Count it All Joy

(listen to sermon)

Many people know they should count it all joy and even know why, but they don’t know how.

This is typically where the breakdown happens. There is a measure of knowledge and understanding that comes with being able to count it all joy – but then there is an application, an obedience, and a working in order to maintain that joy.

Jesus warns of a joy that does not last in the parable of the sowers. In Mark 4:14-17 Jesus says,

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

What we see here is that there is a kind of joy that comes from hearing the gospel, seeing the power of the gospel, fellowshipping with the saints in the gospel etc. You hear the Word of God and you rejoice. You see wondrous things in God’s law and you rejoice. You see God move in yours or others’ lives and you rejoice. There is a joy that comes from knowing and seeing! But this joy must continue. The knowing must continue. The seeing must continue. It must have a root. It must be fed. Otherwise, though these people can have some joy and endure for a while (based on mere knowledge and past experience), when tribulation and persecution continues to come, they will immediately fall away. And why? The joy has run out. The joy had no root. They knew the why of joy – but they didn’t know the how. They knew they had it once, but they don’t have it anymore. So, what is the root of joy? How do we keep joy? How do we endure suffering with joy?

That’s the question for us to answer – but before we nail down the how of joy in suffering – I want to remind you of our first seven weeks: the why of joy. If you have been paying attention, you will see that joy has been there all along.

Why can we have joy in suffering?

Week 1: The Sovereignty of God and Suffering

God is sovereign over everything in His created universe. Nothing is outside of His control. Including evil and suffering. And what man is responsible for because of sin, and what satan is intending to use for evil, God is using for good – namely His glory, and the joy of His people.

Week 2: Suffering With an Eternal Mindset

Therefore, when we face any kind of suffering in this world, we must arm ourselves with the same way of thinking as Jesus did. We must place that joy before us. We must put on the armor of God and be renewed in our minds by putting on the mind of Christ.

Week 3: Resisting Sin

We must understand that the suffering we share with Christ and the saints is that of resisting the devil and sin. This process and this kind suffering is promised to everyone who follows Christ. We have not resisted sin to the point of shedding blood, therefore God must discipline us. He tests us in order that our weaknesses may become apparent, then through repentance, and the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, we are corrected, chastised, and trained. Then we go back out for battle.

Week 4: Endurance that Leads to Assurance

Then, as we resist the devil and wage war on our sinful flesh, Christ in us causes us to persevere and overcome sin – to defeat the devil - and through endurance we find that we are indeed a new creation. We have a new character. We are producing fruit. And this brings us a confident, faith-filled assurance of a hope that cannot be taken from us. It is in this hope that we are saved. We must endure to the end, and in Christ we will endure to the end waiting for this hope with joy, patiently enduring every test and trial knowing that the result of all these sufferings are making us more like Christ, increasing our joy, increasing our effectiveness of ministry, and preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Week 5: Called to Suffer Together

God has not left us alone in our suffering – so our suffering must not drive us to isolation. Your suffering isn’t only about you. You need the body to kill your sin, and the body needs you to kill their sin! When one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Suffering highlights that we weren’t meant for independent living. In fact, God has ordained for our endurance through suffering to be a means to equip and edify the saints! We are to share in suffering! We have been called to suffer together. This is for our own joy and endurance, for the joy and endurance of the body, and for the glory of God!

Week 6: For the Joy of All Peoples

When we submit to God’s sovereignty, look to the hope that is to come, overcome sin, endure suffering, and suffer together, this becomes our opportunity to give an answer for the hope that is in us. God has appointed suffering to His servants in order that they may have opportunities to boldly proclaim the gospel and show the surpassing worth of Christ over all worldly comfort. This is how the nations are reached. Glad suffering servants! We endure suffering for the sake of the elect – that they may obtain salvation. The salvation of the nations, missions, and the joy of all people’s is inseparable from suffering. In some of the most difficult places in this world, we will only reach them through suffering.

Week 7: God’s Holiness in Suffering

When we begin to doubt God’s sovereignty in the midst of incredible evil and suffering, and when suffering knocks on our front door, we trust in His goodness and humble ourselves in the glory of His holiness. The Bible teaches that God is all knowing. He knows it all before it even comes to be. And He is all powerful. He can do anything that He pleases. And though He will often interfere with the evil plans of man and the devil, He will also at times sovereignly decide not to. But in all that He does decide, He is good, and He is purposing and choosing according to His own counsel, for the purpose of displaying His glory – the revealing of His holiness – His intrinsic worth and value. In all that He deliberately allows, or appoints, He is doing so according to His faithfulness to Himself – to display the riches of His glory. God always does what is right. He cannot sin, and He cannot be tempted to sin. God acts based on what upholds His value and honor, what esteems His worth, and what displays the depths of His attributes. So, when God appoints suffering, He is not evil. He can’t be – He is holy. He is working beyond what we could ever possibly imagine. He is separate. He is infinitely worthy.

This should produce a great amount of joy in us. We can rest in God’s sovereignty. We can cling to the hope to come. We can see that discipline kills sin. We can taste the joy of enduring a trial. We can be comforted by the Church in the midst of suffering. We can trust that God is not absent from our pain. We can find great joy that people are being saved through the proclamation of the gospel in suffering.

A Warning of Temporary Joy

Jesus warns us in Mark 4 that there are those who will receive all of this with joy – until it comes knocking on their door. When tribulation, persecution, and suffering come into their life like a freight train, they fall away. Suddenly, there is no joy.

This is the deep need in our suffering: our joy must have a root. It must be fed. It must be reminded. It must endure. It must cling to something other than our circumstances. The Bible teaches us that we must keep in step with the Spirit and daily die to ourselves. We must exhort one another daily that we may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. When you look at the command in Scripture to count it all joy, to rejoice, and to be glad (all in the context of suffering), you find that it is a command to continue in this joy:

  • Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

  • James 1:2-3 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

  • Romans 5:3 “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,”

  • 1 Peter 4:12-13 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

  • 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”

We do not bank on past joy in our suffering – we are to rejoice, count it all joy, and be glad in our suffering. We need joy for that day! We need joy in that day, so we don’t fall away. This was what happened in the parable of the sower – they had joy up until suffering – then it was gone. There was no joy on the day of their suffering. They tried to endure based on past knowledge, experience, and past joy, but this would not do.

The Bible teaches that this joy, this rejoicing, this gladness, is something that must continue in the life of the believer. It must be present and active.

So, the question is how? How do I fuel my joy? How do I remain in it? How do I feed it? How do I say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 that I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?

How do I as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses? How do I like the believers in Hebrews joyfully accept the plundering of my property?

How do I like Paul in Philippians 3:7-11 say “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

How do I like the man in Matthew 13 find that “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” How does that man have so much joy? Where did it come from? How did it sustain him?

How do I like the churches in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8 during a severe test of affliction, have an abundance of joy and even in extreme poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity?

The Distinction Between Temporary and Lasting Joy

The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:14-20

What is distinct about the unbelievers?

  • The devil tempts them, and they give in

  • They don’t endure to the end

  • They lose an eternal mindset

  • The word of God is choked out

  • There is no fruit

What is distinct about the believer?

  • Hear the word (abide)

  • Accept the word (accept means receive or embrace with favor - to love the word) (delight)

  • Bear fruit (obey)

  • They increase in their fruit – Daily fruit (2 Peter 1:8 “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)

This is what Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word (Abide) in my heart (Delight), that I might not sin (Obey) against you.” The key to the Spirit-filled life is abiding, delighting, and obeying. There is no joy that comes from the absence of any of these three things. This is the root for lasting joy. The believer does not give in to the temptations of the devil, the believer endures to the end, the believer keeps an eternal mindset that treasures Christ above all things, the believer clings to the word and chokes out the world, and the believer produces fruit. How? Because the believer abides in God, delights in God, and obeys God.

The key here is that you must bear fruit, and this fruit must increase. That’s what Jesus says in Mark 4. Paul tells us that joy is the fruit of the Spirit. This is why the fruit of the believer in all of suffering is that he has joy. Go read almost every text that we have covered the last 7 weeks and you will find joy, rejoicing, gladness etc.

But this joy is a joy that only comes from intimacy with God. And suffering highlights this. Because In all that you have lost in suffering, the preciousness of what you can never lose only intensifies.

This is what Jesus says in John 15:4-11:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Apart from me you cannot bear fruit.. apart from me you cannot kill sin… apart from me you can have no assurance… apart from you cannot endure… apart from me you cannot trust in a sovereign, good, holy God… apart from me you cannot comfort others with my comfort... and therefore, apart from me you can have no joy. Knowledge is not enough! There must be an abiding in the presence of God. A pursuit of intimacy with the Lord. There must be a walking with the Spirit.

Otherwise, all of your vain attempts to produce fruit, kill sin, comfort others, trust God, and endure to the end will be striving after the wind.

This will be suffering in vain as Paul says. There is a line that comes from a hymn by Keith and Kristin Getty and it says, “Turn my striving into works of grace. Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.” We need to pray that daily. That all of our efforts would be fueled by the Holy Spirit. And it will be when we are pursuing intimacy with Christ.

Continue in John 15:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Joy comes from intimacy with God! The most joyful people in the world are those who pray without ceasing, have stored up God’s Word in their heart, meditate on His law day and night, fellowship constantly with the saints, serve the church, read and study God’s Word, exhort others daily, fast etc. And why?

Because intimacy with God is the richest joy. It is sustaining joy. Enduring joy. Overflowing joy. And this joy shines the brightest in the midst of suffering.

Those who lack joy in this life are those who fall into the devils temptations, do not endure trials, and are choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and desires of other things. These joyless people are those who spend little time in prayer. They do not know God’s Word. They do not delight in His Word. They blame the church for their immaturity. They isolate themselves. And they have no life of praise.

These people may experience moments of joy, but they do not feed their joy.

And most of the time they have tried these spiritual disciplines. They have put in effort – but it is their own effort apart from the grace of God.

So how do we know that our striving is grace filled and fueled?

  • Is it accompanied by perseverance in the spiritual disciplines

  • It is with the purpose of exalting Christ

  • It is clothed in humility

  • Is it fueled by a deep desire to enjoy God

When Peter gives the warning to make every effort, to be fruitful and effective, and to confirm your election and calling, he begins this challenge with this statement: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Often times there is an incredible amount of guilt in a person’s life because they are not abiding, delighting, and obeying. So much so that they become paralyzed. And my aim today is not to make those who are living without joy feel crummy, but rather to say that everlasting joy is offered to you here and now. I aim to remind you today that God’s divine power has granted to you all things that pertain to life and godliness. He has grace for you to abide, delight, and obey.

God is not a liar. He has said abide in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit. He has said you can’t do anything apart from me. He says do you love me? Love me by keeping my commandments. He says I write these things to you so that you may have my joy and your joy may be full. Do not live in despair. Do not be paralyzed! Make every effort. But make every effort in the power of the Holy Spirit as you cling to Him and pursue Him every day through the spiritual disciplines.

The war of the Christian life against sin and for joy is a minute by minute battle. The flesh wages war in the mind and heart of the believer because we are not saved yet from the presence of sin.

The key to enduring is to understand that suffering does not kill joy – sin does. And sin doesn’t produce joy, suffering does.

Think back to the parable of the sower. they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. When they fall away, so does their joy. They are buying into the lie that their sin will make them happy. People may say that isn’t true but their actions are speaking louder than their words. This is why we spent an entire week on resisting sin! Brother, sister, resist it! FLEE! Rebuke the devil! Pursue God! Endure the suffering!

Your suffering produces more opportunity for joy than anything else in life. It magnifies what you can never lose (Romans 8). And this is why God is good in appointing suffering. He knows it magnifies Christ and the fullness of His joy. When you share in Christ’s suffering, you need not fear of losing anything. When you look at the lives of suffering servants you will find that there is no self-pity, no talk of ultimate self-denial. Virtually all of them bear witness of the abundant joy and overriding returns. It was Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone, who after lives of extraordinary hardship and loss said, “I never made a sacrifice.” And why? Because they were men who were abiding in God, delighting in God, and obeying God! They counted everything else as loss!

This is what it means to share in Christ’s sufferings.. we live in Christ! We live in His presence. We keep in step with the Spirit. We abide in Him! And He abides in us. We make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. We cling to God’s word for life, hope, peace, wisdom, understanding, discernment, direction, comfort, life. We pray the Word of God without ceasing knowing that the devil is seeking to destroy us every moment. We pray to remind ourselves. We pray to beg God for His Spirit. We pray to exalt Christ. We sing with joy and gladness. We lift our hands to a holy God.

The Connection of the Why and the How

The why of joy and the how of joy are not separate - they go hand in hand. The spiritual disciplines, abiding, delighting, and obeying, are so crucial because they are what remind you every moment of the why! They remind you of God’s sovereignty, your eternal hope, the power of the Spirit to kill sin in you, the ability to endure, the comfort of the saints, the goodness and holiness of God, and that you are on mission to reach the nations.

But these truths become oh so dim when you wander from God.

This is why we must pray without ceasing, meditate day and night, store up God’s Word in our heart, abide in Him, put on the armor of God, keep in step with the Spirit, exhort one another daily, not neglect to meet together, serve the body and exhort them to keep on persevering, encourage one another to not give in to sin and deceitful desires, remind each other of the gospel, bear each other’s burdens and comfort one another, fast, and why we must sing and praise God.

Never does this joy shine so bright then in the midst of suffering. Not that suffering in and of itself produces godliness in us, but the Holy Spirit at work in us uses suffering to make us grow in grace and abound with joy.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 1:6

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.”

Psalm 21:6 your presence there is fullness of joy!”

Psalm 16:11

Meeting suffering on God’s terms is to meet joy on God’s terms.”

Joni Tada

The problem with so many is not that they don’t know what to be joyful about, it’s that they have wandered from the source of joy. They are clinging to yesterday’s joy and forget that there is mercy, and gladness today! They forget that there is a discipline of keeping in step with the Spirit in order to live in joy. And the Holy Spirit is oh so near to the broken hearted. What a comfort. What a helper. We must pursue joy – every minute of every day – through intimacy with Jesus. If you want joy, it only comes from abiding, delighting, and obeying!

O believer, let not thy affliction cause thee to bury thy mercies in oblivion. Has not God brought you from satan’s family, and put you among his children? And will you forget or undervalue that honor? Hath he struck off thy fetters, taken off thy prison garments, and set you at liberty; and will you be unthankful? Hath he given thee Christ for thy treasure and portion, and entitled you to his unsearchable riches; and will you be discontented? Hath he given you the graces of his Spirit, which are more precious than rubies? And will you quarrel when he smites in some outward things? Hath he made you an heir of glory, and provided eternal mansions above for you? And will you be fretful for want of some trifles here?”

John Willison

Suffering with joy proves to the world that our treasure is in heaven and not on earth, and that this treasure is greater than anything this world has to offer.

If you are struggling to find joy in suffering it may be because there are things you are treasuring more than God.

You cannot show the preciousness of a person by only being happy with his gifts. Gratitude for gifts does not prove that the giver is precious. What proves that the giver is precious is the glad-hearted readiness to leave all his gifts to be with him. This is why suffering is crucial to missions. It is difficult to bring the nations to love God from a lifestyle that communicates a love of things. Therefore, God ordains in the lives of his messengers that suffering severs our bondage to the world.

John Piper

When joy and love survive this severing, we prove to be good soil: believers who are abiding in God, abounding in fruit.

Joyful believers, according to Jesus, Hear the word (abide), accept/receive/embrace/love the word (delight), bear fruit (obey), and they increase in fruit so that they will remain effective and not fall away. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus!

Over the last 8 weeks, several families in our church have suffered greatly. I have also heard stories from many of you about incredibly sobering suffering that you have experienced in your life. All of us in the weeks and years ahead will most certainly experience waves of suffering. My prayer is that this series has served to prepare you to trust in a sovereign, good, and holy God. To cling to the eternal hope to come. To resist sin. To receive discipline from a loving Father. To endure to the end. To comfort and be comforted by the saints. To suffer for the sake of the nations. And to suffer with joy! Joy for each day. Joy that is being fed every day. A joy that has root and endures to the end. Let us pursue intimacy with Christ for His glory, and our joy!