Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Down in My Heart

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 25, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the third message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Now, if you haven’t been around here the last couple of weeks, we’ve started a summer sermon series entitled, Living by the Spirit. And it’s all about how we can follow the command given by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatian churches: “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Now that’s our focus. And during the first message, before talking about a spiritual kind of life, we looked at what “the desires of the flesh” were all about. And we reached the conclusion that they came from a misuse of the freedom we have in Christ. And this leads to a mess of character flaws, which, when taken together always results in a bunch of broken relationships. That was the first message. And last week, we focused on the first sign of a spiritual life, namely love. And we talked about how the kind of love about which Paul wrote is both a decision, not an emotion, and an obligation, not an option. And this morning, we’re going to look at the second trait shown by folks who are living by the Spirit: namely joy.

And I’ll tell you, just like we said about love, joy should be a big deal for Christians. For example, some of the most popular songs we sing around the church are about joy, and I’m talking about the feeling, not the person. I mean, I think a lot of us know by heart the first verse to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” And Christmas just wouldn’t seem right if we didn’t sing “Joy to the World!” And right after “...peace like a river” and “...love like an ocean”, everybody knows that “I've got joy like a fountain in my soul,” right?

But my favorite Christian song about joy is the one that starts like this (and I won’t sing it): I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (someone say ‘Where?’) Down in my heart (Where?) Down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” Now, brace yourselves, we’re going to sing it a little later in the service. Let’s just say, we sing about joy a lot in the church, again the feeling, not the person.

But you know, even though it’s a big deal, that doesn’t necessarily mean we really understand what joy and rejoicing is all about, at least not what it meant for Paul, nor do we understand why he listed it as the second fruit of the Spirit, right after love. And for that reason, we’re going to spend a little time breaking down Christian joy so that we can get a better idea about what it is and why it’s important. What we won’t do, though, is talk about how to get it, because the kind of joy Paul had in mind we don’t need to get. The Holy Spirit has already planted it within each one of us, I guess you could say down in our hearts, just like he planted the ability to love. And so, all we need to do is simply allow what is right now inside us to rise to the surface.

And to do that, well, I think it’s pretty important to understand exactly what it is, and of course, I’m talking about joy. And to do that, we’re going to open our Bibles and take a look inside, because when we do, I believe Paul offers three characteristics of the kind of joy that the Spirit brings and that believers can show. And I’ll tell you, we can find all three in what he wrote in his letters.

You see, first, for Paul, Christian joy is grounded in faith. It’s grounded in trust. I’m telling you, it’s grounded in our decision to believe that the one who loved us before he laid the foundation of the earth holds our destinies in his hands, in his loving and compassionate and merciful hands. In fact, I think this was something that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, “Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” [Philippians 1:25-26] You see, for Paul, joy and faith were always linked. And this was especially true when that faith, that trust in God was directed to the future, and I’m talking about the future toward which God was leading the world and in which Christians could feel hope. In other words, when we trust that God is leading us into a glorious future, one that’s free from a lot of the mess we have to deal with now, we’ll experience hope and that hope invariably leads to joy. For example, when Paul wrote to the Romans, he told them to “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” [Romans 12:12] And in the same letter, he prayed that “...the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 15:13] And earlier, again in the Roman letter, as he was beginning to explain our relationship with God, Paul tied joy with both faith and hope. Just listen to what he wrote, and I think it’s a little easier to understand when we read from the Contemporary English Translation and here the word that’s usually translated “joy” is translated “happy”: “By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God.” [Romans 5:1-2] You see, for Paul, joy is tied to both faith and hope.

And I’ll tell you why I think that connection is important. Sometimes I think we assume that joy, that happiness just comes and goes. There are times when we’re happy, probably when things are going our way, and there are times when we’re not, and that’s just the way it is. But that’s just not true if Paul was right and Christian joy is grounded ultimately in faith, you know, trust in God. I mean, while good times may come and go, we can decide to believe that God is in control. And we can decide to trust that through Jesus Christ our past has been cleansed and our future secured. And we can decide to have faith that the Holy Spirit is a constant source of inspiration and strength. And because joy in grounded in faith, when we make that decision, and it’s something we make not just once but over and over again, if Paul was right, it’s through that decision that we’ll experience joy. Now that’s one thing I think he believed.

And second, for Paul, Christian joy can really help us, particularly when we’re facing some kind of suffering. Let me show you what I’m talking about. When Paul was telling the Corinthians about the suffering that he and the Christians with him were facing, he wrote, “Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.” [2 Corinthians 7:2-4] And in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” [1 Thessalonians 1:4-7] And to his friend Philemon, Paul wrote, “I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.” [Philemon 7] I’m telling you, for Paul, that feeling of joy was absolutely essential for believers who were struggling through tough times.

And I’ll tell you, that’s still important for us right now. I mean, without an awareness that we’re not alone, without a sense that the future holds something more than what we’re experiencing right now, and without a feeling that we are a part of something greater than we can even imagine, it’s easy for discouragement to slip into despair. But if we can claim the joy that comes from faith, we’ll be able to keep our heads up when life is pulling us down. Joy can help, and that’s number two.

And third, according to Paul, Christian joy is shared among believers. It enlivens the Body of Christ. It must, not should, but must be something that’s experienced within every Christian church. Now I think that’s exactly what Paul believed. And not only do we see it lurking behind almost every passage we’ve looked at this morning, I think it was crystal clear when Paul told the Philippians that he was sending to them a man they’d sent to him. He wrote, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.” [Philippians 2:28-30] And later, in the same letter, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ...I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.” [Philippians 4:4, 10] And finally, also in his letter to the Philippians, Paul was about a clear to a congregation as he could be, when he wrote, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” [Philippians 3:1] For Paul, a Christian church is a community where people know how to rejoice; dah. Man, it’s a place where people feel joy, the kind of joy that comes from faith and the kind of joy that picks us up when we feel “rode hard and put away wet.” Man, this isn’t rocket science.

But I’ll tell you, this presents us with a pretty clear challenge I’m not sure we can avoid. Listen to me, if we’re not a church that knows how to rejoice in everything we do and if we don’t feel happy when we’re worshiping and when we’re working and when we’re just hanging out together but instead we grumble and gripe and complain, I’m telling you, if we have decided that we’re not going to experience joy, brothers and sisters, “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s one we better solve before we find ourselves standing before the Judgement Seat of God. Joy must be shared among Christians; therefore, it must be present here. And that’s three.

And I’ll tell you, that’s something we need to remember, if we’re serious about living by the Spirit. You see, regardless of what we sing, for the Apostle Paul, Christian joy always is grounded in faith. It always helps when we face suffering. And it always is shared among Christians in this community we call the church. That’s the way it was, is and always will be, amen. And so, as Christians who want to live spirit-centered lives, let’s start bearing some joyous fruit from that seed which was planted down in our hearts, and I’m talking about joy, joy, joy.

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