Monday, February 17, 2020

The Joyful Increase of Relational Joy

Yesterday morning, I watched a video message from John Piper in which he gave his testimony regarding how God led him into a life of joy in God.[1] One of the things that stood out the most for me was the experience of relational joy that increases when it brings others to attach to it.

I could see how the Triune God are relationally joyful persons. It is not that each person of the Godhead is so joyful in their individual selves that the other two have no influence over them. When we see Jesus on the cross crying out, “’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”,[2] he was not only fulfilling a prophecy about him from a thousand years earlier,[3] but was expressing the effect of the only time ever that he was out of fellowship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. It clearly was a terrible experience for him.

This idea that the Triune God finds joy in each other, and that they have loved one another forever, brings us to how they relate to us as creatures deliberately made in their own image and likeness.

This is what is so mindbogglingly wonderful to me. The Triune God, knowing that we would do this most horrible thing of choosing sin instead of them, had such a desire to express themselves in a way that would delight us with “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”[4] that they would orchestrate everything we know as “the way of salvation”,[5] in order to bring us into their “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”.[6]

When Jesus told the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son,[7] he deliberately described what was happening in heaven in terms of relational joy.

When the shepherd of the first parable finds his lost sheep, “he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”[8] The shepherd, clearly expressing Jesus coming into the world to find repentant tax collectors and sinners, calls for others to “rejoice with me”. And his application is, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”[9]

What is so significant is the relational joy in this. The shepherd is joyful when he finds his lost sheep. The shepherd wants others to rejoice with him when he tells them that he has found his lost sheep. In heaven, the joy that suddenly erupts “over one sinner who repents,” is very clearly a relational joy showing God himself affected with joy when a lost soul receives the “good news of great joy” that a Savior has come to them.[10]

In the next parable, when the woman finds her lost coin, the relational quality of kingdom-of-God joy is clearly revealed. “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”[11] The woman is joyful in relation to finding her coin, but then she wants her friends and neighbors to increase the experience of joy by rejoicing with her in what she has found.

Jesus makes very clear that the relational joy was happening in heaven with God when he says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”[12] Now we have Jesus rejoicing in relation to finding a lost sinner, we have Jesus inviting people to share his joy with him instead of grumbling at what was taking place, and we have Jesus telling us that God was expressing his joy in the presence of his holy angels in direct relation to “one sinner who repents.”

The third parable is the most detailed, but the story is the same: A father loses one of his sons to terribly sinful living that breaks their relationship completely. The religious elite should have had no difficulty attaching to that picture in relation to the tax collectors and sinners they disdained.

However, when the sinful son comes home, hoping only for the place of a hired servant in his father’s household, the word-picture of the father in relation to this sinner is mind-blowing. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”[13]

There is no doubt what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of the joy that was taking place in heaven when one sinner changed his or her mind and came home. Even while the sinner was “still a long way off,” the father was already having a joyful reaction to him. Seeing this broken child coming along the road to home caused a response of compassion that moved the father to run out to greet his son, embrace him and kiss him in the most relational expression of joy we could ever imagine.

Even when the son recited his planned speech of, “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’”,[14] the father’s joy would never lower itself to something so inferior to what he desired. Instead of accepting the limitations of his son’s expectations (to be a hired hand), he expressed the richness of his joy by telling his servants, “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.’”[15]

This call to celebrate together was an invitation for his household, servants included, to share together in a joyous event. When the Father explained, “‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found,’” everyone “began to celebrate,”[16] meaning, to share their joy with one another.

When we put all this in the context that Jesus was explaining to the “Pharisees and scribes” what was really going on when “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him,”[17] there is no doubt that Jesus was deliberately communicating the joy that God experienced in direct relation to “one sinner who repents”.

And, when Jesus adds that the father of the lost son noticed that the older brother was grumbling against his joyful response to his sinful brother,[18] he showed how he was even then and there longing to have these religious hypocrites share in the joy that everyone else was feeling as lost sinners were coming home.

Why is this so significant to me?

Because, in my six decades of church life, I know very few church-folk who talk about their experience of coming to Christ as an attachment to “good news of great joy.” I don’t need more than one hand to name the professing Christians who, when I began to relate to the deepest condition of their souls, I found them filled with, “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” because of how they felt about “obtaining the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls.”[19]

In my own life, discovering how relationally joyful God is has been transforming to me. My predominant mindset growing up was that people had every right to get angry at me because there was always something wrong with anything I tried to do. And, if that was true of people, then how much more did God have every right to be angry at me since he was clearly the one person who always knew I was not good enough!

To then realize that God had so deliberately breathed out word after word of joy to show me how joyful he is when sinners like myself repent, has been filling me with joy in God in a way that keeps growing and maturing as the years go by.

What do I want to see happen in any church groups I have attachment to?

That we would experience the gospel of the kingdom as “good news of great joy”. I want to see people experience the kingdom itself as a place of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[20] I want to be among a people who can, “rejoice with those who rejoice,” while they also, “weep with those who weep”[21] in totally relational attachment to returning everyone to joy.

I will end with Paul’s expression of appreciation to a man named Philemon who was “a beloved fellow worker” in the kingdom-activity of God.[22] Paul wrote, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”[23]

Do you see all the relational joy in that? The hearts of the saints had been refreshed through Philemon’s place in their lives. Paul received comfort from the love Philemon expressed to everyone because he was affected by the good news of how the other believers were refreshed. Paul is then blessing Philemon by expressing his gratitude and appreciation so that his friend can be encouraged, and the fact that God wanted this recorded into Scripture increases the picture so that, every time these words add joy to our lives, there is joyful connection with God who has orchestrated the whole joyful symphony.

As the world continues its hopeless slide from bad to worse, we will always hear something terrible going on, often with a very sad element of attacks against God’s children. We will always have someone in our churches who is only just beginning to come to terms with how broken they are on the inside, and how childhood trauma is only now coming out of the dark to feel the love of our Savior.

But we can join Paul in his very relational expression that, “we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”[24]

We can all start by letting God’s word work with us for our own joy, and then share what we experience of God’s joy with others. Even if we do not immediately see a joyful response from people (sometimes they are simply too wounded and self-protective to meet us there), we can still keep growing in our own relational experience of God’s joy, and keep sharing our joy with others in that agapè-love that enjoys seeking their good.

And, on those days when we can’t seem to get anyone to attach to us in the joy we felt in our time with God, and we are tempted to give up our joy for a pity-party, remember the call of Scripture that we are, “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.”[25] On the cross, Jesus did not feel relational joy with anyone, but he looked at “the joy that was set before him,” that the end result of his sacrifice would be the relational joy he felt with us.

And so, we “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,”[26] and ask God to show us someone who needs to hear the encouragement of our joy. Who knows how many people God will return to joy through us joining him in his joyful work.  

© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[2] Matthew 27:46
[3] Psalm 22:1
[4] I Peter 1:8 (in the context of I Peter 1:3-9)
[5] Acts 16:17
[6] Psalm 16:11
[7] Luke 15:1-32
[8] Luke 15:6
[9] Luke 15:7
[10] Luke 2:10-11
[11] Luke 15:9
[12] Luke 15:10
[13] Luke 15:20
[14] Luke 15:21
[15] Luke 15:22-23
[16] Luke 15:24
[17] Luke 15:1-2
[18] This is shown in the rest of the parable from Luke 15:25-32
[19] I Peter 1:8-9
[20] Romans 14:17
[21] Romans 12:15
[22] Philemon 1:1
[23] Philemon 1:7 (Paul’s letter to Philemon is only 25 verses long, Philemon 1:1-25).
[24] II Corinthians 1:24
[25] Hebrews 12:2
[26] Hebrews 12:3

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