“Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16).
The idea of rejoicing at all times runs against the grain of our humanity. Our depravity has trained us to believe that joy is the same as happiness and is dependent upon our circumstances. If life is going well by our standards, we are joyful, but if circumstances take a turn for the worse, we believe we have a right to allow our joy to dissolve in the muddy waters of our suffering. However, that is not so, for the command is “Rejoice always.”
James affirms this same truth when he writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2–3). James does not teach us to wait until our particular manner of suffering is over in order to rejoice, but rather to rejoice when we encounter various trials—during our suffering. The word “consider” is a command which calls for a certain outlook; that is, it is our duty to pursue an attitude of joy in the midst of trials. This joy is not an emotion that arises from the trial itself, but is a secure peace that comes from knowing that God’s good and perfect will is sure to be carried out as a result of the hardship. God desires our faith to be accompanied by the character quality of endurance. Therefore, He appoints suffering to breed this trait.
James is not telling us, “No matter how painful your suffering is, just put on a happy face. Pretend, if you have to. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know you are really hurting.” He is not suggesting we live in denial. Trials are hard. Trials do hurt. The inner pain is at times seemingly unbearable. But the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10).
Therefore, we can—and must—rejoice always. This is God’s will for every believer.