Friday, February 9, 2007

Rejoicing in the Lord

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always". As I have studied the biblical concepts of joy and rejoicing, I am reasonably certain Paul isn't giving an exhortation to be happy. Rejoicing and the experience of biblical joy has almost nothing to do with what we think of as happiness. Further, it is not possible to control happiness in such a way. We are unable to turn happiness on and off like a water tap. Some bible versions have translated this text “be joyful always”, when in fact this tends to reflect the “be happy” idea so prevalent in our day. When the Apostle commands us (by the authority of God Himself) to “rejoice always” he is capturing a biblical idea that pertains to the true worship of God on the part of His people. Rejoicing in the Lord has nothing to do with “feeling good” or “being happy” as such. Happiness is an emotion, whereas joy is an attitude or demeanor. Paul is not issuing an order to be happy, but rather an invitation to worship. The older and larger testament is laden with these kinds of invitations, one vivid example is the first verse of Psalm 95-

Psalm 95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

The call to worship is to turn our attention from our experience of happiness or sadness and turn them to the Rock of our salvation. To praise God, regardless of outward circumstances or fluctuating emotions is to rejoice always. Choosing to praise God, no matter what, actually serves to promote genuine joy. This is why the Psalmist exhorts us-

Psalm 100:1 Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!

When it comes to the worship of Almighty God, as we focus on him, our praise will indeed be joyful. Consider Psalm 100:1 above. Surely the lands (this is reference to the various individuals who inhabit the lands) were not all well and prospering. Surely they also, like each of us, experienced the ups and downs of life. Still, the lands are exhorted to make a joyful shout. Not just any shout, but a joyful shout. When we focus on God and who He is, our eyes are taken off self and circumstance and we are able to experience “rejoicing in the Lord”.

The themes of "joy" and "rejoicing" are common in Paul's letters. Paul experienced extreme physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trials. His words to the Corinthian church teach us more about rejoicing in the Lord-

2 Corinthians 6:8-10 honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Clearly, rejoicing in the Lord is a disciplined choice that purposes to give God the praise due His name despite how cruddy we may feel at a given time. Despite the very real and powerful emotion of sorrow, Paul chooses to rejoice.

I think many Christians struggle, as I do, with true worship because they mistake feeling “happy” with rejoicing in the Lord. What the bible shows time and time again is that rejoicing in God and earthly happiness are mutually exclusive. Of course, our situation in life can hinder our coming to God in worship. That is why Paul admonishes us, despite what our situation is, to rejoice in the Lord. Still, choosing to worship God in the midst of difficult circumstances will actually have the effect of pulling you away from your circumstances and in to the presence of God. Rejoicing in the Lord is volitional. It is a disciplined choice. Consider afresh the particular words of a familiar verse (emphasis mine)-

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Notice the volitional force of Paul’s statement. “I WILL rejoice”! So, despite my situation in life and the onslaught of wickedness in my own heart and around me, I WILL REJOICE. It is a choice of the will to render unto God praise He is due.

You will be shocked and amazed at what taking your eyes off yourself will do for yourself!

Worship in our lives individually and collectively is about taking our eyes off ourselves and putting them on God. When I am starting to have a pity party for myself, I try to stop, reflect, and rejoice in God. I try, by His grace, to turn my attention to His character, His flawlessness, His great love for me through His Son. A renewed focus on God in the midst of life's happenings helps to transform the complexion of our lives in to something worshipful instead of a futile race to find whatever makes us "happy".

So, when Paul says, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "Rejoice always", he is giving an invitation to worship the true and living God, not a command to be silly, sloppy, smiley and superficially happy. In this light, what could be more profound than truly rejoicing in the Lord?

1 comment:

Frontier Forest said...

“Worship in our lives, individually and collectively” An extension in thought about Pastor Tony’s excellent exegesis: The following 6 verses of Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica helps to build upon the dynamic power that supports and carries verse 16, “Rejoice Always” even further.
In 17-21, Paul exhorts us to bring, bear, and beam-forth the dynamic power of “rejoicing always” into a life-style of continual prayer, praise and proclamation! No other words of explanation or translation are needed! Just allow His Word to be absorbed into your heart, mind and spirit! Carry them with you. Hide them in your heart. Store them in your soul. Speak these words, every day and in every situation, learn the Power of Praise!
[17] Pray without ceasing; [18] in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [19] Do not quench the Spirit; [20] do not despise prophetic utterances. [21] But examine everything carefully hold fasting to that which is good; [22] abstain from every form of evil.”