“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18
This text applies to men and women, old and young, rich and poor, married and single people. Nevertheless, I make special application to those who are married because marriage is under attack these days.
God’s Word to married couples (and to every child of God in every circumstance) is “Rejoice evermore.”
Someone might say, “It’s easy to rejoice on the day of your wedding as you look forward to spending the future together. It’s easy to rejoice when everything is going smoothly. But just wait until you have a big argument. Wait until reality sets in. Wait until you lose your job and don’t know how you are going to make the payments on your house. Rejoicing evermore sounds good in theory, but wait until you catch a glimpse of real life.” In the midst of difficult circumstances our flesh asks, “Am I supposed to rejoice even in this?” So, it behooves us to understand what it means to rejoice.
Rejoicing is not about jumping up and down when our favorite football team scores a touchdown. Rejoicing is not about laughing when we understand a joke. Rejoicing goes beyond that; the inspired apostle is talking about a spiritual rejoicing. Rejoicing is a deep-seated, habitual cheerfulness that arises from the heart such that we are calmly happy in the midst of our circumstances. It involves quietness and contentment in our souls.
Strikingly, the text adds the words “evermore” to the exhortation.
We can see why we might rejoice on the occasion of a marriage; but must we also rejoice when we lose our spouse? Rejoicing seems appropriate when we receive children from God; but must we also rejoice when we lose a child in his/her infancy? We can rejoice when things are going smoothly; but what about in great trials and afflictions? Must we truly rejoice in all our circumstances?
No doubt, every couple will face good times and bad, sickness and health, better and worse. But, God’s Word to us in every circumstance is, “Rejoice evermore.”
By nature, none of us could ever do that. We might have a certain level of quietness and contentment when things are outwardly going well. By nature, we might put up with trials; but, we would never rejoice in them. By nature, we would view all those things as being against us.
Furthermore, apart from God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, we have nothing substantial to rejoice about. Apart from God and His grace, we would be like honeymooners on the last voyage of the Titanic, oblivious to the true nature of our circumstances. As long as we deserve God’s wrath, there is no good reason to rejoice.
How can we have quietness and contentment in our souls? How can we rejoice evermore? The answer must not arise from earthly wealth or prosperity or any other circumstance. It must arise out of God-given faith and the eternal life we have in Jesus Christ. Only when God heals our consciences by faith and only when grace stills our earthly affections can we truly rejoice. Our rejoicing must be a joy in the Lord (cf. Phil. 4:4). It must flow out of the blessed forgiveness we have in the blood of Jesus Christ. It must ever focus on the work of Christ for us and in us.
So, we rejoice in marriage as we are heirs of the grace of life. That is something no circumstance can ever take away from us. Knowing we are heirs of eternal glory goes hand in hand with knowing that God is working all things together in order to bring us to that glory. God uses marriage (and singleness) and every other circumstance of life to lead us in our pilgrimage onward to glory. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven (cf. Luke 10:20). When we remember the glorious inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus, we have every reason to rejoice evermore, even when we suffer persecution for Christ’s sake.
Rejoice, not because trials are enjoyable, but because we belong body and soul to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Rejoice that God is using our difficulties—also in our marriages as well as singleness—to lift our eyes away from this valley of tears toward Him in whom is all our joy. Rejoice that God’s love towards His people is from everlasting to everlasting.
And, pray without ceasing! The Holy Spirit connects rejoicing and prayer.
Prayer is an act of communing with God whereby we praise His name, confess our sins to Him, thank Him for His bountiful goodness, and ask Him to supply all our needs.
We direct our prayers to God because He alone is sovereign and able to meet our needs. According to His sovereign decree, He elected us unto an eternal inheritance before the foundations of the world. In His sovereign power, He created the heavens and the earth in order to carry out His glorious plan. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to redeem us and gather us together from north, south, east, and west. He is the sovereign God, able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us (cf. Eph. 3:20).
Not only is God able to supply our needs, including salvation from our all our misery; He also is willing.
Even though we are unworthy sinners, God looks upon us as we are united to Christ our Head. Since He has redeemed us with the precious blood of His only begotten Son and adopted us into His family as dear children, surely He is willing to give us all things we stand in need of.
So then, God would have us pray to Him as our Father for Christ’s sake because we are needy. Needy also in our marriages. Why? Because we enter marriage as sinners. And whenever two sinners are put together, our need becomes all the more obvious. Our pride and selfishness manifest themselves when we come into contact with another proud and selfish human being. How our marriages stand in need of prayer!
That is why God would have us pray without ceasing. There is never a time when we can say, “I have no need of prayer.” Every time is an appropriate time to pray. What a privilege we have to call upon God in prayer, morning, noon, and night! What a comfort to know that God hears our prayers for Christ’s sake!
But prayer is also commanded. Why? Because we so easily forget to pray. We become busy in the cares and concerns of life. We wake up five minutes before we go to work and think prayer is not really so important. Therefore, we need to hear this command, “Pray without ceasing.”
To pray without ceasing is to make prayer a regular habit. What a wonderful thing when God’s people set times for devotions, in which we read the Scriptures and meditate upon them, and pray, whether as individuals, as husbands and wives, or as families.
To pray without ceasing means, furthermore, to cultivate spontaneous prayers. As we go about our daily tasks we can speak short prayers to God, thanking Him for small providences, asking Him for help in time of temptations, or seeking wisdom for decisions. No true concern is too small to bring before God.
To pray without ceasing is to keep praying for the things we need. When God does not immediately grant us that for which we pray, He would have us continue in prayer like the widow who kept coming to the judge.
Prayer ought to characterize our lives.
There never is a shortage of things for which to pray. We pray for our spouses, our children, our friends, brothers and sisters in the church, and even our enemies. We pray for protection in time of persecution. More than that, we pray for every spiritual blessing Christ has earned for us. We pray for forgiveness. We pray for grace to continue in the day-to-day battle. We pray for grace to persevere to the end. We pray that Christ would come quickly.
Especially, we pray that God would be glorified. We want Him to be glorified in all of our lives, including our marriages.
God would have us pray without ceasing.
When we see God giving us everything we need, and when we see Him answering our prayers, God would have us not only to be grateful, but also to express our gratitude: “In every thing give thanks.” Give thanks for all the spiritual gifts and blessings He has given us.
Here again, the fact that the Holy Spirit commands us to give thanks shows that we often forget all His benefits. Often we do the opposite of giving thanks; we express our bitterness, anger, and frustration concerning the things God has placed upon our path. We complain, “Why has God done this to me?” But giving of thanks to God is to confess that His way is the only good way for us.
Rejoicing and prayer and thanksgiving belong together.
What does God call us to be thankful for?
Yes, we ought to give thanks for marriage (as well as singleness). We ought to give thanks for physical provision and the comforts of life.
But especially, give thanks for all the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus. Give thanks for spiritual life. Give thanks for faith and forgiveness. Give thanks for daily spiritual supplies and the sure hope of heaven. Give thanks whenever and wherever God is glorified. There is so much for which we can be thankful.
Notice that the inspired apostle commands us to give thanks “in every thing.” Our tendency is to give thanks only for certain things: a loving spouse, health, strength, food, shelter, prosperity, success, and such like things. But, we find it hard to give thanks for trials: a difficult spouse, loneliness, sickness, and disappointments. We find it hard to thank God for His fatherly chastisements. But God tells us to give thanks in everything.
“In every thing give thanks” exactly because God is using “every thing” to bring us good.
“This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning” us. This is what God has ordained for us who are in Christ Jesus. This is part of that good, perfect, and acceptable will of God that is well pleasing in His sight.
United to Christ, we have every reason to rejoice evermore. United to Him, we have every reason to pray without ceasing and know that our prayers are heard. United to Him, we have every reason to be thankful and express our thanks to God. Rejoice, pray, and give thanks; evermore, without ceasing, and in every thing.