Keeping The Focus: Unceasing Joy

It is not exactly the tomorrow I said in my original posting, so accept my apology for not meeting my stated goal. I will try to do better by my commitments in the future.

Unceasing Joy

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 “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 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. 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

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.

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

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 Christ’s then everything else falls into perspective.

This is important since our joy has its root in the good news of salvation 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

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.

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. 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.

In a future posting I will cover keeping the focus by entering into unceasing prayer.