Monday, January 29, 2007

True Rejoicing - Wise Words from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones has some excellent comments on Philippians 3:1 that tie in nicely with our sermon yesterday.

This whole question of joy in the Christian life has often caused a great deal of confusion. If I may so put it, many Christian people are unhappy because they are not experiencing joy. Their whole idea is that joy is the result of things that happen to us. They believe that we have no control over it, that we are not capable of making ourselves rejoice, that joy and rejoicing are the end result of the interaction and inter-operation of a number of forces and factors, most of them without, but some of them within ourselves. And, they say, as a result of all this, we are either happy or we are not. But that, it seems to me, is an error which is constantly exposed and denounced in these New Testament epistles, and here it is exposed by the very fact that we are given a commandment - we are to rejoice, it is something we can do.

But having said that, I must again point out that two dangers arise immediately. The first is the danger of trying to produce this state of rejoicing by making a direct attack upon the emotions.... Some people will say that as rejoicing and happiness belong to the realm of the emotions, then, if we are commanded to rejoice, we must begin to do things to ourselves emotionally in order that we may get into this happy state.... For instance, in a public meeting, or in a public act of worship, think how often something like this happens: the leader of the meeting, or someone else says, 'Well now, the first thing is to get this congregation or gathering into a good mood. Let's put on hymns or tunes or choruses of a certain type - we must get them happy, we must get them to rejoice. They have come in cold and miserable, let's get them into a good, happy state.' So, they put on bright, cheerful hymns to get the people to rejoice. That is what I mean by a direct attack upon the emotions, an attempt to produce joy by doing things to our emotional life which are calculated to lead to that result.

Now I want to show you that that is not the teaching of the Apostle here, as it is not the teaching of the New Testament anywhere. Indeed, I think I can demonstrate that such a direct attack upon the emotions is ... one of the most dangerous things that we can ever do, that it is the high road to false teaching and the various cults. There are many ways that people can make themselves feel happy: by taking drugs, by manipulating circumstances, or by groping in the realm of make-believe, fancy and fantasy, for example.... There is an almost endless variety of ways, and , from the Christian standpoint, that is the major trouble with the world today. The world is full of troubles and unhappiness, terrible things are threatening life today, but instead of facing these things realistically and adopting the Christian way of surmounting them, people deliberately turn their back upon the troubles and, in their search for joy, happiness and peace, create an artificial sense of happiness and pleasure. And if that is wrong for the world, it is wrong also for us as Christian people.

The other danger which we must avoid is the pose of being bright, happy and cheerful Christian people. I think there are a number of people who have rightly seen and understood that Christians are meant to be men and women who rejoice. There is a type of Christian ... who gives the impression that being a Christian means being mournful and miserable.... But people have now seen that that is a false representation of Christianity and of New Testament teaching, and that really the Christian is the only one who can know true happiness in a world like this. So, because of that, they adopt a bright and cheerful pose, and are always trying to give the impression that is is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.

That, it seems to me, is the second form that this error of the direct approach tends to take. I do not know what your experience is but, speaking for myself, the most depressing people I think I have ever met are those who try to give the impression that they are always cheerful and happy. Is there not all the difference in the world between a person who is trying to give that impression and the one who really is happy?

The good doctor goes on to say:

So when we are told to rejoice in the Lord, we must avoid the error of trying to do so by a direct attack upon our emotional nature. How, then, is it to be done? Well, first of all, our rejoicing is always something that results from a realisation of our position in Christ. My joy is the product, almost the by-product, of my concentration upon my relationship to God in Jesus Christ (taken from The Life of Peace: An Exposition of Philippians 3 and 4).

"Our rejoicing is always something that results from a realisation of our position in Christ." That truth corresponds with what we talked about in yesterday's sermon. Rejoicing in the Lord is a recognition of the reality of Christ's Lordship and a wholehearted response to what our relationship with him means. May all of us rejoice in the Lord this week.

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