“Rejoice always.” 1st Thessalonians 5:16
Today’s devotional has been prepared by Rev. Mark D. Roberts and can be found at https://depree.org/rejoice-always-rejoice-always-really/
If you were to ask the average Christian, “What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?” it’s likely that you get this answer: “Jesus wept.” That’s the King James Version’s translation of John 11:35. That sentence has two words in English, with only nine letters in total. The NRSV adds a couple of words and several letters to more closely capture the meaning of the original Greek, “Jesus began to weep.” The Greek actually has three words and 16 letters: edrakusen ho Iēsous, or “wept the Jesus.” Greek often puts the definite article before a name. (In Greek, Luke 20:30 has three words but only 12 letters, kai ho deuteros. In English has three words and 12 letters “and the second.”)
Now, you may be wondering why I’m yammering on about the length of these verses. There are a couple of reasons. The first is that today’s verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is also one of the shortest verses in the Bible. “Rejoice always” has two words and 13 letters in English. The Greek original – pantote chairete – has two words and 14 letters. So, arguably, this could be the shortest verse in the New Testament, depending on how you’re counting. I bring this up as one who, admittedly, sometimes gets into Bible trivia.
However, there’s another and better reason for considering “Jesus wept” at the same time as we focus on “Rejoice always.” Please allow me to explain.
There are Christians who believe that “Rejoice always” implies that sadness, weeping, and the like are always inappropriate for Christians. I have heard this opinion taught even by some influential pastors (none of whom were my own pastor, by the way). They assume that since we should always be rejoicing there’s no room in the faithful Christian life for grieving, crying, and so forth.
There are many problems with this idea, but one of the biggest is the example of Jesus himself. We know from John 11:35 that Jesus wept as he drew near to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had recently died. The most obvious reading of this verse is that Jesus felt deep sadness over the reality of his friend’s death and he felt empathy for those who loved Lazarus and were grieving for him. Some Christians argue that Jesus really wasn’t sad in that way, but that he wept over the unbelief of the people. That seems to me a forced reading. But even if it’s the right interpretation, you still have Jesus weeping, not pretending to weep, but actually weeping. You don’t see Jesus rejoicing always at the moment, at least in any obvious way.
What I’m saying here might seem obvious to you and hardly worth mentioning. But I am concerned about how many Christians have been led to believe that “Rejoice always” means “Never, ever be sad or express sadness.” I once attended a memorial service for a baby who had died. The baby’s parents spoke, and all that talked about was how happy they were that their baby was in heaven with Jesus. I’m sure that was real. But I worried that they were burying their grief in a way that was neither honest nor healthy. When you do that sort of thing, your grief inevitably shows up in ways that are not so healthy or helpful.
You may remember a devotion I wrote a few days ago based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13. It was called “The Secret of the Missing Comma.” In that devotion I talked about how people misread what Paul and his colleagues want for the Thessalonians. The writers did not want them “to grieve as others do who have no hope.” Rightly interpreted, this verse does not prohibit grief or its expression. Rather, it invites us to grieve with hope. When a brother or sister in Christ dies, we are free to feel sad, but our sadness is mingled with confidence that they are with the Lord.
Similarly, “Rejoice always” should not be understood as demanding that we never feel or express sorrow. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles 3:4). Yet, even in our weeping and mourning, there can still be an element of rejoicing. We can still be glad for God’s goodness and grace. We can still look ahead with joy to the life of the age to come.
Have you known people who rejoice always in a way that is honest, healthy, and fully human? What do you think enabled those people to rejoice in that way?
How are you doing when it comes to rejoicing always? Is this something that you are able to do, at least most of the time? If so, why? If not, why not?
When in life are you most able to rejoice always? Why at this time?
NJ Woman’s Song Concert
On Saturday, October 22nd, at 4 pm, the NJ Woman’s Song will perform a concert at our church in the sanctuary. So join us for this special afternoon, and be sure to invite a friend!
Dr. June’s Recital
Dr. June will perform a piano recital on October 30th at 3 pm in our sanctuary. All are invited to join us in the church sanctuary as we listen to Dr. June’s beautiful musical performance. There will be light refreshments after the recital in Fellowship Hall.
Operation Christmas Child
Our annual Operation Christmas Child outreach event is quickly approaching. During the coming weeks, our church is gathering supplies to ensure families in need have presents on Christmas Day. There are two ways you can contribute to this important cause: You can pick up gifts and supplies and drop them off at the back of the sanctuary (click the link to see what items OCC is looking for).
You can donate, and the church will purchase the gifts on your behalf. You can make the check out to Flemington UMC and put “Operation Christmas Child” in the memo.
After service on Sunday, Nov 20th, we will be packaging all of the gifts and supplies.
Information Session: One Leadership Council
Almost two years ago, our church transitioned to a new administrative model called the One Leader Council. Since then, we know that many of you have had important questions about the one leadership board and why our church switched to it. After church on Sunday, November 13th, Pastor Chris will give a presentation to explain this model and answer any questions you might have about it. The presentation will take place in Fellowship Hall.
Brainstorming Bicentennial Logo
Our bicentennial committee is looking to create a logo for our 200th anniversary and could use your help! If you have ideas of what an inspiring logo might look like or an actual design, please feel free to share those with Bruce or Beth LaPenta.
Passing Out Halloween Candy
We need a few volunteers to be a friendly face for our church by helping pass out candy on Halloween (anytime between 4-8) outside the church front lawn. If you’re interested, please notify Pastor Chris.
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