The call for Christians is not for joy to be a periodic experience, but a perpetual one. So twice Paul says, “Rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). And Jesus says, “Rejoice when you’re hated, and persecuted, and reviled, and mistreated, and slandered. That’s no reason to stop” (see Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23).
Now, we could respond to the statement that joy in the Christian life is not supposed to be periodic, but perpetual by saying it’s not possible, because it is so utterly emotionally contradictory to the pain in this world. Witness the Philippines. Witness the flooding in North Carolina. Witness your own marriage perhaps. You could say, “Just open your eyes, Piper. For goodness’ sake, that’s so crazy unrealistic. Live in the world. Get out more.”
“We don’t judge the Bible. The Bible judges us.”
If you respond like that to the New Testament, Jesus responds to your response one way, and Paul responds in another way, and they both are essentially the same. I’ll give you both of their responses. Jesus responds like this: “No, I don’t speak in contradictions. I will say again what I said in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. It is precisely when you are being reviled, when you’re being persecuted, when you’re being killed, that you’re supposed to rejoice. Not periodically, like: my joy will be up to that point, it’ll stop there, and if I get out, I’ll start again. No, that’s not what I teach.”
Here’s Paul’s response: He gives us a little glimpse into the experience of rejoicing always, which is his command when he says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, I am “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So Paul won’t have it. He won’t let you sequence life like that. He won’t let you. I’m sorrowful and, always in my sorrow, rejoicing.
Now, at one level of our emotional life, there is a sequencing. Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” This is the kind of thing we think about all the time here at Bethlehem. What are you going to do with those two texts? It is an oversimplification of Christian experience to think that joy in God should be only a periodic reality. It’s an oversimplification, and Paul won’t have it. There are levels of rejoicing that are periodic, and there’s another rejoicing that should not be periodic, but right through the night of weeping. Some of you know what I’m talking about.
And I would just caution you that if you are at the level of emotional Christian experience where that sounds like meaningless double-talk to you, you need to put your hand on your mouth, and walk with Jesus and his word a few more years through a few more sorrows. We don’t judge the Bible around here. The Bible judges us. When we think the Bible is emotionally contradictory, it’s our problem. We haven’t grown up yet. We haven’t gone deep enough yet. We haven’t lived enough. We haven’t seen enough. Don’t come here if you’re going to judge the Bible. We don’t do that here. We get judged.
“Joy in the Christian life is not supposed to be periodic, but perpetual.”
One of my goals in this message is to help you grow into that kind of emotional maturity, even though I know it takes hard knocks to really do it. But the word must accompany you into those knocks, or you won’t survive.
I’m 72, and I say with the apostle Paul, I have not arrived on this. But one thing I do: renouncing all my past failures and the paralyzing effect of all my past emotional failures — renouncing all that — I press on to grow up into sorrowful yet always rejoicing so I can treat my wife better, my kids better, you better, and know how to live out of that wealth rather than just say, “That can’t be.” So join me as we grow.
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