that happiness is very different from joy or rejoicing. Happiness in our day seems to be related to a sense of euphoria, giddiness, and with things going our way. Indeed, when the people who share that “God wants me to be happy” concept it is in response to their choosing to do something that is sinful and destructive at some level. Their concept of “happy” is actually a form of self-indulgence—they were miserable and suffering in their marriage, church, or singleness and so they made a choice to choose something that was intensely gratifying and distracting—soothing the pain or challenge they were struggling with.

It is noteworthy that Paul when writing Timothy about which believing widows should be supported by the church family warned of the spiritual state of the self-indulgent person; that they “were dead even while” alive (1 Tim. 5:6). That is an interesting conclusion!

So the same guy who encourages us to “rejoice always” is warning against self-indulgence, i.e., seeking to be happy through whatever we perceive will be intense enough to block or soothe our pain.

Obviously, rejoicing involves a lot more than just being in a comfy or calming environment/activity.

The Resolute Path to Rejoicing

In my book Superhero: Being Who God Says You Are I shared how the impetus for the title was the telling way in which many of our traditional superhero’s with their old fashion values resonated with so many people who would likely claim to reject those values. I pointed out that the attraction of the mature disciple of CHrist is that when we abide in him and embrace his promises as true—we become like him, and a world who needs him admires what they see of him in us.

One of those characteristics of the superhero that so many desire to be true of themselves is that resolute spirit; you know, the one where in spite of the explosions, hits, and fierce opposition the superhero encounters their face is set toward their objective. The superhero gets smacked down, bloody, and the enemy just keeps ramping up the opposition at every turn.

The superhero keeps getting up and clawing toward the objective. A person could almost hear Captain America or Wonder Woman saying:

We are afflicted in every way; but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… .

Well, we could almost hear one of them say that—except that it was another supehero who did; that being the Apostle Paul! This guy was beaten and left for dead, imprisoned, and generally persecuted throughout his time with Christ on earth—he just wouldn’t be kept down up until the time that they killed him. He was a real superhero—not just the figment of someone’s imagination.

Is their rejoicing to be found in the ability to face extreme challenges and yet keep on doing what you know you must do? Wow, absolutely!

But what makes this possible? How can someone actually live out the Hollywood fantasy of the resolute hero who cannot be made to turn away from what is right—short of killing them?

You may have seen this coming, but the Apostle Paul cannot but help to share the source of his super-human strength.

We are Very Bold…

Yes, Paul in this section of Scripture is talking about something perhaps surprising—yet it is the noble cause which drives his boldness and motivation.

This section on boldness and I would contend rejoicing in all situations (and Paul certainly went through some horrifically bad times as a believer) is found in his description of his and our mission—1 Corinthians Chapter 3 through 6 deal with The New Covenant ministry of reconciliation. But this is not some unpleasant assignment—Paul’s secret to his zeal, motivation, and yes rejoicing in all of his tribulations is found in this quiet understatement: “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

What was his hope?

Understand that sometimes in our use of the English language the word “hope” is a bit weak for what is being expressed. This is not wishful thinking or a desire for good luck—no, this is confident assurance or full expectation of something that will happen.

In the last part of 1 Cor. 2, verse 14 and following, Paul lets out the secret to his rejoicing in the face of severe opposition, pain, and uncertainty:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

That “triumphal procession” would have been familiar to the people of his day. When a victorious army returned from their conquest, there would be a triumph lead through the streets, great celebration, and appreciation shown to the victorious soldiers.

You see, Paul here, formerly Saul—found this being led in such a triumph by the Christ he at one point opposed with all his might—to be well, perhaps described as:

  • Endowed with “every spiritual blessing.” (Eph. 1:3
  • “Adoption to himself” (Christ), that even after the sins of “Saul,” Paul was now a “son” (Eph. 1:5)
  • Redemption and forgiveness “through the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7)
  • The “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” (Eph. 1:19)

I could go on with his words, but the secret to Paul’s ability to rejoice and be bold, resolute, and unstoppable was found in his joy that Christ sought out and redeemed even Saul the persecutor.

Paul was overjoyed, overwhelmed, and completely given to the Savior who could even love a murderous and arrogant person such as himself. His love, amazement, and joy in being found worthy of being chased down and crushed by Christ in order to be loved just emanates from his words.

Paul can just never seem to find enough words to adequately describe his indescribable joy in being loved and accepted by the Lord of all. Consider the following as the ultimate basis for rejoicing always, as Paul just kind find enough adjectives and adequate words to describe the God who loves him:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:14-21)

Dwell with Paul’s words a bit, maybe read them out loud a few times. The source of Paul’s joy just shouts from his uncontainable joy in describing the Savior who blessed his life with hope, purpose, boldness, love, and an ability to resolutely rejoice even when imprisoned and shackled.

Yes, really, rejoice always.

(Image by KieferPix/Shutterstock)

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