Written by Dave Urbanski
Can you believe our entire study from this past Sunday’s teaching is based on just two words?
It’s true. The verse as we continue our look at various traits that define us as Christians is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. It reads, “Rejoice always.”
That’s it! It’s indeed as short a verse as you’ll find in all of Scripture — but it’s also as deep and wide and long in weight and meaning as any truth in the Bible as well.
Let’s start by looking at the Greek word for “joy,” which is “chara.” It’s a noun that denotes the awareness of God’s grace — or “grace recognized.” (Interesting that the primary definition of “joy” immediately flows to “grace,” isn’t it?) There’s a valuable reason for that stands front and center in the life of the Christian — and one that will change your entire disposition in life. Here it is: When you pursue pleasure as the ultimate goal, you will always come up empty. We weren’t designed that way. Life’s miniscule pleasures were never meant to give us ultimate fulfillment. Instead the Lord, our Creator, allowed only himself to be that source of fulfillment.
And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If God desperately wants a deep relationship with each of us, why would he allow us to be fulfilled by anything that takes the focus away from him? Which is why, rather than pursuing pleasure, we must instead pursue grace — and as the Greek word denotes, by recognizing grace, we will find joy.
And indeed, at the end of joy is the Lord himself — exactly the way God designed it!
Since the idea of grace has entered the picture so powerfully, let’s dig a little deeper into it. Here’s another jaw dropper: Turns out the Greek word for “grace” is “charis” — which as you no doubt will notice is very close to “chara,” the Greek word for “joy” we just discussed! (See how this is all fitting together? It’s no accident.)
It’s important to keep in mind that there are two types of grace: Our “salvation” grace and our “daily” grace. Let’s look at salvation grace first — the grace by which Christ saved us. This type of grace is a free gift; it’s nothing we deserve or have the ability to earn. And it follows that “recognizing” this grace — remember that word earlier in our discussion? — leads right to joy. And why wouldn’t it? Being the recipient of God’s saving grace is nothing less than joy that never ends.
Now let’s look at the grace we need every day — that we need each hour, each second, of our lives. This grace might strike a bit closer to home, simply because it relates directly to the things that have happened to you today — to the things that are happening right now as you read these words. If you’ve been in any kind of sustained pain, for example, you know exactly what this means. Let’s say you find yourself struggling to swallow normally or to breathe easily: You’d better believe that, even as a Christian — in our temporary, limited bodies — we require grace from the Lord on a minute-by-minute basis.
But the key here is to not stop — but rather to carry that awareness of needing the grace of God in every moment all the way to the ability to see grace everywhere.
We all know it’s easy to see God’s goodness and grace when things going well. If we see an accident on the road, it’s appropriate to thank the Lord that he spared us from that calamity. And if you received a promotion and a raise at work, of course you should thank God for the grace he bestowed upon you. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know from personal experience that it’s much harder to perceive grace in the hard times! When you find yourself a victim of that accident … when you don’t get the promotion or raise. And we naturally ask ourselves, Can I receive grace in those hard moments? The answer is, “Absolutely, yes you can.”
How? Well, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 12, verse 9, that when he wanted the Lord to remove an affliction from him, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Are you able to see God’s grace right alongside the problems and trials you experience in life? Because your path to growth will likely run right alongside rejoicing always in God’s grace amid challenging times. Remember James’ words in his epistle: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Applying that truth to your life will lead you toward seeing God’s grace everywhere!
Another great way to think about joy to take a look at our physical health. When we go to the doctor, we’re quizzed on different risk factors in our lives — and rightfully so, as counteracting them is good for our health. Well, the spiritual life is much the same: Often there are risk factors that can derail our spiritual lives: Anger, materialism, greed, lust. You name it. All of these things, and more, can creep into our souls and send us in the wrong direction.
But the great thing about joy is that it can counteract the terrible, constant assaults those negative elements wage in our lives. Joy is like our “core strengthening exercise” that can ward off the disease of sin before it sets in and seeks to destroy us.
Make no mistake: Living the Christian life is no guarantee of painless living. In fact, anyone who tells you differently isn’t telling you the truth. Take it from the Apostle Paul, who describes in stirring detail in 2 Corinthians 6 what living the Christian life actually looks like when you allow God to have his way. Paul says he endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Does that sound like fun to you? But hang on — let him finish:
“… by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Possessing everything. Paul, of course, wasn’t talking about material possessions. He was communicating about true riches, treasures that thieves cannot steal, that moths cannot devour — the joy of eternal life. And that joy can start for all us, right now. Lay hold of it, brothers and sisters.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4