Thursday, December 22, 2016

Love Relationships That Complete Our Joy

Last night at our prayer meeting I asked God to give us a Christmas season characterized by him returning us to joy. My present focus in God’s word has been on a pastor’s example in love, and this cannot be understood without its connection to joy.

Jesus’ love and his joy are inseparable. In fact, the fruit of the Spirit, which are the characteristics of Christ God is forming into us, begin with “love, joy…”[1] This means first that these are the things God wants me to experience from him, in the Spirit, but they are also the things God wants me to express to others, also in the Spirit.

As I was preparing to share this, a familiar phrase suddenly popped into my head: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”[2] There was a joy set before Jesus, something he did not have apart from the cross, which meant securing forever the brotherhood of believers he would have with him for eternity. This joy that was “set before him”, something he did not have until his redemptive work was complete, moved him in his enduring of the shame of the cross.

Why is there such great joy in heaven when one sinner repents?[3] Because the joy that was set before Jesus was that he would bring all his lost brothers to repentance in order that they would enter the kingdom of heaven by faith. This joy that was set before him meant that he rejoiced every time one of these lost brothers was found.

Two things that stood out to me as I considered a variety of Scriptures speaking of the love and joy of God’s kingdom. First, in writing the Philippians, Paul gave them some directions about relating to one another in unity and love, and in the midst of it he asked them to “complete my joy by…”[4] This means that there was some sense in which Paul’s joy could only be completed by the actions of his brothers.

How do I reconcile this with my belief that we can experience everything we are promised in Christ no matter how much we lack in relationships with others?

Answer: by differentiating between our God-sized needs and our people-sized needs. We are not created for relationship with God alone. Just as God does not relate to Jesus or the Holy Spirit alone, but all three relate to the two others all at the same time, us being designed in their image and likeness means we have a social need for relationship with them and the whole family of God at the same time. It’s just that our relationship needs with God are God-sized, and our relationship needs with people are people-sized.

Therefore, we can have the experience of Jesus’ joy filling us, and our own joy brought to the full, because of the words he has spoken to us,[5] while knowing that we also need certain relational things with people to complete our joy. This is why Paul could speak of rejoicing in the Lord always,[6] and yet say that he also had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for the lost people of Israel.[7] His God-sized need for joy was fully satisfied in his salvation, but his people-sized need for joy looked for the very things that would cause him to rejoice, including seeing his Jewish brothers come to truly know their Messiah in salvation, and experiencing the church acting like Jesus in their relationships with one another.

The second thing that stood out was a Scripture that was shared in our church recently about the church relating to her leaders in such a way that they can do their work “with joy and not with groaning”.[8]  While this has a distinctive application in the church doing all it can to help our pastors enjoy their work with us, it also applies to all of us in relationship where someone else’s quality of participation can affect our joy. When we are seeking to put God’s word into practice, the actions of other believers can affect us with either joy or groaning.

For example, in a marriage, if one person is pursuing God in sincere faith, while the other is choosing faith in his/her sark,[9] the people-sized need for joy is denied, and there is an element of groaning, of longing for what is missing in the fellowship of joy. The same is true among all of us in families, where the refusal of some to obey God in obedient faith produces groaning, while the expressions of repentance and faith we long for would clearly complete our joy.

Today’s conclusion: since the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy is standard for every believer, I must open my heart 100% to the love and joy God is pouring into my heart by his Holy Spirit,[10] while being completely honest about how I am doing in my people-sized needs. I must first experience God’s “deep personal attachment” [11]  and affection towards me, expressing that same kind of love to everyone no matter how they are treating me. But I must also present to God my longing for the fullest experience of deep personal attachment and affection in my relationships with God’s people, even if facing this need honestly means that it sometimes makes me feel sorrow and anguish that this need is unmet. God satisfying my God-sized need will enable me to experience and express love in an exemplary way even while yearning for the completion of these things in relationships with others.

At the moment, I am preparing for how my place in the body of Christ is to minister to others over this Christmas season. While this time of year often makes people aware of their broken relationships, the coming of Christ into the world is our greatest hope of reconciliation with God, and with one another. This makes me want to seek not only growing in our experience of God’s joy and love, but completing joy and love in one another as well.

What will that look like in our fellowship with one another? Right now I only know that it will require fellowship in God’s words, since it is Jesus’ words that fill us with his joy, and bring our joy to the full.[12]

Bottom line: in church life, and in church holidays, setting our minds on our sarks produces nothing more than fleshly time off, while setting our minds on the Spirit fills us with the fruit of the Spirit, beginning with love and joy. The bull’s eye seems pretty obvious. The question is, how is our aim?
© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Galatians 5:22-23
[2] Hebrews 12:2
[3] Luke 15:7,10,20-24 (context: Luke 15:1-32)
[4] Philippians 2:1-2 (context: Philippians 2:1-11)
[5] John 15:11 (context: John 15:1-11)
[6] Philippians 4:4 (context: Philippians 4:4-8)
[7] Romans 9:2 (context: Romans 9:1-33)
[8] Hebrews 13:17
[9] Remember that “sark” is the transliteration of “sarx”, the Greek word translated as “flesh” in English translations of the New Testament. It refers to that disposition in us which can only think of doing what is independent and contrary to the will of God.
[10] Romans 5:5 (yes, God’s love has already been poured into the hearts of his children through the indwelling Holy Spirit; however, while this is a complete gift in one way, through our justification by faith, it is also a growing experience, something that is part of our sanctification by faith. With that in mind, we take God at his word that he has already poured his love into our hearts, and seek the fullest experience of this love as is possible this side of heaven.)
[11] In describing agape love, Hendriksen describes it as, “deep personal attachment to his brothers and in genuine concern for his neighbors (including even his enemies), always seeking to promote the welfare of all.”  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, p. 158). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
[12] John 15:11

No comments:

Post a Comment