First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.
It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.
As the Lord Jesus concluded the Upper Room Discourse, He gave a provocative explanation for these final instructions He gave to the disciples: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Lord wants His disciples to live in peace. But true peace is not the absence of negative, painful, or difficult realities. The fact is that disciples of Christ will have tribulations in this world. We are not exempt from trouble because we are in Christ. To the contrary, following Jesus will bring faith-testing, soul-burdening, and life-threatening pressures. Sickness. Heartbreak. Persecution. Rejection. Disappointment. Loss. We will even face death itself. Yet, we can take heart in the midst of it all because Christ has overcome the world.