On Paul’s second missionary journey, he and a man named Silas were arrested. This happened in the city of Philippi. After being arrested they were stripped, severely beaten and thrown in jail.
The jailor who was put in charge of them was told to guard them carefully. So, he put them in the innermost cell of the prison and fastened their feet in stocks. (Stocks were wooden beams which were clamped around the ankles of a prisoner to make escape impossible.)
At this point, the book of Acts records the following…
“25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV).What could possibly make Paul and Silas praise God in a situation like this? I mean, they had been wrongfully accused, stripped and beaten, thrown into jail without a trial, and they had no idea what was going to happen to them in the morning. Why in the world would they be singing songs to God?!
I’ll tell you why. They were followers of Jesus. They believed that Jesus is the Son of God, and that because He lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death in the place of all sinners, their sins had been forgiven. Paul and Silas believed that because of Jesus, they were no longer doomed to hell. When they died heaven would receive them into eternal perfection, peace and happiness.
Ultimately it didn’t matter to Paul and Silas what might happen to them today or tomorrow. They knew their final destination was heavenly glory. They had peace with God through faith in His Son. So, come what may, they would pray, praise and give thanks.
In our sermon reading for today, Paul tells his fellow Christians to rejoice always. Not just when things are going good. Not just when you’re on an emotional high.
Paul says, Christians…
Rejoice ALWAYS, because you are in Christ, your sins are forgiven!
Rejoice ALWAYS, because the Spirit of God lives in you, and is leading you to keep trusting in Jesus all the way through this life and into heaven.
Rejoice ALWAYS, because God the Father is the one who called you to believe, and He finishes what He starts.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I’ve got four daughters, so I know a little something about princesses and beautiful dresses. When you put on a beautiful flowing gown, you twirl. That’s just what you do. You do a little pirouette and you make that dress sparkle and shimmer. Most little girls understand this. Put a sparkly little number on them and they spin.
The Bible compares saving faith to a garment. Isaiah says…
“10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).Sinners who trust that Jesus is their savior, are wrapped with the robe of Christ’s sinless perfection. And when you’re wearing sinless perfection, you rejoice. That’s just what you do. All the dark blotchy sins which embarrass you are covered. Forgiven. All the sins which would bar you from heaven eternally, are covered. Forgiven.
And in the pocket of this “robe of righteousness” is a cell phone. The battery never runs out, and the line goes straight to God’s throne room. Paul says, “pray continually”. Through Christ Jesus you and I have an open line to communicate with our God. And He never ignores our calls. God doesn’t take the calls of the wicked, but in Christ, we’re not considered wicked anymore. We’re sinless to God because Jesus absorbed our punishment on the cross.
When you have an open line to God, you pray. That’s just what you do.
And one of the things that you say to God when he picks up, is thank you. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.
Imagine that you woke up one morning to find a brand new car in the driveway. On top of the car was a big red bow and a huge tag with your name on it. In the cup holder inside was a phone and a note that said, “From God. Just thought you’d like this car. By the way, my number is on speed dial.”
What would you do? You’d call God up and thank him right? Well, God’s given us way more than a new car. In Christ we have a vehicle that brings us to heaven. When you’re given a gift like that, you say thanks. That’s just what you do.
Let me read those three verses one more time…
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Note that Paul isn’t just saying, “Don’t worry, be happy”. He’s telling us why we can rejoice, and pray and give thanks in all circumstances – God has connected us to Jesus Christ through faith.
In verses 19-22. Paul moves on to give more reasons for Christians to rejoice.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NIV)
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
At first, this section seems a little negative. Paul is telling us what not to do. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t do things that get in the way of the changes that the Holy Spirits is trying to make in our hearts and lives.
But the positive side to this is the fact that we can do things that sadden the Spirit of God and hinder His remodeling our hearts and minds. That may not seem like a positive thing, but look at it this way: even when we do get in the Spirit’s way, He refuses to leave us. He is determined to guide Christ followers through their lives all the way to heaven.
In Ephesians 4 it says…
“…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32 NIV).When we stumble around in sinful behavior, the Holy Spirit shows us our sin through His Word and through the correction that our fellow Christians give us. He leads us away from our sinful habits, and back to Christ to be reminded of the forgiveness we have in Him.
In the Bible, the Holy Spirit also teaches us how to avoid sins in the future. Paul says…
“20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 NIV).The Holy Spirit teaches us how to avoid sins because sins war against our faith. The Apostle Peter wrote…
“11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV).The Holy Spirit leads us to reject sin and embrace our Savior. The Devil tempts us to reject our Savior and embrace our sins. That’s why the Spirit is so determined to lead us into good Christian living. Not because we have to somehow be “good enough” to get into heaven. Christ was already perfect for us. The reason the Spirit is so determined to lead us into godly living is because sinful living damages and endangers our faith in Jesus, and so puts our souls in danger.
If there ever was a reason to rejoice, it’s this – that God’s Spirit lives in our hearts, and is determined to keep us trusting in Christ.
In our last few verses, Paul gives Christians one more reason to rejoice always.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV)
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Paul calls God, “the God of peace”. He is the God of peace because He made peace between Himself and sinners through Jesus’ sinless suffering and death. Remember what the angels said to the shepherds when Jesus was born?
“’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’God wasn’t just wishing the earth “peace”, like some hippy. He was saying, “This is my Son! The Savior I promised! Through Him you sinners will be forgiven, and find peace with Me once more”.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-14 NKJV).
Through Jesus, we are saved completely – spirit, soul and body. In Him we are considered blameless.
This is going to be the most frustrating thing ever for the devil to take. On the last day he’ll want to rail against us sinners because he knows we sin each and every day. But Christ will calmly reply, “Well yes they’re sinners, but I’m not. I’m blameless and holy, and through faith they are in Me – blameless and holy.”
Just like Jesus said in John 5…
“24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life’” (John 5:24 NIV).▬
You see, the Father finishes what He starts. He keeps the promises that He makes.
In the beginning when Adam and Eve plunged the world into pain and sorrow and death through their sin, God promised that one day a descendant of Eve would crush the Devil’s power over us. On the first Christmas, that promise began to be unwrapped. Later, the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus revealed completely how God kept that promise.
At the end of our reading Paul points to the faithfulness of God. He says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” This reminds us that no matter how much time stretches between God’s promise and His keeping of it, it always gets kept. He has called us to believe through the Good News of Jesus. He’s not about to let us fall through the cracks. He’s not like that.
You know, being “faithful” has two meanings. Being “faithful” can mean that you have faith. You trust in something. But it can also mean you are worthy of being trusted. That’s God all the way. He’s worthy of being trusted. He calls us to Christ, keeps us in the faith by the Holy Spirit and His Word, and He will bring us all the way home on the last day.
Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1…
8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9 NIV).Christians, rejoice!
By faith, you are connected to Christ.
The Spirit of God lives within you, and guides you to stronger faith through His Word in the Bible.
God the Father is the one who called you to faith, and the Father always finishes what He started.