Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where’s the Joy? (part 3)

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“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled’” (1 Pet.3:14). “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13).

First Peter is the epistle on suffering. It is replete with exhortations and encouragement for those first century Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. We thank God in our assemblies today for the privilege of gathering to worship without fear of persecution. That line was not in their prayers. We ask God to help us be faithful unto death. This was not mere rhetoric in their prayers. The tyrannical powers of the Roman Empire were thirsty for the blood of Christians. The methods of torture inflicted on believers were unthinkably inhumane. Real life issues for them were not about whether or not it was socially acceptable or politically correct to confess the Savior. The issue for them was whether to confess and die or deny and live. While 1 Peter was written against this backdrop of incredible persecution it could just as aptly be called the epistle of joy, for joy and hope fairly oozed from the parchment as the words of this great apostle were read in the quiet and hidden rooms of worship.   These were Christians who, earlier in the same day, had likely been placed in real and perilous situations because of their alliances with Christ. The Holy Spirit was, through this letter of Peter, giving people who desperately needed comfort, security and hope, a reason to leave those secret assemblies with determination to endure for Christ, whatever the cost. 
We sit on padded pews in buildings that have large signs in the yard proclaiming that what we are doing inside is worshiping. In our assembly each week, there are police officers and elected officials, who not only endorse what we are doing in the service of Christ, but participate heartily. So when 1 Peter is read in our meeting places, we may not receive the same blessing they did in the first century. Some may even think the comfort offered in 1 Peter seems like overkill in our comfortable society.  After all, a spiritual survival kit like I Peter is hardly necessary when we have it so easy…or is it?
Consider the words of Paul in II Timothy 3:12:
      “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
I’m convinced that if we are His…really living godly lives in Him, we will suffer some form of persecution. I’m convinced that if my life is void of sacrifice and any discomfort resulting from my faith, then my faith is not what it should be. I think of our teenage girls today in the Lord’s body. I look at the styles of clothing that are the norm in our society. I cannot imagine a teen girl today who exhibits modesty at all times not being excluded from certain activities or facing taunting because of her “different” look. I think of the entertainment crazed culture around us and am sure that those who refuse to be entertained by movies laced with profanity and sexuality must be excluded from certain groups or activities and face the ridicule of their peers. I reflect on the materialism that drives parents, even in our churches, to allow others, even non-Christians, to be the primary caregivers for their children.  When I think about this societal norm, I come to the conclusion that those who choose to sacrifice income for Christian child-rearing are doing just that…sacrificing for the cause of Christ. So how does joy factor into this picture of sacrifice?
I confess that, at times, it’s difficult to recognize the joy in sacrifice. But I believe joy results from sacrifice, first, because if 1 Peter teaches anything at all, it teaches this.  Secondly, I believe joy results from sacrifice because I understand that the biggest part of Christian joy happens when I’m finished living here on earth. (1 Peter says that, too. Check out chapter 1, verses 6-9.) Thirdly, I believe that sacrifice comes from joy, because the fact is recognizable in my life and in the lives of those around me. My daughter was baptized on a night when she was sacrificing a play rehearsal in order to attend a gospel meeting. That was a time of joy. I know of many teens who’ve sacrificed parties, proms, movies and more because they were Christians. I don’t know a single one who regrets having made the sacrifice for Christ. I know of many who wish they had.  I know a host of mothers who’ve given up careers to fulfill godly roles in the home and 100% of those I know who have done it have experienced joy because of this decision.
Finally, I know there is joy in reproach because of the words of Christ in Luke 6:22, 23:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you,    
and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of    
Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your    
reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the         

This is a promise of Christ. The reaction that I should have to this promise is specified. When I am blessed, yes blessed, with an opportunity to sacrifice something that’s important to me, to be excluded from a group of my peers, or to be ridiculed because of my spirituality I should rejoice and leap for joy!  I can do this but it takes a retrospective look at the prophets who have already suffered for their faith (verse 23), and an anticipatory look, by faith, into heaven (verse 23). What this means, in practical terms, is that I can do this IF I stay in the Book. When I am buoyed by the victories of those great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 and by the precious promises of my God, I can rejoice when I am called to suffer reproach in this life. 
So you might as well be joyful in Christ. You can view Christianity as a life of restrictions and that’s what Christianity will be…restrictive. You can view Christianity as a life of joyful commitment and that’s what it will be. If you view it as a joyful commitment, you can say with Paul,  “For this reason I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed (emphasis added) unto Him until that Day.” And that Day will be the most joyful of all!
Oh, by the way, the happiest man I know is not in an asylum.  He is an elder who studies his Bible and seeks to restore, to reproduce spiritually, and often bears reproach.  His joy is found in his commitment.
(This post and the previous two are taken largely from ‘How Shall I Be Remembered?” Edited and produced by Freed Hardeman University Associates and available at Freed Hardeman University Bible Bookstore.)
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