Joy, part 6: conclusion
When we undergo bad times, it is either for chastening us or for the purposes of trying and testing our faith. Of course, sometimes the difficult times serve both purposes in God’s sovereign plan for our life. But let us now turn our attention to a discussion of trials which are not because it is a corrective judgment, but rather the difficulty is sent by God to test and grow our faith. As with the chastenings, so too, these trials can be obstacles to joy in our life.
Trials can come in a plethora of forms. The very same things mentioned earlier in this study as means of chastening could also be Father’s means of testing our faith as well. So whether it is you or a loved one who is seriously injured or terminally ill, or if it’s financial problems, marital problems, in-law problems, children or parent problems, work problems—or if it is rejection or criticisms or even serious persecution, the trials of our faith can take practically any form. How do you think we can tell the difference if it’s a trial or a chastening?
My suggestion would be to take a guilt-check? Is something gnawing away in your conscience, like a rat gnawing on a piece of wood? Perhaps it’s time to deal with it. If the guilt check comes up clean, then you can be fairly certain it is Father blessing you with an opportunity to grow your faith to a higher level. He is sending you a trial as an opportunity to build your character in one or more areas.
If you have been a practicing Christian for any length of time, then you can agree with me from your own experiences that your faith can only grow and your character can only be built by means of trials and testing. We can learn about faith by reading Christian books and the stories of great Christian men and women.
We might even have the benefit of seeing the good examples of great faith among people around us, but we only make real spiritual progress when we ourselves undergo trials and testings.
One of the worst disservices that an evangelist or any Christian can do is to give the impression to an unbeliever that once they become a Christian, that life will be smooth sailing from here on in. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Life will be one trial after another. But guess what? Look at the non-Christians you know. Life is one trial after another whether you are a Christian or not. The difference is that when you are a Christian you begin to understand the purpose of suffering and thereby we Christians are, or should be, better able to endure life’s hardships.
Better able, because we have the assurance of eternal life, that our names are written in heaven, as it were. The writings of the NT are replete with passages telling believers of rejoicing in their trials. Let’s look at some of them for our learning and edification, shall we? The apostle Paul speaks of joy in tribulation.
2 Corinthians 7:4 Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.
How could he be joyful in all tribulations? How can we be joyful in our tribulations? Back up one chapter to…
2 Corinthians 6:1 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
Parenthetically, when Paul says “approving ourselves,” it is not a prideful statement. It means that he and the other ministers do minister in such a way so as to exhibit themselves, to show themselves, to prove themselves as true ministers of God. Let me back up a phrase or two…
patience, in afflictions … 5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Verse 6: by longsuffering. Let’s put some terms on the table: Patience, perseverance, longsuffering and forbearance. Patience is virtually synonymous with perseverance. Forbearance and longsuffering seem to me to be virtually synonymous. Longsuffering is part of patience. It is one aspect of patience.
But longsuffering refers specifically to tolerating the abuses of others. Let me say it another way. Longsuffering is the indulgence of those who injure us. It is the refusal to resent or take vengeance upon those who cause us suffering. It is the biblical response to those who offend us repeatedly. It is the grace to suffer those wrongs without resentment or bitterness.
Our opportunities to practice longsuffering are multitudinous. They would include scorn and ridicule, insults and practical jokes at your expense. Suffering pranks which are malicious instead of funny. Such pranks usually point to a deep-seated emotional problem in the prankster, don’t they? Hence, our need for the grace to display the fruit of longsuffering. I have known people like that, have you?
Remember, the key to longsuffering is to tolerate these things without resentment, without malice and without bitterness. Paul speaks much of longsuffering, but Peter also addresses this virtue when he counsels slaves who have harsh masters to endure with patience. He points them to the example of Christ enduring harsh treatment he did not deserve. (1 Peter 2:18-25)
This is an important point about longsuffering that we should understand: I do not think that the Scriptures are teaching that we are to remain in abusive relationships when we have the option to make changes. But as Peter’s example shows, a slave was stuck. He could not simply change masters with no serious consequences.
So today, there are employer-employee relationships, but in almost all cases, there is always the option for an employee to make changes in his work situation so that he does not have to unnecessarily endure abuse at the hand of an employer.
In an abusive husband situation, it might not be so easy, especially if there are children involved. A wife cannot always just get up and leave and file for divorce. Sometimes she can and should, in my opinion, but if it is not an option, then this might be a case where the fruit of longsuffering is developed.
Think about this: if we find ourselves in a situation of learning patience through longsuffering, that is, that we are continually and unavoidably being mistreated by others, then truly our faith is being tested.
In the face of this trial, will we keep faith and trust in God? That He will not test us above what we are able to bear? That He will bring justice on the tormentor—but perhaps not in your lifetime? And by the way, do we pray that God will have mercy on him?! Was this not the lesson of Joseph?
Joseph learned patience through longsuffering and forbearance. He was unjustly enslaved. He was unjustly accused of rape. He was unjustly imprisoned for 13 years. He could do nothing to change his situation. He even tried to effect his own release when the butler and baker were being released, remember the story?
But ultimately he had to wait with the right spirit, the proper heart attitude, until God gave pharaoh a dream. It was totally out of Joseph’s control. But when his time of testing was through, he came forth from the furnace of fire as purified gold. That is, he was a man of virtually pure golden character; a man possessed of the divine nature. My guess is that Joseph also learned to rejoice in his sufferings, don’t you agree?
Just as repeated abuse is one aspect of longsuffering, so another is provocation. The difference is that after provocation, we are not powerless to respond. We can get revenge, if we so choose. Provocation is where someone causes our anger to flare, and we run the risk of losing our temper. But we are not helpless; we have the ability to punish or exact revenge rapidly and harshly.
What is our response to be? Obviously, there are times when a measured response is called for, for righteousness’ sake—AND when we have the proper authority to do so. But in many other cases, we should learn patience from provocation. God is our example. The Bible describes Him as “slow to anger.” The apostle James counsels us to do the same.
James 1:19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
Restraining our anger and wrath is manifesting the fruit of longsuffering and patience. It is an observable fact that some of us are more prone to losing our temper than others. If we may generalize and use a stereotype, I think it is true for some reason that red-haired people seem to have a shorter fuse. I don’t know why; that’s just the way it is.
If you have a short fuse (red hair or not), then learning patience under provocation will be one of your special challenges to overcomership. It is not okay to simply dismiss this trait by saying “Well, that’s just the way I am.” Yes, it is the way you are; but you need not remain that way!
Rather than saying “That’s just the way I am,” a short-tempered person needs to (1) acknowledge his temper as a sinful habit, and (2) beg God for His grace to be able to respond to provocations with longsuffering and patience, to become “slow to anger,” even as is our heavenly Father.
When we learn through longsuffering to have a slow fuse, then we are learning to deal with those who provoke us in a manner which is both spiritually maturing for us and helps heal relationships rather than exacerbate poor relationships. The apostle James has more to say about joy in the midst of trials in this same chapter, if we back up to…
James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3 Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith worketh [produces] patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
When I lived in Florida back in the 1980’s, I had built a home for our growing family. Not too long after we had furnished it, we were burglarized twice to the tune of thousands of dollars worth of our possessions. One stolen item was a priceless necklace that belonged to my wife. Its intrinsic value was very small, but it was priceless because it was a family heirloom. Do you think I was provoked? Do you think I was a happy camper? … which I guess is the modern way of asking, do you think I was able to maintain Christian joy? After being robbed of our goods, I do not recall that I chanced upon the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, but I can certainly appreciate it now.
Hebrews 10:30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
Paul is commending these Christians who apparently had no sooner become believers than what the bottom fell out in their lives. They were insulted, they were made a laughingstock, they were afflicted, and when they were robbed, they responded with joy.
In 2 Corinthians we find that Paul speaks again of joy in the midst of trials, …with an interesting result. And I will read this verse in three different versions for the sake of clarity. The words are correct in the KJV, but it just doesn’t quite communicate the idea to us clearly in our sound-bitten generation.
2 Corinthians 8:2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
NRS 2 Corinthians 8:2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
BBE 2 Corinthians 8:2 How while they were undergoing every sort of trouble, and were in the greatest need, they took all the greater joy in being able to give freely to the needs of others.
In other words, true biblical joy results in cheerful giving! How’s your giving? Is it cheerfully given, or begrudgingly out of sense of duty? Guess which manner is pleasing to God? Next, in Colossians 1, we will see that Paul again connects the ideas of longsuffering and patience with joy.
I still can’t believe it! There I was trying to avoid doing any teaching on patience and longsuffering, and so I choose to teach on joy (of my own free will, of course…not!) and the Father blindsides me again. It seems that everywhere I look for joy, He says “longsuffering, patience!” He’s such a loving Father, isn’t He? Or as I have learned this affectionate term for Him from a friend, He is Jehovah-sneaky!J
Colossians 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
Well, friends, it looks like we’re stuck with the reality that joy is really all about patience and longsuffering. I guess it makes sense when you stop and think about it because it’s easy to be glad and full of joy when everything is hunky-dorry in your life.
But since we are striving to grow spiritually and attain to the high calling of overcomership, then it follows that the big test is maintaining joy in the midst of trials and even outright persecution. Paul and Barnabas did it.
Acts 13:50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.
51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.
To sum up, our study of the fruit of joy has led us to discover that there are certain obstacles to our retaining joy in our Christian walk. In the process of learning about true Christian joy, we have learned that it entails trials and chastenings, patience and longsuffering, perseverance and forbearance.
The keys to maintaining our joy have been sprinkled throughout this study, but allow me to recap them for us as we move towards a close in this study.
Key #1: If our joy seems impeded, do a guilt check and if it tests positive, then deal with the sin immediately. Confess it and forsake it. “Psalm 51 it,” if you will, and then expect God to restore to you the joy of His salvation.
Key #2: Believe God and trust in His plan for your life. He has written the script for your part and He has planned an unfathomably magnificent end for you in unending bliss.
Key #3: When trials and chastenings impede our joy, make sure we are focusing on the long-term benefits instead of the present circumstances. We have our names written in heaven.
We have the promise of the Creator of the universe that He will raise us from the dead in glorious, immortal bodies to enjoy His company and that of all His creation for endless time. With that yardstick for comparison, our present—and sometimes very painful—circumstances can be seen in their proper perspective.
And key #4, we have not yet read it, but it is the continuation of Colossians 1. We left off in verse 11.
Colossians 1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Key #4 is to give thanks. And as it says elsewhere in Scripture, we are to give thanks in all things, whether we perceive those things to be either good or bad. Because it is all designed for our ultimate good. I recommend you read the short book of Philippians because its main theme is rejoicing. As in…
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Brothers and sisters, we do possess the most precious heirloom of all: that we are partakers of the inheritance of eternal glory with the Father, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That is enough reason to give thanks for all eternity, is it not? (This concludes the study of the fruit of joy.)