Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rejoice Always

The shortest verse in the Bible is typically given as "Jesus wept" (John 13:35). However, one verse which has the same number of words (though less letters in English) is 1 Thessalonians 5:16: "Rejoice always."

I've read this verse quite a number of times over the last 26 years. Recently though, while reflecting on it, I have realized that the extreme shortness of this verse has a strong, underlying depth to it. How can one rejoice always? There are so many things in this world which bring sadness, destruction and death. We live in difficult times economically. There are those who, this day, have faced the sudden death of a loved one in a traffic accident or perhaps have met a violent end. Many around this world suffer from the pain of cancer or the pain of a relationship which has been broken by faithlessness, or adultery. The sources of pain and sadness in this world seem to be without number.

Suffering and pain in this world is not an illusion. It is quite real and should not be denied or de-valued. The world of the first century Roman empire in which the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica was no less a place of pain. Perhaps in many ways, the pain was even greater than today's. What was Paul thinking when he instructed those Thessalonian Christians to "Rejoice Always.?"

I think that the answer lies in a matter of perspective. Perhaps an analogy will be useful. Back in April of this year, my family and I had the wonderful opportunity to take a cruise in the eastern Caribbean on the Carnival Destiny (pictured above). It was an absolutely fun time. I had never been on a large cruise ship before in my life. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Seeing that huge ship in dock as we were walking aboard to begin our adventure was a sight to behold. I've never walked aboard anything that big that was capable of moving.

I could imagine that if, just before we walked onboard, I somehow got a small papercut while filling out one of the forms. Imagine what my family and friends would have told me if I would have said: "Ow. A papercut. Now my whole week onboard the ship will be ruined." My wife, my sons and friends would think I was joking. If I continued saying how the papercut ruined the cruise, they would have told me: "It's a small cut. It will heal quickly and you're going to have the time of a lifetime in the next five days. Keep things in perspective!!!"

In the same way, God's Holy Spirit could inspire Paul to write "Rejoice always" if, in the same way, there is something so much more wonderful in the things of God than any earthly pain we could suffer. In the midst of very real pain, discomfort and suffering, since the things of God are just as real but infinitely better, Paul could write: "Rejoice always". The sufferings of this time are quite real. But they are temporary. For the Christian, the glory of Christ which we can begin to behold now (in part) and the next age (in full) is the underlying basis of a joy which we can appreciate and hope for, even as tears of suffering may be on our cheek at the present moment.

Saints in Christ, rejoice always!!!!

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