REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 61: Joy.
Just a couple of hours ago we heard the news of our lockdown in Perth. Do I write about the next fruit of the Spirit or take a different tack? It only took a moment to stay on track with joy [that wonderful second fruit of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23], since joy epitomises our relationship with God and is a practised trait that helps us cope, indeed mature, when unexpected turns of events challenge us. The reality is that the pandemic has not changed anything of substance for those who are relying upon Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.
Commenting on that great rejoicing passage in Philippians 4:4-7, Gordon Fee helpfully reminds us that: joy does not mean the absence of sorrow but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it. Mind you our WA experience of covid-19 has been low on the degree of difficulty scale compared to others in Australia and worldwide. When we rejoice in the Lord always [Phil 4:4] as Paul the apostle and exemplar of rejoicing in tough and unwelcome circumstances often exhorts us to, for different reasons [Romans 5:2, 12:15, Phil 3:1; 1 Thess 5:16; 2 Cor 6:10; 1 Cor 13:6] we are, intentionally and wisely, aligning ourselves with God’s purposes. Joy is built upon the character of God:
So we place more store on our relationship with God than our comforts. We recall the joy in Heaven when we, and countless other sinners, have turned to God in repentance and to Jesus in simple trust. This was a real theme of our Lord [Luke 15:7, 10, 32]. If God is full of joy when we turn back to Him we must be joyful also. We do well to heed William Gurnall’s words: Christ takes no more delight to dwell in a sad heart, than we do to live in a dark house. Our salvation through Christ is reason alone for constant joy. But there are more reasons to be full of joy.
The Holy Spirit works joy in by working causes of sadness out. These may be our own unconfessed sins, like the catalogue of Galatians 5:19-21. Nothing is as joyless as the short term pleasures of drunkenness, sexual immorality, envy and selfish ambition. Moses was commended in Hebrews 11:25-26 for choosing to identify with God and His lasting purposes rather than the short term enjoyment of sin. The garden bed of suffering, in this case persecution, is the soil out of which the maturing and lovely flowers of obedience and faith blossom. We are not alone since God the Spirit dwells within us to drive away our sin and stand with us in our sadness. We can be joyful since our gracious Saviour understands us and our weaknesses [Heb 4:14-16] whilst the Holy Spirit aids us in our praying [Rom 8:26-28] and sheds abroad God’s joyful love in, and to others from, our hearts [Rom 5:5 especially in trials 5:2-4].
Joy is a direct outcome of the great Biblical truth that God is sovereign with nothing outside of His control. Paul rejoiced even in the sinful and unjust criticism of fellow believers in Philippi [1:15-18a] and in his imprisonment on account of His faithfulness in gospel preaching [1:18b-26]. The reasons? He knew that this was all in God’s good and safe hands, meaning that he will always be bringing glory to Christ, in both life and death. So he exhorts us to hang in there confidently, not by dropping our bundle or living carelessly, but in a manner worthy of the gospel [1:27-30]. Without this truth we will always be open to Satan’s insinuations that God is letting us down and to the world’s taunts that God could not possibly be good. But our Lord and Saviour teaches us that all aspects of our lives, both His mega plan [John 17:20-26] and the seemingly insignificant aspects and events of our lives, are firmly within His control and gracious purposes. Jesus sums this up: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows [Luke 12:6-7]. Joy that flows out of relationship with the living God, rather than a happy alignment of personal and external circumstances, is clearly close to God’s heart for us all. So we seek to make Christ known and see difficulties as ways He uses to wean us away from seeking real joy in temporal things, pleasant or unpleasant.
Three quotes that have helped me are:
Every joy that does not have God as the central gladness of the joy is a hollow joy and in the end will burst like a bubble. [John Piper, page 82, What Jesus demands of the world. Crossways 2006].
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know. [John Newton: Glorious things of Thee are spoken verse3b]
The joy of the Lord is your strength. [Nehemiah 8:10].
Joy flowing from God’s Salvation, Spirit and Sovereignty is a fruit that will nourish and enrich us forever.
Peter Brain 2nd February, 2021