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"Resources Releasing Rejoicing"

Dec.14, 2014 3rd in Advent 1Thess 5:12-24


Such a short verse - only two words - but such a challenge! 1Thess 5:16 "Rejoice always..." Are you rejoicing this morning? If so, what's the source of your joy? Is it based on something that's transient, here today and gone tomorrow? Is there some kind of joy like what Paul implies, that we can have ALL the time? Rejoice - ALWAYS?

Maybe you came here this morning in something other than a joyful attitude. Maybe you've had a tough week, due to setbacks at home, at work, in your health. Is it possible to be genuinely joyful even when you're feeling sick? When you've suffered losses?

The apostle Paul who wrote those words was no stranger to hardship; on various occasions he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned - yet he can still write to the church, "Rejoice always"?!

Here's another quote about joy by a famous person. See if you can guess who it is. A clue: it's a woman born in the 19th century, well-traveled, a prolific author, campaigner for women's suffrage and labour rights. You might suspect

she'd had an easy path to the top, making a statement about joy - but let's see. What did she say? "The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome.The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse." Joy wouldn't be so great if there were no limitations? Is the speaker being idealistic? What limitations if any did she herself have to traverse?

The speaker in question is Helen Keller, famous partly because she was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Yes, I'd say she's qualified to comment on joy in the face of difficulties!

Perhaps your own hardships are tempting you to say, "Bah, Humbug!" to all this 'joy' talk. Yet one of the most significant Sundays in Advent focuses on joy. Because Jesus came at Bethlehem, fulfilling centuries-old prophecies, because He died for our sins and was raised from the dead, fulfilling yet other prophecies, and because He's coming again - we can have joy regardless of our current difficulties.

You may be battling some "joy-suckers" that would drain you of the joy God wants you to have. Let's see if we can identify some resources Paul talks about that help release rejoicing in our lives. What are the conditions that make joy possible?


SS Smalley in a New Bible Commentary article states that joy "is a quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God Himself and indeed derived from Him, which characterizes the Christian's life on earth, and also anticipates eschatologically the joy of being with Christ for ever in the kingdom of heaven."

Joy "is a quality...grounded upon God Himself..." Vv9-10 in chapter 5, just prior to the passage we read, reveal where the Christian's joy is anchored - in the spiritual realm, God's prior choices and actions. 5:9f "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." Note where the focus is here time-wise: way before our present life, far removed from our daily circumstances: God "appointed" us "to receive salvation" - when was that "appointment"? Eph 1:4 "For he [the Father] chose us in him [Jesus the Son] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight..." Pretty long time ago, huh? Right from the start of the universe! When God makes an "appointment", do you suppose He'll keep it? Is He going to have a change of plans at the last minute? Numbers 23:19 "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?"

Fast forward from creation to the cross - still some 2000 years ago. That was the event that made it possible for us to receive salvation; v10 "He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him." The 'awake' or 'asleep' probably refer to the 2 possible states of believers when Christ returns bodily as He's just talked about in 4:15, having fallen 'asleep' in death OR being still alive. And death was a definite possibility for the persecuted church, as it is today! But whatever happens NOW, it's NOT going to reach back in time and somehow alter the fact that Jesus died for us so we can live with Him forever. Your joy at being saved by grace cannot be affected by tomorrow's external circumstances.

Another factor in the spiritual realm is the REASSURANCE we have through God's sovereign, purposeful will. Look at 5:16-18 together, they're a package: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." John MacArthur notes "this is the will of God" in v18 includes vv16-17 - What is God's will for you, what's He want you to have? Joy, prayer (connection to Him in spirit), thankfulness. If it's God's will, and God is all-powerful, what's going to stand in the way of that? This is very re-assuring, and QUITE independent of our circumstances.

Also in the spiritual realm, vv19-22 offer some clues to keeping joyful. On Thursday I forgot to turn my cell phone off "airplane mode" so missed someone's text until at least an hour later - that was poor communication! Be RECEPTIVE to God's communication: vv19-20 "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt." Don't quench or stifle or smother the Spirit by sinning; listen closely to prophecy, whether in Scripture or preached or revealed in prayer to someone so gifted. V21 says to test everything (including the prophecies just mentioned - do they line up with Biblical teaching?) and hold on to the good.

So, give special attention to your spiritual dynamics, maintain well your relationship to God, if you would have joy. Psalm 16:11 says "You will fill me with joy in Your presence..." Paul said in Php 4:4 "Rejoice IN THE LORD always..." Nehemiah (8:10) said, "...the joy of the LORD is your strength." Keeping things clear with the Lord in the spiritual realm opens the way for His joy to percolate into your soul. Agnes Sanford said, "Joy is the heavenly 'okay' of the inner life of power."


Next let's look at the role the flesh plays, your inner person. V22 warns, "Avoid every kind of evil." Hold back from, abstain from every form of evil. Now THERE'S a huge "joy-sucker" - succumbing to temptation and then having to deal with sin's fall-out! Shame, guilt, embarrassment all may ensue. Spare yourself that grief, don't get 'hooked' in the first place: avoid evil, run from it.

We're looking at verses in the CONTEXT of 5:16 to determine clues that facilitate joy. Back up to vv5-8: here we see the benefit of REINED-IN APPETITES. Note "self-control" is mentioned twice, in both vv6&8. 5:5-8 "You are all sons of the light and sons of the day.We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."

Note the imagery here of faith hope and love (famous trio from 1Corinthians 13) put on as - what? Not a swimsuit, nor jogging outfit! Put on as a breastplate and a helmet - this is WARTIME imagery! There's a battle here, a war on, stakes are high so we need to be strict with ourselves. What's the enemy? The forces of darkness, the night - specifically sleep (laziness, idleness perhaps) and drunkenness (a life of pleasure-seeking). Flip back to the beginning of chapter 4, vv3-5: "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God..." V7 God calls us to live a holy life, not to be impure. Paul's very clear in v8, "Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." And what's #2 fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22f)? Joy. So it seems we can choose sexual purity and joy, OR sexual immorality and being controlled by our passionate lust, but not both: lust is another joy-sucker. Turn to God for help to rein in those forbidden desires in your inner person.


We've looked at ways to clear the way for joy in the spiritual realm; the personal realm; and now finally, the social realm. Joy comes easier when you're getting along with other people, but even here there can be "joy-suckers" crop up. Let's look closely at vv11-15 immediately preceding the "rejoice always" command.

V11 "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." Here we have REINFORCEMENT from fellow believers - the words "one another" refer to those inside the church. Encouraging, building each other up, comforting / paracleting (in the Greek - same root word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit as Comforter or Counselor or Helper in John 14-16). How are we doing at caring for one another, not just on Sunday mornings but throughout the week? It doesn't take long to pick up the phone or send a friendly email or text that encourages your sister or brother in Christ. Paul had urged them in 4:9-10, "Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."

Verses 12 and 13 are about RESPECT and REGARD for church leaders - probably including volunteer "elders" at this point. "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.Live in peace with each other." (1Th 5:12-13) When there's respect and loving submissiveness toward the leaders, those who are "over the flock" in the Lord, it's also more likely the sheep will get along amongst themselves - hence that next phrase, "Live in peace with each other", sort of follows.

What are the leaders doing? Working hard - "to grow weary, tired, exhausted" - with toil or burdens or grief. The griefs of the flock are shared by the shepherd. And "admonishing" - that is, to warn, same verb as the sheep collectively are to do toward each other in v14: "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone."

Now, an attitude check here: what characteristic is beneficial in order to be "warned" or "admonished", whether by a fellow believer or by a church leader, an elder or pastor? How's that going to work for a person who's rebellious, proud, gets a chip on their shoulder easily? Are they going to welcome correction? Not much! So JOY in the congregation is much more likely when people are HUMBLE not proud, ready to submit to rightly-exercised authority rather than rebellious. Let's face it: none of us is perfect, we all get out of line once in a while; the word "idle" in v14 can also be translated "disorderly, out of line, irregular, immoderate". Can we be open to correction offered in loving fashion by someone else who genuinely cares about us? Or are we going to get all defensive and feel inferior? In Rev 3:19 Jesus says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." Do we want THAT sort of love? Humility provides the right environment for joy.

Another major joy-sucker is unveiled in v15: "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." NRSV puts it, "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all." Paying back evil for evil - there's another word for that: REVENGE. Joy cannot exist in the same heart that's trying to figure out a way it can get back at someone for an injury suffered. Jesus treats us with grace, forgiving us our sins, and calls us to show grace to others, forgiving them their trespasses as we are forgiven ours. (That's pretty basic, by the way - right in the Lord's Prayer! Mt 6:12) Instead of being vengeful, what's Paul recommend we do? 15B "Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else," literally "seek to do good to one another and to all." (NRSV) When you're doing something kind, something good for someone else, it's a lot easier to experience joy - God has wired us to taste a little bit of His delight when we're actively loving and gracing someone else.

On July 3, 1988, an American navy cruiser, thinking itself to be under attack by an Iranian F-14, gunned down an Iranian airliner containing 290 civilian passengers, killing them all. Polls revealed that most Americans were against paying compensation to the Iranian victims' families, because the hostage crisis was still fresh in many minds. In spite of this, President Reagan approved compensation. Afterward, he was asked by reporters if such payment would send the wrong signal. His response was, "I don't ever find compassion a bad precedent." Revenge may be easier to practice, but compassion demonstrates the heart of God.


In closing, a couple of quotes to meditate on that highlight the gift of JOY God wants His children to have. Commentator Robertson noted on the 3 verses 16-18, "It is God's will that we find joy in prayer in Christ Jesus in every condition of life." (Repeat) Think of prayer as the little teleport chamber you can nip into in any unpleasant circumstance in order to zip before your loving Heavenly Father once again and recall His goodness to you, His marvelous grace, and His power to overcome adversity by the Holy Spirit He's put inside you, when you've trusted Jesus.

And the Apostle Peter wrote to the early church when they were experiencing harsh testing and trials. He said in 1Pet 1:8f, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." This week, whenever you suffer trials, may your faith in Jesus our Saviour fill you with joy! Stay grounded in Him. Rejoice - always! Let's pray.