“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is a yellow sticky note verse, a verse that is often plucked out and slapped on bathroom mirrors or desktops as an encouraging reminder of how we should live as we go through our day.
But I have to be careful when I pluck out a verse like this and set it before me. I find that a grit-my-teeth obedience can creep over me. I can begin to steel myself to rejoice, to pray, to give thanks. Then the qualifiers in the verse begin to leap out and wag their finger at me: always, without ceasing, in all circumstances. Pretty soon, I am ready to pull the covers over my head and be done.
A verse shorn of its context can sometimes lose its power. From where does this call to rejoice and pray and give thanks spring? Paul is not given to thin air exhortation, so what is the context? Well, this verse, which is actually three verses in one sentence (1Thess 5:16-18), is embedded in a whole string of exhortations. Working backwards from these verses, Paul is teaching us to always seek to do good to one another, to help the weak, and to encourage one another.
What has prompted this burst of exhortations? Looking back a little farther, in verse 11 we find the hinge point in the word therefore (which seems to be one of Paul’s favorite words). Therefore points back to Paul’s teaching on the sure and certain hope we have as Christians.
We are all sons of light, sons of the day. As such, we, both male and female, have a special status and identity. God’s just and righteous wrath has been satisfied though Christ Jesus and we are his, heirs through hope. We are not destined for wrath, our salvation is secure. As Paul recounts the wonder of the Good News of the Gospel, the beauty of the message captivates him, and out pours the desire to live as a son of the light.
Our Lord Jesus Christ died for us so that we might live with him forever. Death no longer has the final word therefore we can rejoice always, even with tears on our faces. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night therefore we pray constantly.
We belong to the day therefore we give thanks in all circumstances. We have been forgiven, marked as Christ’s own, therefore we live differently.
So where does the rubber meet the road? I waited to write this blog post until the day before we were leaving for a vacation. My day was packed and nothing was falling easily into place. In the late afternoon I stood murmuring to myself in the post office having been bounced from person to person in a long and fruitless attempt to find a missing package that of course I needed for the trip. What came to mind, almost as a taunt at first, was “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
But, instead of gritting my teeth, I was reminded of God’s loving kindness and the beauty of his love for me, in spite of my selfish grumbling. My heart melted in repentance. Then, God gave me the grace to be genuinely thankful. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). Perhaps, that is a sticky note verse too!