There is no event or circumstance that can occur in the life of any Christian that should diminish that Christian's joy.
Does that sound ridiculous? Nevertheless, no matter how it sounds, the command of Scripture is explicit. Rejoice always. It's become a day more associated with travel and eating and football games than what American president Abraham Lincoln envisioned. That was in 1863 when the president declared the first official Thanksgiving, a time for remembering the gracious gifts of the Most High God. And what's perhaps most significant about Lincoln's declaration is that it came in the middle of the U.S. Civil War, a reminder that even during serious troubles, God is gracious and merciful and he deserves our thanks. So even if you're facing a time of testing today, Thanksgiving Day in the United States, join John MacArthur here on Grace to You as he looks at why, if you know Christ, you can rejoice in any circumstance. With his message titled, Rejoicing Always, here's John. It is our great privilege to return to our wonderful study of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, and I invite you to take your Bible, if you will, and open to that great chapter.
I want to preach on just one verse, verse 16, a verse with only two words. 1 Thessalonians 5, 16 simply says, Rejoice always. And I want to use that as a beginning point to speak on the subject of Christian joy.
Now you know this is part of a larger series. Starting in chapter 5, verse 12, we begin to discuss this matter of growing a healthy flock. Paul, concerned about the health of the flock in Thessalonica, gave the instruction about how the sheep are to treat the shepherds and how the shepherds are to treat the sheep, and then how the sheep are to treat the sheep. And now he comes to a new relationship, not the relationship of sheep to shepherd or sheep to sheep, but the relationship of sheep to great shepherd. And here we get into a look at the inner life of the believer. If the flock is to be healthy, not only does the relationship between shepherd and sheep have to be right, between sheep and sheep, but between sheep and the great shepherd. Our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, to God Himself, must be right. And so beginning in verse 16 and flowing down through verse 22, the Apostle Paul gives a series of exhortations that deal with the believer's inner life, our relationship to God Himself. He begins with those two brief words, Rejoice always.
The discussion of Christian joy is, of course, crucial and essential to all of us who name the name of Jesus Christ. Much can be said. Much should be said. Much has been said. But I want to begin our study today with a statement that may surprise you.
In fact, it may appear hard, if not impossible, to believe. Then I want to tell you why that statement is true and teach you its significance and its application. Here is the statement. There is no event or circumstance that can occur in the life of any Christian that should diminish that Christian's joy. Let me say that again. There is no event or circumstance that can occur in the life of any Christian that should diminish that Christian's joy.
In fact, let me go even further than that. If there is an event or circumstance apart from sin that does diminish your joy, you have sinned. You have sinned.
Does that sound ridiculous given the woes and the pains and the difficulties of life? Nevertheless, no matter how it sounds, the command of Scripture is explicit. Rejoice how often?
Always. Any failure to do that constitutes disobedience and sin. Therefore, we can say that there is no event or circumstance that can occur in the life of any Christian that should diminish that Christian's joy. It will if we react improperly to it. Now how can we so live? How can we so live that we rejoice always? How can we live in undiminished joy? How can we transcend all events and all circumstances that occur so that nothing touches our joy?
That's really what we're after today in this study. Let's begin with the command itself, rejoice always. And make the note initially that this is not the only place that such a command is enjoined upon us. Joy is discussed both in the Old and the New Testament and there are numerous locations in Scripture where similar commands are given, not the least of which would be Philippians 4 for, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice. It's almost as if he says, Rejoice in the Lord always and then knows someone will say, Except. And so he says, Again I will say, Rejoice. In 1 Peter chapter 4 and verse 13, Peter says, To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing. We are commanded to keep on rejoicing, to rejoice always, to rejoice always and again I say, Rejoice.
And so the command here in verse 16 is consistent with other portions of Scripture and other injunctions. Paul in writing to the Colossians in chapter 1 said that if I have to give my life getting the gospel to you, I rejoice. James says, When you fall into various trials, count it all joy.
Peter says essentially the same thing in 1 Peter 1, 6, In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials. No, serious problems in life, serious trouble and pain does not rescind the command to incessant, unending, ceaseless joy. And Scripture further says, Our joy is to be great. Our joy is to be abundant. Our joy is to be exceeding. Our joy is to be animated, Psalm 32, 11. Our joy is to be unspeakable. Our joy is to be full of glory. Our joy is to be with awe. And so we are to rejoice always.
Now at this point I need to say something and it is this. Such joy is not natural. So if you're saying that's impossible, what he's saying is impossible.
It can't be done. You're right from the human viewpoint. It is not natural. It is, however, supernatural joy. And that's the kind of joy we're talking about. We're not talking about happiness which comes from happenings or happenstance or because something just happens to be good.
We're not talking about a shallow, superficial, emotional response to positive circumstance. We're talking about not a natural joy but a supernatural joy. It is a joy at another level. It's a divine level. That is why it says in Galatians 5, The fruit of the Spirit is love.
What's the second one? Joy. That is why in Romans 14 you have in verse 17 that marvelous statement that the kingdom is made up of joy in the Holy Spirit. It is a spiritual joy. It is a Holy Spirit joy. It is a supernatural joy. So we are commanded to rejoice at all times and then we are instructed that it is not natural.
It is not normal. It is supernatural. It is a ministry. It is a gift.
It is a product. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Now someone will immediately then say, Well if it is not natural and not normal and doesn't rise out of my own humanness and I have to depend upon the Spirit of God to produce it, then why am I being commanded to rejoice? If it's the Spirit's work, why is He commanding me to rejoice? And the answer is the same answer you have to give in all those aspects of Scripture which involve human volition. Every command in the New Testament is a command toward holiness which can only be produced by God. Every command of the believer is a command to holiness which can only be produced by God and yet my will is involved in that. And so while joy is a product of the Spirit of God, it is not bypassing my volition.
It is not bypassing my will. The Holy Spirit gives this supernatural Christian joy. It is spiritual. It is supernatural.
It is divine. It is a work of God in the inner man. Yet I must exercise my will over the flesh for that Holy Spirit work to take place.
I must be involved. It is a work of God but not without my will. The experience of Christian joy flows from God through the Spirit and then it has to flow through me. So first of all, we are commanded to unceasing joy. Secondly, we acknowledge that it is not natural, it is supernatural, the work of the Spirit. But thirdly, it demands the cooperation of my will.
Now that should lead us to a definition. What kind of joy are we talking about? Now if my will's got to be involved in it, what is it? The Holy Spirit certainly doesn't need it defined, He knows, but I'm not sure I do. So if I have to get my will activated in this process, what is the joy by definition that I'm looking for? Now listen very carefully. This is the heart of what I'm going to say.
Here's the definition. Christian joy is the emotion springing from the deep down confidence of the Christian that God is in perfect control. Let me say that much again. Christian joy is the emotion springing from the deep down confidence of the Christian that God is in perfect control of everything and will bring from it our good in time and our glory in eternity.
Let me say that again. Christian joy is the emotion springing from the deep down confidence of the Christian that God is in complete and perfect control of everything and will bring from it our good in time and our glory in eternity. That's Christian joy. Christian joy is not an emotion on top of an emotion. It is not a feeling on top of a feeling. It is a feeling on top of a fact. It is an emotional response to what I know to be true about my God.
That's the substance of it. All of us should be in the habit of constantly expressing joyful wonder when we contemplate the unchanging, eternal relationship with God that we have through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now follow the sequence. We are to rejoice all the time. That is not normal. That is not natural.
That is supernatural. It is a work of the Spirit of God, but it demands our will. If our will is to be activated in it, we have to know what we're talking about. And what we're talking about starts with a deep down confidence that God is in control of everything and He is working it for our good in time and our glory in eternity. If I can fix that great reality in my mind, then I have that deep down base off of which my Christian joy can spring.
All right? So much for an understanding of the command then. Now I want to take you into building that base, that deep down confidence. But I want to approach it from the standpoint of the question, why? Somebody says, rejoice always, and somebody will always say, why?
Like the little kids. Why? Why do I have to do that? Let me give you some reasons to motivate your obedience to this command. And the very reasons that I'm going to give you will help lay the foundation of confidence, OK?
Why should I obey the command to always rejoice? I've got problems in my life. I've got difficulties. Things aren't going the way I want. I don't have the job I want. I don't have the circumstances I want.
It's not all the way I like it. Why should I rejoice always? Question number one, as an act of appreciation for the character of God. As an act of appreciation for the character of God.
Oh, this is so important. In 2 Chronicles chapter 7, listen to verse 10. On the 23rd day of the seventh month, that having to do with the feast Solomon set, on the 23rd day of the seventh month, he sent the people to their tents rejoicing and happy of heart because of the goodness that the Lord had shown.
See, that's where it starts. My joy starts in the character of God. A happy heart, a rejoicing heart because of the goodness that the Lord has shown. Listen to the words of the psalmist in Psalm 28 verse 7. The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart trusts in Him and I am helped. Therefore, my heart rejoices and with my song I shall thank Him.
Where's the joy coming from? Your circumstances? No, no, no. My God, He's my strength. He's my shield. My heart trusts in Him.
I am helped. My joy begins in the character of my God, independent of my circumstances. In Psalm 71, 23, my lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to Thee and my soul which Thou hast redeemed. When I think about what You've done for me and I start to praise You, I'm filled with joy. In Psalm 89 and verse 16, and we can't obviously look at all of the possibilities, in Thy name they rejoice all the day.
I just love that. What are they rejoicing in? In Thy name. What does He mean, Thy name, Thy character? Because of who God is, because of what He's done. Isaiah 61, 10 says He's clothed us with the robes of righteousness. In the New Testament, I cannot resist a reference to Luke 10, 20. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.
Is that marvelous? God wrote your name in the Lamb's Book of Life before the foundation of the world. That's because He is a sovereign, gracious, loving, merciful, compassionate God. Rejoice in that. That's the ground of your joy, the character of God, the character of God.
That's where it all has to start. In Nehemiah, one more verse, 8, 10, it says, the joy of the Lord is your strength. When you learn to joy in who God is, you become strong. Second, another reason for rejoicing always is as an act of appreciation for the work of Christ. Not only as an act of appreciation for the character of God, but as an act of appreciation for the work of Christ. Stop to realize what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you, though you be utterly and completely unworthy, undeserving. That is why the angel said in Luke 2, 10, do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.
What is it? A Savior. The Savior brings joy. In John chapter 15 and verse 11, another text of Scripture, these things I have spoken to you, Jesus said that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full. Everything I say, everything I do is to produce joy for you...for you. Paul, writing in that great fifth chapter of Romans, talks about the redemptive work of Christ, His atonement on the cross, and he says it is in this great work of Christ that we exult, that we rejoice.
In fact, in Philippians 3, 3, Paul says that a Christian is one who worships in the Spirit of God and rejoices in Christ Jesus. I don't care what's going on in your life. I don't care what your problems are.
I don't care what the difficulties are. You have an eternal salvation produced in the wonderful work of Jesus Christ and granted to you through the sovereign choice of God and in those matters you can rejoice. Listen to 1 Peter 1 8, and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Why? Because you have salvation, he says in the next verse. Thirdly, rejoice always not only as an act of appreciation for the character of God and the work of Christ, but as an act of appreciation for the ministry of the Spirit...as an act of appreciation for the ministry of the Spirit. Back to Romans 14 17, you have joy in the Holy Spirit.
It is the Spirit of God who's producing love and joy. He is...He is interceding for you constantly with groanings which cannot be uttered so that your otherwise wayward prayers are brought to conform to the will of God, Romans 8 says. He is the one at work in you to make things produce divine purpose and goal.
The Spirit is the one who links you to Christ and is the guarantee of your future inheritance. He seals you. He indwells you. He fills you for service and power. He enables you.
He gifts you. Out of appreciation to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we should rejoice always. Nothing can touch the character of God and diminish it. Nothing can touch the work of Christ and diminish it. Nothing can harm the work of the Spirit of God.
It will accomplish its purpose. The triune God is at work and that is plenty of reason for unceasing joy. And now let me move in this little list from the workers, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to the work they're doing.
Here's some more reasons for joy. Number four, as an act of appreciation for spiritual blessings, as an act of appreciation for spiritual blessings, stop to think about the fact that you, according to Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3 and 4, are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. Stop to think that you have all things pertaining to life and godliness. Stop to think that in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and you are complete in Him. Stop to think that you have become partakers of the divine nature. Stop to think that my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
Stop to think that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. There is no end to the continual flow of gracious blessing in your life and that is reason enough for unceasing joy. Number five, we ought to rejoice always as an act of appreciation for divine providence, as an act of appreciation for divine providence. What is providence?
I've taught that before. I only remind you providence is a term used to describe God's ability to orchestrate the innumerable contingencies that exist in the universe and make them all work together for your good in time and your glory in eternity. God literally orchestrates every single piece of space, matter, time, force and energy so that it all congeals in a perfect plan and purpose. Every thought, every word, every act by every being that exists, every natural, every supernatural thing moves together to fit the perfect plan of God even though from their own viewpoints there are an innumerable number of independently acting agencies. Simply stated, it's summed up in these words, all things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8.28. No matter what's going on in your life, there ought to be unceasing thanks and joy over the divine providence as God orchestrates everything for your good and eternal glory. God, the God who is able to keep you from falling, who holds you fast. Is his grace to you with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. Along with teaching here on the radio, John pastors Grace Community Church and serves as Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary in Southern California. In today's message, he looked at why Christians can rejoice always no matter what comes their way. John, before we wrap up today, let me ask you a question. I've heard you say many times that of all of the holidays we celebrate, Thanksgiving is your favorite.
So can you take a few minutes and explain to us why you say that? Well, because it's such a simple event. It's one day for the purpose of thanking the Lord. It's unlike, let's say Easter, which gets cluttered with rabbits and fashion and spring and flowers and whatever else. Or unlike Christmas, which is even more cluttered and gets cluttered for weeks before it even arrives. Thanksgiving is just a day.
There's a simplicity about it that I love. It's a day when, you know, you don't have to buy a gift. You don't have to pay attention to yourself.
You're not going to spring forth in a new wardrobe. It's the day to humble yourself. It's a day to bow before the Lord in deep, deep Thanksgiving. And I would just encourage you listeners to pursue contentment with all your heart. Contentment is the rare jewel. That is an attitude that is so elusive to people in the world.
The apostle Paul, on the other hand, said he had learned to be content. Contentment is really the prompting motivation for thankfulness. And I hope that you are trusting enough in the Lord and content with what he has brought into your life to want nothing more than what he has for you as an expression of his love and that you respond in gratitude to him.
Make the day a day of humble thanks to the one who has given you everything you need. Good reminder. Thank you, John.
And friend, all this Thanksgiving week, we have aired messages on gratitude and contentment. And so if you missed one, I encourage you to go to our website and download it. To take advantage of John's free sermon archive, contact us today. Our website address?
GTY.org. Again, all of John's sermons are free at our website. That's 3,500 sermons. You'll also find devotionals by John and the Grace To You blog, which recently ran an encouraging series on how Christ works in his church. And if you're not sure what to check out first on our website, let me recommend what we call Grace Stream. That's nonstop preaching from John, featuring sermons on every book of the New Testament in sequential order.
Leave it running while you're at your home and even at work if that's possible. It's a great way to fill in the white spaces of your day with biblical truth. Our website again, GTY.org. And friend, let me encourage you to follow us on social media. We regularly post about John's newest books, what's airing on the radio, the latest Grace To You news.
You'll find us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm Phil Johnson, wishing you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving celebration. And be here at the same time tomorrow when John shows you how to rejoice in the Lord no matter what trials come your way. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
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