Today's Broadcast

Counting it All Joy

A Message by John Piper

Jesus says: "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Yet He also taught us to "rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you"(Matt. 5:12, NASB). How do modern Christians obey this difficult directive?

From the series: Upsetting the World: 2000 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Joy and Comfort in Christ

  2. devotional

    The Mandate to Rejoice

  3. article

    With Great Joy

Joy and Comfort in Christ

After reading Philemon in its entirety, it is clear that Paul regarded Philemon as a true brother in Christ and as one who exercised a profound ministry in the church at Colossae. We saw in verse 5 that Philemon had a great love for “all the saints.” In today’s passage, the apostle expands upon this thought, referring to Philemon as one who “refreshed” the hearts of all the saints in the Colossian church. This expression indicates that Philemon’s love was not merely superficial but deep and long lasting, refreshing to other believers at the most significant levels, perhaps through encouragement, discipleship, financial support, and prayer.

Reading such descriptions, however, forces us to deal with the fact that Philemon owned slaves, which may seem to deny the good things Paul says about his friend in this letter. Honestly, reconciling Philemon’s godly character with his slave ownership is not easy, and that Paul elsewhere calls Christians to treat their slaves humanely but not to manumit them complicates the matter (Eph. 6:5–9; Col. 4:1). It is a significant issue for Christian apologetics, especially as society grows more intolerant of those who believe homosexual acts violate God’s moral order. How, an unbelieving culture asks, can Christians say that the slavery not condemned in Scripture is outmoded but affirm Scripture’s equally time-bound prohibitions of homosexuality? For an example from America’s highest office, the current president, who professes Christianity, questions whether the Bible should influence public policy since it does not outlaw slavery. The implication is that Scripture is untrustworthy in modern political matters because it does not abolish what modern people believe to be wrong.

Addressing the issue will take time, but first note that the slavery described in Scripture is not the same type of slavery practiced in America’s Antebellum Era. Slavery in ancient Israel and first-century Rome often resulted when debtors could not repay a loan. Unlike the ethnocentric slavery once practiced in the United States, the slavery Scripture knows of was not based, at least primarily, on biblically abhorrent ideas such as racial inferiority and kidnapping (Gen. 1:27; Ex. 21:16). God’s condemnation of these foundational principles of American slavery renders that system wholly ungodly; thus, the attempt to justify the system biblically in days past was gross Scripture-twisting.

The Mandate to Rejoice

Our doctrine of inspiration tells us that although every word of Scripture is the very Word of God, the Holy Spirit was nonetheless pleased not to violate the linguistic conventions in use when the Bible was written. The Lord did not force the prophets and Apostles to adopt writing styles foreign to their cultures or experiences; rather, He used these styles to give us His inerrant Word.

Practically speaking, this means that Paul’s epistles share structural similarities with non-inspired letters from the first century. In such letters, for example, firstcentury authors often used a form of teaching known as paraenesis — a traditional form of moral exhortation and instruction that deals with practical living. Philippians 4:4–9 is an instance of paraenesis in the Apostle’s writings, though Paul spends time on matters of piety (vv. 4–7) in addition to traditional moral topics (vv. 8–9).

The Apostle here adopts the stylistic conventions of his non-Christian contemporaries, but the God-inspired nature of these verses is evident in their thoroughly Christian character. First, in today’s passage, Paul emphasizes the importance of rejoicing in the Lord always. “Joy in the Holy Spirit” is one distinguishing mark of the citizens of the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17), so a permanently dour disposition is inconsistent with Christian discipleship. Paul commands us to rejoice; thus, having joy in Christ is not optional, and none of us should be sourpusses. Of course, we will sin on occasion, fail to find joy in our Savior, and repent. But that is far different than living a life that in the main does not display Christian joy.

Importantly, Christian joy does not masochistically relish pain in and of itself. We are told to count suffering as joy because of the way the Holy Spirit uses it to mold us into Christ’s image, not to pretend that suffering is good when disconnected from the larger context of our sanctification — our growth in holiness (James 1:2–4). Moreover, Christian joy is not inconsistent with grief. In many ways, John Chrysostom observes, Christian joy actually requires grief. “The one who grieves for his own wrongdoing and confesses it is joyful. . . . It is possible to grieve for one’s own sins but rejoice in Christ” (ACCNT 8, p. 267). True sorrow for sin leads ultimately to deep rejoicing that we are graciously pardoned in Jesus.

With Great Joy

Chris Larson

At the end of Jude’s epistle stand two verses that rival the most rapturous language found in Scripture. Tucked into verses 24–25 is a small phrase that should bring comfort to Christians who struggle with weak faith. We are told that Jesus will bring us into heaven “with great joy.”

Our hearts can tremble when we are pressed down by the remaining corruption of sin that dwells within us. Yes, even those who have been justified by faith in Christ alone struggle with doubt and assurance. The child of God is not immediately delivered from the consequences of sin.

We have seen in our studies this month Jude’s sober warnings of the coming judgement upon those who trouble the covenant people God (vv. 12–15). However, at the end of the letter he turns to what first prompted him to take up his pen: encouragement for believers (see vv. 3, 20–25).

A lack of personal holiness was obvious in the lives of those apostates who crept into the church. But how can we, as believers, be sure of our own standing before a holy God when we are not manifesting the growth in grace we expect? This question is not morbid introspection; Christians go through times of real discouragement. Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte compared our spiritual life to “falling down and getting up again, falling down and getting up again, all the way to heaven.” We must continually acknowledge our lack of holiness, repent, and rest in the gospel promises of our covenant-keeping God. Disillusionment, heartbreak, sickness, and death are inescapably with us this side of glory. Nevertheless, no matter how difficult life becomes or how much corruption invades the sacred assemblies of Christians, our Lord brings us into heaven “with great joy.” The Bible clearly teaches that God Himself rejoices over His people (Is. 62:5; Zeph. 3:17; Luke 15:7, 10). Yes, friend, Jesus will be glad to see you in heaven.

Let us draw fresh encouragement from our Savior’s work on our behalf. He is faithful. His promises are sure. He will complete the work He has begun in us. He will cause us to walk before Him and be blameless. He will bring us before Himself, His Father, and the host of heaven, to stand clothed in His righteousness and with great joy.

Since the beginning,

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