Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Taz.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

That Your Joy May Be Full

"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." (1 John 1:3, 4).

One mistake that is common among Christians, especially the younger ones, is to mistake happiness with joy. I wanted to talk a little bit about our joy as Christians. I want to specifically answer three main questions. What is a Christians joy? What is the warrant for it? How does it affect my Christian life? Using the passage above, I think I can give a good answer to these questions.

It is common today to have people focus on worldly happiness and to call that joy. This can be seen clearly among the "Word-Faith" movement (although it appears elsewhere too). The focus there is on the gathering of material blessings as signs of God's spiritual blessings. Health, wealth, happiness, expensive cars, large houses, big bank accounts ... these are considered to be signs that God is blessing you. It is easy to feel "joy" when you think you are being blessed by God. Conversely, if you don't have good health, or lots of money, or a big house, or expensive cars, it is a sign of God's curse, or at least the withholding of His blessing from your life. In this situation, it is hard to feel "joy." But you see that, good or bad, joy is tied to physical happiness. But this is not what biblical joy, Christian joy, is about.

Paul said, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content." (Phil. 4:11). Paul learned to be content no matter what state (condition) he found himself in. There is a joy that can be ours whether we have plenty or whether we have very little. We can have joy in every circumstance.

So what do we mean when we use the word "joy"? One dictionary calls it "exuberant rejoicing." One person who has written a great deal on this is Dr. John Piper. His book "Desiring God" was a groundbreaking book dealing with how we think about our relationship with God. The Apostle John, in the passage mentioned above talks about our joy being full. Whatever this joy is, it is not meant to be ours in a small measure. It is supposed to be "exuberant," bubbling up, overflowing. And since this exuberant rejoicing is supposed to be ours in "every circumstance" it is not tied to our physical happiness. It is ours when we are happy. It is ours when we are sad. It is ours when we are healthy. It is ours when we are hurting.

Most importantly, what is our warrant for having this joy? What is it based on or grounded in? Again, John answers for us. He says that he is proclaiming to us what he has seen and heard. He is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow his argument from verse 1 and you can see he is proclaiming Jesus. Through this proclamation of Jesus we come to have fellowship with John and the Apostles, and by extension, the Church Universal. But then, look what follows. "And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." The proclamation of the gospel, when brought to life by the work of the Holy Spirit in the sinner's heart, brings us, not only into fellowship with the Church, but with the Father and the Son. But now comes verse 4 ... "These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." Understanding that we are in fellowship with the Father and the Son is the source of a Christian's joy. We belong to Christ! We are adopted children of God! We are kings and priests! We are the inheritors of every spiritual blessing! We will one day judge angels. We were chosen by God, by name, to belong to Him and to be the special recipients of His love. We are His and He will never leave us or forsake us. He is working in us to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, our Brother, the God-man. We are always moving from glory TO glory. God is working ALL THINGS together for good ... everything that happens to us is being used by God for good. In good times and bad, God is still on the throne and He loves us with an everlasting love.

In all this, we find the ground, the reason, for a Christian's joy. It is ours no matter what. I recall a magazine article by one of the groups that watches and reports on Christian persecution around the world. They told the story of an African man whose village was raided by Muslim soldiers. They tied this man to a cross bar and took a long knife. They used it to cut the words "There is no God but Allah" into the man's chest. Not with surface cuts, but as deep as they could go and get the knife to move. After a few letters, the man's tormentors asked him "Where is your Christian God now?" The dying man smiled (it was reported) and said "He is here." And looking right into the face of his attacker he said "I love you. I forgive you." And he died.

Now, that man was not happy. No one would be under such circumstances. But he had the joy of being a Christian. He knew that, even as he was being tortured, God was with him. He still had fellowship with God. And he smiled and forgave his attackers.

Paul said in 1 Cor. 15, that if Christ is not raised from the dead then we, of all men, are the most miserable. But if Christ IS raised from the dead, then we have the most reason to rejoice. Having our joy be full ought to make a difference in our Christian lives. We ought to live like our joy is full. There are a lot of Christians who look like the Disney character Eeyore as they go through life. They have the perpetual black rain cloud hanging over them all the time. But that is not the picture we get from contemplating our joy as Christians. Think about it! We are in fellowship with the Father and the Son! We have fellowship (in every circumstance) with the Sovereign God of all creation. It should make us stand our in the world. Lost people ought to know something is different about us. Whether we are happy or sad, it should be clear that we belong to God.

We lose our joy when we set our eyes and hearts on lesser things. But when we meditate on the fact that we are in fellowship with the Living God, we can always find a reason for joy. Remember, joy is not the same thing as happiness. Christians today are persecuted, martyred, they live in squalid conditions, they suffer as missionaries to carry the gospel into the world ... all for Jesus. And they do it with a smile on their face. How? By knowing they are in fellowship with God. John wrote his whole letter so that we could KNOW that we were saved, and by knowing that, we could have our joy be full (topped off, overflowing). As David said in Psalm 23, in light of all that he had professed before he proclaimed "My cup runneth over." The cup of blessings that were his came from knowing God intimately. It is the same for us.

Beloved, know God and know that you are His. Know it and let your joy be filled to overflowing.


Anonymous Andy(Honest) said...

Semper, thank you so much for this! It is so crucial to draw the distinction between joy and happiness. I always am amazed at the reality, that we as Christians can have joy DESPITE circumstances. Thanks for this encouraging exposition on joy in the Christian life. :)

4:17 PM  

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