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Be joyful always

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ADVENT 03

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Year B

Be joyful always;”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NIV)
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.


There is a song that goes, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say ‘rejoice’, Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say ‘rejoice’, Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say ‘rejoice’”.  That’s it!  That’s the whole song.  To make it more interesting it is sometimes sung as a round.  But there are no more words than these ones, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say ‘rejoice’”. 

This is a great song to sing – it’s so easy to remember the words.  But, what happens if you don’t feel like ‘rejoicing’.  What does it mean for you if you feel sad, distant, divorced, separated and alienated from God?  How can anyone sing a song like that when they are in the midst of grief, depressed, or a lethargy that simply overtakes the whole body?  How can we sing a song like that when we feel that we have been betrayed – and we may even suspect that God is the one who has betrayed us? 

Hear today’s reading again from another translation of the Bible. 

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.  This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. 

Don't suppress the Spirit, and don't stifle those who have a word from the Master.  On the other hand, don't be gullible.  Check out everything, and keep only what's good.  Throw out anything tainted with evil. 

May God Himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together — spirit, soul, and body — and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.  The One who called you is completely dependable.  If he said it, He'll do it![1]

‘Be joyful always’ or ‘Be cheerful no matter what’ – it’s the same thing, it’s the same sermon theme; the same sentiments are being conveyed.  But this still has not answered, at least to my satisfaction, how I can be joyful when there is no joy in my life to feel. 

I read recently of a mother whose four year old daughter was torn from her grip when swimming as part of a dam gave away.  Understandably, I’ll bet she’d find today’s theme somewhat confronting.  When in life we face issues that we cannot explain, when life just seems so unfair, so unjust we have to take it out on someone.  Very often we take it out on God. 

We justify this by saying (or thinking), if God allows (whatever the issue is) to happen, if God makes it happen, then I don’t want anything to do with a god like that.  God can seem so capricious in these circumstances. 

Let’s try and step outside of the immediate issues raised for a moment and see if we can get a better perspective on things. 

Let’s start at the beginning.  God is good.  God did not create the world so that He could cause pain and suffering in the lives of people; so that He could sit and watch them squirm.  When you think about it there are only two possible choices for the personality of God.  Either God is good; loves and cares deeply for His creation – humanity or God is bad; evil and wishes to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible so that He can take some type of perverse delight in the struggle of humanity.  Of course there is a third option – that God does not care, but in reality that’s equivalent to God being bad. 

It’s right here that you have to decide which view of God you wish to hold.  You cannot have both.  You cannot say that at times God can be good and at other times He can be bad because God is unchangeable[2]. 

God created you for a purpose, He created you for a reason.  God created you because He wished to have a relationship with you.  That’s it.  That’s the whole reason you were born.  The Creator of the universe thought that you were so important, that He wanted a relationship with you. 

Not only did God create you to have a relationship with Him, He created you for a purpose.  Listen to how the Bible describes your purpose:

For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.[3]

As King David was created by God for His purpose, so too are you.  We are not here by accident as Scripture affirms[4] and God has good plans for us[5]. 

Hear this clearly today – you are special to God.  You always have been special to God and God will never abandon you! 

Because of God’s love for you, He will never allow anything to happen to you that is beyond your ability together with Him to deal with[6].  In other words you together with God will always equal victory in your life. 

Because this world is not the perfect world that God created it to be we must deal with the presence of evil in it.  As strange as this may sound, God needed to provide for the presence of evil to allow people to have a choice regarding whether they wished Him to be part of their lives or not. 

Look at it this way.  God could have created you to love, serve and follow Him all the days of your life.  But to do that, He would have had to ensure that you had no freedom of will.  In other words you would have been ‘programmed’ to do what God told you.  God did not want that type of love.  So God allowed you a choice.  You can follow Him if you wish or you can live your life separated from Him.  To give you that choice, there had to be something that was not God for you to choose.  The opposite of God is satan.  That may seem harsh to some, but that’s the reality.  As we’ve already said, there are only two choices – good or evil. 

It is because that God provided for the presence of evil in this world, to give you the choice of having Him as part of your life or not, that we are faced with the fact that this world is not the perfect world that God originally created it to be.  Because this is not a perfect world – evil things do happen and when they happen, we can face all sorts of difficulty in heeding scriptural admonition to, ‘Be joyful always’. 

However, the joy we are called to have here is a joy that is separate from our immediate circumstances.  Please never confuse ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ as they are two totally separate things.  Happiness comes and goes depending on our mood, the weather and generally how we are feeling about ourselves and what is transpiring in the world around us. 

Whereas ‘joy’ is a feeling, a perspective, an outlook – it is something that abides deeply within the recesses of our soul that is totally separate and independent from what is happening around us, or indeed what is happening in our lives at any given point in time and space.  Joy is that depth of feeling that can only come from God and is dependant on what God has done for each of us in Christ Jesus and is a constant in our life. 

So, I hear you ask, “how do we have this ‘joy’ that you’ve been talking about?”  Again Scripture has the answer. 

We enter into this ‘joy’ as we grow in our relationship with God.  Our reading for today tells us we are to “pray continually”[7] or “pray all the time”[8].  That is the ‘secret’ of the Christian’s joy.  It’s an ongoing dialogue with God.  It’s a continual state of prayerful conversation.  It’s an attitude of submission and willing desire to follow where God would lead you.  It’s an acknowledgement that God’s plans for our life are better than ours[9] and a desire to allow Him full reign in our life. 

As well as praying we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” for this is God’s plan for each of us and it is by doing this that we are actually able to be joyful always.  Hear that?  It is by prayer that we are able to be thankful no matter what is happening.  Trying to be joyful in our own strength will never work.  We simply cannot make ourselves be joyful – there’s too much in life that may drag us down.  However, under God we are able to pray and because of prayer to give thanks to God – no matter what is transpiring in our life. 

In God we have one who is able to understand our suffering and pain 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. [10]

God understands each one of us perfectly and it is He who still calls each of us to ‘Be joyful always’. 

We can be joyful because we know that we have God’s presence in this world with us now and the promise, the certainty of eternity for all those who believe in Him[11]. 

Amen. 

X The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. X


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[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (The Message)

[2] James 1:17 (NIV)

[3] Acts 13:36 (NIV)

[4] Jeremiah 1:5a (NIV)

[5] Jeremiah 29:11ff (NIV)

[6] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NIV)

[8] 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

[9] Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

[10] Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

[11] Mark 16:16 (NIV)

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