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Dec 08, 2013

A Joyful Expedition!

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: joy, rejoice, happiness, sources of joy


God's command to "rejoice always" in I Thess. 5:16 seems over the top, right? This message looks at what biblical joy is, how it comes to us and what God is doing in and around us to try and increase our joy factor in life.


A Joyful Expedition!

Series Empowered Expeditions—I Thessalonians 5:16

December 8, 2013


Sometimes what God asks us to do in the Bible just plain sounds impossible! Sometimes I read parts of it, particularly some of the commands, and I say to myself (and thus really to God as well), “Really? You really expect me to do this? Really?

            We looked at one of those commands last week. It was found in I Thessalonians 5:18…which is right after I Thess. 5:17…which also sounds impossible…which is right after I Thess. 5:16…which sounds even more impossible. Funny thing is, 2 of those 3 verses deal with some of the primary components of our American holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

            So today, as we’re moving into the Christmas season… and moving out of I Thessalonians where we’ve been for several weeks…I thought we might as well tackle another one of those seeming “impossibilities” that is specifically linked with Christmas…and many a Christmas carol, for that matter.


But before we jump into that, one of the things that we’re trying to do around Mosaic is make sure we’re not training each other in spiritual disobedience. When we fail to share with each other HOW we are putting God’s truth that we’ve studied or been taught, we’re actually, by example, training each other not to concern ourselves with actually doing something with what God has been speaking to us about. One of the tools we’ve been employing to help us actually BE disciples of obedience is to share a little bit about HOW we experienced God’s truth last week.

            So since we looked last week at the command, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” here is what I’d like us to start this morning’s time before God in His word with. In groups of 3 or not more than 4, share about the following:

1.)    What was 1 thing you were genuinely thankful FOR last week?

2.)    What is 1 thing in which you found it challenging to “give thanks” last week?

3.)    Was there anything that made you smile last week? What was it?

[Give 5 minutes for sharing.]


I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says—Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

So we dealt last week with how and why we are to “give thanks” “in everything”. But if that was difficult, verse 16’s command seems impossible.

Rejoice always”??? Wasn’t it Paul who wrote to the Romans in Romans 12:15 and said, Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I don’t know about you, but, being a man J, I find it very difficult to weep and rejoice at the same time! By now in life I’ve figured out that I’m not God and I’m not omni-emotional. (I know, some of you women…I mean saints… are more God-like than me!)

Well, in Romans 12, Paul is addressing the need for every one of his children to learn to fellowship and associate with people who are a.) different than they are—race, class, age, etc., and b.) are in a different experience in life—be it weeping or rejoicing. He’s basically calling us to learn to enter into the joys and sorrows of each other, to knit our hearts together even at the emotional level.

But even in “weeping with those who weep,” we’re to be different than the world. We aren’t to “sorrow as those who have no hope” do (I Thess. 4:13). Even the sorrowing we do is to be different from those who do not have Christ or the eternal hope we do.


This week I went through just about every verse there is in the Bible that deals with joy and rejoicing. There are hundreds. And out of all that, I’d like to boil down God’s command to us to “rejoice always” into 2 basic questions:

1.)    WHAT IS this “joy” or “rejoicing” the Bible talks about?

2.)    What PARTICULAR LIFE SITUATIONS are to call forth the deepest joys for people?


So here’s the first question: WHAT exactly is “joy” or “rejoicing” according to the Bible?

Some people like to make a big distinction between what they consider to be happiness and what the Bible calls joy. About the only possible difference I can see in how the Bible uses the word is in regards to WHERE biblical joy comes from, not so much the nature of the feeling itself. If anything, the kind of joy God talks about is a deeper, more lasting, less fleeting kind of experience.   But the Bible talks about joy in some of the same ways that our culture talks about happiness.

The Bible recognizes that joy and rejoicing can be caused by life experiences that almost everyone enjoys like wealth, good harvests (and thus plenty of food), money, imbibing alcoholic drink, having a baby and even seeing enemies fail. You don’t have to be a Christian to experience happiness in those things of life.

But those issues and experiences are the small minority of references in the Bible to joy and rejoicing. This is where the trail splits between God’s kids and people without Christ. The biblical concept of joy is not dependent upon enjoyable life circumstances; in fact, it is often present in the midst of un-enjoyable experiences. That doesn’t fit what people without God experience.

So we could say that there is an overlap at some points with what the Bible means by joy and rejoicing but that there is also a vast area of “unique” joy that the Bible talks about which God’s kids get to experience that non-believers apparently don’t. But the “emotionor feeling itself of happiness, satisfaction and positive enjoyment of something is probably very much the same for most people.  


2. What PARTICULAR LIFE SITUATIONS are to bring the deepest joy to the human experience? Here’s where things get interesting.

It’s probably safe to say that most joy in life comes from two general types of experiences—either relationships with other beings OR experiences with certain things in life. And of those two, is it safe to say that the greater and better the relationship, the greater the joy?

  • For instance, I have a relationship with many things around me—my truck, my clothes, my house, my fruit trees, my tools, my books, my computer. Those things I relate to daily usually have a daily impact upon my joy or lack of it.

o   If the truck breaks down every day, certainly the truck itself is not going to be a source of great joy for me.

o   If my clothes cause me a daily rash, I need to get different clothes…or detergent…or go live in Hawaii in a swim suit.

o   When my computer crashes or deletes files without asking me or freezes up, joy and rejoicing is not my first reaction.

In fact, if my relationship with THINGS and STUFF around me depends on how well it serves me, then when it serves me well, I’m joyful. When it doesn’t, I’m angry, crabby and ticked-off. Things/stuff that continually cause frustration usually finds its way where?   To the junk drawer…or an abandoned shelf in the garage…or the local landfill.

            Some people live much of their lives simply relating to stuff…things. I think we could all agree that those are not the most joyful or happy people we know. That’s because our relationships with THINGS are always pretty one-way. Stuff can’t really develop a relationship with us that is personal, growing, intimate, terribly meaningful or really in any way emotional. We may have an “emotional connection” with something we value, but it has no “emotional connection” with us.


So moving up the chain of “better relationships” brings us to our relationship with living things. Again, there are lots of “living things” around me every day that don’t bring me the least bit of joy because I don’t have a relationship with them that I value or that they value.

  • The neighbor’s dog who might bark and whine doesn’t bring me any joy. But it apparently brings my neighbor some measure of happiness or I doubt he would keep feeding it.
  • But MY dog…that’s a different story. She brings me joy many days…and some days even keeps me warm. There is an increased level of relationship we have with animals that can relate in some way back to us.


It is possible to live life pretty much disconnected from people, just surrounded by things in this world and perhaps a few animals. Adam did that in the Garden before he had Eve. But even there, it’s not a fair comparison because he still had THE most important relationship, that of God. There is no indication that before Eve came along, Adam was unhappy or frustrated or angry with life. He probably had some pretty good relationships with the animals. Maybe that’s where dogs became “a man’s best friend.”


Then God brought along Eve and the whole joy dynamic changed. He had another being made in the image of God. He continued with his relationship with God. And I think it is probably safe to say that it was THE most joyful period of their lives—no sin, no messed up relationships with each other or with God or even with the creation. The greater the relationship, the greater the joy and rejoicing, right?

            When sin and resulting broken and damaged relationships with God, with each other and even with the creation began to unfold, life got a lot less “joy-filled.” I’m sure there was joy at the birth of Cain and then Able…but pretty soon they would face the pain of one brother murdering the other. Life that God had meant to be lived in uninterrupted fellowship with Him and each other got painful and sad and unhappy the more they lost relationship with that which was to bring them joy.


So back to our second question: What PARTICULAR LIFE SITUATIONS are to bring the deepest joy to the human experience? The short answer would be, “Those experiences in which we relate as much and as deeply as possible to God, others and the creation in ways God knows are best, i.e. in right, righteous, just, holy, loving, caring, kind ways.

For example…

  • If I treat even things in a right way by taking care of them and stewarding them well, they usually bring me more joy than if I abuse them, waste them, or destroy them.
  • If I treat my dog well by caring for her, feeding her, grooming her, loving her, our relationship will bring far more joy to me than if I beat her every day, kick her around the house and she ends up being mean or cowering in my presence.
  • Same holds true for any relationship I have with people. If I manage and relate and steward any relationship with family or friends or neighbors or anyone in a godly, righteous, holy, loving way, those relationships bring so much more joy and happiness to my life than if I abused my children, cheated on or ignored my wife, took advantage of my friends and generally was an all-around jerk.
  • And if I take that one step further up the ladder of joy-inducing relationships, God is at the top. My relationship with Him holds the greatest potential for joy and happiness. Why? Because…

o   1.) He is perfect in every way whereas everyone and everything around me is marred by sin. Therefore, his relating towards me is always going to be “perfect”, never flawed as my relating to Him tends to be.

o   2.) He is greater (bigger, grander, more immense…actually infinite!). So the scope and capacity of a relationship with God is far greater than with any other being I will ever know.

Those two realities alone make the potential for joy in a right relationship with God greater than any joy with any other being. That’s why the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s very first question reads like this:

1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.


John Piper has written a whole book (Desiring God) on the premise that the best way to glorify God and thus fulfill our chief purpose or end is to “glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.” He goes on to develop what he calls a theology of Christian hedonism which he says is basically believing that God has hard-wired humans to enjoy life. But sin has corrupted those desires for enjoyment so that we end up settling for lesser pleasures like physical appetites instead of enjoying those pleasures in moderation while living for life’s deepest and greatest pleasures which are developing the best possible relationships with God and people by doing God’s will in all relationships.  


So back to this thing of JOY. If joy is a result of being in the best and right relationship to God, people and things around us, one would suppose that the Bible’s prescription for joy would emphasize our relationship to those three entities. And guess what? It does!

To the question, “What particular life situations are to bring the deepest joy to the human experience?”, the Bible tells us that first and foremost, relating rightly to WHO God is and WHAT He does is THE most important component about joy.

  • That’s why the angels at the birth of Jesus could say to the shepherds in the field that cold night in Bethlehem that they brought “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). “11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The coming of God himself to earth to reconcile every one of us who was lost in sin is truly something that has brought “great joy” to millions upon millions of people in every part of this earth. Just ask the “WHO?” and “WHAT has He done?” questions of this one verse and you will have reason to rejoice your whole life and the rest of eternity.

WHO = Christ the Lord (messiah, God, supreme, sovereign, etc.)

WHAT He has done = Savior…who saved us from our sins, both their eternal consequences of God’s judgment and eternal separation from Him AND the temporal slavery to sinful habits that will destroy our lives and any hope of happy relationships with others.


Numerous times the Bible calls us to simply “rejoice” and “be joyful” “in the Lord” himself. When you are unselfishly, continually and deeply loved by someone, it’s not hard to be happy when you are around them. That is why the Scriptures call us to “rejoice in the Lord”…in God himself. Listen.

  • Psalm 5:11—“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.

Even here you can see how closely connect who God is with what he does…and how that is to bring joy to all those rightly related to Him.

  • Psalm 33:1--Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
  • Psalm 97:12--Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name
  • Habakkuk the prophet ends his prophecy of devastating judgments of God over His rebellious people with these words about rejoicing:

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
(Hab. 3:17, 18)

But by far the greatest number of references to God’s people rejoicing and being joyful in Him have to do with what God is towards us (His WORKS) because of who He is. Listen to a few of them.

  • In Psalm 43:3,4, a prayer for help in time of trouble, the Psalmist asks God,

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise You,
O God, my God.

            God’s giving of truth and light to us in a darkened and sinful world is designed to lead us into places and experiences of worship and closeness of Him. Even in troubling situations, the Psalmist acknowledges that his real need is not the solving of all his earthly problems but rather the getting closer to God who is his “exceeding joy.”


Salvation is to be one of those things that brings joy to our hearts.

  • David asked God to “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,” that after he had sinned with Bathsheba, killed her husband and finally repented and sought forgiveness (Psalm 51:12). He knew that salvation—right relationship with God through his confession and God’s forgiveness—was a joy that could not be matched in this world.
  • Luke 10:17—When the 72 disciples came back from their first ministry trip of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing people and casting out demons, Jesus does a little instructing about what should make our hearts joyful. They are all jazzed about having seen the demons submit to Jesus’ name. Jesus tells them he saw Satan himself thrown out of heaven and then gives them even greater authority over the forces of darkness. But then he warns them against making that, essentially ministry itself, their source of joy. Instead, he calls them to find joy in their own restored relationship with God. Jesus said in vs. 17, Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
  • Later, in Luke 15, Jesus will tell three separate parables about lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (prodigal son). Each of them teaches the same lesson, a lesson that Jesus states very clearly in vs. 7—I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”   Essentially Jesus is taking 3 of the most important types of things people get happy about in this life—work, money and children—and rolls them all into one teaching point: the salvation of just one lost sinner produces far more joy in heaven than the blasé routine of 99% of those of us church-goers.

Jesus is telling us what really matters in ultimate reality…and what really needs to change in our joy here on earth. If all heaven rejoices at the repentance of one sinner, then certainly the Holy Spirit of God in us must rejoice at the same.

Maybe this is why too many Christians and churches are joyless today—there isn’t enough leaving the 99 to search for the one. There isn’t enough sweeping the corners of the city to find the “lost coin” of a person God cares about. There are too many of us “older brothers” working away on the Father’s farm instead of planning a party for our lost brothers when they return or keeping our eyes pealed in anticipation of a glimpse of a wayward sinner returning to the Father.

APP: The chances that we will see one of God’s lost sheep…or lost coins…or lost sons…wander in with us and get saved are miniscule compared to the chance that the same will happen if we go searching for them out there. Which is why we are downtown. We want the illusion of suburbia to be stripped away at least on a weekly basis. We want to be reminded that we are surrounded by lost people who all of heaven is hoping they can celebrate someday soon. We want to be actually seeing and serving and sharing life with people who need the Lord.  

            So I want to make a very specific challenge today. In the next two weeks, we are going to have multiple opportunities to increase our joy and heaven’s joy as well. Rather than get all caught up with the sales and the presents and the running here and there to be more materialistic, we’re going to have several different opportunities to give of ourselves in the name of Jesus Christ to people who are lost.

            I’m asking every one of you who will be here over the next 2 weeks to DO/ENGAGE in at least 1 of these opportunities. They are all low-threat and low-difficulty opportunities. But every one of them will put you in touch personally with people in need of Jesus. Here’s what they are.


Next Saturday, Dec.. 14th…and the following Saturday after that, Dec. 21st, a ministry called En Cristo needs our help. Some of our Whitworth students do it every Saturday afternoon downtown here. But they will be gone on Christmas break for 3 weeks. And the people they are ministering to every week at the Park Tower Apartments building across from the Hilton-Double Tree Hotel downtown need us. They need 15 of us to take our Saturday afternoon starting at 1:30, go out to Whitworth University dining hall, make sack meals from the food that is donated there, come back downtown here at 3:00, heat up some soup on the 20th floor and serve about 70 residents something hot and a sack meal. They need us to do that for the next 2 Saturdays.

            I dare you to tell me that this ministry will take more time or effort than you are going to spend shopping between now and Christmas. We have no idea what a little bit of loving service and personal caring interest in these folks might do to lead just one of them to repentance and relationship with Christ. You want joy this season? You want to positively know that heaven is happy about what you’re doing? Then set aside some time to share the love and Gospel of Jesus in a really practical way. Why not this one?


Here’s another one. We have 400 2-candybar, specially wrapped, Christmas gifts and invitations ready to hand out to our neighbors. On Saturday, December 21st, at 11:00 a.m. we need 15-20 people to go out into about 5-7 apartment buildings near us, knock on doors, hand people a gift, and wish them a Merry Christmas. They will receive some Christmas chocolates, an invitation to Christmas Eve with us, and a small Christmas booklet that could change their eternal destiny. God has been at work in these buildings for years and in the lives of these people for decades, calling them to himself. This one encounter with you might make all the difference in their lives.

            Reality is, it did for Dianna who lived right across the street 6 years ago when we did something similar and today she is a growing child of God here at Mosaic hosting a Bible study in her apartment downtown.


Don’t like any of those things? Maybe new people scare you? Then here’s another challenge. We’re doing 3 special Christmas Eve services. They are each one hour, each identical. How about committing pray for and to invite 5 people you know to join you at one of them (3;00, 4:30 & 6:00p.m.)? The service will have a lot of very special and beautiful Christmas music, three short dramatic vignettes, and a short Gospel message. Use the invitations in your bulletin today and grab more before you leave. This is something every one of us can do…unless you don’t know a single other soul in Spokane! J


And here’s one more for good measure. Next Saturday evening we are schedule to serve at City Gate. Some of you have never done that in 6 years we’ve been here. I challenge you, why not this month? It will take you all of 2 hours from 6:30-8:30 p.m.


I’m going to be handing around a clip board with each of these opportunities to increase heaven’s joy…and yours too. If you want more joy in your life, something will probably have to change. Seeking and finding the lost of this world is one of the best ways I know of to do that.


Let me end with something both the Apostle Paul and Apostle John said about the relationship between their joy in this life and their spiritual offspring, people who they had ministered the Gospel to through the years.

Nothing but God himself seemed to bring more joy to these foundational saints of the church than what I’ve been talking about the last 15 minutes. Over and over again they talked about how caring for people coming to Christ and growing in Christ were their greatest joy in life.

Paul called them his “joy and crown” in Phil. 4:1.

In I Thess. 2:19 & 20 he calls spiritual offspring his “hope, joy and crown of rejoicing. 19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”

            John said in his last epistle or 3 John 1:4, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”


If we want to increase our joy…and all heaven’s as well… we will have to learn to make right relationships with God, people and this world our aim.

And specifically, we will have to be involved in the sharing of the Gospel and the spiritual development of other people. Let’s not put it off until it’s too late.

Let’s not believe the lie that we will have a happier Christmas spending money on people who already know we love them than spending time and love on people who don’t know the love of Christ first hand. Let’s take an “expedition of joy” this Christmas by bring the joy of the Savior of the world to people who have probably never tasted the joy of God but will never be the same when they do.



1.)    If you want life’s deepest and richest joys, it must begin with right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (Call to faith in and acceptance of Christ.)

2.)   Invite God to open our eyes to the relationships and experiences in life through which He is wanting to infuse our lives with joy.