One Passion

Campus Outreach 2015 New Years Conference

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is strange and jagged, if it has rough, brutal, shocking elements in it — like the slaughter of an innocent man — if it offends our sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy, while saving us from eternal destruction, and securing for us everlasting happiness in the friendship of God, then there is an all-permeating passion that belongs in the saved human soul, and that will not be crushed by the moral chaos of these days, or by the suffering that Christians must endure. There is a passion that rises in the saved soul living in a not-yet saved world.

One of the most concise expressions of that passion is found in 2 Corinthians 6:10. The apostle Paul is describing his own experience and emphasizing that he puts no obstacle in anyone’s way (verse 3), and then he lists almost 30 things that mark his ministry (verses 3–10) as authentic. He ends the list (verses 8b–10) like this: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

The phrase I am thinking about is at the beginning of verse 10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How does he want us to hear that? Does the emphasis fall on sorrowful? Or on rejoicing? Let’s look at the list again and see how each of the pairs works:

  • Verse 8b: “As impostors, and yet are true;
  • Verse 9: as unknown, and yet well known;
  • as dying, and behold, we live;
  • as punished, and yet not killed;
  • Verse 10: as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
  • as poor, yet making many rich;
  • as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

In each of these pairs the second part stands in spite of the first part. And whenever we talk like this, we are emphasizing the strength or the value or the surprising and wonderful existence of what stands in spite of some obstacle. So we might say, “In spite of being bone-weary, I stayed up all night and studied, and aced the test.” Weariness is not the main point of that statement. Weariness is the obstacle that makes the endurance and the accomplishment the more amazing. So it is with each of these pairs in 2 Corinthians 6:8b–10.

  • People see us as imposters, but, in spite of that, we are real.
  • We are virtually unknown in the Roman Empire — nobodies — but, in spite of that, we are well known by the one Person who matters, the Creator of the universe.
  • We are dying — our bodies are wasting away every day — but, in spite of that, our eternal life in Christ is untouchable.
  • We are punished, but in spite of that, God has not yet seen fit to take us home.
  • We are sorrowful about the sin and misery of the world and our own pain, but, in spite of that, our joy is unshaken and constant.
  • We are poor and have little wealth or power in this world, but, in spite of that, we are making many rich with a treasure greater than anything this world can offer.
  • We have nothing compared to the lovers of this world, but, in spite of that, we are heirs with Christ of his Father’s estate, and possess everything in him.

So when Paul says that Christians are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” sorrow is the backdrop and joy is the rugged, durable, amazing constant. The passion that rises in the saved soul, living in a not-yet saved world, is sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Christian joy is indestructible. It’s joy that is totally awake to the sin and misery around it. It is not naïve. It knows about cancer and birth defects and profound mental disabilities and divorce and child abuse — like abortion — and terrorism and earthquakes and tsunamis and racial hostilities and white collar crime and sex-trafficking, and poverty and hunger and a thousand daily frustrations that make life hard.

The gospel brings life. And living things see and feel reality for what it is. The saved soul sees more sorrow than the dead soul. And therefore Christians know more sorrow than when they were spiritually dead. They weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15); and they know more reasons to weep as believers than they did as unbelievers. So come to Christ and learn to weep. Come, and learn to groan about things that, before, would not have fazed you.

You will be like Jesus, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). “When he drew near and saw the Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41–42). No one but Jesus was weeping for the Pharisees that day. And so it will be with you. You see reasons for sorrow now that only the eyes of Jesus see.

But sorrow is not the main passion of your soul. It is not the deepest passion. It is not the most durable. It is not the one that will last longest. It is not the one that carries you through tragedy and death. Sorrow is soil, but the plant is joy. Sorrow is the wind, but the wing of flight is joy. Sorrow is the steep hill, but joy is the low-gear of the drivetrain. Sorrow is the fire but joy is refined gold.

Paul doesn’t say in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “. . . rejoicing, yet always sorrowful.” He says, “. . . sorrowful, yet, in spite of that great obstacles, we have undaunted joy.”

How can Christian joy be so powerful that no loss, no tragedy, no suffering, no threat, no Beast can destroy it? How can it be so strong, that it is simultaneous with sorrow — not sequential, but simultaneous—and even penetrates sorrow and keeps it from destroying us emotionally? The answer is that sorrow is feeding on the gloom of the world, while joy is feeding on the glory of God. And the gloom of the world is not ultimate; the glory of God is ultimate. And therefore glory-fed joy is stronger than a gloom-fed sorrow.

I want to show you this from Scripture, and why joy correlates so closely with the glory of God. But first let me clarify my terms. When I speak of having one passion, how am I using the word passion? You can use the word for the emotional feeling itself. Or you can use it for the object for which you have the feeling. You can say, “He loves her with a passion.” Or you can say, “She is his passion.” So passion can be the feeling itself. Or passion can be the person for which you feel the passion.

Up till now in this message I’ve been using the word passion as the feeling called joy. (Not the physical sensations that may go with joy, but the feeling of the soul, the heart, that may or may not produce physical effects.) So joy is an essential Christian passion — or feeling, spiritual affection, soul-sensation. But here is the need for clarification. When I say, joy is my passion, I don’t mean it in the sense that joy is the object of my passion, or the focus of my passion. As if I joyfully embraced joy as my satisfaction. No. What I joyfully embrace is God — the God of glory, the glory of God. Or Christ, or the glory of Christ. Joy is not the one embraced. Joy is the embracing. When I receive him, welcome him, embrace him as my satisfaction, that is the experience of joy.

So when I say in a moment from the texts we will see, “Let the glory of God be your one passion,” I mean that the glory of God should be your supreme, all-permeating, all-unifying treasure in all treasures and pleasure in all pleasures. And joy is best word to describe the inner reception and delight in the glory of God tasted in all those ways.

So when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that the mark of the Christian is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” I’m arguing that this rejoicing is indestructible — through all sorrows — because its one supreme, all-pervading, all-unifying object is the glory of God—especially the glory of God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ — in the one gospel.

So let’s see this in the apostle Peter’s first letter, and then draw out two amazing implications for your life, namely, that joy in the glory of God, is what glorifies God. And therefore, for God’s sake, you should pursue joy in God with all your might for the rest of your life.

But first let’s see how Peter connects joy and the glory of God. There are two key passages. Let’s look first at chapter 1. Peter begins in verse 3 by celebrating the new birth of the Christians and the living hope of an imperishable inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

The greatest treasure of this inheritance we will see in just a minute. But what comes next is Peter’s connection of joy to this inheritance, and God’s keeping us for it. Verse 6: “In this you rejoice.” So Christians rejoice in their living hope in the imperishable inheritance that is coming to them. That joy is simultaneous with grief, as we have seen. Verse 6b: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while [meaning this short vapor’s breath called life], if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Then Peter answers why joy endures even through grief-causing trials. It’s not just that they have a hope for the inheritance beyond, but that the trials themselves prepare the Christians for the greatest enjoyment of that inheritance by refining their faith — that is, their capacity to embrace and be satisfied in the inheritance.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that [this is the purpose of the trials that God regards as necessary] the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So Peter says that we rejoice through fiery trials (meaning they hurt) because God has a refining purpose which results (verse 7) in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We could debate whether it is Jesus who gets the praise and glory and honor, or whether it is the Christians? I think it’s both because Jesus is appearing in glory when he comes, but the Peter’s emphasis falls on the Christian’s glory because he emphasizes the beauty and preciousness of the gold that has gone through fire as part of it’s glorifying refinement. But the glory and honor that comes to us is the glory of Jesus. We are sharing in the glory of Jesus. We are being glorified with him as Paul says in Romans 8:17. This is the great inheritance of verse 4 that we rejoice in—the glory of Christ transforming us to share that glory.

And then comes the amazing statement in verse 8 about our joy that confirms this connection with glory.

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.

Literally the phrase is “inexpressible and glorified joy.” But “filled with glory” is helpful. Our joy embraces the glory — the beauty — of Christ — already, here and now, in hope — we embrace and love and cherish and treasure and enjoy the glory of Christ so much that our joy is transformed by it. Our joy becomes, in some measure, glorified — permeated, shaped, strengthened by the invincible glory of Jesus.

This is why we can be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Sorrow is feeding on fading gloom. And joy is feeding on indestructible glory. And in that feeding, it is being glorified. It is being turned into the very joy of the all-glorious Jesus himself. We can say this with the authority of Jesus himself because he said to us in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (see John 17:13).

So the supreme, all-pervading, all-unifying passion of the Christian soul is the glory of Christ creating invincible joy. Through all the grieving, all the fiery trials, all the suffering, the glory of Christ is the never-failing, undimmed treasure of all treasures and pleasure of all pleasures. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (verse 8).

There is one more text in 1 Peter to confirm and clarify what we’ve seen. 1 Peter 4:12–14. Watch for the connections between joy and glory. Peter picks up with the fiery trials that he mentioned in 1:7.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Here we have again the presence of the glory of God experienced, and the hope for the glory of God when Christ is revealed at the second coming. And the effect of both is joy — joy that it so strong it stands in the fiery trial of suffering. Verse 14b: In the suffering of insults, you are blessed “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” God draws near in our suffering, and shows us things of himself and his glory as at no other time. He comes with a “Spirit of glory” which is the Spirit of God.

And verse 13: our present joy in the glory of God fits us to rejoice all the more fully in the glory of Christ when Christ comes in glory. “But rejoice [now!] insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that [the aim and result!] you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

So I conclude that the glory of God in Christ — or the glory of Christ who is the image of God — creating invincible joy is the one supreme, all-pervading, all-unifying passion of the Christian soul, and that suffering does not destroy it, but refines it.

I said this had two amazing implications for your life. I’ll mention them now and then pick up with them next time. The first is that God’s aim to be glorified — or his aim to glorify Christ, who in turn glorifies the Father (John 17:1) — is not distinct from his aim to give inexpressible and glorified and indestructible joy to his people. Since our joy is joy in the glory of God, our joy itself glorifies God. So God’s pursuit of his glory and his pursuit of your joy in the glory of God are one pursuit. That’s the first implication.

Second, this means that you should not—you dare not—cease to pursue your joy with all your might for all the rest your life, till you meet Jesus face to face. Because if you are indifferent to your joy in God, you are indifferent to the glory of God. And that is very dangerous. But the unspeakably good news is that God is glorified in you when you are satisfied in him. And therefore, sorrowful, yet always rejoicing in the glory of God is not only deeply satisfying to you, in all your suffering, but also a great honor to God. It is the one supreme, all-pervasive, all-unifying passion of the saved souls in a not-yet-saved world — rooted in the one undomesticated, jagged gospel of Jesus Christ.