Question: "What does it mean to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)?"
Answer: The command to “rejoice always” is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. We can gain a better understanding of what exactly it means to rejoice always when we read the command in context. That is, we need to understand what proceeds and what follows the words rejoice always to fully understand Paul’s message to the Thessalonians and to us.
Paul’s primary intent was to exhort and comfort the Thessalonian believers. In 1 Thessalonians 5, he encourages them to daily live in a way that pleases God. He warns them to be prepared at all times for Christ’s return (verses 4–6). Paul closes his epistle with a to-do list to aid the church in their daily living and in relating to one another:
• Comfort and edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
• Respect all leaders (verses 12–13)
• Warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, and be patient with one another (verse 4)
• Treat everyone with kindness (verse 15)
• Rejoice always (verse 16)
• Pray without ceasing (verse 17)
• Give thanks (verse 18)
• Do not quench the Spirit (verse 19)
• Test all teachings (verses 20–21)
• Avoid evil (verse 22)
These exhortations are a great reminder to all Christians. Our circumstances and feelings should never stop us from rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, showing respect, or acting kindly.
When we adjust to God’s way of thinking and relating to others, we are reminded that, as Christians, we can even rejoice in the midst of trials and suffering because of the pattern established by Christ Jesus, who “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus showed us that suffering precedes glory. And Jesus’ suffering and resurrection have secured a joyous future for all who have been redeemed. In Christ, we can rejoice always.
Our exhortation to rejoice always is found elsewhere in Scripture, as well: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Rejoicing is not just a suggestion; it is a command, and it is commanded always. We can always choose to praise the Lord.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If we are always filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit causes us to rejoice, then it follows that we will rejoice always.
We can rejoice always because of God’s salvation. No one and nothing can take our salvation away (see Romans 8:37–39). Those who believe in Christ are God’s children, and nothing can change that.
We can rejoice always, even in persecution, because we believe God’s promises. The apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching the name of Christ, but when they left the courtroom, they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Obviously, the apostles remembered Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:11–12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” The eternal perspective helps us rejoice always.
We can rejoice always, knowing that “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). We can rejoice always, knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). We can rejoice always, knowing that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). We can rejoice always, knowing that one day we will inhabit the New Jerusalem, we will see the Lord face to face, and we will live in a perpetual day (see Revelation 22:1–5).
Our rejoicing should be in what the Lord has done, continues to do, and will do in the future, regardless of our circumstances or feelings. Our hope is in the Lord, for He is our rock and our salvation (Psalm 62:6). This alone is reason enough to rejoice always.