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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Joyful Christianity: 2 Corinthians 7:2-16


We have become accustomed to the Christian life displaying little or even no joy. We have all heard that what is expected of Christians is that we simply exist now in order that we might one day go into heaven when real joy will then be our experience but until then life is marked by difficulty and misery.
 

That is not the impression that we get from the Apostle Paul. He certainly went through great difficulties but we never get the impression that he is downcast or that life for him is not worth living, in fact it is quite the contrary. Paul loves life. He believes that heaven is a better place but that life on earth is both precious and a great joy!

So where does Paul get his joy from?
 

Verse 6:  God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him.
  • His joy is in the Lord.
  • His joy is in belonging.

His joy is in the Lord
:

 

Paul is no fatalist but he fully recognised that everything that happened to him was within God’s plan and purpose for his life. God is sovereign and knows the beginning from the end. He knew every nuance of Paul’s life and ministry and so He does of ours also! You might be saying that sounds very much like fatalism to me. Perhaps it is right just to “let go and let God!”
 

As we are all well aware that in life there are many mysteries and this whole subject is one of them. Just as we cannot understand the mystery of the Trinity so equally we cannot fully understand this issue. We do have free will but God is fully in control. He is omniscient, that means that He is all knowing, He is omnipotent, that means that He is all powerful and He is omnipresent and that means that He is all present. That being said He also gives us free will and responsibility for our choice. I am sure that this will all make sense when we finally meet Him in glory but until then; it is at the least a difficulty but for many it is a paradox.
 

Paul tells the Corinthians that life is difficult, problems at every turn from outside and within but that even though this is the case His joy knows no bounds! This is another paradox for us in the 21st century. We are programmed to believe that happiness or joy is the result of health, wealth and prosperity. Paul it seems had none of those blessings. In fact his health was poor, he had weak eyes at the very least. He had to work hard at tent making in order to pay his way; he was no aristocrat to whom finance was no problem. He was certainly not prosperous, where was his home, he was itinerant, wandering from place to place, working where necessary and using his wages to help the cause of the church in that place. He had no official job etc. Modern man would say that all of this adds up to a miserable existence but yet Paul seems to overflow in this passage with joy. He says “my joy knows no bounds” in verse 4
 

Clearly Paul’s joy is not dependent upon his comfort but is in the Lord. We can remember his testimony of how he met the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and that from that day on he served God alone through Christ alone. To be in relationship with God which had long been his desire was now his experience and in that he was fully satisfied.
I wonder if we are as satisfied in the Saviour as Paul was. Paul had spent many years learning the scriptures and applying them to the best of his ability to his life. He had tried to live a holy life as he understood what that meant. He had studied hard to try to understand who God really is and all of that found fulfillment through a personal meeting with the Saviour.
 

We have also met with the Lord Jesus Christ; He has equally dealt with our sins. Our reward is heaven just as it was for Paul. Our lives are full of difficulties just as was Paul’s. But yet we seem to have so little joy. 

But what is it to have the joy of the Lord?
 
Many tell us that it comes with some manic “smile Jesus loves you grin!” But we see none of that with Paul. I am sure that he did smile every time he thought of Christ’s love extended to him but that often came to him in times of imprisonment, shipwreck etc. How did Paul keep such resolve? The answer to that is that he was a realist. Much of what we see of Christianity today seems to come from the land of make believe. As I said earlier we are made to believe that Christians should only experience the niceties of life and then when the difficulties come alongside comes spiritual depression and feelings of failure. As we often say difficulties are a  way of human life. They come from the fall and are a product of sin. They affect all of humankind and just because we are saved and forgiven it does not exempt us from difficulties. If you want evidence of this being true just consider any of the saints recorded in scripture. I challenge you to find any one of them who had it easy in life. When you hear those who tell you different just remember Paul and your own experience and keep that as the reality check.
 

But there is joy available; it comes through our relationship which is found in Christ alone. When we think of what it cost Him for our salvation that should bring more than a glow in our hearts or even a Christian smile on our lips it should fill us with inexplicable joy.
  • Do you have that joy?
  • Did you ever have such joy?
  • Have you lost the Joy that comes from sins forgiven?

Paul's  joy is in belonging:
 

Paul loved the church and loved belonging to them. The Corinthian church had been on the wrong side of Paul’s anger. He had written to them telling them of the things that they had done wrong but yet he not only loved them he also respected them highly.
 

He tells them how much he wanted to belong to them in verse 2. He wants nothing more than to be in their hearts. They were in his heart and he simply wanted full relationship. They had such a place in his heart vs3 that he not only lived for them but was willing to die with them if that were necessary.
 

He had great confidence in them (vs 4) and he was proud of them even though formerly he had to rebuke them for gross sin. He was encouraged by them and that mat him full of joy.
He never regretted his difficult letters and his use of apostolic authority over them, this was done out of love and respect for the Lord Jesus and His church. He recognised that this was a painful time for them but that it had its desired result. They repented. That should always be the desire of any discipline that we give; that the offender might come to repentance and have the resulting respect that Paul had for the Corinthian church! That is the encouragement that we ought to experience. Read verses 5-13
 
But there was more:

 Others are encouraged by the church. Titus who went along to help and to Pastor the church in difficult days was happy. The church was repentant and to some might seem to be down in the mouth but Titus was happy! What he saw and knew of the church refreshed his spirit! Paul was convinced beforehand that that would be the case because he had boasted to him about such qualities in them! And they did not let Paul down, they came up trumps. Their obedience earned Titus’ affection for them because even though they knew that his purpose for coming to them was going to be painful they willingly accepted him and made him at home amongst them. For that Paul was glad that he could have confidence in them. Paul’s joy was first in the Lord but he was able to be confident in the church even in times of great difficulties. The Corinthian church might be a sad example of sinful practise but it must be applauded for its example as an accommodating church even when it is under discipline.
As both individual believers and also as the church we would do well to have such a heart. Is it our hearts desire to bring joy to each other and to Christians from other places as were the Corinthians? If we keep our attention fixed on the Saviour; and if we remember that even in life’s difficulties He is in control and is fully trustworthy. And then we love and respect each other as brothers in Christ even when we might have to do things such as discipline then it is for the good of both the individual and the church. Then our joy will also be complete as was Paul’s.

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