As I was doing my devotional reading in 2 Corinthians and asking for new light this week, the thought that emerged was that as believers we have a duty to joy. We are to bring joyful praises to God. We are to experience joy that strengthens us in our walk with him. And we are to practice our faith in a way that brings joy to each other and to our spiritual leaders.
The Apostle Paul had founded and then pastored the church at Corinth through his direct presence and through written correspondence. Two of his letters to them became part of the biblical canon. We know that there were more letters, but these are the two Holy Spirit ordained to become part of his Book.
I’ve always considered 1 Corinthians (along with the book of Acts) as the essential manual for establishing a healthy, caring Christian community. It is instructional, encouraging, challenging, and corrective of many mostly practical errors that commonly occur in community life and worship.
Second Corinthians has a very different flavor and tone. It is apparent that there had been conflict between Paul and this church he dearly loved. Having planted the church, Paul felt a sense of ownership, and expected that his apostolic leadership would be respected. It’s clear that he also wanted them to love him. His feelings were hurt. Where he once had shared joyful fellowship with them, they had come to a point where they were causing each other pain.
This comes through clearly in this passage:
So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful. (2 Cor. 2:1-3, NLT).
My pain brings you pain. Your joy brings me joy. Paul’s steady reiteration of this dichotomy of pain and joy really caught my attention. He seems to place great importance on bringing joy to our brothers and sisters, and our leaders, and avoiding words and behaviors that will bring pain.
Sometimes hard words need to be said when there’s a conflict, and it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end (or, quite often, the sending end either). Conflict is difficult for most of us. If we grew up in a family or environment in which conflict escalated to violence or cut us off from love and belonging, we naturally associate conflict with pain and rejection.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially in a community of Jesus-followers. Our fellowship together around the truth of the gospel and our common love for the Lord is to be characterized by love and joy, whether we are dealing with conflict or not.
Jesus was realistic about human relationships and gave lengthy instruction on how we can walk through conflict without destroying the love and joy.
“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10-12).
Jesus wanted us not only to love one another, but to find great joy in loving one another. Our fellowship is purposed on bringing Jesus and our spiritual family “complete” joy. Whole, wholehearted joy.
In Jesus’s deep prayer to the Father shortly before he departed the earth, Jesus cried out,
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them…” (John 17:13).
He wanted us to be obedient, respectful, honorable children. But his underlying purpose in wanting this for us is that we would experience the deepest and best type of joy available to human beings this side of heaven.
Going back to Paul, we find further reinforcement regarding this concept of complete joy. Philippians 2:2 is a beautiful example:
“…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
Leaders who have the hearts of servants and shepherds are pained when the sheep don’t live in like-mindedness, mutual caring, and unity. But when we walk in the steps of Jesus, at one with him and one another, our leaders experience an overwhelming joy. It’s like the joy we feel when our own children play well together and show lovingkindness toward each other. There are few things that are more fulfilling to witness in this life.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the author emphasizes this point:
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you “(Heb. 13:17).
In order to not leave out another very important Apostle, I’ll end with Peter’s statement that sums up well the fruit of our faith,
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Pet. 1:8).
I want to be the kind of disciple who brings joy to my savior, who spreads joy amongst my friends and neighbors, and to the shepherds who watch over my soul. Will you join me in this duty to pursue joy?