Fighting and joy. Do these two go together? As I think about this question, the tune from Sesame Street keeps playing in my head. “One of these things is not like the other…” Is it a chore for you to like hot fudge sundaes? Now I understand that not everyone appreciates a delicious cup of vanilla ice cream smothered in decadent hot fudge. Not so with me. It is not difficult for me to consume a hot fudge sundae…or two. Fighting to like hot fudge sundaes is morally neutral. But having a spiritual taste for Christ is not morally neutral. Heaven hangs on having joy in God. Our eternal lives depend on it.
The Apostle Paul makes a chilling statement in his first letter to the church in Corinth. “If anyone has no love the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Accursed. Anathema. The original word here is commonly used to refer to anything devoted to death or destruction. In Joshua, this word is used in reference to cities and their inhabitants on which a curse was laid. Matthew records the words of Jesus which are closely related to the previous statement from Paul, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Certainly, the teaching of Jesus is clear. We are to love God (Christ) more than all others. The concept is, as Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” It is easy to understand what is being said. The living out of this teaching is far more challenging.
Perhaps those Christians, exiles of the Dispersion, should serve as a great example of the joy which must be present in the lives of God’s people. Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Inexpressible joy. Words cannot describe the joy that accompanies the one who has experienced the saving power of God in Christ. But all too often we struggle to be joyful. Our day to day experiences can blind us to that which is eternal. We fail to allow that which is everlasting to drive our thoughts and actions. Instead, the temporal dictates our decisions. This often leads to frustration and uncertainty. Joy fades in the cloud of our daily doldrum.
If we understand that we are called to love God, we must also understand that love for God includes a taste for joy. Joy is something for which we must fight. We cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with the routine of Christianity. We must constantly strive to grow in our relationship with God and allow that growth to bring greater joy to our lives, even though we may be experiencing difficult moments. Paul, one who experienced his share of difficulties in life, said that he desire was to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). This is what it means to love Christ, to be so filled with joy that leaving this life and being with Christ is considered far better. The psalmist said, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). His works are great because he is great! And if we will spend more time with him, if we allow his word and works to penetrate our hearts, we too will find that our faith in him will lead us to rejoice with joy that is inexpressible.
Fighting and joy? Fighting for joy? Fighting is not something we usually associate with that which is good. But the fight for joy in our lives is a good fight. It is a good fight because the enemy of our joy is evil. It is a good fight because we are not left to fight in our own strength. It is a good fight because it is a struggle to let a burden be carried for us. It is a good fight because it does not involve self-exaltation, but the humbling of self. It is a good fight because by it, God is greatly glorified. Paul explains that we “struggle with all his energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29). Thanks be to God that we are not left to fight alone. Our joy in God will be greater when we see him as the one who gives both the joy and the strength to fight for it. What an amazing God we serve. May we dig deep into the Word of God, that his joy may be in us, and our joy may be full (John 15:11).