The three observations I offered in the previous post have prompted several more. God commands us through Paul to always “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3.1; 4.4; 1 Thess 5.16). I want to obey God’s commands; therefore, I must (1) repent of the sin of joylessness and (2) strive for greater measures of Christ’s joy he both promised to me and prayed for me. All of this is possible by the Holy Spirit’s advocacy and empowerment. Bear with me as I think out loud regarding the gracious command to “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Joy takes on many forms in our life. We can identify those forms by what we supply after saying, “Well, at least I still have my ________.” What fills the blank is what keeps us tethered to joy. No matter how bad things get, we can still find joy, gladness and hope in whatever “this” is. We can easily mention some things that fill the blank: spouse, children, health, job, retirement, dignity, pride, etc.
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding joy in those things. In fact, it would be sin not to because the psalmist commands that we forget none of God’s good benefits (Ps 103.2ff). However, we do sin when we find ultimate joy in them. This for two reasons. (1) All those things are temporary. They can quickly become idols that when they fail us we doubt God’s goodness and grace. (2) Those less-than-ultimate means of joy confuse what is the greatest threat to our joy. To say, “At least I still have my children” assumes childlessness is the greatest threat to my joy. To say, “At least I still have my spouse” assumes widowhood is the greatest threat to my joy. To say, “At least I still have my job” assumes poverty is the greatest threat to my joy.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Losing a child, spouse, job, etc. are certainly threats to joy. But they are not the greatest threat.
The greatest threat to our joy is our sin without a remedy. It’s the thought that there is no way to rebuild what my sin has destroyed. It’s the truth that unless God does something about my sin, I will forever suffer his wrath. It’s the fact that I stand guilty before God, subject to his eternal punishment, with no recourse within myself. That is the epitome of joylessness.
You see, being childless or widowed (as tragic as those things may be) will not keep us from heaven. Being jobless or penniless will not bar us from eternal life with God. Our sin will, though. So whatever/whoever it is that can relieve that eternal joylessness is to be our ultimate joy (our “fill-in-the-blank” answer). Of course, that person is Jesus Christ who has removed the sting of eternal death and sin’s power to keep us eternally joyless.
In Luke 10, Jesus sent out 70 of his followers to declare the arrival of God’s kingdom in Christ. Jesus gave them authority over demons and sickness. They returned “with joy” (v17) recounting how they commanded demons. But as great as that was Jesus said (v20), “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” In other words, when his followers lost all they had they were not to say, “At least we still have the joy of having commanded demons.” That was not an ultimate joy that would sustain them through death. Knowing they were secured in heaven would.
So when Paul commands us to rejoice in the Lord, he’s saying to every Christian that God, by his sovereign and infinite grace, has chosen to relieve you from your greatest enemy: sin and death. Jesus has sealed and secured our eternal joy in him; therefore, there is no amount of suffering/tragedy in this life that can threaten that ultimate joy. No matter how bad things get (or appear to get), remember that they are not as bad as they would one day be had God not redeemed you in the Lord Jesus. Conversely, according to Luke 10, no matter how great things are, remember that they are not be ultimately trusted and tempt you to idolatry (Ps 62.10).
Friend, you may think that hell would be losing your most treasured possessions in this life. That’s not hell by a long shot. You may think that heaven is enjoying your most treasured possessions in this life. That’s not heaven by a long shot.
Our greatest enemy is not poverty, loneliness, ignorance or sickness. Therefore, our greatest joy cannot by definition be wealth, family, education or health. Our greatest enemy is God’s eternal wrath against our sin. Therefore, our greatest joy is Jesus Christ who has relieved God’s wrath and secured his eternal favor toward us.