Verse of the Day 5.4.18: 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Paul’s command is not a “not a sugar-coated call for putting on a happy face in the midst of difficulties.”1 It is an appropriate, worshipful response to the good news of the Gospel.
16 Πάντοτε χαίρετε,2
16 Rejoice always,3
The verb rejoice (χαίρω | chairō) is a present imperative. The imperative mood is used for giving commands (e.g., “Clean your room!”). The fact that this command is in the Greek present tense suggests that what is being commanded is “linear or habitual action.”4 As with the other imperatives in this trio of commands (1 Th 5:16-18), Paul is telling the church in Thessalonica to rejoice continually.
Rejoice While Suffering?
Can’t this command come off a little tone deaf? I bet one of the last things people who are suffering want to hear is “Be happy all the time!” Paul’s command deserves more nuance:
First, Paul himself was no stranger to suffering. He was imprisoned, flogged, beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned. He spent a night and a day on the open sea. Constantly on the move, he was endangered from rivers, bandits, Jews, Gentiles, and false believers. He was often without food, drink, warmth, clothing, and sleep (2 Cor 11:22-28).
Yet, even while in prison he could write, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Php 4:4). Paradoxically, though often full of sorrow, Paul was always full of joy (2 Cor 6:10, 12:10).5
Why? Because the source (1 Th 1:6 cf. Gal 5:22)6and object of joy was the Lord (cf. Php 4:4). Our emotions cannot be turned off and on like a faucet; Paul is not commanding Christians to always have happy feelings. He is exhorting those who are to continually serve the Lord to joyfully worship the Lord.7
As one scholar notes, “Paul’s emphasis here is not so much on the experience of joy, but on the active expression of it.”8
So, though the church at Thessalonica suffered severely (1 Th 1:6), the oft-suffering apostle could encourage them to continually rejoice. For they had the Christian hope of future salvation9 and everlasting communion with God (1 Th 4:16-18).
That is the good news of the Gospel. Though we will have trouble in this world, we can take heart. For Christ has overcome the world (Jn 16:33). So, Paul could rejoice that the Good News was being spread in spite of (even through!) his suffering (Php 1:18; 2:17–18).10
Because of God’s amazing grace that afforded us salvation, we will forever have reason to rejoice.
Memorize 1 Thessalonians 5:16 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 214–215.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Th 5:16.
- Emphasis added. David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 100.
- Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 103.
- Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 199–200.
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 124–125.
- Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 214.
- I. Howard Marshall, “1 Thessalonians,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1284.
- D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 181.