1 Thessalonians 5:16
Rejoice evermore.
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(16) Rejoice evermore.—The remaining commands are more simply spiritual, and hardly form part of the same paragraph as 1Thessalonians 5:12-15, which related to discipline; though from 1Thessalonians 5:19 et seq. we see that St. Paul was still addressing the Church in its corporate capacity, not only the individual members. The Christian who remains in sadness and depression really breaks a commandment: in some direction or other he mistrusts God—His power, providence, forgiveness. The command is specially good for a persecuted Church like that of Thessalonica (Matthew 5:10-12).

1 Thessalonians


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

The peculiarity and the stringency of these three precepts is the unbroken continuity which they require. To rejoice, to pray, to give thanks, are easy when circumstances favour, as a taper burns steadily in a windless night; but to do these things always is as difficult as for the taper’s flame to keep upright when all the winds are eddying round it. ‘Evermore’--’without ceasing’--’in everything’--these qualifying words give the injunctions of this text their grip and urgency. The Apostle meets the objections which he anticipates would spring to the lips of the Thessalonians, to the effect that he was requiring impossibilities, by adding that, hard and impracticable as they might think such a constant attitude of mind and heart, ‘This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’ So, then, a Christian life may be lived continuously on the high level; and more than that, it is our duty to try to live ours thus.

We need not fight with other Christian people about whether absolute obedience to these precepts is possible. It will be soon enough for us to discuss whether a completely unbroken uniformity of Christian experience is attainable in this life, when we have come a good deal nearer to the attainable than we have yet reached. Let us mend our breaches of continuity a good deal more, and then we may begin to discuss the question whether an absolute absence of any cessation of the continuity is consistent with the conditions of Christian life here.

Now it seems to me that these three exhortations hold together in a very striking way, and that Paul knew what he was about when he put in the middle, like the strong central pole that holds up a tent, that exhortation, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ For it is the primary precept, and on its being obeyed the possibility of the fulfilment of the other two depends. If we pray without ceasing, we shall rejoice evermore and in everything give thanks. So, then, the duty of continual prayer, and the promise, as well as the precept, that its results are to be continual joy and continual thanksgiving, are suggested by these words.

I. The duty of continual prayer.

Roman Catholics, with their fatal habit of turning the spiritual into material, think that they obey that commandment when they set a priest or a nun on the steps of the altar to repeat Ave Marias day and night. That is a way of praying without ceasing which we can all see to be mechanical and unworthy. But have we ever realised what this commandment necessarily reveals to us, as to what real prayer is? For if we are told to do a thing uninterruptedly, it must be something that can run unbroken through all the varieties of our legitimate duties and necessary occupations and absorptions with the things seen and temporal. Is that your notion of prayer? Or do you fancy that it simply means dropping down on your knees, and asking God to give you some things that you very much want? Petition is an element in prayer, and that it shall be crystallised into words is necessary sometimes; but there are prayers that never get themselves uttered, and I suppose that the deepest and truest communion with God is voiceless and wordless. ‘Things which it was not possible for a man to utter,’ was Paul’s description of what he saw and felt, when he was most completely absorbed in, and saturated with, the divine glory. The more we understand what prayer is, the less we shall feel that it depends upon utterance. For the essence of it is to have heart and mind filled with the consciousness of God’s presence, and to have the habit of referring everything to Him, in the moment when we are doing it, or when it meets us. That, as I take it, is prayer. The old mystics had a phrase, quaint, and in some sense unfortunate, but very striking, when they spoke about ‘the practice of the presence of God.’ God is here always, you will say; yes, He is, and to open the shutters, and to let the light always in, into every corner of my heart, and every detail of my life--that is what Paul means by ‘Praying without ceasing.’ Petitions? Yes; but something higher than petitions--the consciousness of being in touch with the Father, feeling that He is all round us. It was said about one mystical thinker that he was a ‘God-intoxicated man.’ It is an ugly word, but it expresses a very deep thing; but let us rather say a God-filled man. He who is such ‘prays always.’

But how may we maintain that state of continual devotion, even amidst the various and necessary occupations of our daily lives? As I said, we need not trouble ourselves about the possibility of complete attainment of that ideal. We know that we can each of us pray a great deal more than we do, and if there are regions in our lives into which we feel that God will not come, habits that we have dropped into which we feel to be a film between us and Him, the sooner we get rid of them the better. But into all our daily duties, dear friends, however absorbing, however secular, however small, however irritating they may be, however monotonous, into all our daily duties it is possible to bring Him.

A servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine, Who sweeps a room, as by Thy laws, Makes that and the calling fine.

But if that is our aim, our conscious aim, our honest aim, we shall recognise that a help to it is words of prayer. I do not believe in silent adoration, if there is nothing but silent; and I do not believe in a man going through life with the conscious presence of God with him, unless, often, in the midst of the stress of daily life, he shoots little arrows of two-worded prayers up into the heavens, ‘Lord! be with me.’ ‘Lord! help me.’ ‘Lord! stand by me now’; and the like. ‘They cried unto God in the battle,’ when some people would have thought they would have been better occupied in trying to keep their heads with their swords. It was not a time for very elaborate supplications when the foemen’s arrows were whizzing round them, but ‘they cried unto the Lord, and He was entreated of them.’ ‘Pray without ceasing.’

Further, if we honestly try to obey this precept we shall more and more find out, the more earnestly we do so, that set seasons of prayer are indispensable to realising it. I said that I do not believe in silent adoration unless it sometimes finds its tongue, nor do I believe in a diffused worship that does not flow from seasons of prayer. There must be, away up amongst the hills, a dam cast across the valley that the water may be gathered behind it, if the great city is to be supplied with the pure fluid. What would become of Manchester if it were not for the reservoirs at Woodhead away among the hills? Your pipes would be empty. And that is what will become of you Christian professors in regard to your habitual consciousness of God’s presence, if you do not take care to have your hours of devotion sacred, never to be interfered with, be they long or short, as may have to be determined by family circumstances, domestic duties, daily avocations, and a thousand other causes. But, unless we pray at set seasons, there is little likelihood of our praying without ceasing.

II. The duty of continual rejoicing.

If we begin with the central duty of continual prayer, then these other two which, as it were, flow from it on either side, will be possible to us; and of these two the Apostle sets first, ‘Rejoice evermore.’ This precept was given to the Thessalonians, in Paul’s first letter, when things were comparatively bright with him, and he was young and buoyant; and in one of his later letters, when he was a prisoner, and things were anything but rosy coloured, he struck the same note again, and in spite of his ‘bonds in Christ’ bade the Philippians ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.’ Indeed, that whole prison-letter might be called the Epistle of Joy, so suffused with sunshine of Christian gladness is it. Now, no doubt, joy is largely a matter of temperament. Some of us are constitutionally more buoyant and cheerful than others. And it is also very largely a matter of circumstances.

I admit all that, and yet I come back to Paul’s command: ‘Rejoice evermore.’ For if we are Christian people, and have cultivated what I have called ‘the practice of the presence of God’ in our lives, then that will change the look of things, and events that otherwise would be ‘at enmity with joy’ will cease to have a hostile influence over it. There are two sources from which a man’s gladness may come, the one his circumstances of a pleasant and gladdening character; the other his communion with God. It is like some river that is composed of two affluents, one of which rises away up in the mountains, and is fed by the eternal snows; the other springs on the plain somewhere, and is but the drainage of the surface-water, and when hot weather comes, and drought is over all the land, the one affluent is dry, and only a chaos of ghastly white stones litters the bed where the flashing water used to be. What then? Is the stream gone because one of its affluents is dried up, and has perished or been lost in the sands? The gushing fountains away up among the peaks near the stars are bubbling up all the same, and the heat that dried the surface stream has only loosened the treasures of the snows, and poured them more abundantly into the other’s bed. So ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’; and if earth grows dark, lift your eyes to the sky, that is light. To one walking in the woods at nightfall ‘all the paths are dim,’ but the strip of heaven above the trees is the brighter for the green gloom around. The organist’s one hand may be keeping up one sustained note, while the other is wandering over the keys; and one part of a man’s nature may be steadfastly rejoicing in the Lord, whilst the other is feeling the weight of sorrows that come from earth. The paradox of the Christian life may be realised as a blessed experience of every one of us: a surface troubled, a central calm; an ocean tossed with storm, and yet the crest of every wave flashing in the sunshine. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.’

III. Lastly, the duty of continual thankfulness.

That, too, is possible only on condition of continual communion with God. As I said in reference to joy, so I say in reference to thankfulness; the look of things in this world depends very largely on the colour of the spectacles through which you behold them.

There’s nothing either good or bad But thinking makes it so.

And if a man in communion with God looks at the events of his life as he might put on a pair of coloured glasses to look at a landscape, it will be tinted with a glory and a glow as he looks. The obligation to gratitude, often neglected by us, is singularly, earnestly, and frequently enjoined in the New Testament. I am afraid that the average Christian man does not recognise its importance as an element in his Christian experience. As directed to the past it means that we do not forget, but that, as we look back, we see the meaning of these old days, and their possible blessings, and the loving purposes which sent them, a great deal more clearly than we did whilst we were passing through them. The mountains that, when you are close to them, are barren rock and cold snow, glow in the distance with royal purples. And so if we, from our standing point in God, will look back on our lives, losses will disclose themselves as gains, sorrows as harbingers of joy, conflict as a means of peace, the crooked things will be straight, and the rough places plain; and we may for every thing in the past give thanks, if only we ‘pray without ceasing.’ The exhortation as applied to the present means that we bow our wills, that we believe that all things are working together for our good, and that, like Job in his best moments, we shall say, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the Name of the Lord.’ Ah, that is hard. It is possible, but it is only possible if we ‘pray without ceasing,’ and dwell beside God all the days of our lives, and all the hours of every day. Then, and only then, shall we be able to thank Him for all the way by which He hath led us these many years in the wilderness, that has been brightened by the pillar of cloud by day, and the fire by night.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Rejoice evermore — In your present privileges and future hopes. See note on Romans 14:17; Php 4:4; 1 Peter 1:6. Pray without ceasing — In order to maintain and improve this holy joy, be always in a spirit of prayer, that is, retain a continual sense of your spiritual wants, and of your dependance on God, through Christ, for the supply of those wants, and let your desires for that supply be frequently offered up to God in faith: let your heart aspire after him, and long for a further acquaintance with him, conformity to him, and enjoyment of him; and be constant in the use of private and fervent prayer at all proper seasons, joining also at all opportunities with your family, Christian friends, and the congregations of God’s people, in social and public addresses to the throne of grace. In every thing give thanks — Remembering, not only your dependance on God, but your obligation to him for all things, temporal and spiritual, and being persuaded that you never can be in such circumstances of affliction, but that you have much greater cause for thankfulness than complaint. This is Christian perfection: further than this we cannot go, and we need not stop short of it. Our Lord has purchased joy as well as righteousness for us. It is the very design of the gospel, that, being saved from guilt, we should be happy in the love of Christ. Prayer may be said to be the breath of our spiritual life. He that lives cannot possibly cease breathing. So much as we really enjoy of the presence of God, so much prayer and praise do we offer up without ceasing; else our rejoicing is but delusion. Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer. It is almost essentially connected with it. He that always prays, is ever giving praise; whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from him, and receives them only for his sake; not choosing nor refusing, liking nor disliking any thing, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to his perfect will. For this — That you should thus rejoice, pray, give thanks; is the will of God in Christ Jesus — Always holy, just, and good, and always pointing at our salvation.

5:16-22 We are to rejoice in creature-comforts, as if we rejoiced not, and must not expect to live many years, and rejoice in them all; but if we do rejoice in God, we may do that evermore. A truly religious life is a life of constant joy. And we should rejoice more, if we prayed more. Prayer will help forward all lawful business, and every good work. If we pray without ceasing, we shall not want matter for thanksgiving in every thing. We shall see cause to give thanks for sparing and preventing, for common and uncommon, past and present, temporal and spiritual mercies. Not only for prosperous and pleasing, but also for afflicting providences, for chastisements and corrections; for God designs all for our good, though we at present see not how they tend to it. Quench not the Spirit. Christians are said to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He worketh as fire, by enlightening, enlivening, and purifying the souls of men. As fire is put out by taking away fuel, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things. Believers often hinder their growth in grace, by not giving themselves up to the spiritual affections raised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. By prophesyings, here understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying the Scriptures. We must not despise preaching, though it is plain, and we are told no more than what we knew before. We must search the Scriptures. And proving all things must be to hold fast that which is good. We should abstain from sin, and whatever looks like sin, leads to it, and borders upon it. He who is not shy of the appearances of sin, who shuns not the occasions of it, and who avoids not the temptations and approaches to it, will not long keep from doing sin.Rejoice evermore - See the notes on Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4. 16, 17. In order to "rejoice evermore," we must "pray without ceasing" (1Th 5:17). He who is wont to thank God for all things as happening for the best, will have continuous joy [Theophylact]. Eph 6:18; Php 4:4, 6, "Rejoice in the Lord … by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving"; Ro 14:17, "in the Holy Ghost"; Ro 12:12, "in hope"; Ac 5:41, "in being counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's name"; Jas 1:2, in falling "into divers temptations." Here the apostle adds more Christian duties, briefly expressed, and set close one to another; and they seem to have a mutual connection, but not so relative to others as those before mentioned, but personal to themselves. He begins with the duty of rejoicing. Joy is an affection of the soul springing from the hope or possession of some suitable good. And it is either natural, which is common to men with beasts, arising from that good that is suitable to their several natures; or spiritual, which is joy wrought by the Spirit, and exercised upon spiritual objects. And this the apostle here means, and is called rejoicing in the Lord, Philippians 4:4, and joy in the Holy Ghost, Romans 14:17; arising either from what spiritual good we already possess, or hope to possess, exhibita et promissa, Bernard; which is thereupon called a rejoicing in hope, Romans 5:2 12:12. The apostle speaks here of the duty indefinitely, only requires it to be evermore; so Philippians 4:4. Though God sometimes calls to mourning, yet it is no where said: Mourn evermore, because rejoicing ought to be in a more constant practice, and all spiritual mourning tends to it, and will end in it; and he commends it as seasonable to these Thessalonians, to support them under their present sufferings. The grounds of a Christian’s joy always abide, and he is not only to retain it in the habit, but to mix it with all his sorrows and sufferings, as 1 Peter 1:6: Ye greatly rejoice, though for a season, in heaviness: whereas carnal mirth is mixed with sadness, Proverbs 14:13. So that a Christian ought to rejoice in every condition, not only in prosperity but adversity, and especially when called to suffer for righteousness sake; as Matthew 5:12 1 Peter 4:13. It is not only allowed but commanded. This joy is one great part of God’s kingdom even in this world, Romans 14:17; much more in the world to come. And therefore the apostle speaks of rejoicing evermore, whereas mourning is but for a time, and ends to the saints in this life.

Rejoice evermore. Not in a carnal, but in a spiritual way, with joy in the Holy Ghost; and which arises from a view of pardon by the blood of Christ, of justification by his righteousness, and atonement by his sacrifice; not in themselves, as the wicked man rejoices in his wickedness, and the hypocrite and formalist in his profession of religion, and the reputation he gains by it; and the Pharisee and legalist in his morality, civility, negative holiness, and obedience to the rituals of the law; for such rejoice in their boastings, and all such rejoicing is evil; but in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the greatness, fitness, fulness, and glory of his person, in his blood, righteousness, and sacrifice, in what he is in himself, and is made unto his people, and in what he has done, and is still doing for them, and particularly in the salvation he has wrought out; and not in the things of this life, and the attainments of it, either of body, or of mind, or of estate, as in strength, wisdom, or riches; but in things spiritual, that our names are written in heaven, and we are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and called by his grace, and shall be glorified together with him; and not only in prosperity, but in adversity, since all things work together for good, and afflictions serve for the exercise of grace; and especially, since to suffer reproach and persecution for the sake of Christ, and his Gospel, is a great honour, and the Spirit of God, and of glory, rests on such, and great will be their reward in heaven: and there is always reason, and ever a firm ground and foundation for rejoicing with believers, let their circumstances or their frames be what they will; since God, their covenant God, is unchangeable, and his love to them is from everlasting to everlasting invariably the same; the covenant of grace, which is ordered in all things, and sure, is firm and immovable; and Jesus, the Mediator of it, is the same today, yesterday, and for ever. {11} Rejoice evermore.

(11) A quiet and appeased mind is nourished with continual prayers, giving regard to the will of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:16. Comp. Php 4:4. Also this exhortation is closely connected with the preceding. The readers are to be always joyfully inclined, even when the case indicated in 1 Thessalonians 5:15 occurs—that sufferings are prepared for them. The Christian can always feel inspired and elevated with internal joy, as he has the assured confidence that all things promote the good of the children of God; comp. Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 6:10; Romans 5:3. In a forced manner Chrysostom, whom Theophylact and others follow, refers 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to the disposition required in 1 Thessalonians 5:15 : Ὅταν γὰρ τοιαύτην ἔχωμεν ψυχήν, ὥστε μηδένα ἀμύνεσθαι, ἀλλὰ πάντας εὐεργετεῖν, πόθεν, εἰπέ μοι, τὸ τῆς λύπης κέντρον παρεισελθεῖν δυνήσεται;

Also it deserves to be mentioned as a curiosity that Koppe and Bolten hold it possible to consider πάντοτε χαίρετε as a concluding salutation (intended, but afterwards overlooked amid further additions): “Semper bene valere vos jubeat deus!” (Koppe). “Farewell always!” (Bolten).

1 Thessalonians 5:16. To comment adequately upon these diamond drops (16–18) would be to outline a history of the Christian experience in its higher levels. π. χαίρετε, cf. Epict., i. 16 (“Had we understanding, ought we to do anything but sing hymns and bless the Deity and tell of His benefits?… What else can I do, a lame old man, than sing hymns to God?… I exhort you to join in this same song.”) There is a thread of connection with the foregoing counsel. The unswerving aim of being good and doing good to all men, is bound up with that faith in God’s unfailing goodness to men which enables the Christian cheerfully to accept the disappointments and sufferings of social life. This faith can only be held by prayer, i.e., a constant reference of all life’s course to God, and such prayer must be more than mere resignation; it implies a spirit of unfailing gratitude to God, instead of any suspicious or rebellious attitude.

16. Rejoice evermore] alway (R. V.)—same as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2. 1 Thessalonians 2:16, &c. This seems a strange injunction for men afflicted like the Thessalonians (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). But the Apostle had learnt, and taught the secret, that in sorrow endured for Christ’s sake there is hidden a new spring of joy. See Romans 5:3-5, “Let us glory in our tribulations;” 2 Corinthians 12:10; and the Beatitude of Christ in Matthew 5:10-12; also 1 Peter 4:12-14.

This phrase supplied the key-note of St Paul’s subsequent letter, written from prison, to the Philippians (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5).

Verse 16. - Rejoice evermore; or, rejoice always (R.V.). Joy is that feeling of delight which arises from the possession of present good, or from the anticipation of future happiness; and in both respects the believer has abundant reason for constant joy. He possesses the blessedness of forgiveness and the sure prospect of eternal life, and he has the consciousness that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). God wishes his people to be happy, and does not suffer them to be indifferent to their own peace. He commands them to rejoice, yea, to rejoice evermore. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). 1 Thessalonians 5:16
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