We Are Workers with You for Your Joy

Basics Conference | Chagrin Falls, Ohio

“Minds Stirred, Wills Urged, and Affections Renewed.” That’s the way they set up this conference, and I take it, then, that affections renewed means that affections are prized, and not threatened here. That it’s good to awaken and stir, and renew affections. That is, spiritual emotions. And so I would underline that and talk for twenty or thirty minutes, and stop and see what kinds of questions you have.

Apostolic Ambition

I’m going to invite you, if you have a Bible, to go with me to 2 Corinthians 1, and I want to admonish you to embrace the apostolic ambition here in 2 Corinthians 1:24, and I’m just going to spend a little while putting it in its context, and I hope it feels to you unusually compelling and unusually powerful because it’s a strange and wonderful ambition. So, we’ll read 2 Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you.” Literally, we are workers with you. “for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”

So, there it is, with apostolic authority and crystal clarity, Paul works for the joy of his churches. Do you? Is that the way you would state your pastoral ambition? “I labor. I lay down my life for the joy of my people.” So, that’s the way he said it. No words added, don’t need to tweak it at all. It’s crystal clear, he is after the awakening of the affection, of joy, the sustaining of it, in his people.

Now, it’s not a cheap statement. We need to remember what comes later in this letter. Let me read you just a few verses from 2 Corinthians 11:23 and following: “Are they servants of Christ [these false apostles]? I am a better one.” He calls himself a madman for talking like this, by the way. He knows that he’s running the risk of tooting his own horn, and yet he has to do it for the sake of the gospel.

I am a better one — I am talking like a madman — with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:23–27)

The Cost of Joy

In other words, when he works for the joy of his people, it’s not cheap. It’s costing him his life. Joy is costing him his life. He is laying his life down for joy. It’s what we’re supposed to do in the ministry, to lay our lives down for the joy of our people.

Not only is it not cheap, it’s not a psychological sop thrown to the emotionally needy people in the church. You might say on a Sunday morning, along with the other things that you’re about, “Well, I’m really for the joy of you, as well.” So you throw that sop out for the emotionally needy types in your church. This statement, “I am a worker with you for your joy,” is a carefully thought-through, deeply rooted statement of his apostolic mission.

So much so that it is so deep in Paul that it colors the way he thinks about everything in this context. I’m going to read you the next verses here so that you can see how amazingly pervasive this thought about serving their joy is. More like he drops that and he forgets about it.

The Relationship Between Joy, Faith, and Love

So let’s go to 2 Corinthians 2. The verse is later. And look how he speaks of his relationship with them, with the Corinthians. “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?” (2 Corinthians 2:1–2). In other words, one of the reasons I’m working for your joy is because your joy is my joy. You see that?

This is 2 Corinthians 2:2: “If I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad” In other words, “If you’re sad, I’m not going to be glad. If you’re glad, I’ll be glad. Your gladness is my gladness. So when I work for your joy, I’m working for my joy. Because if you don’t have it, what am I going to do?”

Second Corinthians 2:3, the converse. Watch him do the converse of this: “And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.” So that’s the converse. In 2 Corinthians 2:2, it was your joy is my joy, and now in 2 Corinthians 2:3, it’s explicitly my joy is your joy.

And then he puts a name on it in 2 Corinthians 2:4. He calls it love. “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” So, when Paul is working for their joy because their joy makes him glad, he calls that loving them. That’s love. That’s what love does. Love wants another to be joyful because their joy is his joy.

People feel loved when they know their joy is your joy. If they think that you’re after their joy because that’s what you’ve got to do as a pastor, that’s your duty, and it doesn’t make you glad, they don’t feel loved. It’s the way it works. If their joy is your joy, then they feel loved. That’s what love is. Love is the laying down your life for another person’s joy because their joy is what makes you glad. You’re willing to die for it.

This is not sentimentalism, but it could sound like it because up ‘til this point, I haven’t said a word about the gospel, Christ, or the cross. Just kind of a, “I’ll make you glad, you make me glad. We make each other glad.” That is totally carnal. The world works like that. Mutual admiration society. “I like you, you like me. When you’re happy, I’m happy. When I’m happy, you’re happy. We’re a big, happy family.”

Nothing spiritual about it, nothing Christ-exalting about it, nothing Bible-based about it. No cross in it, no gospel in it. So, obviously, if I stop the message now, it would be worthless. Except it’s all true, just something’s missing. And it’s only missing because I haven’t said anything. It’s not missing here. So, let’s see it. Let’s see what I haven’t pointed to yet in this context.

Now, just go back to 2 Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we lord it over your faith.” That’s what I skipped. It’s got that in the front. He’s got it in the back. Look at how 2 Corinthians 2:4 works. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but” — and you’d expect him to say, “We work with you for your faith.” He doesn’t say that. It says, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” And then he adds, “Because you stand firm in your faith.” He’s got faith at the front, faith in the back, joy in the middle, as if it’s almost interchangeable with faith, which says something important about the nature of this joy.

The Source of Joy

This is what Paul calls, in fact, you might want to look at it with me. If you want to turn to Philippians, just keep your finger in at Corinthians. Let’s go to Philippians 1 because this is the one other place, maybe there’s more. This is the one I am aware of where Paul talks about this apostolic mandate of working for the joy of his people in an even more sweeping way, and he connects it with faith even closer.

So, “Not that we lord it over your faith.” That means faith in Christ. “But we work with you for your”---and instead of saying joy, you could say, “joy of faith” or “faith that produces joy” or “joyful faith” or “faithful joy.” Somehow, these are together. This is not an abstracted happiness with just a mutual admiration society. This is a Christ-oriented, faith-driven joy.

Now, here we are in Philippians 1:23: “I am hard pressed between the two.” You know the context. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all” (Philippians 1:23–24). And here are his reasons for knowing he will stay behind and why he’s staying on the earth. So, this is just a big, colossal statement of why Paul is on the planet: For your progress and joy of faith.

That’s a very literal translation. I like literal translations. I’ll preach from the ESV. I do regularly, but the ESV here is “joy in the faith”. Well, that’s a paraphrase. Almost everybody paraphrases genitives. They figure they’ve got to make genitive relationships explicit in some way. Well, joy of faith is what you’ve got in the Greek. It’s just as ambiguous in English as it is in Greek and vice versa. So, what is this?

I’m staying on the planet for the advancement and joy of faith! Which surely means something like, “When you embrace Christ, when faith reaches out and welcomes him as Savior and Lord and treasurer, joy happens. Because when you’re given a treasure, joy happens. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field, and he went *apo charas *— from his joy — and sold everything he had and bought that field. He was not duty-driven when he bought that field (Matthew 13:44).

From joy, he sold everything he had. And he bought that field. So, when you have Christ, when faith sees him, sees him as glorious deity, sees him as humble, sinless, virgin-born humanity, sees his universe-creating, miracle-working power, sees his covenant-keeping, law-fulfilling, righteousness-performing, perfection-providing obedience? Sees his wrath-bearing, justice-satisfying, sin-atoning death? Sees his death-defeating, devil-destroying, heaven-opening resurrection? And sees his sovereign interceding, ever-present, never leaving me alone, kinship at the Father’s right hand? When you see that, you’re happy. You’re happy!

Something happened! You can’t see that and not delight in it. If you don’t delight in it, you don’t see it. The devil “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our job is to open their eyes. And you might say, “Oh, no, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, right?” But Paul said in Acts 26, “[Christ sent me] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).

Yes, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of people to see this glory and give them this joy. It’s the love, joy, peace. That’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But he uses us. I am a worker with you for your joy. How? By describing Jesus week after week, by portraying Christ and God and his way of salvation in such a way that God is pleased to open their eyes to these words that come out of our mouth. That’s the way the church becomes a joyful church.

The Implications of Joy

Now, if somebody objects when you go home from here and say to your people, “I have learned afresh. Knew it all along, but I have learned afresh what my task is here, and my task is to make you glad in God. My task is to so labor, to so live, to so counsel, to so lead, to so preach that this church rises like a tide in its joy in Jesus.”

And somebody raises their hand and says, “Excuse me, Pastor, I think you’re getting a little too emotional, and that, really, what you should strive for is more duty in this church, the more sacrifice, the more service. What we need are people who come to this church, especially Sunday night, or Wednesday.”

What you need to say to that person is, “No. No. I know it feels that’s what’s needed, and that you feel that’s the most straight-lined way there. It’s not. It won’t work. I want to go there. I want those kinds of free, joyful responses, but I’m not going your direction. I’m not going to go there. It’s not the way to get there. There is another way.”

And then you say it to the whole people. “When I say I’m here to make you glad, I’m here to make you happy, I am a worker with you for your joy, I don’t mean pamper you. I mean prepare you to suffer. The kind of joy that I’m talking about is the only way you would be able to lay your life down for Jesus in a way that makes him look good.”

Duty-driven sacrifice for Jesus does not impress the world. The world is moved when we rejoice in our tribulation. Lots of people in the world can gut out their sacrifices. Very few of them can say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when man persecutes you, and revile you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely. Rejoice in that day.” Where in the world do you see that?

Joy when you’re being hammered. Where in the world do you see that? Nowhere. Therefore, when we cultivate a church who knows that the goal here is not pampering, but preparation to suffer, a people come into being who, when they’re hammered, don’t lose their joy. And the world looks at that, and it tastes like salt, and it looks like light. That is the context.

If you would have asked me what the salt of the earth and the light of the world is, in Matthew 5:14 and following, I’d say Matthew 5:12–13, rejoicing in persecution. The saltiest thing the world will ever taste is Christians who don’t lose their joy when they’re being hammered. Lose a kid, get cancer, lose their job in economic hard times and say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. He is a great God. He’s a great treasure.”

The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. That’s what we want. So, we’re not pampering our people. I’m not asking you to go home and try to create some kind of little psychological community where everybody becomes soft and tender, and all happy now, because the pastor has just told us that’s why he’s alive. I am after a kind of so deeply rooted, radical Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, Christ-focused, treasuring joy it stands when everything falls away. So, just don’t get it wrong. Don’t let that person who comes up and criticizes and says, “What we need here is more duty.” You know what to say to him.

The Testimony of Suffering Believers

A few years ago, my wife and I watched a series of DVDs called The Cross: Jesus in China. You can get it from chinasoul.org, at least you could two or three years ago. Here’s the impact it made that relates to this. The first DVD was called the “Spring of Life.” The second DVD was called “Seeds of Blood.” The third DVD was called “Bitter Cup.” And all of them related to the suffering of the church.

We watched them all, about an hour each. The last one is about singing. It’s about music in China. But these first three about suffering, the dominant, number one prominent theme running through all three of them was joy, joy, joy! Those who had been in prison the longest, 28 years, for example, with a microphone in their face, old, wizened men and women, spoke most tenderly about the joy that sustained them there.

So, I’m a Western, wimpy, non-suffering pastor. I know that. So, I try to listen to those who’ve paid, and they see what I see. They’ve just had to live it so much more deeply. I just want to. I want to! It’s a longing for me. Though I haven’t suffered anything compared to what they do.

Well, let’s see. I think I should stop and take questions. But maybe just a closing application or two to ministry form and style. How do you do this? Work with them for their joy. Every Sunday sermon, every evening lesson, every wedding homily, every funeral meditation, every banquet, talk, every staff devotional, portray God in Christ as supremely desirable.

Any time you open your mouth, try to say something that causes the hearer to say, “God and his Son, and the way They work, and are, and act, is more to be desired than anything in my life. Wife, children, health, job, ministry, they’re more desirable.” And over time, God may be pleased to cause them to feel that. That’s what the world needs. The world needs our people in their jobs, doing what they’re doing, loving, cherishing, treasuring Jesus more than anything.

And it’ll come out. It’ll come out in the way they handle the Internet, the way they handle their money, cars, houses, clubs, leisure time. Where your treasure is, your heart and everything else, right there. It’ll be plain. So, do that. Live it. Live it, brothers!

How do you do that? Speak the supremely desirable beauties of Christ? Well, you’ve got to know it. You’ve got to get up every day and fight this fight. Minds stirred, wills urged, the affections renewed, renewed every day. I have to do this every day. My bucket leaks, and yours does, too. There is nothing automatic about this ministry or this Christian life. Nothing is automatic. It’s not like, “Today, I got the victory.”

Well, you fail tomorrow. For sure, you will. If you think that today’s victory will carry you through tomorrow’s battle, it won’t. His mercies are new, how often? And you better go get them. You better go find them and load up. Every morning, because yesterday’s mercies are designed for yesterday’s troubles. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Today’s mercies are not for tomorrow’s troubles. Tomorrow’s troubles need tomorrow’s mercies. I get up in the morning and I’m desperate for today’s help, and so are you.

So, the strategy here is pretty simple: desperation. Desperation leading to, hopefully, jubilation. You stay on your knees. What was his name? The orphanage builder in England. Mueller. All right, you know this. Good, you know the story then. He just said, “My first task every morning is to get my heart happy in Jesus. I’m of no use to anybody until I get my heart happy in Jesus.” He did not take for granted that any given day, yesterday’s happiness in Jesus would be there today.

So, this book needs to be opened every morning on a desperate quest to see more of him. More of him today. “Fresh things today, Lord.” I think I’ll stop there and let me just pray while you think of a question you’re going to ask, and then we’re going to go to questions.

Okay, we have twenty minutes for Q&A, and you may shoot anything you want. If I don’t want to answer, I’ll just say, “I don’t want to answer.” It can be personal, or ministry, or anything at all. So, please feel free to do it.

Thank you very much for your ministry, first of all. My question is: I’m a family youth pastor. I spend most of my time with teenagers. I’m just wondering how you would react to this. If you feel that you are consistently presenting Jesus Christ as the supreme one to be finding your joy in, and yet consistently finding your people pursuing other things, other temporal pleasures, what do you do about that? What do you change? How do you react to that if you’re seeing that sort of fruit in your ministry?

I react with discouragement and try not to resign. So, I’m with you. And if you have a church that is either a mobile church or a growing church, that is people are passing through or more are coming, they’re coming, not in love with Jesus. And so, even if you are succeeding with a few, the church is always a big mess. And we know this. So, I react with discouragement and I go to the Lord.

And I want to, next, search my heart. Am I living it and am I speaking it faithfully, biblically? And check myself. Ask somebody else, is there something missing in me? So, you want to own your own responsibility first.

Third, how am I praying? This is God’s work. We cannot do this, right? What I’ve just described is a miracle in a church. No pastor makes this happen. You just put the word out there, and you lay your life down, and Paul had enemies. I mean, these churches were a mess. Call it disgusting. So, we’re all in the pot together. But we pray, “Oh, God, do the impossible. Change the people. Give them a new heart. They’ve got hearts of stone.”

And so, ask how you’re doing in prayer. And a fourth thing is get near them. I had a list of four things and that was going to be number four. Get near your people in moments of crisis. Get near the kids. One or two out to Pizza Hut, and in their face about, “Tell me what’s going on.” He’s masturbating every other day, looking at pornography, and you’re wondering why he’s not raising his hands in worship on Sunday morning.

And so, at that level, you might make more progress than in the big picture. But in the end, let’s just face it, we need revival. Right? I’ve never seen anything that I would call historic revival. I look at the Twin Cities, and I look at my church, and we can kid ourselves. I mean, look at this big building. Everybody says, “This is success,” right? Well, probably not. I mean, they’re all wealthy here, probably. And so everything’s going their way. Why wouldn’t they come?

Same with my church. Same with my church. We can’t convince ourselves we’ve got success stories, just because people are showing up. Cool music, nice building, good programs for the kids. Why wouldn’t they show up? And so you look across the lay of the land and how many are laying down their lives? Very few. Our kids look pretty much like everyone else’s kids, and our marriages are all a mess. We need God. We just need him to come.

And so, a last thing I probably would mention is maybe a corporate prayer. If you’re desperate enough, from time to time, you get some friends together and say, “Let’s just ask God to come. Let’s ask him. Just knock the Twin Cities off their rocker. Just show up in Cleveland. Just come and do something like George Whitfield or Johnathon Edwards or John Wesley. Just do something really unusual.”

But last thing, don’t give up. Please don’t give up. I asked Ian Murray one time. He’s big on revivals, right? He thinks revivals run the world. The church makes progress by periodic awakenings. I said, “So, what do you do in between?” He’s been a pastor. He knows the answer to that. Here’s the words that came out of his mouth. “Don’t despise the day of small things.” God’s using you. God’s doing something in some kid. That’s worth your life.

So, don’t despise the day of small things. I’ve got one woman who’s a Jewish person for the last two Saturday nights been showing up at my church. To me, that’s worth living for. Just one, non-Christian, Jewish person, who says, “I’m trying to figure out who Yeshua is. Somebody told me I should come here.” I said, “Okay. I’m just thinking about Dina all the time now. Who cares about the five thousand people? There’s just one seat.

So, God’s using you, man. Don’t you dare despise the day of small things. We’re all into small things; it just looks big for some, and it’s not. Okay? Next question.

In the mid-90s, you mentioned in some sermons that you went through some really difficult pastoral struggles there in Minneapolis. Can you just give us a window on what that was, how you grew through it?

Yes, I would be happy to. I don’t want to take too much. Six minutes, okay. What I’m referring to is one of our staff members, in 1992, was, I found, to be in adultery. Okay? Try to avoid it, because there have been many, many glorious, happy outcomes in personal lives, so I want to be very careful here, because this is probably all on tape. So, if that person is listening to me, I am thrilled with the work of God in their lives. All right?

But there was long adultery. I entered into that with what I felt to be Biblically consistent discipline, and it blew up in my face. We lost 230 people, and I was accused, for weeks on end, of lying about this person. The lesson to learn for any of you is, if you try to do careful, humble, consistent, and yet rigorous and firm church discipline, you never win in the short run. The messenger always gets shot.

It doesn’t matter. You can speak softly. You can speak loudly. You can speak tentatively, or you can speak firmly, and you get shot. Because that’s the way sin works. It’s the way the Devil works. So, just prepare yourself. If you’re going to pursue a staff member or a church member who’s living in sin, you’re going to get criticized. And so that happened.

There was a year of war. The war lasted a few months, and then it all cleared out. I had every single elder with me, which is what saved me, right? But as far as big blocks of people, they looked at us as a kind of insensitive, unloving phalanx and they left in droves.

I’m being restored to this day. That’s what, sixteen years later? I’m being restored to this day with those people. Little by little, we meet. Little by little, it gets healed. They’ve gone to all the other churches and so on. So, that was what I was referring to. The Lord was unbelievably merciful. I mean, you’re talking about elder meetings all night long, that kind of elder meeting. Until two in the morning, three in the morning.

Wives going away with their husbands tried to help us discern, from a women’s standpoint, how people are processing this. It was the worst and, in a sense, the best of times because of the pain and the ugliness of the relationship breakdowns. But the best in the sense that God never left us, never forsook us, and kept us together.

There was one Sunday morning I couldn’t preach because the electricity of anger in the congregation was so great, I called my denominational guy on Friday in the Baptist General Conference, and I just said, “They will not let me get to the pulpit. I could get stoned if I go into this pulpit. I’d like you to come take the stones for me.”

And he did. I just sat behind him on the platform. I just got up to the people. I said, “I know I probably couldn’t be heard this morning. I’ve asked Rob if he’d come and preach. So, here he is.” It’s easy to laugh at now, right? But it’s horrible in those days. God was merciful.

Year of conflict, year of tears, followed by a year of identity discovery. When one of your main staff members has deceived the church for years, you step back. Some people lost their faith and said, “What’s real anymore?” And I wanted to know, yeah, what’s real? How do you do worship here? And we became a different church in three years. We were flat, zero growth for four years. Zero, from ‘93-’96, and then, took off, from 1200 to 5000.

There needs to be, sometimes, in the life of a church, just a long, lean season. Purification, humbling. I mean, we were broken. I thought things were going so well. I thought they were going so well, and there was Achan in the camp. Okay, I could just talk forever about this, but we have one minute. So, what would you like me to do? Closing prayer? I’m eager for the other sessions.