Paul’s joyful witness to the lord jesus christ – doxological evangelism
“Because I longed for eternal life, I went to bed with harlots and drank for nights on end. In the morning, to be sure, my mouth was filled with the bitter taste of the mortal state.” Albert Camus, The Fall
“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” The Rolling Stones
“Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Solomon – (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Paul, the apostle of joy, written from prison. (Phil. 4:4-5)
“A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” “You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed You, pouring out the oil of joy on You more than on anyone else.” Jesus of Nazareth (Isa. 53:3, Heb. 1:9)
And Jesus tells us how to have “full joy” even the same joy He had with the Father: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)
We see three key points on how to be a joyful witness for Jesus in Acts 22:14-15: “The God of our fathers has appointed you (Paul) to 1) know His will and 2) to see the Righteous One (Jesus – “the Just One” – KJV) 3) and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” Our Pastor recently preached a message on these two verses showing how foundational these three points are in a believer’s witness for Jesus. Paul actually saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and heard words from His mouth. And although we haven’t seen Jesus with our natural eyes we have seen Him and can continually see Him with our spiritual eyes (Heb. 2:9; 12:2); both His smiling face of love and affirmation and His grieved face when we choose to disobey. And we certainly hear the words of His mouth for He is the Word (John 1:1) and the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12-13) always speaking to us as we tune our ears to listen. And we too can know His will through His Word and by the Holy Spirit Who reminds us of all that Jesus said and is saying. (John 14:26) So, like Jesus says in John 15:9-11, as we know and obey His will we will have full joy in the Lord (not fleeting happiness based on good circumstances).
“Dr. Sam Storms wisely wrote ‘The only theology worth studying is a theology that can be sung,’ and I full-heartedly agree. If our knowledge of God does not lead to joy-filled worship of God, something is wrong.” “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:19-20) Maybe we will sing to one another in heaven instead of talk to each other.
Let’s look at Paul’s joyful witness to the Philippians: “I desire to depart and be with Christ (Who was Paul’s ultimate joy), which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Phil 1:23-25)
In my Prayer Guide, From Mud Pies to a Holiday at the Beach, the first thing we studied is the Problem of Pleasure from a sermon by Ravi Zacharias and an essay he quoted from F. W. Boreham’s essay, Wisps of Wildfire, PHOEBE’S PERPLEXITY (The Abingdon Press, 1924. pp. 70-78) Ravi shows us four boundaries for legitimate pleasures that help us receive the recreating power of legitimate pleasures yet avoid the hurtful and degenerating effect of selfish indulgence that hurts others and ourselves.
The main focus of the Prayer Guide is on The Pleasures of God – i.e., experiencing joy and pleasure in our relationship with God (not gifts from God). It is easy to understand how it grieves the Lord if we just want things from Him instead of wanting Him, if we consider how it grieves us as parents when all our children want are things from us and no relationship with us. God calls us first of all to be in a love relationship with Him not just do things for Him. He rebuked Martha for serving Him when He desired time with her and commended Mary for choosing “what is better” saying it is the “one thing needed” and the one thing He will never take away from us (time alone with Him to love and worship Him and hear His Word). He said the same for the good and hardworking church in Ephesus, “you have left your first love (Him).” (See Luke 10:38-42; Revelation 2:2-5)
“The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) I think if we could grasp an overarching view of God’s Word on joy and pleasure it could mean this: that worldly, temporal pleasures that are given to us by God (James 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:17) can and do renew and refresh us but the joy of the Lord (in our intimate relationship with Him) is what gives us the deep abiding strength we need to serve and glorify Him to the end, regardless of the temporal gifts we receive from Him in this life. Jesus is the ultimate example of this as He is called a man of sorrows but One Who was filled with joy in His relationship with His Father. (Isa. 53:3; Heb. 1:9) And Paul, as a man just like us, suffered greatly (as all the apostles did, yet with great joy) yet was the apostle of joy. For the joy of the Lord was his strength.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:4-5)
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:2-3)
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I think this means that joy is a by-product of our intimate relationship with the Triune God and not something we are to seek as an end in itself. Camus, Solomon and the Rolling Stones seem to prove that. Happiness is more circumstantial whereas spiritual joy is relational. So if we spend our time, energy and money seeking circumstantial (and fleeting) happiness (like trying to catch the wind Solomon says), it takes away that time, energy and money that could be invested in our relationship with God which is what brings true and lasting joy.
One last point: Paul and many of the saints, as men just like us, knew that the joy they did experience in this brief, earthly life was related to the permanent and eternal blessings that would only come later in heaven. Yet knowing that these rewards of Jesus’ commending “Well done” and the corresponding greater opportunity and capacity they would have for all eternity to glorify the Lord BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITHFUL (AND JOYFUL) OBEDIENCE ON EARTH, gave them joy even in the midst of suffering in this brief life.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18) “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:17-18)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
THE PROBLEM OF PLEASURE
1. Author and Professor Peter Kreeft says that the book of Ecclesiastes is lesson # 1 for life and the rest of the Bible is lesson #2. If people don’t heed the message in lesson one, which is that life lived independent of God’s truth and purposes for our lives is empty and meaningless (even if I get all I want as Solomon did), they won’t think they need lesson two. So you will not likely find those kind of people reading the Bible or, more importantly, obeying God’s instructions in the Bible. King Solomon is one of those extremely rare men, though very successful in the world’s scheme of things (money, sex and power), who admits near the end of his life that he was wrong. He then exhorts us to not follow his example but to “fear God and keep His commandments”. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) Since he was also known for his great wisdom, maybe we should heed his advice.
From the life and testimony of King Solomon we see that the best life possible lived “under the sun” – i.e., apart from God’s good purposes for our lives, will be unfulfilling and even meaningless. Solomon was making mud pies per C. S. Lewis and finally realized it. Money, sex, power, position, productive work, etc., did not bring him the deep joy that loving obedience to God brings to our soul. Where may you still be “making mud pies” versus finding deep joy in God?
FINDING JOY IN GOD
2. "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Blaise Pascal
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:10-11) Jesus, the most trustworthy Man (God-Man) that ever walked the earth, promised that if we obey Him (just as He obeyed the Father) we would experience full joy, in fact the same joy He had as He obeyed His Father. What keeps you from believing this to the point of actually letting it change your use of time, energy and money expended in seeking joy in other places?
See the following pages for key points from When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy in God by John Piper.
Contact me at [email protected] if you would like my Prayer Guide – From Mud Pies to a Holiday at the
See this link for a 30-day devotional on the Pleasures of God.
Piper wrote another book entitled, When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy (in the Lord). Piper gives 10 ways to fight for joy in God through His Word.
1) Hearing (through His Word) is the primary way of seeing God’s glory/beauty. “Consequently, faith (seeing the invisible) comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)
2) If we want more of the Spirit (be filled with the Spirit – Eph. 5:18) we must “hear” more of God’s Word. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Gal. 3:1-2 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor.3:17-18 As we behold the glory and beauty of Jesus (fix our eyes on Jesus) through His Word and by the Spirit, God transforms us (He changes us, we don’t change ourselves) to look increasingly more like our beautiful Savior to the glory of God.
3) Only God’s Word can give us LIFE (zoe) versus looking for life in what the world calls the “good life”. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63; also 1 Peter 1:23-25)
4) God’s Word give us hope. Jesus Himself is our blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13) and He, the hope of glory is in us. Col. 1:27. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Rom. 15:4
5) God’s Word gives us freedom (versus bondage to sin; the only relationship we can have with sin is as its slave – 2 Peter 2:19). ”To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36) When Jesus calls us to deny self he is often speaking of denying deceitful desires/pleasures, for Satan promises pleasure but it is fleeting and deceitful. Eph. 4:22; Heb. 11:25
6) God’s Word is the key to answered prayers because our prayers align with God’s Word and will. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:7 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14
7) The Word of God is the source of wisdom. “As you grow in age become a sage.” (Robert Lewis/Robert Hicks) “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. 100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.” Psalm 119:99-100 Godly wisdom is different from being educated and has great advantages for living life for the glory of God and the good of others and thus experiencing joy in the Lord. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” Rom. 14:17-18
8) The Word of God gives us crucial warnings that save us from joy-killing wrong choices. “They (God’s ordinances) are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:10-11 Evil began when mankind thought they could discern good from evil independent of God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, evil begins in our hearts when we think we can discern good from evil apart for God’s Word. (See Hebrews 5:14)
9) The Word of God empowers us to defeat the devil. “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt. 4:4 “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Eph. 6:16-17 “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” A Mighty Fortress is Our God; Words and Music: Martin Luther, 1529.
10) Thus the Word of God gives us a great and lasting joy in God. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:2
Piper confesses that he, like many of us, too often does not want to read God’s Word even knowing how it can bring us lasting joy instead of fleeting pleasure. So he regularly prays four prayers from God’s Word that inspires him to read the Word, to grasp the Word, to have an undivided heart/singled-minded focus on God, and to experience God’s perfect and never-failing love for him. The acronym I O U S (in the ESV translation) can help us remember these four verses. I have been praying these verses regularly in my quiet time since 2007 and found them very inspiring to help me abide in and delight in God’s Word.
I. “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:36
O. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Psalm 119:18
U. “Unite my heart to fear your name.” Psalm 86:11b
S. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad (in You Lord- my addition) all our days.” Psalm 90:14
I came up with ten Ps for staying in the Word, learning the Word through others, and sharing the Word.
1. Plan – have a plan to read the Word and ideally, the entire Bible over time.
2. Place – Consecrate a place in your home (or office) and keep your journal/study aids, etc. there.
3.‘Pointment – put it on your calendar and keep your appointment with the King of kings.
4. Privacy – you need a place where you can talk to God, read the Word out loud, sing, cry, shout, and in general emote with God. Just look at the Psalms alone and see how God’s people relate to Him.
5. Pattern/method to read the Word – There are one or two-year Bible reading plans but I adopted my wife’s plan some years ago. We put a sticky note in four sections of the Bible (Genesis 1, Psalm 1, Matthew 1, Romans 1) and then read from all four sections and move our sticky note to the next portion. 6. Personalize it – I journal and make note of what strikes me personally.
7. Psalm 1 person – muse, meditate, memorize God’s Word especially in specific areas of need (forgiveness of others, identity in Christ, grasping God’s love) and where you desire growth, breakthroughs, etc.
8. Prospering in God – “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:7-8 “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2
9. People/teachers/mentors that you desire to learn from. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7 This could mean reading devotional books (Chambers, Spurgeon, etc.) or people in the Bible (study the life of Abraham, David, Paul, etc.) or seeking out present day mentors. “May those who fear you turn to me (and mentor me), those who understand your statutes.” Psalm 119:79 10. Provoking others through the Word unto love and good deeds. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jer. 15:16 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1 Peter 2:2