“Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
While it may be easy to rejoice when things are going well, it is often more difficult to understand how we can rejoice amid the hardships, trials, difficulties, and painful situations we encounter in life.
In addressing this question, we can begin with the acknowledgment that real pain may sometimes accompany the events of life. Therefore, we would be ill-advised to ignore the authentic nature of that pain or pretend it doesn’t exist. Nor should we ignore the harsh realities of traumatic life events in seeking to make sense of such things when they occur. Instead, we would be better served to adopt a change of perspective that focuses upon the eternal rather than the temporal.
We’ll talk more about this eternal perspective when we reach 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (CEB). For now, one commentator elaborates upon this passage in the context of the first-century Thessalonian church…
“This is not a sugar-coated call for putting on a happy face in the midst of difficulties. Here is a church that is undergoing severe hardship because of its faith in Christ. God’s will for such a community, both as individuals and as they gather for worship, is that as a matter of first importance they continue to exalt Christ by rejoicing, with him as the focus.” (1)
Even in the midst of sorrow, suffering, or pain, we can still find reason to rejoice in Christ. While the circumstances of life may not give us cause for rejoicing, we can find encouragement in Jesus’ message to us from John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world” (NET).
Finally, one scholar addresses the seeming inconsistency that exists between this verse and a portion of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount…
“PROBLEM: Paul commands us here to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always,’ but Jesus insisted that ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ (Matt. 5:4).
SOLUTION: Properly understood, these are not mutually exclusive. Mourning is the condition and rejoicing is the result of a proper relation to God. It is those who humble themselves whom God lifts up (cf. James 4:10 ). So it is those who mourn in their spirit who will be able to rejoice in their Lord. True sorrow for sin is the antecedent of the consequent joy of salvation.” (2)
(1) Fee, Gordon D., The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, © 2009 Gordon D. Fee, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. pg 214-215
(2) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 483). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.