The True Source of Joy (Luke 10:17-24)
There is a clever television commercial currently running which advertises Wendy’s hamburgers. The commercial mimics a marketing test in which supposedly random people are asked to choose between two hamburgers. Choice “A” is a Wendy’s hamburger. It is fresh, hot, and juicy. It is the kind of hamburger nobody would refuse. Choice “B” is one from the competition. It is tough, old, and uninviting. This hamburger is one even a hungry dog would walk by without a second glance. A “red-necked” wrestler type is asked which of the two burgers he would choose. His answer is that he would take choice “B” because eating it would be sheer misery. This man is obviously a masochist, who wants pain, so he takes burger “B” and even asks for another. Some Christians are like this. They find the pain and suffering of discipleship a pleasure. Suffering is their joy. This is masochistic. This is unnatural. But, to some people, this is Christian.
There are others who are not like this at all. They are into pleasure, not pain. They see the Christian life as the gateway to all sorts of pleasures and rewards. The Christian life to them spells popularity, success, and prosperity. Following Christ is the way to the “good life.” When this kind of pleasure seeking finds its pleasures in the wrong things, it is just as wrong as the masochism of the other extreme.
Our text is one that deals with the Christian’s world view. All of life is affected by how we relate joy, happiness, and pleasure to discipleship, to our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Our text will inform us as to what the proper source of joy is, and how that should impact our Christian life. It is a vitally important issue, one which affects every one of us in many ways. Let us listen well to what our Lord has to say in this passage.
The Structure of the Text
As I currently understand our passage, it falls into three major divisions:
(1) Verses 17-20—The Disciples’ Joy & their Salvation
(2) Verses 21-22—The Lord’s Joy & the Disciples’ Salvation
(3) Verses 23-24—The Disciples’ Joy & the Salvation Sought by Saints of Old
There are three themes inter-twined in this text: joy, salvation, and the sovereignty of God. In verses 17-20, Jesus urged the disciples to find their joy in their salvation, not in their authority over the demons. In verses 21-22, Jesus expresses His own deep joy, based upon the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men, and in the part He was to play in this salvation. In verses 23-24, our Lord turns the disciples’ attention to the saints of old, who yearned to see God’s salvation, but who were not privileged to see what the disciples’ eyes were seeing.
It is difficult for us, from our vantage point, to imagine the reticence of the seventy (or 72) as they went out to proclaim the gospel from city to city. Think of how you would have felt if you were sent out, just being told these things.
(1) You were being sent out as “lambs among wolves” (10:3).
(2) There was in what Jesus said a great deal about rejection (10:10-16).
(3) You were sent out with no provisions (10:4).
(4) You were told to eat whatever you were served (10:7-8).
If we were honest, we would have to say that going out under these circumstances would have been less than desirable. I would have gone out with my knees knocking, expecting to be rejected often, and wonder where I might stay and what, if anything, I might have to eat. This is not that different from what many modern missionaries face, but it is nevertheless a fearful thing to do.
The Disciples’ Joy: Their Salvation
I believe that the apprehensions which the seventy must have had have much to do with the enthusiasm they reveal on their return. They come back jubilant. They have seemingly been successful. Apparently they have been relatively successful. Thus, Luke sums up their report in this one statement:
“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).
Their experience far surpassed their expectations. They came back jubilant.
When they say, “even the demons are subject to us,” it would seem that their ability to cast out demons was the epitome, the ultimate evidence of the power and authority they exercised in the name of the Lord Jesus. It is easy to see how they would have come to this conclusion. After all, had the nine disciples not been unable to cast the demon out of the lad (cf. Luke 9:37-41)? If the nine were the “A squad,” and they could not cast out a demon, and the seventy, the “B squad,” were successful, this was cause for great joy. That they were able to cast out demons was proof to the disciples that they had great authority in Jesus” name, and thus a great cause for joy.
Jesus’ response to the enthusiasm and joy of the seventy is most interesting and informative. The first thing I note about His response is that it is warm, affirming, even a sharing in their joy. While their joy may have been misplaced, they were not rebuked.
Before our Lord seeks to re-focus their joy, He first informed them that their ability to cast out demons was evidence of even greater issues than they had imagined. They saw their success only in terms of their having authority over the demons; Jesus was also watching their success (“I was watching Satan fall, …” v. 18, NASV), only He saw Satan’s demise. If they saw the demons as subject to them, Jesus saw Satan in the beginnings of his demise. Satan was, like lightning, falling from heaven. That is, he was falling down, and he was falling “lightning” fast. The coming of Christ and more specifically the cross of Christ was Satan’s defeat, and the mission of the seventy was but a preview of what was to come. Did the seventy see the spirits as subject to them? Jesus saw Satan as being defeated, and his power and authority as being overthrown.
The authority which the Lord had given to His disciples, that is to the seventy disciples, was such that it included power to overcome Satan, and the opposition to the preaching of the gospel which they were sent to proclaim. Their authority in Jesus’ name included the ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions” (v. 19). This may be language which is somewhat symbolic, as the allusion to Satan’s falling from heaven like lightning, but there is also a literal dimension which should not be overlooked. As they were going about from place to place, there was a very real danger posed by both serpents and by scorpions. It would seem as though Satan, the enemy (v. 19), would attempt to thwart their mission by employing such means as serpents. After all, Satan was, in the garden, in the form of a serpent. Because of their authority, however, no such dangers could defeat or hinder them, so long as they were doing what Jesus had commanded them to do. For this moment, and on this mission, they were invincible, indestructible.190
In verses 18 and 19 our Lord affirmed and even expanded upon the significance of the ministry the disciples had when they were sent out. In this they can rejoice. But in verse 20 our Lord now turns the disciples’ attention to a better basis for their joy. If they destruction of Satan was good news, and cause for rejoicing, their salvation was even better news, and cause for deepest joy. In a very gentle way, Jesus told them that they should rejoice in the fact of their salvation, rather than the fact of Satan’s downfall and defeat.
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
We should not lose sight of the fact that having the ability to cast out demons is not even proof that one is saved. We would assume from the fact that Judas was one of the twelve, that he was successful in casting out demons, as were the others (cf. Luke 9:1-2). To have been unable to do so would have caused Judas to “stick out like a sore thumb,” something of which we have not hint in the Scriptures. The words of our Lord in Matthew’s gospel, however, make it quite clear that unbelievers were able to cast out demons:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Jesus told His disciples that rather than to rejoice in their power over the demons, they should rejoice in their salvation. They should rejoice in that their names were written in heaven. Initially, the disciples were caught up in their relationship with the spirit world, namely that in Christ’s name they had power over them. Jesus told them that they should be rejoicing in their relationship with God. Joy at the prospect of the termination of Satan’s opposition is nothing when compared to the certainty of an eternal relationship with God. To suggest an analogy, the joy of one who marries should not be so much rooted in the fact that he is no longer single, as in the pleasure of his bride. The joy of the Christian should not be primarily in the destruction of Satan’s hold and power over us, but in the fact that we now belong to God.
The Lord’s Joy: The Disciples’ Salvation
The words of our Lord in these verses are dramatic. They catch our attention because they are the expression of great joy on the part of our Lord, yet at a time when Jesus was resolutely set on going to Jerusalem, where He was to be rejected and put to death (cf. Luke 9:22, 51). In what could our Lord rejoice? What was the source of His joy?
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:21-22).
In verse 21 the Lord’s praise is directed to the Father, apparently while the disciples looked on. In verse 22, the Lord is speaking to the disciples, and yet His words to them are very much related to His words of praise to the Father in the previous verse. The basis of our Lord’s joy is several fold:
(1) The Lord Jesus had abundant joy through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ joy was not humanly produced. How could it be, when He was on His way to Jerusalem to die? The Holy Spirit produced His joy. We might say, in later New Testament terms, that our Lord’s joy was the “fruit of the Spirit” (cf. Galatians 5:22).
(2) The Lord Jesus had great joy in the salvation of men. God the Father had chosen to reveal “these things” (v. 21) to some men, and to conceal them from others. “These things” are, in essence, the knowledge of God’s salvation in the person and the work of Messiah. God revealed His salvation to some, and concealed it from others. Jesus rejoiced in the salvation that was revealed.
(3) The Lord Jesus had great joy in the sovereignty of the Father, which resulted in His revealing His salvation to some and concealing it from others. The sovereign of God in salvation is often spoken of in the Scriptures, but it is surely spoken of here. In verse 20 Jesus spoke of the disciples’ salvation as “having their names written in heaven.” This imagery, often found in the Bible (Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Ezek.13:9; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27), stresses the divine choice, made in eternity past, not the human decision made in time. When Jesus referred to His Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” in verse 21 it is the sovereignty of the Father that is spoken of. Likewise, in the revelation of His salvation to some and in the concealing of it from others (Luke 10:21), God’s sovereign will in salvation is stressed.
God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation is evident because those whom we would have expected to recognize Jesus as Messiah (the “wise and learned”) did not (it was hidden from them), while those we would least have expected to recognize Him (“little children”) did so. The difference here between the “wise and learned” and “little children” is not that of intelligence, for little children may be very intelligent, too. The difference is that the “wise and learned” were highly educated, and had seriously studied the Old Testament Scriptures. “Little children,” such as the disciples, were untaught and, as yet, uneducated, and yet they recognized Jesus as God’s salvation.
(4) The Lord Jesus further rejoiced because it was the Father’s “good pleasure” to accomplish the salvation of some through the Son. In the Father’s “good pleasure” it was the Son who was to make Him known to men. Those to whom the Father had chosen to reveal Himself were those to whom Jesus made Him known. Those from whom the Father chose to conceal the truth were those from whom Jesus concealed it (cf. Luke 8:9-10). In the plan and purpose of God, Jesus worked out the sovereign purposes of the Father with respect to the salvation of men. In this role Jesus greatly rejoiced.
Jesus’ joy here was not only subject to the will of the Father, it was founded on the will of the Father. Jesus found His joy, His delight in that which delighted (“good pleasure”) the Father. It was our Lord’s pleasure to bring pleasure to the Father. Thus, since it was the Father’s good pleasure to save men through Him, He rejoiced. It was this joy, I believe, which sustained our Lord through His suffering on the cross (cf. Hebrews 12:2). Had the disciples found great joy in the spirits being subject to them? Jesus found great joy in being subject to the Father. It is not being in authority which is as important as being under God’s authority. Our salvation is based not on who or how many men (or spirits) are under us, but on our being rightly related (“under”) to God through Jesus Christ.
The scribes and Pharisees rightly perceived this matter. They had hoped that Jesus would join them and put Himself under their authority. They were unwilling to surrender their authority, and were persistently challenging His (“by what authority … ?”). It was their refusal to be under our Lord’s authority which resulted in their rejection and crucifixion of Him.
The Disciples’ Joy and the Salvation Sought By Saints of Old
The disciples were not to find their joy in the submission of the demons to them, but in their salvation. This salvation has been viewed from the disciples’ point of view (“their names are written down in heaven”) and from the viewpoint of the Father (who sovereignly chose them) and the Son, whose joy it was to please the Father by revealing Him to those God had chosen. Now, this salvation in which the disciples are to rejoice is viewed from one last perspective, that of the Old Testament saints who looked forward to it.
Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Luke 10:23-24).
The same essential statement is recorded by Matthew, but in the context of the parable of the soils. In Matthew’s account, Jesus specifically speaks of the gospel as being made clear to the disciples, again in the context of God’s sovereign election. After telling them that He has begun to speak in parables so that “they” might see, but not see, and hear, but not hear, lest they should understand, repent, and be saved (Matthew 13:13-15), Jesus added these words of His revelation of the gospel to them:
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17).
The disciples have many reasons for rejoicing in their salvation. Their names are written down in heaven. Their salvation is eternally certain and secure. Their salvation is the good pleasure of the Father and the cause of the Son’s rejoicing. Their salvation is selective. They have been privileged to recognize and receive Jesus as the Messiah, while the wise and learned (by and large) have not. Now, the disciples are told that they can also rejoice in that the salvation which they have seen and heard is that for which the Old Testament saints yearned to see, but did not. What a privilege these men were given, to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears the fulfillment of the hope of the ages. Here is good reason for joy.
While in Matthew’s account the emphasis falls upon the blessing of the disciples, the 12 and the seventy and the rest who recognized and received Jesus as the Christ, God’s salvation. Thus, Jesus says, “Blessed are your eyes” (Matthew 13:16). In Luke’s account, the words permit a wider circle of those who are blessed:
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see (Luke 10:23).
I believe that this emphasis is found in Luke’s gospel because the joy of salvation is to be experienced not only by the disciples who saw and heard and believed Jesus in His day, but by all who see Him as the disciples did, that is, by all those who recognize Him to be God’s Messiah, God’s salvation, and who come to believe in Him through the report of the apostles. The joy of salvation is for all believers, who come to the same realization that the first believers did. In talking to “doubting Thomas,” our Lord put it this way, recorded in John’s gospel:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Many in Jesus’ day saw and heard what the disciples did, and yet did not believe. This is the basis for our Lord’s condemnation of the cities named in Luke 10:13-15 (cf. especially Matthew 11:20). These cities had seen many miracles performed by our Lord, as well as having heard His message, and yet they did not believe. It is no blessing to hear and see the work of Jesus and to reject it, for this is the basis for divine judgment. It is only blessed to see and to hear as the disciples did, in belief. Therein is salvation. Therein is joy.
The Parallel in 1 Peter
Before I move to the conclusion of this message, I must share with you the strong parallel which I see between these words of our Lord spoken to the disciples in Luke chapter 10 with the words written by Peter in the first chapter of his first epistle. In my opinion we find the same three dominant themes: salvation, God’s sovereignty, and the disciples’ joy. Note, also, that Peter concludes, as our Lord did, by pointing out that the salvation in which they rejoice is that which the saints of old yearned to see. Is it not likely that Peter’s words are a virtual paraphrase of our Lord’s own words? They are surely worth repeating:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:3-12).
As we have said throughout the lesson, there is a three-fold emphasis to be found in these verses. Let me reiterate each of these, along with some suggestion regarding their implications for us.
(1) There is a strong emphasis on salvation in our text. The disciples are to rejoice, not in their derived power over the demons, but in their salvation. The Lord rejoiced in His role in the salvation of men, which was accomplished according to the sovereign good pleasure of the Father. And the disciples could, as well, rejoice in that they were those who were privileged to see what countless saints of old had yearned to see.
So far as men are concerned, there is nothing more important than the matter of his personal salvation. Each disciple in our text is encouraged to find his joy in the fact that his own name is written down in heaven. Salvation is an urgent matter, a matter of the highest priority, a matter of the greatest import and value, and it is also a matter that involves each individual. While our text places an emphasis on the Father’s choice of those who will be saved, the Bible also strongly urges men to believe in Christ as the Messiah, the Savior, and to accept Him as their personal Savior. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, do it now. No other issue is more vital than this.
(2) There is an emphasis on God’s sovereignty in salvation. Many object to the sovereignty of God, especially in the matter of salvation. But those who would take our Lord’s words seriously must agree that He has emphasized the sovereign choice of God in these verses. Why does the Sovereignty of God offend men? Because fallen man is a rebel, who wants no one to rule over him. To the natural man being over others is a driving force. Being in charge of and having others subject to us is a source of joy. But for the Christian our great joy is being subject to Christ, of being under Him, under His authority, subject to His control. So it was for our Lord. So it should be for us. And if it is not so then things are not right between us and God.
The sovereignty of God in our salvation has many benefits. It means that our salvation is certain, for it is His will that prevails and is accomplished. He is able to do what He purposes. It means that our salvation is secure. Not only does God do what He purposes, He finishes what He begins. Paul put the matter this way:
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
God finishes what God starts, and God has started our salvation. He purposed it in eternity past, choosing us long before we were given the opportunity to choose Him. He accomplished our salvation on the cross of Calvary. And it is He who will bring that salvation to its completion.
Finally, God’s sovereignty in our salvation means that we should be humbled by His love, which has chosen us and sought us out. It means that our lives should be filled with praise and adoration for our Savior. It means that it was grace that saved us, sovereign grace, undeserved grace, and thus He alone is to be praised.
(3) There is a great emphasis on joy in the Bible. Christians often tend to be masochistic, speaking often of the price of discipleship, and little of the joy of it. While our Lord spoke often of the cost of discipleship, this text is intended to underscore one of the great benefits of discipleship: joy. The theme of joy is not a new one. Joy is always the outcome of true salvation. Note some of these biblical examples of joy.
ABRAHAM’S JOY WAS IN THE COMING OF CHRIST
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
DAVID’S JOY OF SALVATION
Restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:12).
THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH EXPERIENCED JOY IN HIS SALVATION
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39).
THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER’S JOY
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and the whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God (Acts 16:34).
JOY IS TO CHARACTERIZE THE LIFE OF THE TRUE BELIEVER
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. a prayer of David (Psalm 16:11).
They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights (Psalm 36:8).
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God (Psalm 43:4).
GOD FINDS PLEASURE IN OUR SALVATION
As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you (Isa. 62:5).
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more (Isa. 65:18-19).
I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul (Jer. 32:41).
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
ALL HEAVEN REJOICES IN MAN’S SALVATION
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7-10).
JOHN THE BAPTIST’S JOY WAS IN JESUS’ INTRODUCTION
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete (John 3:29).
THE DISCIPLES’ JOY WAS JESUS’ DESIRE AND PRAYER
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:20-24).
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13).
THE CHRISTIAN CAN EXPERIENCE JOY IN SUFFERING
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41).
Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope … Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:2, 11).
These any many, many other passages in Scriptures tells me that joy is one of the principle motivations, not only for the Christian, but even for God Himself. God saved men for His own pleasure. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). The saints are sustained in their present affliction, knowing the joy that lies ahead, not to mention the joy of knowing and serving God, and even of suffering for His name’s sake. The book of Philippians was written during one of the worst periods of the apostle Paul’s life and yet the keynote which prevails throughout the book is joy.
My study of joy in our text and in the Bible has led me to this conclusion: OUR PROBLEM IS NOT THAT WE SEEK HAPPINESS OR PLEASURE IN LIFE, IT IS IN SEEKING PLEASURE IN ANYTHING BUT GOD HIMSELF.
I know that I have been guilty of saying to others, “It is wrong to seek to be happy. What we should seek rather is to be godly.” But this is not really consistent with what our Lord says in our text. It is not that we are wrong in seeking joy and pleasure; we are wrong in seeking pleasure in anything but God.
This leads me to another observation: WE HAVE OFTEN ERRED IN SEEKING TO MOTIVATE PEOPLE BY THE NEGATIVE MOTIVATIONS GUILT OR FEAR, RATHER THAN OF JOY.
The pursuit of joy in God and God alone could virtually revolutionize our lives. Think of some of the implications of this:
WORSHIP IS OUR JOY IN GOD OVERFLOWING IN PRAISE TO GOD. If we were to enjoy God more our worship would overflow in praise and adoration. The Psalms overflow with both joy in the Lord and the praise of God.
EVANGELISM IS OUR JOY IN GOD OVERFLOWING IN PRAISING GOD TO MEN. We talk about the things we enjoy. If our joy were in the Lord, we would talk about Him often, not because it was our duty so much as because God is our delight.
SERVICE IS OUR JOY IN GOD OVERFLOWING IN MINISTRY TO OTHERS. I believe that burnout is probably the result of a lack of joy in our service, as much or more than anything else. Service that is motivated by guilt or fear will not be a ministry of joy, and we will quickly burn out. Joy is the fuel of faithful service. Joy in the growth and progress of others in their enjoyment of God was a part of the fuel of Paul’s service:
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thes. 2:19).
ENDURING PERSECUTION AND SUFFERING IS THE RESULT OF SETTING THE JOY OF GOD AND OF HIS PROMISES ABOVE THE PRESENT PLEASURES OF SIN. When we choose to disobey God, as did Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, it is because we have doubted God’s promises, and disdained His pleasures. Instead, we disobey, seeking those pleasures which are both fleeting and fatal. Finding pleasure in God is an antidote, a deterrent to finding pleasure in sin. We read of Moses, who
“… chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:25-26).
OUR STUDY OF, AND OUR OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S WORD IS MOTIVATED BY THE JOY IT GIVES TO GOD AND TO US. David found his deepest joy in God, and thus he also found great delight in the Law of God—the Law, mind you. That which we turn up our noses. The Law of God was David’s great desire because he knew that the Law revealed what was pleasing to God and what was not. Because David found his pleasure in God, he found pleasure in studying God’s Word and in obeying it.
“I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoiced in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:14-16).
LONG-TERM DEPRESSION IS THE WILLFUL CHOICE NOT TO FIND PLEASURE IN ANYTHING, NOT EVEN IN GOD. Long-term depression, that which we choose to live with, is a choice to live in a way that is a perversion of God’s purpose. It is choosing pain over pleasure misery over His majesty, pity rather than praise.
LEGALISM IS PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH NOT MAKING GOD MAD, WHILE GRACE IS LIVING IN A WAY THAT WILL BRING PLEASURE TO GOD. Legalism views God as angry, begrudging, and hostile. It lives in a way that will not “set God off.” Christian liberty views God as an intimate being, with whom we delight to commune, and who finds delight in our obedience. Christian liberty loves to please God. (I am inclined to think that the one thing which most irritated the scribes and Pharisees was the joy which Jesus found, especially in the salvation of sinners—cf. Luke 5:27-35.)
If joy is something which the Christian should seek, a noble motive for the Christian life, then why is it that so few are characterized by joy? I think that there are several possibilities.
(1) It may be that we lack joy because we have not experienced the salvation which produces it. John Piper, in an excellent book on the subject of delighting in God,191 suggests that the presence or absence of joy may be a better test of one’s salvation than a mere profession. He suggests that if one does not really delight in God, in His presence, in His Word, in the worship of Him, that one should really consider the validity of their profession of faith. I agree. Do you find God a delight? Do you desire to pray, to worship, to study His word? If not, your lack of joy may reflect the fact that you have not yet experienced His salvation.
(2) A lack of joy in the life of the Christian may be the result of unconfessed sin. In Psalm 51, David prayed that God would restore to him the “joy of his salvation” (Ps. 51:12). Unconfessed sin is the cloud that dims the rays of the sun of His salvation. The solution to this condition is repentance and confession.
(3) Finally, a lack of joy in the life of the Christian may be the result of a wrong focus. When the focal point of our desires is not God Himself, God alone, the joy of our salvation diminishes. I would suggest we might paraphrase the Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount with this statement: WHERE OUR TREASURE IS, OUR PLEASURE IS.
Our treasure follows our investments, of time, money, and spiritual gifts. If we misappropriate the things given to us as a stewardship, the source of our pleasure shifts, and thus our joy in the Lord is weakened.
May God enable us to find our joy in Him, and in Him alone.
190 This is not at all to say that the assurance given to the seventy here, with reference to their mission, can be broadly applied to all “missionaries” in all circumstances. Most of the 12 disciples, not to mention many others, died for their faith as martyrs. Missionaries have died in their service to the Lord. But we must say that in such cases (Jim Elliott and Nate Saint, for example) it was God’s purpose to further the spread of the gospel by the death of his servants, rather than by the preservation of their life. It was, after all, by means of our Lord’s death that we were saved. The promise made to these seventy, with regard to this one mission, cannot be applied across the board. We can say, however, that Satan never has the power to hinder or to hurt God’s servants without God’s permission and purpose (cf. Job, esp. chapter 1).