Rejoice

An imagined quote of a Pastor friend: Preach to me from the Greek: from the Book of Philippians.

Here the words of Paul to a people who understood them: 4 Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε·  πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε.[1] Paul talked to people who were giving constantly—giving, giving, giving, expecting nothing in return. And he called them to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice.”

This call to rejoice is a command to find joy in every circumstance in which they find themselves. And he relayed this command because they found themselves in a position to rejoice in the Lord, because they gave, gave, and gave constantly.

Another thing about Joy to consider is that in the Old Testament, the Psalmist described the restoration of the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126) and he said “Rejoice!” This was a testimony to the nations that God had done a marvelous work, and it was so that the nations would be drawn to this joy. The hands of the people of God had been emptied and then filled, and all the people could do was rejoice in God who had given them all these things.

My charge to you, dear friend, is not to seek to follow this command at first, but first to find yourself in a place where you could be commanded to do thus. This is a joy that is only known by those who know what it is to be emptied, and used up, and depleted of all that one has, except the Lord. And once a person has given up all of this for the Joy of selflessly giving, he discovers the treasure that awaits him to sustain him in his giving: “Rejoice in the Lord Always.”

This is the secret that the Psalmist knew when he spoke “There is fullness of Joy in the Presence of the Lord.” (Psalm 16) Rejoice In the Lord always. This promise of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) This promise of “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Is the priceless treasure of every believer. Ravi Zacharias quoted G. K. Chesterton when he said “Joy is the central feature of life for the Christian, but sorrow is peripheral; because the fundamental questions of life are answered by his faith. But for the unbeliever, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, because only the peripheral questions are answered and the central ones remain unanswered.”

While Chesterton expresses the intellectual side of Joy, I add that this centrality of Joy is because at the believer’s heart is a priceless treasure of the presence of God which is the source of rejoicing as he gives up everything else he has. This is the Pearl of Great price which Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to in Matthew 13:45-46.

Now, how do I know that this is what Paul meant? By looking at the next verse. 5 τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις.  ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς.[2] “Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is near.” What I see here, is just as God bore witness to the nations of His goodness when he restored the fortunes of Zion, so He has sought that the joy of a Christian’s heart might be a light that would bless the joy-less, sorrow-full people of the world in darkness. This is why the command is to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” This is why Jesus said, “No one lights and a lamp and puts it under a basket, but does so to give light to all others who are in the house.” (Luke 8:16)

But you may ask, “What does this look like for me? Does this mean I have to walk around with a big smile plastered on my face all the time?” No. We know that when Jesus, our Joy, walked among us, he did not selfishly show off his joy. He carried his joy into people’s situations as he bore with their griefs and carried their sorrows. He was so deeply confirmed in his Joy that to weep with those who wept He did gladly. And His gentleness was demonstrated to all men “for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And we too, are to self-lessly rejoice in God, glorifying Him as the true source of life and joy, and to do so meekly, gently, mercifully because “the Lord is near.” And He “is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalms 34:18)

The heart of the matter, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants is our deepest happiness.” We have come to disbelieve God wants our true Joy because we are unwilling to find our true Joy in Him. It is convenient to ignore His presence and seek after whatever can offer us significance, satisfaction, or contentment on our own terms. This is the problem of our pride and the false spring, dry of living water resulting in our lack of joy. The answer is much more simple. The application of the matter is,

  1. Make sure you are in a position that you can find joy in the Lord. How? By examining your life for anything you would be unwilling to give up for the Lord, to the Lord in a moment. If you hold onto anything with greater force than you hold onto Him, your joy will never be full until you relinquish it. If you are bound in any circumstance you have bound yourself chasing after Joy on your own terms, get free: addiction, ambition are a couple. This is the imitation of Christ that Paul called believers to make of himself. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:8-16. And again in this letter to the Philippians, in 3:17. Consider Philippians 3:8-18.
  2. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Find Joy in Him by spending time with Him. By understanding Him, by Obeying Him, and following Him. By listening to His voice, by cultivating a life that is lived by the truth that His loving eyes are on you and He is very, very near to you at all times.
  3. “Again I say rejoice!” Even in the midst of the greatest tragedy, stress, unfortunate circumstance, even blessing, and enjoyment, you will turn to Him who is near you, and thank Him as the source of your Joy. Remember to stop and remember His presence with you, and cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  4. “Let your gentleness be known to all, because God is near.” Do not let your rejoicing be the cause of greater sorrow to others. Instead, do as Christ did, and love people with your Joy by even laying it down to grieve with others, and show people love by sitting with them, embracing them, empathizing with them. And discover the joy that comes through giving more of yourself to others, this joy which God finds in doing the same with us. After all Jesus said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  5. Finally, let this joy in your heart be bright so that those around you can see the God who is real, and who is indeed the truest source of all joy, and then be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15) As Piper said, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” (Desiring God)

Launching Questions:

  1. What has been the common attitude about Joy in the Christian churches in which you’ve been? Explain your feelings about that attitude.
  2. How have you felt pressured to put on a brave face for other people even when things aren’t going so well?
  3. Paul talked to the Philippians about rejoicing as they gave. What is something you gave that brought you great joy to give it? Or what was something you were given that you could see it was a joy to them to give it, even if it was given sacrificially?

Interpretation Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to rejoice in the Lord? What are some ways you have done this or seen this done around you?
  2. Have you ever considered that there might be certain commands in Scripture that must be followed before others can be followed?Example: “First give sacrificially of yourself, then Rejoice!” What are some of the commands that are the first steps for a believer to take before they can move on to fulfilling the next commands?
  3. Why does the presence of the Lord bring Joy?
  4. Why does the presence of the Lord cause a person to be gentle and humble?
  5. How did Jesus navigate Joy in God’s presence, and sorrow in the presence of so many hurting and suffering?
  6. What is the difference between selfless Joy and selfish Joy?
  7. Why is it important for us to rejoice in the Lord?

Application Questions:

  1. In life, there are many things that can take a place of importance next to God, and oftentimes they become more important than our relationship with Him. What are some things (even good things) that have held great importance of your life and prevented you from being fully satisfied with Just Jesus?
  2. What are some things you need to give sacrificially to others?
  3. What are some practical ways you can rejoice in the Lord?
  4. What are some ways you can let your joy help when reaching out to people who are in pain, suffering, or sorrow?

[1] NA27 Php 4:4. [2] NA27 Php 4:5.

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“To a Mature Man”: Stage 5–Community

Now, dear brother, He who has been born a human, taught of God, reborn of the Holy Spirit, and proven in his heart to be for God, has come out of the Preparation stages and into the Kingdom stage of the Christian Walk. There will be some overlap in the following 4 stages.

While he still needs to remember his humanity, keep learning, and being filled with the Spirit, and spending time alone with God, the man of God now has all the resources he needs to take his stand among the other believers in the body of Christ.

The First Stage where the action really starts is in the Community. Both Israel and Jesus gives us an example of this.

Israel

Last stage, we examined how Jesus and Israel both had time in the wilderness. Israel came out of the wilderness with a Covenant, and crossed over into the promised land to take possession of it in Joshua. This is the beginning of Israel’s Kingdom stage: inheriting the land. Israel however, did not succeed in the wilderness, or in their inheritance of the land, because they did not fully drive out the people living there. They did not make a clean separation between themselves and all the nations, and so the nations became a snare to them.

Jesus’ Example

Jesus on the other hand, came out of the wilderness, he was filled with the Spirit’s Power, and because he was in-tune with the Holy Spirit, he knew what he was empowered to do. Because he knew the Scriptures, he knew what his mission was. Because he was humble, he committed to do it completely. He taught in the synagogue, and started in his home town, but his home town rejected him.

His mission was this:

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,
TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.

Notice that after he shares this mission, the people in the synagogue were oooh-ing and ah-ing at him, until he started to tell them that they did not have the faith to align themselves with God’s mission. As a result of this they cast him out of the synagogue.

The World and the Mission

The Mission of the Church will unavoidably divide the church from the world. The Peace Corp, United Nations, etc all have their own ideas of good things to do, but this mission is rather specific. The Holy Spirit anoints his man to do specific things: preach good news to the poor, set captives free, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the time of God’s acceptance. This is the mission Jesus was about, and this is also what the church is to be about.

Now that the believer is empowered, he must join God in his supernatural work along side other believers, but to do so, will also mean a decisive break from the “dis-empowered” community. The one who has the Spirit of God will be operating under a whole different set of objectives, values, and principles. Paul told the Corinthians that the community of Christ must be set apart from the world, “Come out from their midst and be separate. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) The one who bears the Spirit’s power will also be led by a spirit different from that which motivates even the most humanitarian organizations. The supernatural work must be done, in the community of faith.

One of the major pitfalls is the approval of humankind. Notice that right before Jesus is separated from the community, “And all were speaking well of him, and marveling at the gracious words that fell from his lips.” (Luke 4:22) The approval of man almost limited him to merely, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” There is a reason why a Prophet is not welcome in his own hometown. If the Christian allows himself to be pinioned in places where he is not able to realize the Spirit’s full power, he will be chained to the will of man. The Spirit will not support the works of mere man but he will support the works of God.

Another major pitfall is to so remove oneself into a community of believers who have no contact with the outside world: the abandonment of humankind. Jesus when he was in community still ate with (meaning shared close hang-out time) tax-collectors and people know to be sinners. Jesus remained aligned with his mission which was to be as salt in the world, not as salt in a salt-shaker not in the world.

The Church and the Mission

That being said, the Christian is in a community of empowered believers now, and so the same Spirit in him is the same Spirit in the community of faith. This means that he will, for the most part, not be acting alone. He is a fellow citizen of a kingdom of priests. One grain of salt does nothing, but together all the grains are able to bring the flavor.

This is where the Christian must be: he must plant himself among the body of Christ where the Holy Spirit plants him, so that he may be nourished by the body, and may nourish the body in turn. The Spirit will make clear to the individual, and to the church what each person is to do. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty to live this out.

Application:

  1. One step along this stage, is joining a group of believers to live with them and worship with them. Since God has called us to peace, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in the Body of Christ.

2. Another step is to find out one’s mission. We can examine one pattern given in Acts        13:2-3.

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

If a person does not know what God wants them to do, then “minister to the Lord, and fast.” This means spend as much time in fellowship with God and communing with him, depending on him, until you both are ready to work together on whatever He wants to work on. He will show you what to do. You can go to your pastor or your church leaders to fast and minister to the Lord with you. Perhaps they can have jobs for you to do in the body, but in the meantime, continue seeking the Lord for what He wants you to do, and once he has shown it to you, and the church, go and do it.

3. A third part of this stage takes the form of separating from the world’s system of doing things. To be honest, this one is possibly the hardest to apply in this stage. Part of the purpose of Stage 4 is to prepare you for this. Many times joining ourselves with the world–the human systems of culture, government, family and spiritualism– will lead to compromise of our beliefs. Example: I worked at a pharmaceutical company for six years, in which I let them know I don’t work on Sunday. However, there were times when that conviction was not upheld, and I still had to come in to work so as to maintain a fairness to all other employees who didn’t want to work on Sundays. I was spiritually anemic there, because the Holy Spirit requires total obedience, yea holiness itself in the believer in whom he dwells. It did not surprise me when He told me it was time to leave my job.

That being said, the Holy Spirit may be leading you to join with a group of people who are bound up in the cultural sins, and practices of those who do not fear God, as an example of dependence on him. Bottom line: Let the Holy Spirit lead you in your work. He is your bread and butter not your job.

A believer remains in this stage until the Holy Spirit has specifically shown him what he is to do. Until then, let him do what Paul said to the Thessalonians:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”~2 Thessalonians 4:11

Summary:

  1. As Jesus took his stand within the community, but still did not join himself to the world to accomplish his mission, so the Christian must do the same.
  2. Seek the Lord for the specific mission He has for you.
  3. Be about the church’s business doing what the Body of Christ is doing.
  4. Be lead by the Holy Spirit to the place he wants you plugged in and salting the earth.