Joy in Others
Waking Up The SunPastor Jerry Gillis - February 21, 2016
God's work in and through others should produce a Spirit-given joy in us.
Community Group Study Notes
- What gets in the way of us experiencing a Spirit-given joy in our lives? How do we correct this and why is that important?
- When we understand that God, our heavenly Father, takes joy in us as His children, how does that change our view of others? In what ways can we be a blessing, since we ourselves have been blessed?
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
So, Robert Lewis Stevenson, you guys may remember him, Scottish writer from the late 19th century who wrote like, 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' and 'Treasure Island' and those types of things. His biographers actually talked about him saying that, you know, he had this quest for adventure and you see that come out in his books. But he also was pursuing the idea of satisfaction and joy. And in fact, Robert Lewis Stevenson actually wrote these words, check this out. He said he was trying: "To find out where joy resides, and to give it a voice beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all."
You know, what we've been doing over the last few weeks in this series called "Waking Up the Sun" is we've been trying not to miss joy. Where even when we understand the idea that really true joy comes in the presence of God. And we also understand that when we get into the presence of God and begin to know God, that we realize that there is a joy even in the midst of things like suffering or trial or affliction. And so we've been doing our dead-level best not to miss the joy, in other words we're kind of terming that we're trying to wake up the sun here in the midst of February in Buffalo, NY, right? And that's part of the job that we're kind of faced with that we're embracing.
And so, in doing that I want us to look at another avenue where we can experience joy, but before we get to that, I want to give us a little bit of clarity on the ideas of joy and happiness. For some of us, we kind of we conflate those two terms and I want to make sure that we understand what we're talking about when we talk about those two things. Now in the Scripture itself when you talk about the idea of happiness in the Scripture, it's actually a really good idea. It's a good thing. It's not like we're looking at it going aw, man down with happiness, right? I'm hoping less happiness for all of you. God bless you, hope your happiness goes south. That's not what we're doing, right? The idea of happiness in the Bible is where we get the idea of blessed or blessing. Oftentimes it's translated the same way when you hear the work blessed are those you hear the word happy in that. So the idea of happiness is a very biblical term and one that we should embrace.
And also the Scripture talks about joy which is what we've been talking about recently, but sometimes in our culture we have kind of redefined those ideas and maybe tried to conflate those ideas just a little bit. I mean, for some of us, kind of the idea of joy and happiness culturally speaking is the same thing, when in actuality it's it's not because the way that we define happiness is often really just simply circumstantial, right? That's kind of how we attribute happiness. Joy is much deeper, it abides greater than all of those things.
But there are some things if we begin to think about it, there are some things that we can all experience, and I'm not talking just about those who are people of faith who put their trust in Jesus, who've been transformed by God. I'm talking about anybody. It's just part of the human experience when we talk about this idea of joy, sometimes we use it in terms of how we're talking about things that we do in the human experience. For instance, maybe could call it natural joy. This is when all the circumstances in our life go our way. When everything aligns and everything works out in the way that we hoped that it would work out. That's just natural joy, and that's true for everyone whether you're a believer or whether you're not yet a believer, whether you're an unbeliever, whether you're actively opposing God or not. If things work out for you, like if everything goes according to plan, you have this kind of natural joy that everybody can experience, alright? That's not what we're talking about so much in this particular series, but that's something that's certainly true.
It's kinda' like you know, when you, you didn't realize it was coming, but you find out when you do your taxes you're getting a refund from the government. It's not really a refund it was your money to begin with, right? You know, but whatever, right? You're getting some of it back and you're happy about that, right? And so that's kind of natural joy, maybe when you experience something like that. Or, or at that holiday season when all the family that's out of town actually all gets to make it in and all gets to be together during that holiday season, that's just natural joy that anybody can experience and your faith is really, faith notwithstanding, everybody can experience that kind of particular natural kind of joy. Or or you know maybe you're on that international flight and you get upgraded and you're like yes, yes, that just happened to me, right? It's a natural joy that everybody can experience.
Or, maybe there's another kind of joy and maybe we'll term this like ethical joy or moral joy. This is the kind of joy that when you, that you feel when you just choose to do the right thing, and again, whether believer or unbeliever, or maybe you just make a choice to do the right thing, whatever it is you think the right thing is, and you feel good about it. And that's a sense at least one sense where we can go okay, that's a sense of being joyful. There's kind of a moral joy or an ethical joy, it's kind of like when you pull off to the side of the road in a snow storm and the person who's stuck over in the ditch and you help get them out. You feel good about that, and as a result you kinda' have there's a sense of joy that's associated with that, kind of a moral joy, I guess you could say. Or, maybe um, when you were walking around at school, students and you found some cash on the ground, instead of pocketing it, you actually took it to, you know your professor, your teacher or the principal or whomever and you turned it in and said hey, somebody dropped, you know, a Ben Franklin here and I don't know why they're carrying that in school because they're just a kid, but they shouldn't have that kind of money, but whatever, here it is, I'm turning it in, I'm not keeping it for myself. Well, there's kind of a moral joy that is associated with that. Or when the waitress comes by and gives you your check and you realize that she has vastly undercharged you, and you tell her. You did the right thing, right? It's kind of a moral joy and by the way, you don't have to be a follower of Jesus to experience that, anybody can experience that.
But those two things, kind of the idea of natural joy, moral joy, those are not what we're talking about when we're talking about what we're talking about in this series on joy. We're talking about something that is actually different than that. We're talking about Spirit-given joy. And that, ladies and gentlemen is really only accessible for the believer in Jesus, one who is filled with God's own Spirit, a Spirit-given type of joy. Now we're gonna' be in the book of 1 Thessalonians if you want to find that and before I get into where I want to get, I want to remind you about this idea of Spirit-given joy that we're actually told to be joyful all the time as believers.
In fact, listen to what it says, this is not where we're gonna' be planted in 1 Thessalonians but as Paul's concluding this letter listen to what he says in 1 Thessalonians 5. He says listen, "Rejoice, " that means take joy in, "always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus". So here's one of the things we can say, it is God's will that we are joyful all the time. You see, that by itself gives you a distinction between the way sometimes that we define happiness or joy, which is circumstantial and here he says in every circumstance regardless of what's going on, no matter what's happening, be joyful. Why? Because you can be.
In fact, it's a command to be joyful because ultimately when we live filled with the Spirit that's how we understand that. Remember Paul said in the book of Ephesians these words, he said: "Don't get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery," bad behavior, "Instead, be filled with the Spirit..." This is a command.. Keep on being filled is how you would translate that. In the old King James, "be ye being filled with the Holy Spirit". Continue in the process of being filled with the Spirit. Well, what do we know the Spirit produces according to Galatians chapter number 5: "For the fruit of the Spirit is love," what? "Joy", right? This is a product, this is a fruit of the Spirit, so we are told to be always joyful. Why? Because we're commanded to be filled with the Spirit, and when we are filled with the Spirit we are automatically people of joy. And we can be joyful no matter what the circumstance looks like.
So it's a difference between happiness and joy culturally that we need to be able to understand and define. Somebody once said that happiness is kind of like the moon. It waxes and it wanes. But joy is like the sun. That no matter how dark it is, or the cloud cover you can rest assured the sun is still shining. You see, the moon is a derived issue, the moon depends on circumstance, in terms of its orbit because the moon has no light of its own. It only gets its light from the sun itself. So the sun is always shining regardless of the circumstance, the moon is dependent. That's why happiness is kind of like the moon and joy is like the sun. It abides, it is deep, it is rich and it continues no matter what the circumstance is like.
So, what was that other avenue that we were talking about about how we can experience joy? Well, here it is. We can actually experience joy in other people. We can experience joy in other people. I'm gonna' explain to you what I mean by that when we look at Paul's letter to his first letter to the Thessalonians, and in this letter Paul you can tell has a special relationship with them. On his second missionary journey Paul ended up going to Thessalonica and leading some of these folks to faith in Jesus Christ. It was mostly Greeks that he had led to Christ but there were some Jews that were associated with it, but it was mostly Greeks that had believed.
Now what's interesting about that is that in Acts chapter 17 and chapter 18 we get a chronicle of what happened in Thessalonica. And the truth is is that the Jewish that were there got really angry with Paul because he was preaching the gospel and some of the Jews had believed but even though, it was mostly Greeks and they were a little bit angry with him and they ran him out of town. And so Paul ended up having to take off and he had, you know, Silas and Timothy were traveling with him, and he had to take off and go from there to Berea, and then from Berea to Athens, and then from Athens to Corinth. And then while he's in Corinth is when he wrote, very likely is when he wrote to the church in Thessalonica. So this would have been about AD 51. It may be the earliest writing we have in the entire New Testament. That, that could be debatable, but it may, this may be the the earliest letter written in the entire New Testament in AD 51.
Now what's interesting about this letter that Paul wrote is that he doesn't have any direct Old Testament quotations in it at all. Which is really different for Paul. Why did he do that? Because they were mostly Greeks. They didn't really understand kind of the background of the Hebrew scripture as yet, he would help them to learn that, and even though there are indirect references, no direct references because when you read Paul, you are constantly reading quotations from the Old Testament. I mean all the time, but in first and second Thessalonians he's not directly quoting the Old Testament because he's writing predominantly to Greeks.
And so he communicates the gospel to them, but he has a very special relationship with them and you can tell that right when he opens up the letter. Listen to what he says in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 beginning in verse 2. He says,"We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achcaia - your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."
So here's what you get a clear picture of when Paul opens up 1 Thessalonians. You get a clear picture that God has worked significantly in the lives of these people. That they were coming from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, most of them, the vast majority, there were a handful of Jewish folks who came to faith in the Messiah Jesus, but mostly it's Greeks, and he basically says this: the report of you, your faith, your love, your hope, it's astounding. You're like an example to everybody in the region because you have turned to God from idols. These were Greeks that he's talking about, right? You were idol worshipers and now you've turned to God and Paul is basically talking about how he has witnessed God's activity and God's work in their lives in such a deep, deep and abiding way.
Now why is this important? It's important because what Paul ends up saying about them relative to what we're trying to teach today about finding joy in others. After he unpacks that a bit, toward the end of chapter 2, listen to what Paul says. Verse 17, he says, "But brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you - certainly I, Paul, did, again and again but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and" what? "joy". And then in chapter 3 he says this: "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?"
You see, what Paul is actually describing here is that we, or he in this sense, is taking great joy and experiencing great joy because of what God has done in their lives. You know, he actually uses this phrase "you are our glory, our joy and our crown". Now the idea of crown there, just so that you know is not the idea of the king's crown, it's the idea of a victor's crown, which is more like, um, you know, kind of a wreath so to speak, and it would be put on like at the Olympic games back in the day in Greece, you know, when you would win, you would wear a victor's crown, kind of made out of a kind of a wreath kind of thing that you would put on. Paul is using that term to describe the people in Thessalonica, and he's saying you're like a victor's crown for us. Because if you notice what Paul says is that he rejoices and he said it two times, at the end of chapter 2 and then into chapter 3. He said this, "We rejoice in the presence of God". We are experiencing joy in the presence of God because of you. Why? Because you are like a victory for us. Paul basically is saying that this is a validation of what God's called me to do and my own ministry as I've preached the gospel and the power of the gospel has transformed your life that I know that at the coming of the Lord Jesus I am going to experience great joy because of you, because of the transformation God has made in your life. It is like a victor's crown for me when I get to look at you and see what God has done in your life, and it brings me a great joy, a joy in the presence of God, a joy that is given by the Spirit of God to me because of what the Spirit has done in your life. You can experience that kind of joy.
See ultimately, God's work in and through others should produce a Spirit-given joy in us. God's work in and through others should produce a Spirit-given joy in us. Now, Paul made sure that this joy that he was experiencing, you, you kind of pick it up real quickly when you read him, that the joy that he was experiencing that he's saying that they gave to him, it was tethered to the work of God that was going on in their life. The reason he was joyful was because of the work of God that had gone on in the lives of people and he had observed that, he had seen that and as a result it brought him great joy.
Now this isn't place, by the way, where Paul talks about having great joy in other people. But in every one of those places, it is tethered to the work of God going on in their life and that's what brings him great joy. Listen to what it says in Philippians chapter 4 which is really kind of a letter of joy, Paul says, "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!" He's basically talking about how they are standing firm in the Lord, and what does that do? It brings him great joy, because he's seeing God's work in their lives and it brings him great joy.
Listen to what he wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 1: "I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you," Timothy, "in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I'm reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." What is he taking great joy in? Timothy's sincere faith, right? He's seen God do something in Timothy's life and it brings him great joy.
Well how about Philemon? When he writes to Philemon this is kind of a slave letter and he says "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people." What he's saying to Philemon is this, I've seen the way that you love people and I've seen your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and it brings me great joy because I see what God's doing in you.
You see, for us, we have to make sure that we understand that as Paul was saying and as we should embrace, that we basically have a Spirit-given joy inside of us when we can discern and see the activity of God in other people's lives.
Paul wasn't the only one who experienced this, by the way. The apostle John also experienced this same kind of thing. Listen to what he says in 3 John chapter 1. "It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." This was his heartbeat, right? When he's talking about his children he's not referring to biological children at that point, though the point certainly applies. He's talking to spiritual children at that point, where he's saying no greater joy that he has than to know that those that he is influencing spiritually are walking in the truth. He sees the activity and the work of God in their obedience and it brings him a Spirit-given joy.
You know, I've told you guys I came to faith at the age of 19 between my sophomore and junior year at the University of Georgia. And there was a young lady who influenced my life significantly - there were multiple people that did - but her name was Kay, and she's who ended up leading me to faith in Christ - standing out in the middle of the street at 3:00 in the morning. I came to faith in Jesus as she testified to me about the gospel and really shared with me for three hours. From midnight to three o'clock in the morning, and was just sharing the gospel with me, standing in the middle of the street under a street light. That's where I came to Jesus. So just as a heads up to any of you, if you think, I'm kind of far away. I don't know what I could...hey, man, under a street light at three o'clock in the morning after a party, that's me and I'm your pastor, all right? It could happen, right?
You know what was really cool, is that many, many, many years later - that was at the age of nineteen and she was real close with my wife Edie and some other friends. Many, many years later, in fact however many years later - it was probably 2007 or 2008 - her and her husband and their kids made a trip up to Buffalo, stayed with us in our home, and they got to come on a Sunday morning. They sat right down here and they got to experience what God was doing here and all of that. And then when we got home and we were just going to eat lunch together and spend some time hanging out which we did - I remember Kay saying to me, she's like, I am so overwhelmed with joy because I see what God is doing in you. And to think that God even used me a little bit in your life. And I'm thinking a lot of bit in my life, right? Not a little bit. She said it just brings me great joy. It's like an unspeakable, abiding Spirit given thing. This isn't circumstantial. It's not just like, oh, I'm so glad to know you're doing good. It's not that. It's a deep abiding joy that's centered in the power of the gospel to transform a life and she took great joy in seeing what God has used me to be a part of.
I know that feeling myself and probably you do as well. At least I hope you do, because this is something that really wakes up the sun in our life - kind of motivates us in our life. I still remember a young man, after I came to faith in Christ and Kay influenced me. Within forty eight hours I had led a couple of other friends to Jesus, after she had led me to Christ. Because this message was too good to keep to myself and I started calling up some of my buddies and I'm like you got to come and hang out with us, and I preached the gospel to them and I didn't even know the gospel. Like, I'm learning from a guy in like a little small group boot camp setting that I just found myself in after coming to faith in Christ, like in the next day or two. I'm now with these people that I don't know, and this guy's teaching me about how to know Jesus and I'm taking my Gideon Bible, or whatever I had - you know that little hard cover thing that if I'd swung it at you I'd knock your head off, right? I'm taking that thing and I'm opening it up and I'm magic markering these places. Not magic marker - highlighter, that's what I'm doing. That'd be striking through em, right? Stupid.. That's how much I knew. So I'm highlighting these things, right?
And then I just called a meeting with some of my friends that I invited. They were in another little group that I convinced them to come to, whatever. I brought them upstairs into the upper room. I brought them upstairs and I started preaching. No one gave me permission. I didn't know what I was talking about that much. I just started reading these verses that I had not really known before, and I just started reading them to them and preaching to them and I'm saying like as I'm reading them I'm going, yeah! Yes! Yes! Yep - that happened to me. That right there. It should happen to you. Now get it. That was the extent, right? I didn't know what to do. I didn't ..I wasn't smooth. I wasn't cool. I was just preaching the gospel. A couple of them came to Jesus. One of them now is a pastor, a campus pastor for First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia. He's the Jasper Church campus pastor. His name is Eddie Rhodes and every single time that I see something on my wife's Facebook and she shows me and I see something that God's doing in and through him, all I can do is have a sense of great joy inside of my heart when I see what God is using him to do.
Or other folks that I've led to Christ that are now in ministry somewhere that are on a mission field or they're preaching or pastoring or serving or teaching or leading or whatever. Or people that have come to Christ that are serving, not in a vocational sense but just in a volunteer sense. They're just faithfully walking with Jesus and they've been influenced somehow, by my life or my ministry and when I see that happening in their lives there's something inside of me that just leaps - not because I look and say, oh, I'm just glad you're doing good - but because the gospel transforms a life. And because this is what happens, ladies and gentlemen, when the Spirit of God inside of us unleashes his joy. We actually take great Spirit given joy in the work of God that is happening in the lives of other people.
By the way, they don't even have to be people that I have personally influenced. I can actually see God's work in people's lives and begin to rejoice inside of my heart because I sense and see God doing something else. Or, maybe I know that this person is being influenced by this person over here from our church and I see their own life beginning to be shaped into the image of Christ because God is using this person and I've got joy in my heart for both of them! For both of them! Why? Because this is what the Spirit of God does inside of us. We ultimately are a people - when we see God's work in and through other people's lives it should produce in us a Spirit given joy. It did in Paul's life. It did in the apostle John's life. Man, you see this idea of joy in relationship when you read their writings.
Well there's lots of other relationships that we should be able to experience joy in as well, right? We should experience joy in our marriages. Listen to what the writer of Proverbs said in chapter number five. He said "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, or your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice - take joy in - the wife of your youth." Basically this is a reminder that you're not to be running around. The idea, the picture that he's giving about drinking out of your own cistern is the idea of there should not be - where you're trying to look for satisfaction and happiness and an indulgence of the flesh in other people? No, no, no, no, no. Let me tell you where your joy is going to be found. In your spouse. You're going to be able to have a Spirit given joy when you invest in that relationship and stop looking around at other ones.
You know the Scripture also talks about the relationship with children and parents. The writer of the Proverbs, in a number of different places - listen to it. You can see. I've kind of mashed them all together so... Here are the Proverbs of Solomon. There's a bunch of them. "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful. Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt. A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth."
Do you know what's talked about here? The wise son or wise daughter. The wise child, right? Those who are wise children. Do you know what Proverbs defines wisdom? We have an understanding of what wisdom is, right? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. So, the idea of wisdom is something where we see, ladies and gentlemen, the idea that God is working in the lives of our kids and in so doing, do you know what it does to a parent's heart? Brings great joy. Because we see God's activity in the wise choices that they're making that are based in a reverence for God. This is ultimately what the writer of Proverbs is talking about.
Let me say this to you, by the way, parents, grandparents, whomever you are. It is not enough, as the culture defines it, it is not enough for you just to want your kids to be happy. That is not enough. That is, listen - that's o.k., but it is nowhere near what God's desired best is. God's desired best is not that your kids be happy, but that they know the joy of Jesus. That's what's God's desired best is. You can say, I just want my kids to be happy. O.k., cool, I understand it, but listen. God's desired best, parents, grandparents - is that our kids know and love Jesus. That is the only place they're going to ever find true joy. And you will know when your heart is overwhelmed with joy when you see that occur.
And I know that some of you, your heart breaks because you've seen kids that have said no, or whatever. And you continue to pray and you continue to live your life out before God. And you should. And we support you and love you and realize that sometimes kids that grow up make their own decisions and you can't control that. I understand that. Maybe you were a great example. Maybe you came to faith later in life and it's just been a tough scenario. God know what He's doing. And God still wants to use your influence in their lives. Show them an influence that looks like Jesus.
There's other relationships - friendships. We've already talked about that, right? Paul and Timothy. Paul and Philemon. John and his friends. Right? We've already seen how God works in so many of these different ways. So God's work in and through other people should produce in us a Spirit given joy.
Do you know what else happens? What else happens is that we end up getting hindered for that to happen. Some of us are going yeah, yeah - that should be the case in my life but I can't really pinpoint when that ever happens. Maybe it's because there's something that's hindering you. Let me think about it for a second. The first thing that could be hindering your ability to see God's work and rejoice in God's work in other people is that you aren't actually experiencing true joy in the presence of God yourself. That you aren't really spending enough time in God's presence to have your life overwhelmed with the joy of God's own Spirit. Because true joy is really only found in God's presence. That's why the psalmist said in your presence there is fullness of joy. There's completeness of joy. And so if you're not really experiencing - listen - if you're not experiencing God for yourself - if you're not actually spending time in the presence of God and being overwhelmed with the joy of God in your life, you are not going to be then spiritually sensitive enough to discern and see the work of God that's going on in other people. And as a result you're kind of eclipsing what you ought to be doing instead of waking up the sun of joy in your life.
Or maybe, maybe we choose too often to give in to the flesh instead of walking surrendered and filled with the Spirit. And as a result, it's very difficult for us to be able to rejoice with the activity of God in other people's lives. Do you know what that typically breeds when we walk in the flesh because the flesh is self centered? When we walk in the natural flesh - the fleshly part of us that it feels good to just do this or this or whatever - when we walk in that instead of walking filled with the Spirit, do you - because it's so self centered, do you know what it usually results in when it comes to relationships? Listen - competition.
And do you know the worst form of competition? Spiritual competition. It's the ugliest form, right? I'm good with competition, you know, on a baseball field. I get up and compete, man. If you dare throw me a strike dude, you are insane. You throw me a strike, I don't care how hard you throw, big man. Throw me a strike, I'm going to unload... Right? Competition - fine in that regard. Spiritual competition is ugly. So when we walk in the flesh here's what happens. We start to see God giving grace to one of our friends and maybe we were the one that wanted to lead that small group but it seems like God's really using them and so now we're trying to posture spiritually on this end to make ourselves look as spiritual as they are on this end, and instead of rejoicing of what God's doing in the life of our brother or sister, we're competing with them. That's a mistake. That's walking in the flesh, not the Spirit. That's a great evidence, by the way, that we're not walking in the Spirit. Because when we're walking in the Spirit, there is a Spirit given joy when we see the work of God in other people. We start to compete spiritually with other people. We try and make ourselves look more spiritual.
You know there's people that when we are talking to them, one of the first things that they want to tell you is their resume of how awesome they are and how much Bible they know and all that kind of stuff. It happens to me occasionally. I'm talking to somebody and they're just giving me their full blown...oh yeah, I'm this...pastor so and so...and they're giving me all their titles and all their stuff and I'm just kind of going , yeah. Right? You just kind of go pheff. That shouldn't be the case in the life of a believer. We should just be people who rejoice in the actual work of God, not posture ourselves but rejoice in the work of God in the lives of other people.
Do you know this kind of competitive thing also happens at a corporate level, not just a personal level? And it's why churches compete. That's why they put up the billboards, you know. At such and such church we love children. Implication: everyone else hates them. Right? What are you talking about? You're the only ones that love children? What happened to us? We love them. We just didn't put a billboard up, but we love them. Come to our church. I swear. We love them. And then you feel like you've got to take a TV ad out, you know. Well at such and such church we not only love them, but we give them Kool-Aid. O.k., I see what's going on now. Right? And it just gets weird. Churches competing, right?
Quick news flash, right? We're on the same team. If we're preaching the gospel, believing the heart of the truth of who God is and all of his glory, we understand Jesus is the only way of salvation. When that's the case we're on the same team. We need not be competing. And by the way, when God is doing something wonderful in another congregation we celebrate that. Because that is, we should be given a Spirit given joy in our hearts when we see that God's activity is at work in the lives of those folks we should be able to go, yes! Same team. Same kingdom. One body. That's what we're about, right? Jesus is not a polygamist. He has one bride. Everybody follow that? O.k. I don't want an email. I get a few from time to time. So, some of these things can be hindrances to us.
You know what else might be a hindrance, by the way, just as we're on this? Bitterness and unforgiveness. Let me explain real quick. Somebody's hurt you. Somebody's done something to offend you. Maybe you're really easily offended. You shouldn't be, by the way. You shouldn't be that easily offended. Right? Words shouldn't hurt a dead person. We have died to all of that. We've been raised to new life in Jesus. So we don't have to be so easily offended, right? But, maybe you've been hurt or abused - something serious. Maybe you're hurt or offended somehow, whatever. Don't lie. You know that sometimes it feels good to harbor that bitterness. It feels good to harbor that unforgiveness. You want them to hurt just as much as you've hurt. But here's the thing. Then God gets a hold of them. And they start repenting. And you're not good with that. You're not o.k. with that. I don't want them to repent. I don't want them to be back and accepted. I don't want God to do anything in their life. I want them to suffer and be miserable like I am. So we can't rejoice because we're still holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness, and even if we see genuine God-given repentance, we can't take joy in that activity of God in their lives because we're living by the flesh and we want to hold on to our bitterness and our unforgiveness.
See, all of these things are hinderances for the sun to wake up in our hearts and us to be able to experience the joy that we can actually have in the presence of God even when we're walking through tribulation and the joy that we can have in other people when we see the work of God. When we discern God's work and God's activity in the lives of other people. This is all a part of joy.
But you know this idea, by the way, of joy in other people? It works from God's perspective, too. It not only works from our perspective but it works from God's perspective. Think about Jesus. Consider Jesus for a moment. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews said in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 2. "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." He did this, o.k.? He scorned the shame, sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. How did he endure the cross? For the joy that was set before him. That's how he endured the cross. See sometimes we read that at a very superficial level and we think, yeah, he endured the cross because he was going to get up from the dead and go back and be with his Father. True. There's no question that's true. But what was he doing at the cross? He was rescuing humanity. It was for others. His joy was centered on the activity of God using his sacrifice to be able to reconcile other people to the Father.
In fact, you can get a clue of that early in the book of Hebrews an if we would have read it in chronological order we would have seen that. Listen to what it says in Hebrews chapter 2. "In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation (Jesus) perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters." See this is the part of the joy that was set before him. His joy was in knowing the activity of God, God's work in the lives of people that he had come to save.
And do you know how much God rejoices over his people? Do you know how much joy he takes in us? Zephaniah said it well when he said this in chapter 3. "The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing." Think about it. God sings over you with incredible joy. For those that are his, he rejoices over the work of his Son in our lives, transforming us more and more into his glory and the scripture says that God actually sings over us with joy. Let that sit with you. Think about that. Does that transform, help to transform the image of God for your life when you understand that because of what Jesus has done, God knows his own work and activity that has occurred in your life, and he rejoices over what the gospel has done in transforming you and I that are believers in him, so much so that it just causes him to break out in song over you and because of you. That is an incredible picture to hang your hat on. You see this works both ways, ladies and gentlemen. When we discern the work of God in other people there is a Spirit given joy and it makes perfect sense that that happens in our life because God himself is one who takes great delight and great joy in seeing his work done in the lives of people. And so his Spirit that testifies inside of us is giving us a sense of his own character and how he views us. This is an incredible truth.
So, I say that to ask you are you experiencing that kind of joy? The kind of joy that allows you to see and discern and know the work of God in other people's lives and it just gives you a Spirit given joy to see it. What are you eclipsing the sun with? What's hindering that joy in your life? Is it the fact that you haven't been really spending time in the presence of the joy-giver? And so as a result it's very hard to see that in other people because you're not experiencing that yourself? Or maybe you're living more in the flesh than you are in the Spirit or maybe you're hanging on to unforgiveness or bitterness. Part of how you can know that you're walking in the Spirit is if you are able to discern and have a Spirit-given joy in the work of God in and through other people. That's one of the ways you know you're walking full of the Spirit. That when you can look around and see the work of God that you're also rejoicing in the work of God in the people that are around you. Why? Because God's work in and through others should produce a Spirit-given joy in us.
Let's bow our heads together. Before we leave this morning, the joy that Jesus was looking forward to when he was on a cross was the joy that you would have the opportunity to hear the message of the gospel, the completion of forgiveness, the hope of salvation because of what Christ did in dying on a cross for our sins and rising from the dead. So if you're here and you've never come into relationship with God through his Son - I'm not talking about you frequented a church before or that you went through some religious ritual before or whatever. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about you've been born from above. You've been transformed by Jesus. Not that you have religion but that you have experienced what true relationship with God through his Son Jesus looks like. If that's never happened for you, if that's never been the case for you, then I want to invite you to know him. I want you to invite you to receive him. To know how your sins can be forgiven and how your life can be transformed. So when we dismiss in just a moment whether you're in this room or the East Worship center, if that's your need, I want you to come by the Fireside Room. It's clearly marked out in the Atrium. There's some pastors, some other friends that would love to take just a moment and talk to you. They're not going to keep you forever but they want to talk to you about what that looks like, how you can know that, how you can experience what it means to be in a relationship with God through his Son. Because that's where you'll find true joy. That's where you'll experience that. Not until then. That's where true joy comes from. He is the source. Robert Lewis Stephenson said he was looking to find where all the joy came from. Well, I wish I would have told him. It's in Jesus. That's where it is. So, I encourage you when we dismiss in a moment to come by.
Father, for the remainder of us I pray that you would allow for our hearts to be so willing and receptive and surrendered. That if there are areas of our hearts that are eclipsing the sun, so to speak, that are getting in the way and hindering our ability to rejoice in the work of God in others just as Paul did, just as John did, just as so many of us get an opportunity to experience. I pray that you would help us to name those things, to identify those things and to repent, to turn away from those things. Whether it's unforgiveness or bitterness or a spirit of competition or whatever it might be. Would you bring that to our mind and allow us to repent of that, cleanse of that and replace it with a Spirit given joy for your work in the lives of people because we know that this is a fruit of your Spirit and we know that part of what it means to walk in the Spirit is that we are people who see God's work in and through other people and we just have a Spirit given joy through it. So help us, God, because we want you, Jesus, have invited us into your joy and this is a part of your joy - experiencing your joy in full means that we will be able to have our joy completed when we can experience your work in the lives of other people and be rejoicing over it. Help us to be those kinds of people and help us to repent where we've eclipsed that and hindered that idea. We trust you to do this and we thank you for being our great joy giver. In Jesus' name, amen.
Love you folks. Have a great week.