2 Corinthians 1:24 ~ 20180218 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/18_2 Corinthians 1:24; Co-Laborers for Your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180218_2cor1_24.mp3
Last week we saw Paul begin to reveal his heart for the Corinthian church. His integrity is under scrutiny. He makes plans in the flesh. He says he's coming to visit, and then he doesn't come as promised. He doesn't keep his word. He doesn't really care. Paul says:
It was to spare you. I didn't come because you wouldn't have wanted me to come like that. As Apostle, Paul bears the weight of Christ's authority. This church is not as it ought to be, and for him to come would mean that they would find him to be not as they would want him to be (2Cor.12:20). This assumes his authority to confront sin, and it also communicates his heart, that he doesn't wish to be heavy-handed, he isn't puffed up, gloating as he throws his weight around. Sometimes it is better not to come. Sometimes it is better to wait, to stay away and write a letter through your tears, saturated with your prayers. He warns in chapter 12 that if he comes again and finds no change in heart, he will not spare them. Then he says:
He would prefer to be with them as weak, gentle, tender, as a nursing mother, not strong, with the firm hand of authority as a disciplining father. His heart, and his authority is for restoration, for building up, not tearing down.
But sometimes tearing down must happen before building up can. Sometimes there is a structure that is dangerous, that is not well built, that has a poor foundation, and it needs to come down before a sound, safe, enduring structure can be built in its place. Sometimes the ground needs to be cleared. And when that is the case, even the demolition is constructive. There is a plan, a dream, a desire to see full potential realized. But the ground has to be cleared, a foundation has to be dug.
He wants to make it clear, that his responsibility, his authority, his severity, is:
As far as the gospel message, he is not over them but together with them, by faith standing firm. He and they deserved nothing but punishment and separation. But in God's amazing undeserved grace, he extended rescue from sin and eternal separation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. This is a gift, to be received by depending on it, trusting in it, believing, receiving. If you are believing in Jesus, you are on a firm foundation. You can only stand firm by leaning on, depending completely on Jesus. Paul says that we brought the gospel to you; it is through our preaching that Jesus came to live in you. But the message is not about us. It is all about Jesus. We are fellow-recipients of God's grace in Jesus. We are not over you in the gospel, but we are alongside and underneath you, serving together with you.
Fellow-Workers for Your _______
Last week we closed by asking how you might fill in the blank. Paul had co-workers, fellow-laborers with him in his ministry whom he names, who came alongside him to help him, to serve him, to support him, to encourage him, with him to advance the gospel. And here in verse 24 he turns that around and addresses this church and says 'we (the Apostles) are fellow-workers with you, we come alongside and under you, serving with you. What? Paul and the other apostles come alongside us, labor together with us?
And we asked, to what aim? What is Paul's great goal? What would it be that Paul aims to partner with this church to accomplish? How would you fill in that blank? I can think of some great gospel ambitions that I would expect to hear on the lips of the Apostle Paul. We work with you to make disciples of all nations! We work with you to bring the good news of Jesus to every creature! We are co-workers with you for your sanctification, that Christ would be formed in you! We are laboring together with you to advance the glory of God in all the earth!
I am shocked that Paul doesn't say any of these things here. What does he say in the middle of verse 24?
We are co-laborers with you for your joy? That seems anticlimactic. That seems like a low aim. That seems secondary, of lesser importance than so many of his other great aims.
Joy and Rejoicing
Why joy? Today I want to set out to answer this question. Why joy? Is joy really a primary ambition we are to strive for?
I got on my bible software and looked up joy in the concordance. 223 verses. Rejoice; 200 verses. Just for fun, I looked up some other words; salvation; 169 verses. Forgive; 106 verses. Jesus; 925 verses. The Bible is all about Jesus, and the Bible is very serious about joy.
Just scanning through those verses that contain the word 'joy' or 'rejoice' was very enlightening. Did you know there are 8 verses in Deuteronomy that command the Israelites to rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God? Deuteronomy 28 lays out severe consequences for not serving God with joyfulness and gladness of heart. It matters not only who you serve and that you serve; it matters how you serve! Attitude matters! Read the book of Numbers; God sent snakes to bite the people because they had bad attitudes. Nehemiah 8:10 says “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” In Philippians 4:4 we have the double command: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:16 we have this concise command (which in the original is actually shorter than John 11:35) “Rejoice always.”
Did you know there's about 20 Hebrew words and about 6 Greek words that communicate joy? This theme of joy is rampant in the Psalms. Gladness, pleasure, mirth; rejoicing, jubilation; exulting or jumping for joy, to display joy; shouting or singing for joy, a ringing cry of joy or praise; being bright, cheerful, exceedingly glad, delighting in. This is a big vocabulary for all the nuances of joy.
Why does Paul put the emphasis on the joy of this church? Why is he laboring together with them for their joy and not for another worthy end?
The way I have framed the question is not entirely fair. By putting it that way I imply that there is a choice between joy and some of these other aims, as if it is joy or the gospel; joy or the glory of God. That is not fair, because it is not a choice between joy or these other things, but rather joy in these other things. But I want you to see the emphasis on joy. When the angels proclaimed the gospel, announcing the good news of the birth of Christ, they said it was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk.2:10). When Paul prays for the believers in Romans 15, he asks “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom.15:13). Peter also talks about our believing in Jesus
Jude, speaking of our final sanctification, looks to the day when Jesus will “present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).
So it is not joy or the gospel, joy or believing, joy or sanctification; rather it is joy in the gospel, joy in believing, joy in sanctification.
But the joy is essential. The gospel message is a message of great joy. There is great joy, inexpressible joy in believing. Our presentation as blameless before the throne in glory is an occasion of great joy. It is an occasion of joy for us, for the angels, and even for God himself. Jesus said “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven... there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk.15:7,10). There is no room in the Bible for a sour gloomy Christianity.
Not Duty but Delight
Christianity is not a religion of duty but of delight. Christianity is not trying to do enough, to attain to a standard, to merit enough to win God's favor. Christianity is a relationship of mutual delighting. God is a God who “rejoices over you with gladness...” who “exults over you with loud singing” (Zeph.3:17); he says of us “in whom is all my delight” (Ps.16:3). And in response we 'delight ourselves in the Lord, we delight to do his will for his law is in our hearts' (Ps37:4; 40:8; Rom.7:22).
What is the Christian life without joy? Where is the beauty, the attractiveness of the gospel without this delight? Paul is willing to come alongside this church and get dirty and messy, laboring alongside them for their joy, because joy is essential to the Christian life and to the spread of the gospel. The gospel is attractive not merely because we have better arguments than other religions, not because we have more compelling truth claims, or more evidence to support our claims. That is essential. But Jesus is attractive because he delivers real true enduring joy.
There are some who have been persuaded by the evidence to assent that Christianity is true and Jesus is the only way, but they choose not to follow Jesus because they see the loss they will sustain if they do. They are weighing the outcomes and what they have that they risk losing seems greater to them than the joy they might find in following Jesus. Could it be because they are not seeing joy in the followers of Jesus?
Paul is strategic in targeting their joy, because joy is contagious. Joy spreads.
God is Joy
Followers of Jesus can have joy because we follow a joyful God. Or to turn it around, a joyless Christian misrepresents God because God is joy. God is love and God is joy.
The fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is really the character of God, a reflection of Jesus in you. The fruit of the Spirit is love, then joy. Love tops the list, and joy is a close second. The Spirit of God is out to produce the fruit of joy in your life as a follower of Jesus. Joy is a main evidence that the Spirit is at work in you. Joy is the character of God produced in you, because God is joy.
1 Timothy 1:11 speaks of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” Blessed means full, fortunate, happy, praised; we could paraphrase 'the good news of the radiance of the happy God.' 1 Timothy 6:15 lists blessed as a characteristic of God alongside some of his other attributes.
Jesus speaks of filling us with joy. In John 10 he says
In John 15. He says:
He says that his word, what he said, will fill his followers with joy. But notice whose joy it is, what kind of joy it is. Jesus says 'that my joy may be in you'; Jesus is saying that he is going to take his own joy and put it into his disciples. The joy of God, the joy of Jesus, in us!
Deep Unquenchable Joy
Notice also that this joy is not superficial happiness dependent on circumstances. In John 16, he says 'you will weep and lament... you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy' (16:20). Jesus does not say that your sorrow will be replaced by joy, that the bad circumstances will go away and happy circumstances will come and then you will have joy. No, he says that your sorrow will become your joy. He goes on in the next verses to use the illustration of childbirth. Giving birth, we call it the pain of labor, is anguish, there is sorrow. But that anguish is swallowed up and transformed by joy in the baby. The joy comes through sorrow. The sorrow is transformed into joy. In verse 22 he makes it clear that our joy is the joy of seeing Jesus, and no one will take your joy from you.
In Luke 6, Jesus tells his disciples
This joy is not dependent on circumstances; it is joy even in, especially in the midst of adverse circumstances. James says:
This is Jesus' own joy, joy that no one can take from us.
Pursuing Joy in Jesus
Paul says that he is laboring together with us for our joy. That means that we ought to be working to pursue our own joy. How do we pursue this kind of joy? What does this look like? George Mueller wrote:
“I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”
How do I get my soul happy in the Lord? How do I labor for my own joy in Jesus? The simplest way I know is to simply preach the gospel to yourself daily. The gospel is God's message of good news, good news about God's grace toward me. Reminding myself of the great truths of the gospel is the best way I know to get my soul happy in the Lord. This includes confronting the lies of the enemy with gospel truth. This means taking advantage of the gospel access we enjoy to spend time in the presence of God, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps.16:11).
In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he is a co-worker with them for their joy, specifically in the context of rebuke, difficult interaction and confrontation over their sin. Pursuing joy is not a cutesy happy-go-lucky affair. This labor for joy is a gritty messy gutsy relational thing. Paul says, my confrontation of your sin, my not coming to visit but writing you a painful letter, my tears, my prayers, is not lording it over your faith, but laboring together with you for your joy. There were lawsuits, sexual immorality, power struggles, popularity contests, divisions, and resistance to authority going on in the church in Corinth.
Paul seeks to come alongside them and labor together with them to turn their pursuit of joy away from position and power and pleasure and possessions, and to ground their joy in gospel truths. He reminds them of the gospel truth that it is by faith that they stand firm. He reminds them that all God's promises are yes to them in Jesus. He reminds them that God establishes us together in Christ through the anointing, sealing, guaranteeing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He reminds them of the gospel, laboring alongside them for their eternal joy.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org