Now that we are all giving thanks in all circumstances, taking Job as our model (well at least we are trying… ;-)), it is time to look at the second leg of this spiritual triangle Paul lays out for the Thessalonians, unceasing joy. While it is possible to muster up a word of thanks, even in the bleakest of moments, how to do well up with joy when everything appears the opposite? What follows is my second post covering that subject. Like yesterday, current thoughts and comments are include within brackets [likes this].
As we said earlier, Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 makes a three-fold demand on all Christians, one that is not optional, but instead stated as “Gods will for you in Christ Jesus.” [I still cannot get over this straightforward demand. It is pretty hard to hide from its simplicity.] The three things that Paul argued that God demanded that we continually, at all times, for the rest of our life as Christians deal with were Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. In my previous posting I dealt with giving thanks in all circumstances. Today we will look at unceasing joy, leaving our primary concern, praying continually for last.
I think the first thing we need to deal with is to distinguish between joy and happiness, or joy and any other positive emotion. [I believe defining the demand is fundamental to being able to meet it.] Within the range of reactions that Christians have to life, I believe that joy is unique. While it has an emotional component, it is more than that. It is a quality of life grounded in and derived from God himself. It is associated with the fullness of God’s salvation, which includes the anticipation of our eternal state. It is a characteristic of those who live in the realization that “now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” Isaiah 49:8, 2 Corinthians 6:2
In the New Testament, it is impossible to separate joy from the gospel, the good news of salvation. It is Jesus’ desire for us.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11
Our Lord comforted us with the guarantee that this joy was a permanent part of our new creation, despite whatever the immediate circumstances of our lives appeared to be.
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
Paul explains the context in which this joy is maintained when he tells the Philippians:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13 [We are continually brought back to the reality that it is Christ not us who accomplishes everything of substance in our life. The reformers were right when they realized that without Christ and his sufficiency added in, all our good works, all of them, were still filthy rags, deserving to be burned.]
Earlier in this same passage, Paul had made a similar request to the one he makes in 1 Thessalonians. He says to the Philippians.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:5a
Always is all-encompassing. So we understand that this is not just pie-in-the-sky blind optimism, in verse 6 and 7 he explains how that joy is possible. [That is the accusation against us by those who oppose this fundamentally Christian approach to life.]
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 [Even most Christians miss the significance of having hearts that are guarded against being separated from Christ Jesus. In essence, Paul is saying the assurance of our salvation is the key to the peace we seek.]
We can rejoice (be joyful) always because God is always there, listening, loving, responding with what is best for us. But most of all, we can rejoice always because our hearts, the root and seat of our joy in Christ are guarded by the peace of God, which will always help us to hold fast to the knowledge of our salvation (in our hearts and in our minds) in Christ. As long as you know you are Christs [and nothing can snatch you out of his hand, which in turn is held fast in the Father’s hand] then everything else falls into perspective.
This is important since our joy has its root in the good news of salvation [not in circumstance or anything happening to us] and it is important for Paul to remind us that this same joy is sustained by the guarded knowledge of that salvation in Christ Jesus. Our Lord told his disciples.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 [Talk about having a firm grip on the situation…]
Therefore to paraphrase Francis Schaefer, “How then should we live?” We should live in unceasing joy, rejoicing in all things, knowing it is His joy that is in us making our joy complete and we should always rest in the fact that we are safely ensconced in the hands of our Lord and Savior, forever held safely so that no one can take our joy from us, now or forever. [That is the real point, the one that Job understood&ndashour redeemer lives and he has assured us us his love and concern for us, that he will finish what he has begun.]
In the end, it comes down to our own hearts. Only we can abandon the joy He has given us. Only we can allow the wiles of the enemies of God to use the circumstances of life to turn our eyes away from the joy set before us. [Remember that stunning statement in Hebrews 12:2, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”] Because of that, Paul reminds us through the Thessalonians that the will of God is for us to rejoice always in all things, that our joy may be complete, not partial, not stunted, not suspect, but full and complete.
I want to close with a prayer. May God grant you whatever grace and peace you need to complete your joy in Christ Jesus our Lord. May He continually guard your heart and your mind in the knowledge of your salvation and in your assurance of the love of Christ. This I ask in the knowledge and assurance of my own salvation. Amen. [End of previous post.]
That prayer is still my prayer today. With the knowledge that our joy is already assured, part of the salvation grant to us by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. When his blood washes over us we are forever clothed in the mantle of joy, for what God has joined together, nothing, not anything, can rent assunder. It is high time Christian took God’s demand for giving thanks and living in his joy seriously. Can you imagine the sunshine that would bring, not just into the dark corners of the world, but even your next church service. This thought gives new power to the demand that we not keep our light under a bushel basket. I mean, how can you hide a thankful, joyful countenance? Shouldn’t we be lighting up the world around us instead of sucking the light out of it?
Grace and peace to your day today. It is back to the grind for me, but with a lighter heart than I had an hour ago. May we appreciate today, like never before, the wonderful gift that our Father in heaven has given us. May we step from this moment, filled with the joy of our salvation, giving thanks for all that God has done. I know that in Lent we put these aside, but I have to let one out, ALLELUIA! So, now when you say the Lord’s Prayer, and you come to that point where you say, “give us this day, our daily bread”, remember that a piece of that bread is our eternal joy.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.