I said last night that in missions we cross a culture, learn a new language, and attempt to establish the church of Jesus Christ where it does not yet exist, or is too weak to be self-sustaining. But I emphasized that the essential aim in missions is to impart to other people the full and everlasting satisfaction that we ourselves have in God through Jesus Christ.
The watchword of missions is Psalm 67:4: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” And Psalm 66:1: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” And Psalm 97:1: “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
So in missions we are joining with God in calling the nations to share our joy in God through Jesus Christ. I said this view of missions has two implications. The first one we dealt with last night, namely, that you can’t share a joy in God that you don’t have. Therefore, I gave seven arguments that it is essential and biblical to devote yourself with all your might to pursue full and lasting joy in God — not to be passive, not to treat satisfaction in God as marginal or unimportant.
Joy Sustains Love
In this message, we deal with the second implication of this view of missions, namely, that only joy in God will give you the power to endure the burdens and the sacrifices that a life of missions requires. The call to missions is a call to suffer. And joy in God is the power to endure to the end in a lifetime of faithful missionary service — or any other path of obedient suffering.
“We will never endure the suffering of true love if our joy in Christ is not real and deep.”
I said last night that there was an eighth reason why it is biblical to pursue your joy in God, and that we would devote this entire message to that eighth reason. So here it is: If you abandon your pursuit of full and lasting pleasure in God, you will not be able to love people. That’s the argument. And since missions is one of the most protracted and painful ways of loving people, you will not be able to persevere in missions if you abandon your pursuit of full and lasting satisfaction in God.
I titled this message “The Tipping Point of Sacrificial Missions: The Overflow of Joy in Christ.” What I mean is that when our joy in Christ fills up, it reaches a tipping point and overflows for others. We call that overflow love. We call that overflow missions when it happens among unreached peoples. And the point of this message is that we will not endure the suffering of this love if our joy in Christ is not real and deep. We will not be able to love people if we don’t pursue our full and lasting pleasure in God.
The question is “Is this biblical?” And I want to devote this entire message to show that it is. So let’s develop seven arguments based on seven texts of Scripture.
Joy Overflows to Meet Real Needs
My first argument is 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, 8. Here’s the historical setting: Paul is writing to the Corinthians to encourage them to be generous when he comes to take a collection for the poor. To motivate them, he uses the Macedonians as an inspiring example. The reason I am going to include verse 8 with verses 1 and 2 is because verse eight makes it plain that what’s happening in verse 2 is what Paul means by love. And my aim in looking at verse 2 to see what Paul means by love and where it comes from. So, as we read 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, see if you can figure out how Paul understands love.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. . . . I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
So the grace of God was poured out on the people of Macedonia (verse 1). What was the effect? Paul mentions four effects in verse 2:
- a severe test of affliction,
- an abundance of joy,
- extreme poverty,
- and their joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity.
So how would you define love in view of 2 Corinthians 8:1–2? I would say Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Paul says explicitly, “Their abundance of joy has overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” So where did generosity come from? It came from the tipping point. It came from the overflow of joy.
But how do we know this joy is joy in God? Notice two circumstances in which this joy is overflowing: (1) There is a “severe test of affliction.” So becoming Christians has not made things go better for them, but has increased their suffering. (2) There is “extreme poverty,” which means that becoming Christians has not taken away their poverty. It has not made them rich, or even “middle class.” They are poor. So we know that their joy is not in prosperity, and not in safety from affliction — not in comfort. So, if their joy is not in prosperity and not in comfort and safety, what’s left?
“Missions is joining with God in call the nations to share our joy in God through Jesus Christ.”
What’s left is the grace of God in verse 1! The grace of God was poured out. Their sins are forgiven. Their guilt is taken away. They are no longer under God’s condemnation. God is for them and no longer against them. They have tasted and seen that God is good and beautiful and more valuable than anything in this world. They know that they will spend eternity in full and everlasting pleasure at God’s right hand. How can they not rejoice and leap for joy?
I know this is not a text about missions. But surely you see the implications: Affliction. Scarce resources. This is what a life of love and missions will cost us. What then is the power to endure and to overflow for the nations? Joy! Their “abundance of joy” in the grace of God has overflowed with a wealth of sacrificial generosity.
If we do not pursue this joy, we will not overflow the way the Macedonians did.
My second argument is 2 Corinthians 9:7.I mention this text mainly to confirm that our understanding of 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 is in tune with the rest of this section of Scripture.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Remember, in 2 Corinthians 8:2, the generosity of the Macedonians was the overflow of their joy in God. Here Paul says it another way: “God loves a cheerful giver.” A joyful giver. Why is that? Why doesn’t God love merely dutiful giving? Or begrudging giving. Isn’t giving simply giving? The money exchanges hands in either case. The poor get our money. Isn’t that really what matters?
No. That is not what really matters. In God’s eyes, there is a world of difference between giving as the overflow of joy in God and giving motivated without this joy. If giving is the overflow of joy in God, God is honored. If it is not, he is not honored. And if our giving is the cheerful overflow of joy in God, other people might see and share in that joy. And that is what they really need and we are really praying for. If the giver is not giving out of joy in God, why would the receiver receive joy in God? The gift may become their joy, but not God himself. Our goal in love — our goal in missions — is not to make people happy in money, but to make them happy in God through Jesus forever, even when there is no money.
So my point is: If you are going to love people, you dare not be indifferent to your joy in God. It makes all the difference.
Lead with Joy, Not Groaning
My third argument is Hebrews 13:17. This is an application of the principle specifically to Christian leaders in the church. What can we learn about loving our people from this verses?
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them [the leaders] do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Think through the implication of those last words. Let the leaders lead “with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Well, if church leaders lead in a way that gives no advantage — no help — to their people, then they are not loving their people. But the text says the reason they are not helping their people is because they are not leading with joy but with groaning. So, what’s the implication?
The implication is if a pastor ceases to pursue and find his full and lasting joy in God, he can’t love his people. Again, this is not a text usually applied to missions. But you can see the implications. If we try to lead people, and our leading is not an overflow of joy in God, Hebrews says they don’t get any advantage from us. They are not being loved. Missions is not happening.
Therefore, if we’re going to love people across cultures in missions, we dare not be indifferent to whether our hearts are satisfied in God. We must pursue full and lasting joy in God. Otherwise our faith will be of no lasting benefit to anyone.
More Blessed to Give
My fourth argument is Acts 20:35. These are some of the last words that Paul gives to the elders of Ephesus when he is saying his final farewell.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Have you ever heard anybody say, “It’s okay to get a blessing from being generous, but it’s not okay if you’re motivated by the blessing, because, if you’re motivated by the promise of blessing, you must be loving the blessing and not the person. You’re just using the person to get the blessing.”
“Only joy in God will give you the power to endure the burdens and the sacrifices that a life of missions requires.”
But look at what Paul says. He says that we should “remember the words of the Lord Jesus.” What words? The words that say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In other words Paul is explicitly saying that we should be motivated by this promise of blessing. Remember it. There is a blessedness in giving. There is an enlargement of our joy. And we should want this and pursue it. Why is this not unloving? Why is it not manipulative? Why are we not just using people as a means to our private happiness?
Here’s the reason: Because the reward, or the blessing, that we hope for includes their participation in it. We don’t want to use them for our blessing. We want to include them in our blessing. We don’t want to gain anything at their expense. We are willing to pay any expense for them to share in our gain. It’s precisely their inclusion in our blessing that makes our blessing bigger. And remember: the blessing we are pursuing is full and lasting joy in God. Not in things, but in God.
So, here’s what I think Paul means: Let your giving be motivated by your desire that your joy in God would increase when others are included in it. So, the greater blessing we aim at in our giving is the enlargement of our joy in God when others are drawn into it with us.
But that will never happen if you are not passionately pursuing your joy in God.
Love Takes Risks
My fifth argument is Hebrews 10:34–35. Here is a beautiful picture of what love looks like in the early church when some Christians were put in prison for their faith. Their fellow Christians had to decide, “Will we identify with them and risk our property and our lives, or will we remain silent and let them suffer by themselves?” (I ask whether there is relevance there to the relationship between the church in North Korea and the church in South Korea.) Here’s what they decided to do in Hebrews 10:34–35, and why:
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
The Christians who were not in prison felt compassion for their imprisoned brothers and sisters. And instead of protecting themselves, they publicly identified with the prisoners. The result was that their property was plundered. That may have been official confiscation, or it may have been mob violence. We can’t tell. Either way it was probably terrifying and very costly. It was a beautiful demonstration of love.
Where did that love come from? How did they have the courage and the power to deny themselves and take risks? The answer comes in two steps. The first step we see in the word “joyfully” in verse 34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” So this risk-taking act of love was the overflow of joy. They did not do this joylessly. They did not do it begrudgingly. They did it joyfully. That is amazing.
“If you abandon your pursuit of full and lasting pleasure in God, you will not be able to love people.”
Now where did this joy come from? That’s the second step. Verse 34b: They did it joyfully “since [they] knew that [they] had a better possession and an abiding one.” The joy that they felt in the present, which freed them from fear, and freed them for love, was a joy based on the confident hope. In the future they would have a better and abiding possession. Better and abiding — full and forever. Which reminds us of Psalm 16:11: “In God’s presence is fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore.”
So the writer says in verse 35: “Don’t throw away your confidence, which has great reward.” In other words, lay hold on the joy that is promised you in God, and be so confident in it that it streams back into your heart now, as it were, out of the future, and enables you to do amazing acts of love.
In other words, if you abandon your pursuit of full an everlasting pleasure in God, you will not be able to joyfully endure the suffering of missions.
Pursue Greater Reward
My sixth argument is Hebrews 11:24–26. That same motivation for love among the early Christians in Hebrews 10 is found already in the life of Moses in Hebrews 11:24–26,
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
Moses had the choice of maintaining his identity as an Egyptian by adoption, and as a member of Pharaoh’s family. Or he could take the risk of identifying with God’s enslaved people, and bearing the burdens of leadership of a very difficult people. Verse 25 says that he turned away from the “fleeting pleasures of sin” in Egypt. Which means he saw that there were lasting pleasures in the path of suffering and service.
Verse 26 says that, when he compared the treasures of Egypt with the reproach of the Messiah — identifying with the enslaved people of the Messiah — he saw that the path of love and service toward God’s people is the path of great wealth. And he did not mean the temporary wealth of this world. That’s what he could have had in Egypt. That’s what he was turning away from.
What wealth was he talking about? The last part of verse 26 gives the answer: “for he was looking to the reward.” And the writer wants us to understand: the future reward that filled Moses with joy and enabled him to turn away from the fleeting pleasures of sin is the same reward the early Christians were banking on back in chapter Hebrews 10:34 — Moses and the early Christians knew that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.
If we abandon our pursuit of full and lasting pleasure in God we will stay in Egypt, and we will love our fleeting pleasures, and we will not suffer with God’s people to bring them to the promised land. We will fail to be a part of God’s mission on earth.
Jesus Loved Us for Joy
My seventh argument is Hebrews 12:2. The most beautiful and amazing act of love that has ever been performed in the history of the world was sustained and motivated in this very same way. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to see this pattern. Watch how the Lord Jesus was enabled to bear the cross, and love us, at infinite cost to himself.
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus Christ was the first and greatest cross-cultural missionary. He crossed from heaven and infinite glory to the lowest possible shame of the cross. And he did it to save sinners. Sinners from every people and tongue and tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9). This was the greatest act of love that has ever been performed. How did he do it?
“May your joy in Jesus Christ overflow for the sake of the nations.”
Verse two says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Just like the early Christians endured the plundering of their property by the joy that was set before them. Just like Moses endured reproach for the joy that was set before him, so Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.
He had prayed the day before his crucifixion in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” He knew where he was going. “Nobody takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord. If I lay it down I will take it up again” (John 10:18).
This was the joy set before him. He was about to be restored to infinite glory in the presence of his Father. And not only that, but he was about to purchase millions and millions of people from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation to be for him a kingdom and a priesthood. Indeed, to be for him a bride, whom he would enjoy forever and ever in the presence of his Father.
This joy sustained him all the way to the horrible end.
Share in Joy Inexpressible
And this is the joy he bought for us. We share in this future — his glorious future. We will be with him in the presence of God. And in that presence there is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.
If Jesus embraced that joy as the power to carry him through the sufferings of love — to complete his mission — who are we to think that we could finish our lives in obedience to God, and complete our mission, without the pursuit of this same joy?
May God work this miracle for you. May God pour out his Spirit on your great land, South Korea, indeed, North Korea! And may the church in this country be set free from the fleeting pleasures of this world by the power of superior satisfaction God. And may thousands of you hear the call of God. And may your joy in Jesus Christ overflow for the sake of the nations.