We have seen that one cause of disrupted joy is the fact of unrepented and unconfessed sin. The second cause, the one we will consider today, is the relationship of joy and affliction. And the third, covered next week, will be the relationship of joy and melancholy, joy when you have a case of the jim jams.
“Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6: 3-10).
Summary of the Text
This section of 2 Corinthians gives a list of some of the apostle Paul’s experiences. I want to concentrate on one phrase here—“sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”—but we also need to take a quick look at the context. For Paul, the mission was central. He did not want the ministry hampered because of offense that someone gave needlessly (v. 3). Ministers of God needed to show themselves approved across a range of difficult circumstances—showing patience, suffering afflictions, doing what is necessary, putting out fires (v. 4), getting flogged, thrown in prison, navigating riots, working hard, keeping vigil, fasting (v. 5). Moreover, this was all to be done with a particular attitude, and that attitude was not just one of hunkering down. A servant of God should be pure, knowledgeable, patient, kind, driven by the Spirit, and not a love-faker (v. 6). This can only be done by the power of God, dressed out in the armor of righteousness on the right side and left (v. 7). Servants of Christ must be a bundle of contradictions—honored and despised, slandered and praised, called liars, but truth-tellers (v. 8), as famous nobodies, as dead men walking around, as chastened death-defeaters (v. 9), as sorrowful men rejoicing all the time, as poor men scattering riches, and as those who carry the cosmos around in their empty bag (v. 10).
A Regular Nightmare
In short, the apostle Paul was a PR agent’s nightmare. The list above is not really raw material that lends itself to press releases. Imagine the apostle trying to get an interview today for any position involving significant Christian leadership. Such trials can bring about a godly reputation provided the turmoil was on the other side of the world, and was inflicted by heathens. But if it was “right here” (as the apostle’s adventures were), where civilized and respectable people look askance at the practice of putting floggings and prison terms on your resume, Problems arise when the sentencing judge belongs to the same country club you do, and he asks you questions about whether “the apostle” he recently dealt with has spoken at your church recently. Let the throat clearing begin.
The first thing to note is that true biblical contentment, solid scriptural joy, is not a trivial bubblegum joy, pink and long-lasting. It is not happy, happy, joy, joy, all frothed up like a specialty latte. Joy is bedrock that goes down a thousand feet, and is grounded in a deep satisfaction with the will of God—His will as expressed in His Word, along with His will as expressed in what unfolds in the course of your story. With that kind of bedrock, a sturdy house can be built. The bedrock is joy, the house is joy, and it is built on the cliff facing the sea —where the storms come from. Count it all joy, James tells us, when the horizon is black at midafternoon (Jas. 1:2).
This tells us that joy in the midst of affliction is not stoicism. You don’t have to pretend it is not a storm; but you should stay in the house. You don’t have to lose all your nerve endings and act like a block of wood. Look at the passion expressed by Paul in our passage. At the same time, look at how he gets over his troubles by getting under the one who decreed them. This kind of joy in affliction is by the Spirit, this is by the power of God.
To paraphrase Thomas Watson, we sometimes lose perspective when we focus on whoever it was that brought our trials to us, instead of the one who sent them. And to paraphrase Thomas Traherne, God is so benevolent and prone to give that He delights in us just for asking. Putting these together, learning the meaning of what has been brought is the way to learn why they were sent. Our problem is that we tend to ask for the diploma, and God answers by giving us the classes. But we didn’t want the classes, which seem too much like work.
Peace of God
Our hearts and minds do not protect the peace of God (Phil. 4:7). It is the other way around. We don’t shield the armor of righteousness with our bodies; it is the other way around (v. 7). God is our fortress, and God sends the tempest so that we will take refuge in Him. He teaches us to run to Him.
Avoiding the Theology of the Foolish Women
When Job’s wife urged him to curse God and die, she is acting the part of a tempting Eve to another Adam. But Job refuses the temptation, and stands fast in his integrity. “But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
But we live in a time when not only have we adopted the theology of the foolish women, we have adopted the sensitivities of those who think such a comparison is a misogynistic attack on women. So let’s make it even-handed, shall we?—let us reject the theology of the foolish women of both sexes.