Summary: Life is tough. There really is no secret pathway to avoid suffering. But we don’t have to avoid suffering, because God has promised to give us the strength to endure.
If you’re familiar with world religions, you’ve probably heard of the eightfold path of Buddhism. The two most famous Buddhists in the world are the Dali Lama and Tiger Woods. A couple of years ago, Tiger was guilty of some bad conduct that cost him his marriage and some key endorsements. On February 19, 2010, he made a public apology where he made reference to his Buddhist faith. He said, “People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint.”
After Tiger made that statement, there was an increase in interest in Buddhism in the U.S. Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 500 years before Jesus. It is really more like a philosophy on how to avoid human suffering. The eightfold path is often pictured as a wheel with eight spokes. According to Buddhists, if you want to avoid suffering you should practice these eight disciplines:
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech; (If you’ve ever heard Tiger curse after missing a shot, you know he’s still working on that one)
4. Right action
5. Right vocation
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
According to Buddhism, if you follow these faithfully you will arrive at Nirvana, which is a state of being one with the universe and where you have no desires. That explains the joke about the Buddhist monk who ordered a hotdog in New York City. He said to the vendor, “Make me one with everything.” (think about it). The monk gave him a ten-dollar bill and the vendor kept it. The Buddhist said, “Where’s my change?” The vendor said, “Change comes from within.”
Buddhism won’t get you to heaven. There isn’t even any doctrine of heaven in Buddhism. Nirvana is reaching a state of blissful nothingness, whatever that means. Buddha couldn’t even explain it. That explains one more Buddhism joke. “Someone gave a Buddhist monk a birthday present.” He opened it and it was empty. He said, “Thanks. That’s just what I’ve always wanted.”
With that introduction, I want to expose you to a much better eightfold path. This path won’t take you heaven. Jesus is the only way, or path, to heaven. He’s the one-way path to heaven. But once you’re on that path, this eightfold path of attitudes and actions will lead to a blessed life.
As Paul comes to the end of this letter, he adds these eight attitudes and actions.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
This is a short list of eight attitudes and actions. It’s a short, brief list. Someone suggested that Paul might have been running out of space on the parchment, and he had to shorten his sentences to get in all his writing. Have you ever been writing on a card and you run out of space, so you start writing smaller, and then you write up one side and then down the other? Or to use a modern analogy, if Paul was alive today, these might be tweets. Until about ten years ago, the only creatures that tweeted were birds. And the most famous tweeter was Tweety Bird who said, “I tot I taw a puddy tat.”
Twitter is a social network where people post messages with a limit of 140 characters, forcing people to get right to the point. No fluff. Today, there are 500 million Twitter users. You can elect to “follow” someone on Twitter, which means you can read his or her posts. Want to guess who has the top number of Twitter followers? Number one, Justin Bieber, with over 40 million followers. They’re called “Beliebers.” Number two, Katy Perry; Number three, Lady Gaga. And coming in at number four is President Obama, who has 34 million followers. Does that give you some idea why he appealed to almost all the younger voters?
So, let’s consider these last eight, brief messages by Paul as first century tweets. We’re going to look at three of the eight in this message and in the next message we’ll examine the last five.
1. BE JOYFUL: Make the choice to rejoice
Paul wrote, “Be joyful always.” It’s Bible trivia time. What is the shortest verse in the Bible? Most people say, “Jesus wept,” which is found in John 11:35. In English, that verse has nine letters, but in Greek, “Jesus wept” has three words with sixteen letters. But in the original language, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is shorter. It has two words with only fourteen Greek letters in that verse. So the shortest verse in the Bible says, “Rejoice evermore.”