Hope and Joy

Hope and Joy

This past Sunday, John Mark began a new sermon series exploring the topic of Joy from the book of Philippians. Now, some may ask, “Why the topic of Joy when we are supposed to be thinking about Hope according to our yearly rhythms and seasons?” The simplest reason is provided by Paul right on the heels of the Joy that he mentions at the outset of the letter to the Philippians:

Philippians 1:4-6:

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul himself says that the reason for Joy is based in his ultimate Hope that will be completed on the day of Christ Jesus. This is a simple reference to the Age to Come, the Eschaton, the day when all things will be made right. Paul has Joy because he has Hope. 

So, during the sermon, John Mark laid out three major ideas about Joy (and its’ antecedents). 

  1. Cynicism is lazy
  2. There is a difference between happiness and joy
  3. Joy is the royal standard

And the beauty of these ideas is that they all work perfectly with our theme of Hope as well. They help to build an image of how and why we can have Joy based in our faith and our hope in God. 

First, to have Joy is to reject cynicism and understand that this is a hopeless way to live. Especially after the difficult year that we have all endured together, it is important to move away from cynicism and to choose something, while more difficult, better. To choose Joy in a time and age like ours is to show the world that the way of Jesus carries meaning when nothing else seems to do so. To choose Joy is to declare that we will not settle for the easy road of pointing fingers and playing the blame game. To choose Joy is to find Hope and Life in the midst of a chaotic world. To choose Joy is to lead the way toward Hope. 

Second, Joy is not defined by our circumstances. Happenings do not determine our Hope. Instead, our Hope and Joy is firmly rooted in the knowledge and participation in the way of Jesus. In fact, we know that Jesus invites us to a road of long-suffering. We know that in order for us to follow Jesus, we must pick up our cross (our very instrument of death) and go with Jesus. To follow Jesus is self-sacrificial. But, we also know that to choose this road can lead to Joy because we understand that our lives are not our own to begin with. We are God’s. And to follow God is to learn how to have Joy even in the hard times. Even in the valley of the shadow of death–we fear no evil, for we know that it is precisely in that valley that God resides with us.

And lastly, Joy is the royal standard. Included in the list of attributes that make of the Fruit of the Spirit in the book of Galatians is the characteristic of Joy. To have Joy is to be a bearer of the image of God; it is to be a Spirit-filled person; it is a sign that the divine God who created and sustains this world is active in your life. Joy is the royal standard. It is true of our God, and we have the opportunity to reflect this attribute of God to the world around us. That even though there is no reason to be Joyful because of our circumstances, we defy cynicism and are Joy filled anyway. Even though we embrace the way of Jesus and we pick up our crosses, we do so with Joy because it is in these difficult moments that we know that God resides with us.

Joy offers a glimpse of heaven on earth. And I know of no reason why a little bit more heaven in our world wouldn’t bring us great Hope for the world to come.