A Moral Imperative

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 NIV)

When I was hired by the NAB, I was asked to provide a short quote or statement to sit under my photo on the website. I chose, “Joy is a moral imperative.”

According to Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century German philosopher, a moral imperative is a belief that is so strongly held that it forces one to action because to do otherwise is self-defeating and, therefore, illogical.

The Bible does not see joy as an emotion or a feeling, nor simply as a gift that comes from God or a fruit of the Spirit, as important as this is. In addition to being part of the fruit of the Spirit, joy is seen as a moral imperative – a command; to live contrary to this command is self-defeating. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he states that the will of God for our lives is to rejoice always – to be in a constant state of joy! Joy is not just God’s hope for our lives but his will for our lives, his command for our lives. Living contrary to God’s will is self-defeating!

In the same way we are called to abstain from gossip or sexual immorality or greed, we are called to live lives of joy – rejoicing always! Do we give this command the amount of time it deserves? I’m not sure I do. When I pray, “deliver me from evil,” I’m thinking about my sins of gluttony, and lust, and greed, and pride – and certainly these are sins from which I must repent and seek deliverance. But I must also seek deliverance from my attitude that causes me to grumble! This struggle is not unique to me, or to followers of God in the twenty-first century. One of the main sins of the people of God in the wilderness was grumbling, a spirit of malcontent, a lack of joy.

This does not mean we should turn rejoicing or joy into a law – God forbid, for “against such things there is no law”! But we should pray it is evident in our lives, that God would deliver us from a spirit of grumbling and into a spirit of joy: A joy not contingent upon our circumstances but that transcends them. A joy that draws others to the Truth of the Gospel. A joy that comes from realizing we are in good company in our sufferings. A joy that comes from knowing that God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – takes joy in you.

May the Spirit produce this joy in you this Holy Week and beyond!

—Written by Kerry Bender, VP of International Missions.