1 Thessalonians 5:16 commands us to “Rejoice always.” When I heard this verse, the first word that attracted my attention was “rejoice.” This verse is saying that we, as Christians, should be filled with joy. However, as I listened to this commandment repeatedly, I realized that I have to pay due attention to the word “always.” “Always” makes me examine how I am living up to the commandment. Frankly speaking, I have experienced many times when I was not happy, even if I never took the commandments lightly. So, the question I’ve pondered is how can we as Christians always be in a state of joy in compliance with God’s commandment.
For Christians, joy is important because the presence of joy in your life is evidence of being a true Christian. This idea is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord taught the eight ways for a person to be “blessed” (Matthew 5:3-12), and if one follows all those ways, he must be a Christian. Because “blessed” in this passage means joyful and happy, it implies that there would not be a Christian who is joyless. Since joy is not always external, a Christian must always be joyful internally, at least. When we are mourning a loss or facing persecution, though we may not look joyful externally, joy should be in our hearts (Matthew 5:3, 10).
How can we always be joyful? For me to always be joyful, I have to remind myself of three commandments from God. The first one is the command to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Thankfulness easily produces joy. One is not joyful when he is not thankful. This may be the reason why thankful is said to be a condition for joy. Therefore, being thankful regardless of the situation is a way to be joyful always, but it is not easy. It comes only from a Christian attitude, which is intentionally seeking reasons to be thankful regardless of the situation. A Christian searches for a reason to be thankful even when the external circumstances make it extremely difficult to be thankful. To have the attitude may not be easy at first, but when one develops it as his spiritual habit, it becomes part of his character (cf. Romans 5:3-4). In this sense, someone is right to say, “It is not that we are thankful because we are joyful, but that we are joyful because we are thankful.”
The second commandment I remind myself of in order to maintain joy is God’s command regarding hopefulness (Romans 5:3-5). Interestingly, one of the Korean equivalents of the word “hopefulness” means “optimistic.” Even in a desperate situation, Christians should be able to find a reason to be joyful and may find a reason in God, who is our source of hope (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9). When there is no help we can expect from humans, we hope in and pray to God because God is almighty, and help comes from God (cf. Psalm 121; Hebrews 13:5-6; James 1:17). Not only that, even if we do not receive what we pray for in this world, the hope of the promise that God rewards us keeps us joyful. For this reason, hope is key for a Christian to be joyful regardless of the situation. Just as there is no life without difficulties and sufferings, there is no joy without hope.
Finally, to always be joyful, I have to remind myself to humble myself (1 Peter 5:5-7). If I were the one who had the final say for my life, I would not be able to be joyful all the time. Some responsibilities are too heavy for me to carry by myself. Therefore, I need to entrust them to God in order for me to be joyful. On top of that, there are things I will never be able to know for sure, such as what’s going on in the spiritual realm and what will happen to me in the future. Uncertainty may make me fearful, and when fear appears in my heart, it can take away my joy. Therefore, because we are weak and limited, we have to depend on God, the Creator, and Fashioner of the world. If we acknowledge Him in all things and walk in the way with which He is pleased, we may receive His mercy, help, and direction (Proverbs 3:6, 16:3). Then we can be joyful like a child being protected and provided for by his loving parents. Therefore, those who want to be joyful must always humble themselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). Only when we humble ourselves will He exalt us, and that is a source of joy.
“Be joyful always” is not merely an encouraging word to Christians, but it is a commandment of God. He also provided us with ways to be joyful always. So, joy will always be an indicator of whether or not we are truly a child in God’s arms. How about you? Are you always joyful?