For Your Joy

Desiring God 2010 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy

Thank you so much, John. Thank you all, as John has already said, for taking time out of very busy and urgent schedules to be here with us and braving the weather. I’m so glad that you’re here. I didn’t know until just about a half hour ago that this is being live-streamed on the web, so just indulge me for a moment as I say to my wife of almost 38 years. I love you Anne, and I hope everything is well back in Oklahoma City. I hope she’s watching. She really wanted to be here but wasn’t able to come.

Last summer, I think it was, John contacted me with the gracious invitation to come and to speak at this year’s pastor’s conference. Although I had spoken at two of the national conferences of Desiring God ministries, I hadn’t participated in this conference since 1992. So as you can well imagine — and probably your reaction would’ve been the same as mine — I immediately said yes. John then proceeded to tell me what he wanted me to talk about. And again, probably largely without thinking — though I hope I prayed a little — I said, “Well sure.” He wanted me to speak about Christian Hedonism, how it shapes the life of the pastor and gives focus and energy to our ministries and our very lives.

About 15 minutes later, that reality began to sink into my soul, and it was like this loud, reverberating voice began to shout at me in my head, “Storms, are you crazy? Do you have any idea what you’ve just agreed to do?” And I thought to myself, “Well, let me see. I’ve been asked to speak on the subject of joy and Christian Hedonism, and 20 feet away sitting right in front of me will be the man who wrote Desiring God. Yep, you’re certifiably nuts!”

After I kind of regathered myself and began to think more about it, I asked the question, is there really anything that I can say original or new or creative? And the answer is probably no. I didn’t tell John that lest he withdraw the invitation and look for someone else. So here I am with no intentions of trying to reinvent the theological wheel, but I hope by God’s grace perhaps to clarify for you and to encourage you maybe in different words and in different ways from different texts, this remarkable truth apart from which I can’t even envision life, much less ministry.

Workers for Your Joy

So with that in mind, I’m going to ask you if you have your Bibles to take them and turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1. I want to read a larger paragraph within which the passage that we’ll be looking at tonight is found. We’re kind of picking up right in the middle of Paul’s narrative, so please keep that in mind. I want to begin reading 2 Corinthians 1:15–24, after which we will then pray together over God’s word:

Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

And here are the two verses I want you to notice very closely:

But I call God to witness against me — it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

God’s Purpose for the Universe

It never dawned on me in 1961 when I first sensed a call from God to full-time, lifelong pastoral ministry that I was actually being asked to partner with God in the purpose for which he created the universe. And the reason it probably never dawned on me is because I don’t think 10-year-old boys think in those terms. In fact, it really wasn’t until around 1986 when I first read John’s book Desiring God that that idea ever really took root in my heart and made a difference in my life.

Now, this is a conference primarily intended for those in pastoral ministry. I know there are many associate pastors and youth pastors and elders and lay leaders, and some of you who teach Bible studies in a home or in a Sunday school, or others of you who are here contemplating a call into pastoral ministry. But I want to speak directly to pastors this week, although everything I say is fully applicable to all Christians, both male and female, young and old. But I want you to hear me right from the outset say something that I trust will be breathtaking to you and to me: the ultimate purpose of pastoral ministry is identical with the purpose for which God created the universe. I’m going to say that again: the ultimate purpose in pastoral ministry is identical with the purpose for which God created the universe.

Now if you ask the typical pastor, “Why have you entered into ministry? Why are you sensing this call?” you’re probably not going to hear them give that answer. I’ve asked many this question and they say things like, “Well, I love to study the Bible and I like to teach,” or, “I thought it might enhance my relationship with the Lord.” I can actually remember when I was at Dallas Seminary back in the seventies hearing a couple of men honestly say, “Well, I tried a whole lot of other careers and none of them worked out, so I thought I’d give the ministry a shot.”

How many would answer that question and say, “I yielded to the urge, the calling, the wooing of the Holy Spirit, because I wanted to participate in God’s purpose for creating the universe.” And the reason why we don’t respond that way is because it’s sounds a little pompous at first hearing. It sounds a little grandiose, a little over the top. Well Jonathan Edwards would’ve disagreed. And by the way, for those of you who know me, you are probably shocked it took me five minutes in the first message to mention his name. Trust me, it won’t be the last time.

Now think of this. Edwards was just 21 years old when he preached a sermon entitled Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven. It was his first sermon on a text from the book of Revelation, and in it he articulated one of the most important theological insights he ever had. Edwards said:

God created man for this very end: that he might communicate happiness to him.

Edwards makes it very clear that God did not create the universe, contrary to what many people today believe, to communicate more happiness to himself — happiness that he otherwise lacked. Because if God is God, he is infinite, he is self-sufficient, and he is perfect in himself. He couldn’t possibly add to what he already has or that would prove that he’s really not God in the first place. Edwards continues:

It seems evident then, that what moved God to create the world was his goodness or his propensity to communicate his own happiness to something else.

That “something else” is not the natural creation, and it’s not the sun or the stars or bugs or plants; it’s us. It’s what Edwards called the spiritual part of the creation.

God’s Glory or Our Happiness?

Now, I know that for some of you who’ve perhaps never wrestled with this idea before, maybe there is an objection rising up in your mind. You’re saying, “Hold on just a minute. Time out. I thought God created the universe for his own glory? You’re now saying that he created the universe for our happiness. Which is it? Make up your mind, Sam. You can’t have it both ways.”

Oh, yes, I can. Edwards, at the age of 21, was ready for that question, that objection. And the answer he provided, and he wasn’t the first, is what we today call Christian Hedonism. Edwards said that there is no difference in saying that God created mankind to communicate happiness to them and that he created the universe for his own glory. The reason why there is no difference is because he created them so that he might glorify himself by making them blessed and communicating his goodness to them.

Now, I realize that this is pretty heady stuff to start out our week together with. I realize that some of you are probably saying, “I came here this week and I made a big sacrifice because I needed some real, concrete, tangible, down-to-earth, practical help, and this dude has already taken us to the presidential suite of some obscure theological ivory tower. Can you just kind of bring it back down to earth for just a moment?”

I understand that reaction, but trust me, be patient with me. If you don’t grasp this truth, pastoral ministry will forever be a drag, a burden, and oppressive to your heart and to your soul. Now listen to this. Whatever else you may have ever heard about the glory of God or however else you may have understood it, listen. Edwards said:

The glory of God consists in the creature (that’s you and me) admiring and rejoicing and exulting in the manifestation of God’s beauty and excellence. The essence of glorifying God, therefore, is the creature’s rejoicing in the manifestation of divine beauty.

That is the happiness, that is the joy of which he was speaking for which we have been made and by which God is glorified. It’s the ultimate reason for which he made the universe. I would’ve given anything if I could have thought like that and preached like that when I was 21 years old.

Rejoicing in the Glory of God

Again, Edwards said in this sermon:

Glorifying God is nothing else but rejoicing in that glory that he has displayed, so that God doubtless made mankind to rejoice in him and his works. But if God made man for this very end to rejoice, he made him for this very end, namely, to be happy.

From this Edwards drew a very important conclusion. Now, please bear with me. I don’t want what I’m about to say to just bounce off your brain, I want it to take root in your heart. It’s life-changing, so I’m going to try to say it in a variety of different ways. But from this Edwards drew the conclusion, and I’m quoting, “Man was designed by God for exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness.” It’s not mundane, routine, run-of-the-mill happiness, but exceeding inexpressibly great happiness.

He drew this conclusion based on a very simple premise. Surely, the passion that God has for his glory is infinitely intense and immeasurably great. God does not take his glory lightly. God is not half-hearted about the pursuit of his glory. He’s not treating it as if it were secondary or subordinate to some other purpose or aim. It’s not an afterthought. He’s not lazy when it comes to magnifying himself. All the energy of an omnipotent God is devoted to the pursuit of the praise of his name. Therefore, Edwards concluded that since the way in which that glory is most clearly seen is in the delight that human beings have in it, it follows that this delight, or happiness, for which you and I were created and designed, must itself be exceeding and immeasurably great.

Follow with me. What he’s saying is that if God is exceedingly and inexpressibly committed to his own glory, and I hope and pray all of us here would agree with that, then he must have created us for exceeding, inexpressibly great joy. Because his glory is most clearly seen in our joy in him. It’s really a very simple truth once you get past the Puritan language. The intensity and depth and greatness of the joy for which God created you is equivalent to the intensity and the depth and the greatness of the glory that he seeks for himself.

Made to Behold God’s Own Excellency

What sort of happiness or joy did Edwards have in mind? That’s what we’re here to talk about this weekend. What kind of joy is Paul talking about in 2 Corinthians 1? Well, it’s not what the world is selling you. It’s not the kind of joy that comes with a new computer, or an iPad, or a six figure salary, or exceedingly satisfying sex with one’s wife. All those things, by the way, are fine. But that’s not ultimately the joy that he has in mind. Edwards said, “Man was created to be happy in the beholding of God’s own excellency.” In other words, God did not create the universe so that he might make himself more happy but in order that he might make something else happy. It was in order that he might make us blessed in beholding his excellency and that he might in this way glorify himself.

Now, I hope you were able to track with that. As I said, I know it’s a lot to begin our time together with. But there’s nothing more important for you to understand in my opinion. In another one of Edwards sermons — in fact, it was the first formal sermon that he ever preached entitled Christian Happiness — he put it this way:

The pleasures of loving, obeying, adoring, blessing, and praising the infinite being, the best of beings, the eternal Jehovah; the pleasures of trusting in Jesus Christ, in contemplating his beauties, excellencies, and glories, in contemplating his love to mankind and to us, in contemplating his infinite goodness and astonishing lovingkindness; the pleasures of the communion of the Holy Ghost in conversing with God, the maker and governor of the world; the pleasures that result from the doing of our duty in acting worthily and excellently; these are the pleasures that are worthy of so noble a creature as man is.

It’s not just knowing these things about God, not merely seeing or speaking about them, but the pleasure of experiencing these realities is what most honors and exalts God. So the goal of our creation is not that we simply would be happy, but happy in beholding the beauty and the excellencies of God.

Bringing People into the Enjoyment of God

It’s interesting if you would take this truth and simply apply it to the issue of spirituality in our generation. Isn’t it amazing to you, at least I have seen, that perhaps at no other time in the history of the Christian Church has there been such an obsession with spirituality, which I believe is both good and bad. It’s good because we want to be spiritual rather than carnal. I’m all for that. But it’s also bad in the sense that spirituality has come to be defined in so many different ways, oftentimes with no connection to God at all, much less to Jesus or the word of God or the life of the local church.

So there is in our society today, and in our churches, a God-less spirituality. People think that if you want him, well that’s okay. And if he helps you, that’s fine. But so much spirituality today is just a matter of me getting in touch with myself, or to use the words of a famous megachurch pastor, “To become a better you,” or to somehow transcend the material and enter into an experience with the transcendent, or to find meaning in life. That’s what spirituality has come to mean, and it has very little to do with God.

What Edwards is trying to say is that at the very center of biblical spirituality there is joy. It’s not joy in and of itself, but joy in God. Passionate and joyful admiration of God is the ultimate reason for which he created the universe. Now, like I said, I know I’ve hit the ground running. And I chose not to start us out tonight peddling along on a tricycle at a safe five miles per hour, I wanted to launch us into the theological stratosphere on the back of the space shuttle. So I hope I haven’t lost you.

My point is simply this, God created the universe to glorify himself by making us immeasurably and exceedingly happy in him. And that, dear friend, is also the purpose for pastoral ministry. Your purpose, whether you realized it up to this point or not, is that by the grace of God you might lead, teach, counsel, instruct, and shepherd the people of God into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God. Everything else is subordinate to that. All of your preaching, all of your counseling, all of your discipling, all of your leading, all of your training, all of your praying ultimately is designed to lead the people of God into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God.

Surviving Burnout

Let me momentarily digress just to say one thing in the light of this. When I think about this, immediately there comes to mind this perpetual problem called spiritual, or pastoral, or ministerial burnout, at the very brink of which many of you find yourself this week. Some of you are exhausted. You’re overworked, you’re underappreciated, you’re thinking not so much about leading the people of God into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God, but how are you going to raise more money for that new building? How are you going to keep up with the congregation down the street? And what can you do to make sure you don’t offend that big giver and drive him away? Or maybe you’re trying to get people to appreciate your efforts more or to expand your influence.

What might happen in your heart and your spirit and soul and body and your mind as well — all aspects of your life — if you were able to subordinate all of that other stuff to the ultimate aim of joining with God and the ultimate purpose for which he created the universe. And by his grace and for his glory, leading the people of God into the enjoyment of God. What might happen? Might that not reignite a fire and bring refreshment and energy to your life and your ministry?

As John mentioned, I became the senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in September of 2008. I was a pastor for 26 years and then I took four years to teach at Wheaton College and four years to do itinerant ministry and write a lot. And I was so happy to be able to return into pastoral ministry and get back in the pulpit on a full-time basis. The first sermon I ever preached in that church was 2 Corinthians 1:23–24. Because I wanted the people to know what motivates me. I wanted them to understand why I do what I do. If they were asking the question, “Why did he accept this call? Why did he come here? What’s he aiming at?” I wanted them to understand that right from the beginning.

I said to them, “I am unapologetically and unashamedly a Christian Hedonist.” And again, I had to say to them as I’ll say to you, those words, the first time I ever saw them, were a jolt. John intended it that way. It wakes you up. And I said, “Let me explain what I mean. I’m a hedonist because I believe it’s impossible for you to desire pleasure too much. But I’m a Christian Hedonist, and the adjective is eternally important, because the pleasure that we can’t desire too much is the pleasure in who God is and all that he has done for us and is for us and forever will be for us in his Son.

A Vehement Fight for Happiness

I want to begin by asking you a question in light of this, just a few minutes into our time together. Is this your ultimate aim? Is this what drives you in your life as a pastor or an elder or even a layperson? Do you fight, do you struggle, do you contend in all that you do for joy in Jesus in your own heart and out of the overflow of that joy of the people to whom you minister? When you pray for your church, when you set an agenda for preaching, whether it’s a week away, a month or a year down the road, are your choices governed by this ultimate aim, this single criterion?

Jonathan Edwards, in one of his resolutions, used language here that is a challenge, a rebuke to me. He said:

Resolved to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, that I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert in any way that can be thought of.

Now I know, again, you might be saying, “Gosh, I have massive problems in my life. My marriage is hurting. I have financial struggles that terrify me. I have people in my church, even on my staff, who are trying to undermine everything I do. Worse still, I’m bored, depressed, and I’m fighting the temptation of internet pornography, and I’m one step away from turning my back on everything and running away. And you’re asking me, ‘Do I fight, contend with violence and vehement and struggle, for satisfaction and joy in Jesus?’” Make no mistake, if you’re not you will burn out and blow away. This is the only thing that will sustain you in joy and in obedience and in faithfulness, as we have just sung a few moments ago.

There are countless texts to which I could turn to try to make this point. Tonight I want us to look at 2 Corinthians 1. By the way, I am taking a massive amount of truth for granted in talking about this text tonight. In other words, there is a massively majestic theological foundation beneath Paul’s words here, a massively majestic, theological and biblical framework on which it hangs that we’ll talk about tomorrow morning. So just bear with me as I draw our attention to this passage. It’s very important that we situate ourselves in the historical and pastoral context of what Paul says.

Working for Their Joy

I want to bring us back down from the theological stratosphere. Let’s put our feet firmly on earth and understand what occurred to evoke this language from the apostle Paul. Those of you who have studied the Corinthian literature know that unlike his relationship with any other church, his relationship with the Corinthians was rather rocky at times and often very painful. There were false teachers in the church at Corinth, pompous triumphalists who were trying to undermine Paul’s reputation, calling into question whether he was an apostle, mocking his lack of public speaking skills, questioning his motivation for not taking monetary support from them, pointing out his bodily weakness, and amazingly enough, attacking his integrity because of his change of travel plans, of all things.

Paul evidently had hoped to visit the Corinthians twice: on his way to Macedonia and on his return journey. This changed, however, when Timothy arrived in Corinth bearing our canonical 1 Corinthians. He saw the mess that was still ongoing there and told Paul about it. Paul made a quick journey to Corinth. It was a very painful, humiliating visit. He talks about it in 2 Corinthians 2:1. He immediately left, went back to Ephesus, and basically said, “I’m not about to make another painful visit to this church.” And so he called off this twofold visit that he had earlier planned and told them about. Well you can imagine, those false teachers, those false apostles (Do you have this language up north?) pounced on that like a dog on a June bug. And they said, “This guy doesn’t care about you people. Look, would an apostle of Jesus act like this and change his plans on a whim? He’s so arbitrary. All he’s thinking about is his own convenience and his own feelings. He doesn’t care about you folks.”

Paul is vigorously denying that in the paragraph that we’ve read here tonight. He said, “I’m not the kind who says ‘yes’ one moment and then reverses it to ‘no’ based on what serves me.” In fact, his appeal here to the God whose promises are yes in Jesus is not just some abstract theological statement. Paul is saying, “Folks, I pattern my life on the way God relates to us. When God says ‘yes’, he fulfills it. When he says ‘no’, you can take him to the bank; he means no. But he doesn’t say yes and no in the same breath with regard to the same promise.” So Paul is saying to them, “How can I possibly preach to you the good news of a God who always acts with your best interest at heart and never fails to fulfill his word and then turn around and treat you with utter disregard by behaving in a double minded manner?”

Paul’s Apostolic Motivation

That’s the reason for this little digression here into the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and the promises of God in Christ. His point simply is, “All that I do, I do it for your joy. It’s not that I’m indifferent, it’s not that I’m callous towards you. I care about you deeply.” And in saying this, we have a remarkable declaration. Paul, in a sense, pulls back the curtain on his own heart. He says, “I’m being really vulnerable here, folks. I want you to understand what drives me. And what drives me isn’t any desire to tyrannize your faith. I can’t compel your belief and I can’t control it. Your life isn’t beholden to me. You may have come to faith through my ministry, but your faith is in Christ. I’m not your Lord. What I labor for is your joy in Jesus.”

Both 1 and 2 Corinthians must have been pretty difficult for that church to swallow. Paul had some really hard things to say, and you know what they are; you’ve read these letters. And yet he’s telling them, “Beneath every word, behind every syllable, energizing every action was my desire to enhance and deepen and expand and intensify your joy in Jesus. That’s why I changed travel plans.”

Paul can almost be heard to say, “When I wrote to you in 1 Corinthians 3 and rebuked you for your sectarianism, it was because I wanted your joy in Jesus. And when I got on your case because you allowed this man to continue sleeping with his stepmother without exercising discipline, it was because I wanted your joy in Jesus. And when I rebuked you for taking each other to court, and when I gave you correction about the abuse of spiritual gifts, and when I proclaimed the importance of generous giving (as he’s going to in 2 Corinthians 8:9), and when I warned you about false apostles in your midst, it’s all because I wanted your joy in Jesus to grow, to expand, and to deepen.”

Now, maybe I ought to stop at this point and define joy. We’re going to talk a lot more about it tomorrow, but let me just say a brief word about it now. What do I mean? And again, I don’t claim originality for this definition but it works for me. When I think of joy, when I read about this word in the Bible, Old and New Testament alike, I think it’s talking about a deep, durable delight in the splendor of God that ruins you for anything else. It’s deep. It’s not surface and it’s not superficial. It’s durable because it sustains you through really hard times and not just the good times. It’s a delight because it’s not just the discharge of a duty, not just fulfilling a moral obligation. It’s a deep, durable delight in the splendor of God, not his goodies or his gifts, but in the beauty and the majesty of who he is. And when you experience it, it just ruins you for anything else. Everything else just suddenly becomes sour to your spiritual taste buds. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says, “I labor for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).

The Work of Durable Delight

Now, here are two observations in light of this passage. I want you to look at it with me again. Did you notice that Paul says, “We work for your joy.” In fact he says, “We work with you,” at least as the ESV translated it that way. He doesn’t use a verb, he actually uses a noun. He says, “We are coworkers for your joy.” The words “with you” are not actually present in the original text. That’s what the ESV translators think that Paul is saying.

I’m a little skeptical about that. I don’t think that he’s saying, “We work with you Corinthians for your joy,” although that’s certainly true. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think Paul is actually referring to Timothy and Silas and those who traveled with him. I think he’s saying, “It’s a collaborative effort on our part to labor for your joy.” But that’s really not the important point. The identity of his coworkers is secondary. What’s important is that joy takes work. It requires focused attention, concentrated effort, a strategy that is pursued with diligence and consistency.

Did you think that you were going to get joy just by sitting passively and idly on the cool of some scenic hillside strumming your guitar or listening to Chris Tomlin on your iPod? (And I love Chris Tomlin). Or did you think it was just going to kind of come out of heaven like Manna? Or did you think that you would get this kind of joy by attending a conference in Minneapolis in the dead of winter, hoping that maybe if you brush up against John in the hallway and a little joy will rub off on you like theological pixie dust and everything will be different.

Paul says, “We work, we sacrifice, we weep, we go without, we labor, we strive, and we pray for your joy.” He’s not saying that we do it as a way to merit that from God. He’s not saying, “I’m putting God in my debt so that he now owes me and you the joy for which we’ve so strongly labored.” Let’s remember Philippians 2:12–13. Paul says:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

If I can put it in my own paraphrase, “because God is always antecedent.” God is always before, God is always prior. Work it out because God is always there ahead of you to work and to will for his own good pleasure. That’s the same here. Whatever work and labor Paul and Timothy and Silas and others discharged, it was energized by God. That’s why we often say that only God can give joy in God, but he does it through means. He employs instrumentalities. We'll talk more about that in our third session tomorrow night.

Joy in Believing

Let me suggest a couple of texts to you that make this point. One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is Romans 15:13. Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy . . .” This is not just a little, not just a measure, not just a percentage of joy, but with “all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Now, what stuns me in this passage, in this prayer, isn’t that Paul prays for all peace and joy. That makes sense. What’s amazing is that he suspends the experience of joy and peace on belief.

Don’t follow the NIV rendering of this text, it’s misleading. I think Paul is saying here, “May God fill you with all joy and peace as you believe, or because you believe, or in connection with your believing.” Believing what? Believing the revelation of himself in the person and work of his Son, believing all that he has made known of himself through his Spirit. In other words, it’s about believing the revelation of God as he’s given it to us in Scripture. Belief is rooted and grounded in the firm foundation of inspired, revelatory words. That’s how God imparts joy and peace. And if you think it’s going to come in any other way, you are deluded. It won’t. And if you experience a little and you think you got it anyway, I’ll tell you it’s probably not the kind of joy Paul is talking about. It’s probably some transient infatuation that when times get hard is just going to dissipate in the wind.

Loving Jesus, Trusting Jesus, Enjoying Jesus

Or consider 1 Peter 1:8, which says:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory . . .

I love that verse. It’s my second favorite verse in the Bible next to Psalm 16:11. There is the quintessence of Christian life: loving Jesus, trusting Jesus, and enjoying Jesus, all in one verse. I’d love to take time to talk about how these things are interrelated, but let me just point out one connection.

I may get in trouble for doing this, as Luther did when he, in quoting Romans 3, inserted the word “sola” when he was talking about justification by faith. He said the context demanded it and other texts support it, so here I am going to do the same thing. I actually think what Peter is saying is, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and therefore you rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.” In other words, I think what Peter is saying is that the joy that we experience that is inexpressible and filled with glory is a joy that is connected to trust and belief and understanding. He’s saying it’s the fruit of our faith in Christ, our knowledge of him.

People are telling us everywhere today in the professing Christian world, “You know this belief stuff and doctrine and understanding and knowledge, it’s really a detriment to your joy in Jesus. It’s just going to get in the way of your gladness of heart. Don’t do away with it, just minimize it. Soft pedal it and silence it a little bit. Put it on the back burner. Peter is telling us that joy that is not deeply rooted in and tethered to the revelation of God in Christ, the historical realities of who he is and what he has done, is little more than infatuation. The joy that Peter portrays here is what I call the quintessence of Christian experience. It’s one that erupts like red hot lava from the volcanic depths of the knowledge of who Jesus is. You don’t see him but you believe in him — and if it’s okay for me to insert the word — and therefore you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

What an incredible description of joy. It’s inexpressible. This is a joy so profound human words always fall short. Forget about pulling Webster’s off of your shelf. Put Roget’s thesaurus away. They won’t do you any good. Human words have not been conceived and the human tongue has not been created in such a way that it can articulate this kind of joy. Peter’s saying it’s ineffable. It is beyond language.

This is the kind of joy that you’ll know that you have when somebody asks you what it’s like and you say, “Give me just a minute. Well, it’s . . .” Then you’ve got it. It’s inexpressible. It’s full of glory, it’s glorified joy. I hear that word and it evokes images of God’s glory in the Old Testament, the Shekinah manifestation of his majesty. I’m revealing my age, and I can’t remember the brand of cereal, but every time I read this I keep hearing that commercial about the cereal that is shot with sugar through and through. Do you remember that? It was called Sugar Corn Pops. Now there’s a man my age. Here’s what Peter’s saying: this is joy that is shot with glory through and through. It’s permeated, radiated, and immersed in the glory of God.

Genuine Joy Comes with Difficulty

The sad thing is, as I said, so many Christians today, people to whom you preach and love and pray for and minister, they want this joy so desperately, but they just kind of have an entitlement approach. They just expect it. They’re presumptuous. And they’re angry with God when it doesn’t happen. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:24, “This kind of joy requires the collaborative labors and efforts and sacrifice of myself and Timothy and Silas and you as well joining with us.” That tells me by the way that joy and Jesus is not something that comes naturally to the human soul. I do a lot of things as a broken, fallen sinner, apart from divine grace, very easily. They come quite instinctively to me. Joy in Jesus isn’t one of them.

Now, I didn’t say joy doesn’t come easily. It does, but it’s joy in things other than Jesus. It’s joy in all the wrong things. It’s joy in everything but Jesus. But joy in the splendor of God is not something that springs spontaneously from our souls. It doesn’t flow like tears from your eyes. It isn’t produced in your heart like bile is in your belly. It’s something that comes as a result of the God energized labors of the people of God on behalf of one another.

Working From Joy

Now, I said there were two observations. Let me move on to the second. You can’t work for joy unless you are working from joy. I’ll say more about this tomorrow night, which will be brief now. But there’s no way that you and I can make the aim of our ministry enjoyment of God for his glory unless we’re operating in our own lives from the overflow of that joy that we have in our own hearts.

When you look at 2 Corinthians, this is what makes it so amazing. From a purely human point of view, from a natural perspective, Paul had no reason to be joyful in serving and ministry and sacrificing for these people. Everything was stacked against him. Everything. There were countless reasons why joy should have been the last thing on his mind. If what you read on the internet or see on television or hear on the talk shows is any guide, Paul is a fool to have felt joy in serving these people. He had no business experiencing joy. No one would’ve faulted him, from an earthly natural point of view, for dismissing these folks, cutting his losses, and getting out of town.

I say that because of what most people in our world today and most people in our churches think is essential for joy to flourish in their hearts. Think about it for a moment. They think that praise from others and appreciation for our efforts is the basis for our joy. And yet I read 2 Corinthians and I see that Paul was taken for granted, slandered, vilified, and mocked. In 2 Corinthians 6:8, he says, “We were constantly called imposters.” Others say, “Well, it’s recognition by others of our gifting and our talents,” and yet Paul was portrayed as a fraud, as a man who lacked a genuine apostolic call, and as a man whose speaking skills were less than average.

Somebody says, “If I’m really going to have joy, I need good health and a robust, appealing physical appearance.” Paul was weak, physically broken, apparently not the most handsome guy in the ancient world. If I can say this, if there had been a People magazine then and they published the 100 sexiest men of Palestine, he wouldn’t be on the list. He wasn’t the greatest to look at from all accounts.

Well, maybe money and material success is the key to joy. Paul lived day to day. He had no 401k. He refused to take monetary support from the Corinthians. He was criticized for that. Well, maybe it’s just a few ordinary conveniences in life, a few physical comforts. And yet Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8–9:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .

Then, in 2 Corinthians 11:25 he says he was beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned, and in 2 Corinthians 11:27 he says he went hungry. He suffered from a debilitating thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). He endured sleepless nights and was cast into prison (2 Corinthians 11:27).

Maybe joy consists in acknowledgment and appreciation for our sincerity? Maybe that would cause joy to flourish? And yet, in 2 Corinthians 10:10, they accused Paul of being humble when he was present and giving the appearance of sincerity. They thought, “When he’s away, when he’s safely out of reach, he writes strong things in his letters. Then he’s bold and courageous.” In other words, he’s a hypocrite. And yet Paul was animated by a deep abiding delight in God, notwithstanding the way he was treated by these people. Notwithstanding the way that some of you are treated by yours. He was energized by joy in Jesus. That’s why he said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “We’re sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

The All-Satisfying Beauty of Christ

In conclusion, perhaps the greatest mistake that any of us could make in processing and responding to this message is to think that an emphasis on joy breeds passivity or leads to a safe and self-absorbed lifestyle or an approach to Christianity in which the believer is so obsessed with the condition of his or her own soul, an emotional state of being, that you neglect your family, you ignore the needs of neighbors, you’re indifferent toward the lost, you retreat in isolation from the hurts and the needs of others, or you fall into bitterness or resentment when trials come your way. That’s not what Paul is talking about when he speaks of being energized by the joy he has in Jesus for the sake of the joy in Jesus of others.

This is a deep, durable delight in the splendor and the beauty of Jesus Christ that stokes the white-hot flame of passion for the nations of the earth and the lost.

This is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that energizes the will of a man or a woman to persevere in a marriage that’s broken and not to throw in the towel.

This is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that empowers the human heart to overcome addictive behavior and sustain the soul in its fight against temptation.

This is a deep delight in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that enables a weak and broken soul to persevere when a job is lost or a child rebels or a dream is shattered.

It’s a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that encourages the fearful and the timid heart to engage a lost world and a corrupt culture with the good news of the gospel.

It’s a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that will sustain a church through the loss of numbers and financial strain and bind the hearts of its people together in unity and love and mutual affection.

It is a deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that alone will strengthen the commitment of a pastor or an elder to give and to sacrifice and serve the broken and the demanding and the weak and the wounded.

So why did God create the universe? He created all things so that he might glorify himself by making us immeasurably and exceedingly happy in him. And I’ll ask you tonight, why are you in pastoral ministry? You are, I trust, in pastoral ministry so that by the grace of God you can lead the people of God — teaching them, shepherding them, loving them, praying for them — into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God. You’ve been called to partner with him in the purpose for which he called it all into existence out of nothing. That was the goal of apostolic ministry in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, and in every city in the ancient world, and it is the goal of pastoral ministry. Today, may God energize us with that same joy in Jesus that out of the overflow we might labor and work and pray and sacrifice for the joy in Jesus of others.