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A Joyous Church
One look at human history and what we see a story of humanity’s endeavor to solve its own problems, from food to famines, from violence and war, to who’s got what and how can we get more. And seeing that there are more problems facing the world today than ever before, it seems that humanity hasn’t done a very good job of solving what ails it.
And the same could be said about humanity’s search for happiness and joy. They’ve done everything possible to find it, which has been centered more on sinful behavior than it has upon the Lord and following His ways. And because of it, every year it just keeps getting worse. What history has revealed is that humanity’s endeavors have been unsuccessful, to say the least, and the question, “How can I find happiness?” still eludes the world.
But the early church knew that what they had found is what the world was so desperately searching for. Hearing the truth of the gospel message and believing it for their lives, they turned away from humanity’s unending quest and found unending joy, a joy that can only be found in a relationship with the Lord and with one another.
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NLT)
Is this, however, what we’re seeing in the church today? Is the church filled with such joy? Are we a joyous church?
Joy has been a characteristic of the early church as seen throughout the New Testament, along with every period of church reformation and revival. But this runs counter to many people’s idea of the church today.
People look at the church as some big spoil sport. And if we listen long enough, we’ll hear more negative comments than we will positive comments and feelings.
They say that the church is filled with narrow-minded people who live miserable lives characterized more by what they don’t do than what they do. They say that Christians find no enjoyment in life.
That is how I grew up, and the observation that I had of the church I grew up in. But then I met true believers in Jesus Christ who enjoyed life with a capital “L.” And since they were Jewish they lived by the Jewish word, “L’chaim,” which means, “To Life.” They lived their lives in true freedom and joy.
But this dour perception of the church and Christianity is not without substance as those outside the faith see those who call themselves Christians trying to fulfill duties and responsibilities, afraid that somehow if they don’t they’ll miss out on heaven.
This type of legalistic atmosphere is what pervades the church, and because of it Christians are missing out on what God desires to bless them with. And one of the top blessings is that of joy.
Is it therefore any wonder why so many people don’t consider the church in their search for happiness and joy?
But this is not the life found in the early church. They had joy, and they lived their lives in gladness and a singleness of purpose, which found them praising God and having favor with everyone. And that is the picture of the church throughout the New Testament.
To the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul said,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV)
Fifteen times Paul used the word “joy” and “rejoice” in this letter, which is why Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is called the joyful letter. The reason is because it was in Philippi that Paul found that the power of God is revealed when such joy and rejoicing occurs. We’ll get to why I say that in a moment.
We also see this joy being talked about by the Apostle Peter in the church’s relationship to Jesus Christ.
“Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8 NKJV)
And so, a church without true expressions of joy from its members is nothing more than an institution, and has little if anything in common with the early church, and what God called the church and for Christians to be. Think about it, how do you think Christianity turned the world upside down in a single generation if it was filled with laws and regulations and was as negative as people perceive it to be today?
What conquered the ancient world was the Spirit of God moving through the gospel message of Jesus Christ given by a people and a church that was filled with joy and gladness.
When we look at this word and concept of joy, however, we need to be careful we don’t view it as the world does, because they have abused this word and concept to no end.
The world thinks that it is an expert on what brings joy, as the media shows people having a good time with this or that product, or when they engage in this or that behavior.
Drive this car and get the girl, respect, or an unbelievable experience. But once the car gets old, scratched, dented, and McDonald’s fries are spilled inside, then that girl, respect, and experience goes right out the door, that is, until you buy a new car, and the unrealistic expectations begin all over again.
Or people can go to this bar, or drink this kind of drink with their friends and have a good time. But then after a few drinks, a DUI, or hugging a toilet bowl the next morning, the “Let the good times roll,” becomes more like let the pain and agony begin.
The world’s idea of joy and happiness is artificial and synthetic. It’s make believe much like Disneyland. You see, the world cannot find joy without something else being added to it, and then it is only short-lived.
And that’s because they talk about finding happiness, which is joy based upon circumstance. Happiness is a joy that people just kind of happen upon. In fact, this is what we see from happiness’s root word, “hap,” which means by chance, and is where we get or English word, “happenstance.”
Finding happiness is like addictions. People start out with a few drinks, but then to get the same feeling again they have to drink more, or they turn to drugs to find that “happy place.” And so, what turns out to be fun in the beginning turns into an addiction and a life of hell.
But the difference between the happiness that the world is seeking and the joy that fills a believer’s heart is a healthy fear or reverence for God. Note that it was this very thing that preceded the church’s joy and generosity.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43 NKJV)
It was at the very beginning of the church that the Holy Spirit came down and filled them, and it was this filling that changed the whole dynamic of what true joy is all about, a joy that is in the Lord verses happiness that is of this world.
This difference is seen in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18 NKJV)
Dissipation is a loose and riotous life. It’s a life lived in excesses. But Paul counters what the world considers pleasurable with an inexpressible joy only found in being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Christian joy is a deep, pure, and holy joy that can only be found in the Lord. This is the true and lasting joy that humanity cannot find on its own. And in this joy there’s a depth, along with holiness that makes it so special.
It is that unspeakable joy spoken of by the Apostle Peter, which means that there are no words in the human language that can adequately describe it.
And so, while the world can bring temporary joy, or what we’ve defined as happiness, it can never bring true and lasting joy, which is independent of circumstances and totally dependent upon the Lord. This is what we should be experiencing when we come together, the joy of the Holy Spirit.
“For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:7 NKJV)
We see this joy in Paul’s visit to the city of Philippi, which very well may be the reason why Paul could write such a joyous letter to the Philippian church.
The story is found in Acts chapter 16. It was Paul’s second missionary journey, one in which Silas was his companion, and where they picked up Timothy along the way.
Upon arriving at Philippi, a demon possessed slave girl, whose owners made a profit on her divinations, kept following Paul and Silas around telling everyone how they were servants of the Most High God. Distressed at this constant annoyance and the condition of this girl, Paul rebuked the demon within her and told it to come, which it did.
This didn’t sit well with the girl’s owners, so they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities who then had them beaten and thrown into jail.
Now, this really isn’t the ideal picture for joy and cheer, but read the witness of God’s joy in their hearts despite the circumstances.
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.” (Acts 16:25-26 NKJV)
Notice that their circumstances didn’t dictate their joy, but rather it was the joy of the Holy Spirit deep within them that dictated their circumstance. This is what Paul said to the church in Rome.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)
And now notice the outcome of such joy and rejoicing in a world that is not so joyful.
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NKJV)
Basically, we rejoice because of the hope of God that is in our lives, but not only that, but our rejoicing is also in our tribulations, because we have God’s love poured out into us, and this brings us hope even in our worst situations.
Joy, therefore, is an automatic by-product of faith. This is the message of the church, the good news that we are not only to proclaim, but also to live out in front of a skeptical world.
Now, such joy came when they received God’s word for their lives, and that word was to repent, to turn away from the ways of the world and to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. And when they embraced that forgiveness, joy came and they lived their lives in gladness.
And who wouldn’t be glad seeing how they had escaped an eternity of misery and suffering in hell, and in its place gained the fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And to top it all off, we can look forward to heaven and an eternity in the presence of God. So, what’s not to be joyful about?
It is for this that we can now joyfully say,
“Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
So, let’s start being that church God has called for us to be, and allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study