MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 17, 2003
(14th in a series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church)
This week we once again begin by asking the question, “How can I develop a greater passion for the glory of God?” The reason we are looking for biblical answers to that question is because we are in the midst of a series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church and we have shown from the scriptures that the central biblical motive for the church to spread the message of the gospel to our neighbors here and around the world comes from our passion for the glory of God. We have seen that God will be more glorified when more people come to know him, leave their idols for him and worship him alone. God is compelled in all that he does by his passion for his own glory. Because the main motive for God and for us in missions is a passion to see his glory spread to the nations, it’s crucial for us to see from the Scriptures how we can by God’s grace develop an increased passion for the glory of God.
Last week we established from the bible some of the most basic and essential truths necessary for us to know if we are to have an increasing zeal for the glory of God. We saw that developing a zeal for God’s glory is a fight. Having a passion for God to be glorified in our lives and in our witness here and to the nations is not something that comes from just attending church. It does not seep into us by osmosis—it comes as we fight against the powers of this dark world and our sinful flesh that forcefully seek to keep us from being zealous for God’s glory. We saw that in the fall in Genesis three humanity’s original zeal for God’s glory was horribly corrupted. God placed us on earth to glorify him—he gave us his own image and his own job so that we could reflect him on earth. But Adam and Eve lost that zeal for God’s glory when they chose to sinfully reject glorying in God in favor of glorying in themselves.
God created us to be worshippers but since the fall, instead of worshipping and boasting in God, our sinful flesh desires to worship and boast in ourselves. Apart from God’s grace our eyes stay hopelessly and idolatrously fixed on ourselves. That means we must war against our wicked desires to glorify ourselves and we do that best by attacking the very root of our sins, not just the branches. We get to the root by asking questions of our sins like, “Why did I lust?” “Why did I scream at the kids?” “Why did I lie to my friend?” Those questions expose the root of our sinful passion to worship ourselves instead of God. As we by God’s grace recognize the root of our sins as being nothing less than expressions of self-worship, we can then fight against them by crucifying any attitude, desire or action that inflames our passion for self-worship and at the same time smothers our passion for God-worship. We saw that God designed the world in such a way that the more we work for our own glory, the less passionate we become for God’s glory. Our passion for our own glory poisons our passion for God’s glory. So last week we learned that an enormously important way for us to develop a passion for the glory of God is to acknowledge that our sin is at root self-worship and because that drains off our zeal for God-worship, we must brutally crucify those self-centered attitudes, desires and actions.
This week, we look at another way we can by God’s grace develop an increased zeal for God’s glory and therefore, a greater zeal for personal evangelism and missions. This way also involves a fight but this fight is against a particular lie that paralyzes not only our desire for missions but also every other area of Christian life and ministry. Here’s how lies work against us. The Bible tells us that lies originate from Satan. Jesus says in John 8:44, “…[he--Satan] has nothing to do with truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Lies find their origin in Satan and Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that Satan’s intent is to “steal, kill and destroy” us. One of his major weapons is falsehood. The bible teaches that the conduit through which those lies flow to us is the satanic world system we live in where those lies are disseminated. Also, our own sinful flesh is filled with those lies and is in fact a lie-magnet. That rebellious part of us longs to embrace those lies because they reinforce our sinful desires. “There’s nothing all that wrong with pre-marital sex—everyone’s doing it.” Do you hear how that lie feeds right into our sinful flesh? Our flesh loves those lies and works to convince us that they are true or at least dulls us to how harmful it is to believe them. When we choose to believe a lie, the bible tells us the lie holds us spiritually captive and keeps us from honoring Christ in our attitudes, desires and actions. For example, if we believe the lie, “God could never forgive me for THAT sin,” then we will be held captive by that lie, kept in the dungeon of condemnation. If we believe the lie, “I must earn God’s salvation by what I do” which is the lie that held the Galatians in bondage, then we will be held captive to the law of sin and death. The word of God is God’s weapon against the lies and the spiritual powers behind them. His word is truth and Jesus says in John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
I say all that because one foundational way we develop a greater passion for God’s glory and therefore his glory being spread to the nations is, we must war against the paralyzing lie that says, “Leading a God-centered, God glorifying life is less joyful than living a self-centered, self-glorifying life.” Many people in the church today perhaps unknowingly have believed that lie and it is like a millstone around the neck of someone who is trying to develop a passion for God’s glory. This lie is especially effective at tying our hands and binding our feet and shutting our mouth to spread the truth of the gospel here and to the nations. I believe this lie is why many believers who are gifted in business, teaching, medicine or other skills that are often immediately applicable to the mission field never even seriously consider going out themselves. That thought is not even on their radar screen. The reason why for many of these believers the thought of going into the mission field never occurs to them, even when the tremendous need is so self-evident and the call of Christ is so clear is because deep down in their hearts they believe a lie.
This lie as it relates to foreign missions sounds something like this: “Being a foreign missionary is something reserved for only those people who are heroically willing to have a miserable life because if God called me to the mission field—I would have a miserable life.” That’s a lie. And that lie is built on another lie that is even more wicked and that is—“When God asks a person to be radically obedient to him—to sacrifice for him--he is at one and the same time calling them to misery.” That’s a lie from the pit of hell and we must war against it with the truth of Scripture if we are ever to rightly HEAR from God about missions, rightly SEND people and PRAY for people and perhaps BE one of those people God sends. This morning we want to torpedo those lies with three explosively liberating, lie-destroying, truths from the bible. The first truth to war against the lie that God calls his obedient people to be miserable is: God both commands and expects his children to pursue joy, not misery. Let me repeat that because it’s so easy to miss this in a church that has often bought into the world’s false conception of God as the cosmic killjoy. The truth of scripture is God both commands and expects his children to pursue joy.
My guess is if I were to ask for a show of hands of the people for whom that truth is new, many hands would shoot up. We simply don’t often think about God as a God who commands and expects us to pursue joy. We often wrongly see God as the One who gets in our way of pursuing joy but as it relates to biblical joy—God both commands and expects us to pursue joy. We’ll see that biblical joy is the blessed state that results from knowing, pursuing and serving God rightly. We’ll expand on that but for now we want to differentiate between biblical joy—which God commands and expects, and self-centered pleasures, which he forbids. Joy is not rooted in our circumstances—it is not ultimately dependent upon whether we are having a trouble-free day or not. We know that because many biblical authors tell us what James says in 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Joy is not only NOT dependent upon our circumstances; James says joy can come BECAUSE of trials if we have God’s perspective on them.
We see in many texts that God both commands and expects his children to pursue joy. Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness, Come into his presence with singing.” That’s not a suggestion--it’s a command. We are commanded to serve the Lord with gladness. Joy is commanded here. David, after his sin with Bathsheba in his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 says in verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” The fact that David was crying out to God for him to RESTORE the joy of his salvation means that there is joy in our salvation. There is joy in being a saved person and if we don’t have it, we need to ask God to RESTORE it. Peter is speaking of Christ in First Peter 1:8 and he 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,” Peter says there is a direct relationship between believing in Jesus who is now unseen and “rejoicing with joy.”
Do you catch the intentional redundancy there? He’s highlighting the truth that faith in Christ brings double joy--you “rejoice with joy.” Not only that, but this joy is so profound that it “is inexpressible and filled with glory.” You cannot find a word adequate enough to describe how powerful is the joy you experience as a result of your faith in Jesus. Peter says this joy is also “filled with glory” which I take to mean that God saturates this joy with himself. This is a God-soaked joy. It’s absolutely clear that God’s command and expectation is that those who follow Jesus will have joy. We see this in Philippians 4:4 where Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” This too is a command and again we see it is a double command to joy. Paul with great intentionality repeats this command, “…Again I say, rejoice.” I tried to think of another instance where Paul gives two identical commands back to back and I couldn’t think of any. They may exist but we must see just how adamant God is that his children be joyful and Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS” so joy is to be the persistent state for the believer. In light of this truth we should be confessing joylessness as a sin because it’s a direct violation of God’s commands and expectation of us.
One of the reasons God calls us to OBEY HIM is he wants us to be filled with joy. Think about that a moment—God calls us to be radically obedient FOR OUR JOY. We see this in John’s gospel chapter 15. Jesus is explaining our relationship to him and what makes us spiritually healthy in his teaching on the vine and the branches. In John 15:9-11 he says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” Let’s unpack that. This is one of those powerful texts in John where Jesus relates our love FOR God to our obedience TO God. Jesus is saying, “The Father loves me and I abide/remain in his love by keeping his commandments. I love you with the same kind of love the Father has loved me. Now you abide/remain in my love in the same way I abide in my Father’s love—abide by keeping my commandments.” So Jesus is telling us here that the way to abide/remain in his love is to obey him just as he obeys his father and through that obedience abides in his Father’s love.
Then he says in verses 11, “These things I have spoken to you, [about abiding in my love through obedience] that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus makes it clear the reason he tells us to obey and thereby abide in his love is so that we might have joy and what’s more—it’s HIS joy. It MUST be his joy since Peter has told us this joy is “inexpressible and full of glory.” We know this joy comes from God because Galatians five tells us joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy comes from God to us and Jesus says in John 15:11 he wants our obedience so that we may have His joy. Do you believe God’s goal for our obedience is our joy? When God calls you to do something hard do you think, “I better do this if I want joy?” We should because that’s a perfectly valid biblical truth. We know God is motivated by his passion for his glory but he is also motivated by his desire for our joy.
We see this in Hebrews 12:2 where the author of Hebrews calls us to make Jesus our example for our enduring obedience. Why did Jesus obey the Father? He says, “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.” This tells us that as Jesus was on the cross enduring the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional agony of his crucifixion he chose to endure that pain because he knew there would be JOY awaiting him in heaven. His desire for joy compelled him to obey his Father even to the point of dying on the cross. Our God is a joyful God. Do we believe that? Jesus says to the disciples, “that MY joy may be in you.” Do we think about God being a God of joy who commands and expects his children to be joyful? If this truth is new to us then we have surely been believing the lie. Do you see how this truth simply obliterates the lie that obeying the Great Commission will bring you misery? If we believe that God is joyful and he commands and expects his children to be joyful and the way to be joyful is by being obedient to him by doing things like going to the nations with the gospel, then there is no way we could ever believe that obeying God to go to the nations would bring us misery. Those two concepts are mutually exclusive to one another. The truth is--God has placed a desire for joy in us and he has enabled us to have joy through our obedience to him.
Do you see how this ties in with what we saw last week? Obedience is an expression of God-worship. Disobedience is the arrogant and self-centered expression of self-worship because it places our own selfish desires at the center of the universe and says, “I will do what I want to do.” As we choose to glorify God, to express worship to God through our obedience, we find joy because joy results from our obedience and brings glory to God. As we’ll see later, God has designed the universe in such as way as to make our joy and His glory absolutely inseparable. All that to say that we war against the lie that says leading a God-centered, God glorifying life is less joyful than living a self-centered, self-glorifying life. And one way we war against it is by countering it with the biblical truth that God both expects and commands his children to pursue joy.
A second way we war against this lie that leading a God-glorifying life is less joyful than a self-glorifying one is to believe a second biblical truth. That is pursuing joy by striving after this world’s self-centered pleasures brings emptiness and chokes off true joy. First, we counter the lie that living for self-glory is more joyful or satisfying than a God glorifying life by believing that GOD-glorifying brings you joy and second that SELF-glorifying brings you shame and emptiness and chokes off true joy. We see this over and over again in scripture but perhaps most powerfully in the book of Ecclesiastes. In chapter two, the author who is traditionally recognized to be King Solomon takes us on a tour of his life-long, disastrous pursuit of joy through the pleasures of this world. In the first nine verses he says he tried to find joy or satisfaction in wine, women, song, money, prestige, position and property and we know from the First Kings that he had more of those things than anyone else on the planet.
Just to speak to his wealth, one estimate of Solomon’s net worth in today’s currency is 500 billion dollars. The same source cites the richest man on earth’s net worth today as being a comparatively paltry 150 billion dollars. What that means is when Solomon says he tried to find joy in the self-centered pleasures of this world—we can safely assume that his search was as intensive and exhaustive as was humanly possible. Solomon is the expert par excellence on the inability of self-centered pleasures to bring joy. He has been there, done that in ways we cannot possibly imagine. His testimony in Ecclesiastes 2:10 is, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found [self-centered] pleasure in all my toil and this was my reward for all my toil.” Solomon’s adult life was tragically a grandiose, long running, exhaustive search for joy in the self-centered pleasures of this world. Solomon provides the ultimate test case for showing us the result of seeking after self-centered pleasures to provide joy. And in verse eleven, he gives us the findings of this life-long pursuit of self-centered pleasure. He says, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Solomon’s life carries a God-ordained message to all of us who are tempted to believe that the way to joy is through this world’s pleasures. And that message is—“You don’t even need to step onto that dead end street because someone with immensely more wisdom and wealth and power and position and capacity to obtain self-centered pleasures has already tried it in a way you could not in a 100 life times and the findings are in—it is empty!” To do that is to completely waste your life because THE ultimate human authority on this subject of pursuing fleshly pleasure has tried to find satisfaction in those things and his tragic testimony is, “it’s like trying to catch the wind.” You ever try that? If you want to discover the meaning of futility in a whole new way, go outside on a windy day and try to get just one handful of the wind. You NEVER catch it and when you try to find joy in the pleasures of this world, which appeal to our self-centered flesh—you will never catch it. And if you are trying to find your pleasure in money or boats or leisure or reputation or your career path, you need to spend about five minutes out in an open field trying to catch the wind. And when you sit down on the ground after those vain attempts, say to yourself—“that is JUST what I am doing with my life!”
Jesus goes even further than this in Luke 8:14 when in the parable of the soils he speaks about one of the soils that received the word of God to no profit, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and their fruit does not mature.” Solomon says the cares and riches and pleasures of this life are EMPTY but Jesus says they are also LETHAL. They will KILL YOU spiritually. They will choke off any hope you have for spiritual life. If you are pursuing joy in those earthly pleasures you are not only on a treadmill—running, but not getting anywhere—chasing after the wind. You are not only living on a futile treadmill by never getting what you are running after—you are also on a one-way escalator to hell. Jesus says pursuing those earthly pleasures is spiritually toxic. They slowly, gradually wrap themselves around your throat and choke you to death and the cosmic irony is that, apart from God’s grace the more they choke you, the more vigorously you pursue them to find joy. Because we live in a culture that is utterly drenched with pleasure pursuing hedonism we should regularly ask whether we are allowing the thorns to come up and wrap around our spiritual necks through our fallen, covetous desires for worldly pleasures. Folks, we are believing a lie when we believe that our joy can ever be found anywhere other than God and his plan for us.
That’s our third lie-destroying truth. Third, God is the only source of true joy and that means that pursuing God’s glory and pursuing joy are really the same pursuit. Let’s look at some texts that place pursuing God and pursuing joy on the same set of railroad tracks. David says in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Joy and not only joy but FULLNESS of joy is found where? In the presence of GOD--at the place of intimate fellowship of God—his right hand--are pleasures that, unlike the ones that are native to this world, unlike the ones Solomon wasted his life chasing after—these pleasures are FOREVERMORE. They are eternally satisfying. In Psalm 21:6 David refers to himself and says of God, “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” You wanna’ be glad? Get in the presence of God and stay there where the joy is. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself IN THE LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Delight is found IN THE LORD and as we look to him as the source of our delight, he promises to give us what we want. Being in God’s presence has a way of sifting out our desires so that there is a precise correlation between what we desire and what God gives to us. If what we desire and what God has given to us do NOT correlate and we are tempted to covet something we don’t have, the biblical response to that is to spend more time delighting in Him and he will in that process sift out whatever desires are not from Him.
Our joy is found in God and in abiding in him through obedience. So to summarize, First, God both commands and expects us to pursue joy. Second, earthly pleasures, though they are very appealing to our flesh are a dry well, which not only never satisfy but are also spiritually lethal if we pursue them. Third, our joy is found in pursuing God. Next week, by God’s grace we will talk about how it is that our pursuit of God’s glory and our pursuit of joy are the same pursuit. We must with biblical truth crush the lie that missions and personal evangelism is reserved for those people who are heroically willing to be miserable. If you want misery—follow Solomon’s example and go for the gusto. If you want joy in this life and the next—follow Christ’s example and pick up your cross and obey God. And if that means going to Indonesia, then go FOR YOUR JOY and get a foretaste of what it will be like to one day “enter into the joy of your Master.” May God give us the grace to destroy the lies of Satan and embrace the liberating truth of God for our joy and for His glory.
Page last modified on 8/26/2003
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