Today I continue to serialise an editted transcript of a sermon I preached on joy which you can also watch or listen to.
What is this joy? What is this full life? What is it?
The joy God gives us is clearly not just a happy feeling, as we will see, but it is a happy feeling. God really does want you to be happy and, as I have said already, many people think of Christians as miserable people. They think that we have given up the pleasures of this world. Perhaps at your work someone will come to you and say: ‘We’re all going out to the pub this evening, do you want to come?’ And for many Christians, their answer will simply be this: ‘Oh no, I’m a Christian.’
It gets even worse than that because there are many people who have this notion about Christianity that it is purely about sacrificing and laying aside your pleasure, that’s about really going through life lacking. There is even this notion that we should obey God, as the old prayer says: ‘…for no reward, save for that of knowing that we do Your will’. I want to tell you, that is not biblical. Actually, that notion is more holy than God, and you cannot get more holy than God. God does not tell us to be like that. He does not tell us to be like the monks who deny themselves everything and who try and pursue self sacrifice. Some people say that nothing that you do cannot be good unless it is wholly disinterested. In other words, that you do not get any pleasure out of it whatsoever. You are doing it entirely for the good of someone else. Let me say again, the Bible knows nothing of that.
I am married, and a little while ago I suggested to my wife that we took a weekend away and had a bit of a break. Imagine if I had said to her something like this: ‘I’m your husband and it’s my duty to make sure that you enjoy yourself and that you get the rest that you need, so I have decided to sacrifice for you this weekend and to make sure that you have a nice time. Maybe we will go to a craft show, and that’s fine. I won’t get any pleasure out of spending time with you whatsoever; it will all be for your pleasure, not for mine.’ Yeah, you’re laughing, and you’re right to laugh. I don’t think my wife would have wanted to come with me if I had said it like that. And yet, many people treat God like that.
The truth is, however, that holiness and joy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the true route to happiness is through the root of holiness. The truth is that all of us seek joy. Everybody wants to be happy and it is frequently repeated that every man, woman and child who has ever lived, and every act that we take, we take in order to pursue happiness. You cannot do anything without wanting to be joyful, even, it is said, the person that tries to kill themselves. They are doing it because they want happiness. They are not satisfied with their experience at that time. So, the problem is not seeking joy. The problem is this: where do you seek your fulfilment? Where do you seek your happiness? In whom do you seek your happiness?
The Bible does talk about sacrifice. In Matthew 13:44, we have the story of a man who finds treasure in a field and then sells everything he has in order to get that treasure. Christians often quote that, and it is right to quote that. There is a sense in which God calls you to lay everything down for Him. But we could easily miss something very critical that story, and that is this: Jesus says, ‘In his joy he went and sold everything’. The whole point of that story is that the man saw a treasure. He saw something to desire, something worthwhile, something valuable, something to rejoice in, and because of that joy, he went and he devoted everything to it. This is very different from laying aside in some kind of self-denying, miserable kind of way. That is not what God calls us to. No, quite the opposite!