Christmas Joy the Whole Year Through
James 1.2-4; 1 Peter 1.3-9; Philippians 4.4-6
Introduction: Joy for many is an elusive concept – especially today when we struggle under a failing economy and reckless spending by both government and citizens alike. Where are the people likely to turn for help today?
Thomas Anderson in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine wrote, “When storm clouds gather over the economy, people often seek shelter in a glass of whiskey, a pack of cigarettes, or the green blaze of a roulette table. That’s why many financial advisors are telling clients to invest in sin as a bulwark against a possible recession.”
“Investing: The virtues of vice,” The Week (2-11-08), p. 33
Tobacco, alcohol, and gambling have long been called ‘sin stocks’ or ‘vice funds’ – when the economy takes a downturn, historically, these stocks have held up in the market. During the recession of 2000-2002, the Standard and Poor’s index showed the broader stocks tumbled 47 percent as casino and gaming stocks grew 115 percent.
Most people this morning equate joy with the happy, warm feelings of financial security and realized goals of self-promotion. The world at large is of good cheer at Christmas time when it is having fun and doing what it wants to do. Jesus tells us that believers will suffer tribulation in this very world and then commands, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16.33).
Happiness is often a result of gaining the golden rings of the world, but joy is ever elusive for those without Christ. The reason this is true is because they fail to understand the nature of joy:
· Joy is produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25).
· Joy manifests itself by faith and dependence upon God.
· Joy is developed by trials.
· Joy is not dependent upon circumstances.
Transition: This morning, we will survey three NT texts that bring us to the stable foundation of biblical joy. Christmas joy the whole year through has an indispensible foundation, an inexpressible perspective, and an inexhaustible source. Let us turn first to James 1 for joy’s indispensible foundation…
1. The Indispensible Foundation of Joy (James 1.2-4)
Scripture: James 1:2–4 (NKJV) — 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
We need a foundation from which we will build the joyful, Christian life. At first blush, verse two seems utterly impossible to us. It is atypical for anyone to respond to trials with joy. Saying, “It’s all good” doesn’t necessarily make it so. As a matter of fact it sounds rather hollow to us and those we attempt to minister to if we don’t understand what it is required to build the essential foundation of biblical joy into our lives.
We know that Christians experience joy in various trials. We read about them in missionary biographies and even witness God comforting believers through incredible trials. The incomprehensible peace and strength that God makes available is a powerful testimony to His grace at work.
Counting it all joy means that we’ve taken the time to consider some things about the trials of life. We lift up our eyes for knowledge from God. We want to know the purpose for our lives and if we are fulfilling that purpose. The trials of life are allowed by God for the purpose of making us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (v. 4).
How do trials do this? Verse three states that we know “that the testing of [our] faith produces patience.” Tests in school evaluate what the students learn. The tests that God brings into our lives evaluate what we’ve learned, and they teach us more about life in the process. God’s tests produce patience, the ability to remain under during stressful situations.
The indispensible foundation of biblical joy is built when we understand God’s work for us and that the process of trials helps us complete this work. This is essential because without this understanding, we will grow bitter and hardened. We will fail to see the plans God has for us. “No pain …no gain!”
Of course, the plan God has for every believer is spiritual maturity - perfect and complete, lacking nothing. So, God allows trials, produces strength through them, and we mature. If you desire the goal of spiritual maturity, you must be willing to welcome trials with joy while trusting God through them.
Christmas joy the whole year through comes to those who desire what God desires. We may not be able to make sense of it all when the trials come. When we are struggling through them on the inside, the worst thing we can do on the outside is feign joy. A false sense of happiness during a trial is strange. No one really can relate to that. We have to be honest and cry out to God for knowledge, wisdom, and strength (1.5).
Transition: Agree with God on the purpose of trials and then enjoy the product of them: spiritual maturity. This is the essential foundation of biblical joy. Next, we turn to 1 Peter…
2. The Inexpressible Perspective of Joy (1 Peter 1.3-9)
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3–9 (NKJV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
This passage was read at Mrs. Koehn’s memorial yesterday. It is a good contemplation for a funeral or memorial because it provides the reader with an eternal perspective of life. That eternal perspective begins with being born again. Notice the words in verse 3: God has “begotten us again.” Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3).
Every man is born physically. Apart from the fact that Christ could return, every man will die physically as well. Jesus taught Nicodemus that being born again is spiritual. “The gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6.23). Just as there are two births, there are two deaths. Men who die without experiencing the new birth will experience not only physical death, but also spiritual death. Each man who insists on being judged according to his works will be thus judged, and found wanting. He will then be cast in the lake of fire. “This is the second death” (Rev 20.14). The inexpressible joy of an eternal perspective begins with being begotten again.
Our eternal life is “according to His abundant mercy” (v. 3). The concept of mercy is clarified against the bleak backdrop of sin. The greatest sin ever committed is rejecting God’s gift of eternal life. This is so because rejecting eternal life is rejecting Christ. Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and He were to say to you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” what would you say? Your answer to that question will tell you if you have been born again.
Believers are begotten again “to a living hope” (1.3). A living hope is hope for today. It comes to us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Living hope come through the resurrection of Christ since this points to our own resurrection because of His completed work. The present living hope is also a hope for tomorrow because we are begotten “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for (us)” (1.4). This is a hope for tomorrow.
· Hope in an inheritance that is incorruptible. It is a hope that is impervious to corruption and death. It is immortal. The smell of death is in the temporal world.
· Hope in an inheritance that is undefiled. It is a hope that is pure. Lust for power, people, and possessions dominate the temporal world.
· Hope in an inheritance that does not fade away. It is a hope that will never lose its pristine quality. It is eternal bliss. All that is in this world fades, rusts, and decays.
“[Those begotten again] are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v.5). We are kept in the sense that we are protected to receive this great inheritance.
“In this you greatly rejoice” – how could you not rejoice? And then notice perspective enter in: “For a little while …grieved by various trials” (v. 6). While we don’t like the trials that come our way, it is just for a little while. You can bank on that promise.
· The struggle in keeping your marriage together may lead you to think that it will never work.
· Rebellion in your children may lead you to think that their hearts will never soften toward the things of God.
· Illness may plague you for several years. But all of this is just for a little while in the light of eternity.
Verse 7 tells us why trials are necessary. It is in the midst of them that our faith is proved to be genuine – just like refined gold. If your faith is not genuine, you must realize it now in the temporal realm. It will be too late in the eternal realm.
We all know trials are difficult; we tend to forget that they are temporary. Often we cannot see Jesus in the despair and loneliness of a trial. Look Jesus, the One we have not seen, we love! Look at v. 8: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls” (1.8-9).
Transition: Joy’s essential foundation consists of understanding that God allows trials to fulfill His way with us. Joy’s inexpressible perspective must always be eternal. Finally, we turn to Philippians to find Joy’s inexhaustible source.
3. The Inexhaustible Source of Joy (Philippians 4.4-6)
Scripture: Philippians 4:4–6 (NKJV) — 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
God is the inexhaustible source of joy. Understanding that He is at hand provides all we need. Relationships and life in general may fail us, but we must remember that there is no substitute for God. Not relationships, possessions, or any other thing!
Paul states the command to rejoice twice (v. 4). “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” The reiteration of this command highlights our need to draw on God’s ever present strength to obey it.
“Let your gentleness be known to all men” (v. 5). Joy dissipates when we become hard-edged about life. You cannot draw upon the source of joy if you’re not a gracious and forbearing person. Angry, cynical, and hard people know nothing of a relationship with God.
A third command is that we be anxious for nothing (v. 6a). Anxiety is the antithesis of joy. People become bitter and hard in life because they choose to worry and destroy any hope of peace that comes from above. Our need is for joy and peace not anxiety and worry.
It is not enough just to focus on the positive elements of life. “Jesus is my co-pilot” is a great bumper sticker along with “No God …No Peace; Know God …Know Peace” but these trite sayings won’t bring joy. Paul states that joy comes through prayer: “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
· Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving bring peace. A pill, illicit sex, or being a workaholic won’t do it.
· God’s past faithfulness stirs gratitude in our prayer lives; it also provides a basis for present and future faith in us.
· Prayer is a process of growing in our relationship with God; not a magic talisman that gets us what we want.
· Peace of God – not manufactured; not of this world; inexplicable but abiding and strengthening; spiritual maturity and depth bring peace.
· God shall supply all your need (4.19). The problem is we cannot define need in America. Perhaps we need to go to China and the Sudan. They understand v. 19 far better than we.
· God is at hand. The fact that He is close helps when everyone else has abandoned us.
· When tempted to find our own way out of the difficulties of life, we’d do well to remember the way out God provides (1 Cor 10.13).
· When we don’t know what God wants us to do, He is the source of all wisdom (James 1.5).
Conclusion: When we feel a need has gone unmet, that God has left us alone, that we are hemmed in by a terrible sin pattern, or confused about what way to go, what is the result? In every case it is usually anxiety. But understanding what it true about the character of God, provides joy and peace. Christmas joy the whole year through is expressed by our settled and prayerful dependence upon an all-sufficient God.
Hymn: Blessed Quietness (159)
 Concept for this sermon comes from notes that I took while listening to a five part series on joy by Walk Thru the Bible president, Phil Tuttle. This sermon is greatly indebted to his work.