This Sunday is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday based on the Introit for the day: Gaudete in Domino semper, iterum dico, Gaudete (from Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice). This theme is developed most fully in today’s readings in 1 Thessalonians 5:16ff. It, too, begins with the salutation and imperative, “rejoice always!”
Let’s take a closer look at that reading and what is meant by the admonition to “rejoice.”
The text begins, Rejoice always. The Greek word properly translated here as “rejoice” is χαίρετε (chairete). However, more is intended here than to merely rouse ourselves to some sort of the emotional state of joy or happiness. You may note the root word “charis” in “chariete,” and charis refers to grace. Hence chairete means, properly, to delight joyfully in and BY God’s grace, to experience God’s favor (grace), to be conscious of and glad for His grace.
Since it is a work of grace, the gift of this sort of joy is more fully understood as a serene, confident, and stable joy, a joy not rooted merely in the passing moods of our fallen human state.
The text continues further to identify three basic ways that our joy can become both stable and deeply rooted in our personality and psyche. In effect, the text does not merely instruct us to rejoice always, but tells us how this can be done. Let’s look at these three ways.
I. PERSEVERANCE IN PRAISE – The text says, Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Hence we see the first three foundations for rejoicing always. Let’s take them a little out of order.
A. Grateful – In all circumstances give thanks – Thanksgiving is an important discipline that trains our mind to focus on reality. For it so happens that we tend to be negative, perhaps due to our fallen nature. The reality is that every day ten trillion things go right and only a few things go wrong. Now you may think that ten trillion is an exaggeration, but it is not. Consider all the things that have to go right with every cell in your body. Add to that all the many things and factors on this earth, indeed in the whole universe, that must be perfectly balanced in order for you and me to even be here at all, alive and flourishing. Ten trillion is not an exaggeration.
However, if we are not careful, we are going to focus on the five or six things that went wrong today. And, mind you, some of them may feel serious at times (although usually they are not). Nevertheless, even the truly serious mishaps cannot negate the reality of the ten trillion things that have gone right.
Thanksgiving disciplines our mind to focus on the bigger reality of our countless blessings. Even some of the mishaps of a day can actually be blessings in disguise.
Hence we are told to give thanks in all circumstances. Daily thanksgiving disciplines our mind to focus on the astonishing number of blessings. What you feed grows, so if the negative is fed, it will grow. But, if the positive is fed, it will grow and become an important basis of stable joy in our life. Give thanks in all circumstances.
B. Prayerful – Pray without ceasing – Here, too, is a discipline of the mind. Paul does not mean to say that we should stay in a chapel all day. He means that we should lay hold of the normal Christian life, which is to be living in conscious contact with God at every moment of our day. To the degree that we are consciously aware of God’s presence and in a dialogue of love with Him all day, our joy is deeper and becomes more stable. Thus we are able, by this ongoing sense of His presence, to “rejoice always.”
C. Spirit-filled – Do not quench the Spirit – That such gifts (ongoing prayer and thanksgiving) are “God’s will for us,” means that God wants to give us these gifts. Hence we should not quench the Spirit, which bids us to seek these things. Rather, we should heed His promptings and seek these gifts, even pester God for them. Too often we quench the Spirit by not taking seriously the promises He offers us in Christ Jesus. We are not convinced that the Spirit can give us a whole new life and deepen our prayer and gratitude, so we don’t even ask. We also quench the Spirit by cluttering our lives with endless distractions, never sitting still long enough to listen to the small, still voice of God. But if we fan into flame the gifts of God’s love, God the Holy Spirit will kindle a fire in us that will never die away. And as the gifts of His love, including deeper prayer and constant thankfulness, take hold, our joy deepens and we can “rejoice always.”
II. PERSPECTIVE THROUGH PROPHECY – The text says, Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.
In the first place, “prophetic utterances” refers to Scripture itself. Scripture is a prophetic interpretation of reality. It describes the world as it truly is and sets forth a clear vision. It is an antidote to the muddled and murky suppositions of worldly thinking that, at best, grope in the darkness, and at worst, are deceitful and erroneous. We ought not despise God’s Word in any way, but should accept it wholeheartedly. To the degree that we do so, we are assured of the ultimate victory of God, His truth, and His Kingdom. Our own victory is also set forth in the paschal mystery of God’s Word, wherein every cross, faithfully carried, produces for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (cf 2 Cor 4:17). This vision, this prophetic interpretation of reality, produces in us a serene joy that allows us to “rejoice always.”
“Prophetic utterances” also refers to the teachings of the Church, the words of the Fathers of the Church, and the teachings of the saints down through the ages. There is a great deposit of faith that has been carefully collected and lovingly handed down from apostolic times. The dogmas and doctrines of the faith are like the precious fragments gathered up by the Apostles at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. For the Lord had told them that nothing was to go to waste. And so we, too, ought to seek out every instruction prophetically uttered by Mother Church, allowing nothing to fall to the ground.
The Fathers and saints, too, have left us wondrous testimony that we should neither despise nor ignore. They, along with the Church, utter wisdom and announce victory to every believer. In the laboratory of their own lives, they have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. Added to this number are many trustworthy people in our own time who teach us the Word of God. They include our parents, priests, religious, and holy men and women who have inspired us. And to the degree that we will let the Church and the saints teach us, along with trustworthy souls of our own time, to the degree that we do not despise these prophetic utterances, the foundation of our joy becomes more sure and we can rejoice always.
III. PROGRESS TOWARD PERFECTION – The text says, Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
The greatest source of sorrow in our life, the biggest killer of joy, is our sin. To the degree that we indulge it, our joy is sapped. But to the extent that we allow the Lord to deliver us from sin and make us more and more holy, our joy becomes deeper and more lasting. The words “holy” and “whole” are not far removed from each other. And to the degree that we become more whole, more perfected, more free from sin, more holy and blameless, our joy becomes deeper and we can increasingly “rejoice always.” God will do this for us if we are willing and if we ask Him.
Thus we see that the mandate, the exhortation, to “rejoice always” is far more than a command to whip ourselves up to an emotional high. Rather, it is a stable and serene joy rooted in prayerful gratitude, a mind transformed by God’s truth and a growing holiness. Allow the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled in you. For He has said,
Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (Jn 15:9-11).
This song says, “Joy, Joy, God’s great joy! Joy, Joy, down in my soul. Sweet, beautiful soul-saving joy. Oh Joy! Joy in my soul!”
And this songs says, “The King shall rejoice in thy strength O Lord! Exceeding glad shall He be.”