Joys Of Discipleship
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:2
Frequently the requirement of sacrifice and suffering are associated with the Christian walk. Equally important and an essential element for the disciple of Jesus is joy. Joyfully counting all lost and joyfully enduring throughout the Christian walk is a reflection of the hope and trust in the scriptural promises. God often directs the paths of his children through his word. The joy in sacrifice can be the difference of success and failure to attain the prize of the high calling.
The meaning of the word joy is cheerfulness and sincere delight. Joy can be an emotion evoked by the feeling of well-being and happiness. The spiritual joy experienced by the disciple of Christ is elevated to a level above happiness. Also, the scriptures often refer to “rejoicing”, as an expression of joy and instruct the faithful to rejoice. The apostle Paul repeatedly reminded the Philippians to maintain a spiritual attitude of rejoicing in the Lord. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 3:1; 4:4).
The initial joy of discipleship is experienced with new awareness of the privilege of the calling to be a follower of Christ. The breaking of the fetters of the old man allow the new creature to come forth. The spiritual thoughts of the mind and the sentiments of the heart combine in a condition to receive the grace of God and bask in the depth of His love. The true joy of discipleship is thrilling and the newly begotten is spiritually energized by the holy spirit to serve the Master and his grand plan.
Great Joy To All
The glorious message announcing the birth of Jesus set the scene of “great joy” as the angel said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). The joy originally associated with Jesus has continued to influence and encourage his followers just as the joy that was set before him was an inspiration to Jesus to please the Heavenly Father.
A Parable Of Joy
In a parable consisting of one simple verse, Jesus explains the joy of sacrifice.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt. 13:41). The man in this parable immediately recognized the great value of the treasure. He willingly, eagerly and without hesitation sacrificed his worldly possessions in order to purchase the field and thus attain the treasure. But his added element of joy is the quality that goes a step beyond the expected response and reflects a heart that is unreserved in determination to follow through with the commitment of responsibility of his decision.
This parable is an example of Jesus and the great sacrifice he joyfully offered to redeem mankind. He was truly delighted to do God’s will. In addition, each consecrated heart, freely and joyfully forsaking all personal preferences and ambitions and choosing to endure the cross, is pictured in this parable. In following the example set by Jesus, the new creature “delights” in doing the Lord’s will just as Jesus expressed, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8).
A Fruit Of The Spirit
Jesus offered much comfort to his disciples assuring them that if “ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). And then Jesus encourages them by saying, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (vs. 8). With the assurance that the Father will respond to the needs of those who abide in His spirit, Christ links the instruction to bear much fruit. Thus, those who petition their Heavenly Father for the spirit of joy will be blessed.
This responsibility to bear much fruit is elaborated in Galatians. The Apostle Paul instructs the Galatians to walk in the spirit (Gal. 5:16) and proceeds to list the fruits of the spirit. Second in the list, and only after love is joy. Paul is confirming the importance of joy in the character of the true followers of Christ.
The author of Proverbs describes the effect of joy on the well being of an individual. Without the spirit of joy, the new creature would be lacking the ability to praise God or bring glory to His name.
“A merry (joyful) heart maketh a cheerful countenance; but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13).
“A merry (joyful) heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Prov. 17:22).
Returning to John 15, Jesus continues, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (vs. 11) The wisdom of the Proverbs was understood by Jesus and the necessity of joy as a fruit of the spirit had to be emphasized to his followers.
Sacrifice And Joy The two elements of sacrifice and joy work in harmony throughout the Christian walk. The concept of sacrifice and joy combined seems contradictory. However, the two qualities flow together as intertwining threads forming a strength that neither element could supply alone. As the joy and delight in serving God and his purpose for all mankind is cultivated, the sacrifice becomes a sweet savor to the heavenly Father.
The Apostle Paul acknowledges the sacrifice of the Philippians in providing more than once for his needs. (Phil 4:15, 16) He describes their efforts, “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” (vs. 18)
The scriptures have provided a beautiful example of a joyful attitude in the character of the Apostle Paul. Though he suffered greatly, preaching the truth and nurturing fellow new creatures brought him great joy and strength. Paul says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Phil. 3:8
Paul trusted in God to be the supplier of all his needs. (Jas. 1:17) He suffered greatly without complaint, “For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7:5). And yet at the same time in verse 4 he says, “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.” In these verses Paul is revealing a perfect example of suffering combined with joy.
The Joy Of Oneness
In respect to Paul’s Christian character and faithfulness, consider his proclamation to the Philippians. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Phil. 2:2)
Paul is declaring his personal joy in the spirit of oneness among his fellow servants. In the verse just prior, he explains that this oneness in spirit provides consolation in Christ, comfort of love, and bowels and mercy. Each member should also have this desire of oneness, recognizing the spirit of joy it provides.
A Joyful Walk
As the new creature embarks upon the Christian walk, the joy of discipleship evolves and develops to take on new facets with each experience. Worldly possessions become worthless when compared to the opportunity and privilege of walking with our Lord.
Though the suffering and temptations encountered along the way would be interpreted by the worldly understanding as being painful, and efforts should be made to avoid them, the new creature finds these experiences a blessing. Often a trial blossoms into a beautiful opportunity to bring glory to the heavenly Father and the overruling of God’s providence is joyfully recognized. Each experience provides development of character and greater maturity.
The Apostle Peter describes this condition of the servant of God: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen . . . ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Pet. 1:6-8)
When the success of an ambassador of Christ is realized, the joys are exceeding. Paul speaks of his preaching to the Thessalonians as “gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. . . for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” (1 Thes. 2:7-9) In verses 13 and 14, Paul describes their response to his preaching as “receiving the word of God” and “becoming followers of the churches of God.”
What a joy for Paul to actually witness the fruitage of his efforts! Paul testified of his great love of the Thessalonians and embraced the joy of recognizing their faithfulness and worthiness in their Christian walk. “For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thes. 2:20).
Paul praises the spiritual condition of the “elect”. He assures them that they are begotten unto a lively hope and to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, that fadeth not away which is reserved in heaven for the faithful saints (1 Pet. 1:4).
God Rewards The Faithful
May the saints of God be aroused to joyful faithfulness when considering the mere glimpses that have been provided in the scriptures concerning the glory to follow.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God . . . Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1,2)
Indeed, joy rules over the consecrated heart in the opportunity to glorify God now in this Age and to become a joint member of the body of Christ for the Ages to come.
Returning to the theme text, the Apostle provides a picture in which Jesus, the author of our faith, is seated at the right hand of the Father. Indeed, Jesus is the captain of our salvation and has successfully and joyfully completed his mission as the savior of mankind. Let us take faith in that God is a rewarder of those who are faithful. Jesus further confirms this, saying, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matt. 5:12)