In 2020, many of us struggled to maintain a positive attitude. As week after week and month after month passed with no end to the pandemic in sight, it was easy for even the most ardent optimist to get discouraged. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul urges his readers to “rejoice always” (v. 16). But how can we rejoice when life is hard?
Does Paul’s command to rejoice mean we must never feel sad? No. What it does mean is that our sorrows will always be eclipsed by the joy we find in the Lord (Neh. 8:10; Matt. 13:44). We often see this pattern in the psalms: Sorrow, anger, or discouragement are honestly expressed, then they give way to faith, hope, and joy.
(1) “Rejoice always” is the first of eight commands that collectively give a concise but challenging portrait of the Christian life. (2) “Pray continually” (v. 17) - prayer must be our constant habit. (3) “Give thanks in all circumstances” (v. 18). Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you? Here’s part of the answer! Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are all part of worship. (4) “Do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19). This is a reminder not to allow our worship to become tradition-centered, entertainment-oriented, or any of the many other things it can become apart from the Holy Spirit. (5) and (6) “Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all” (vv. 20– 21; see 1 Cor. 14:29–33). In our day, prophecy consists of “forthtelling” God’s truth, so these commands highlight the need to verify all human claims with Scripture. (7) and (8) “Hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (vv. 21–22). These are two sides of the same coin and may be regarded as capstone commands.
>> Are you an optimist or a pessimist? No matter what your natural disposition, we are called to be people who rejoice, even when life presents challenges. Ask God to help you focus on Him and not on your problems.
Lord, help us not to brace ourselves with pessimism or deny hardship with optimism, but to embrace the truth. Transform us into people who embody Paul’s exhortations in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–22.