Why are Those Christians so Joyful?
We come across an interesting account of the Apostles in Acts 5. The apostles were performing many signs and wonders in Solomon’s portico, which is a section of the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 5:12). This did not sit well with the religious leaders. The high priest and his associates became jealous of the respect and attention that the people were giving to the apostles due to the miracles they were performing (Acts 5:17).
The leaders jailed them (Acts 5:18) and then afterwards, interrogated them (Acts 5:27). The Jewish leaders had previously told the apostles that they were not to teach or speak about Jesus (Acts 4:18). Although Peter and John told them that they could not stop speaking about what they had seen or heard (Acts 4:20), the Jewish leaders assumed they would cease at the risk of imprisonment.
Prison didn’t deter the apostles at all.
Now they were gathering a following and people were listening to them teach about this man named Jesus who was dead and buried but then days later, returned from the dead and walked among them. The Resurrection of Jesus was the miracle that proved who He was and ensured that all who recognized Him and believed on Him could expect the same reward.
When the apostles explained this to the Council, they decided to kill them (Acts 5:33). However, one of their own, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, gave them different counsel. He reminded them that God uncovers all false teachers and causes them to become insignificant (Acts 5:36-37). He pointed out that if these men were also false teachers, they would be unsuccessful and quickly found out. However, if these men were from God, the Counsel would be unable to overthrow them and that they would be fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).
The Council took Gamaliel’s advice. They decided not to kill them. Instead, they flogged them. Then they told them not to speak about this Jesus anymore.
The apostles went away rejoicing (Acts 5:41).
They were rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Suffering for Jesus
Do you rejoice when you suffer for the faith? Do you think God is blessing you when you suffer for doing something for Him? Do you believe that suffering means you have gone away from God’s will? Shouldn’t God make your life better when you do the things He is calling you to do?
These are hard questions, but we cannot help but ask them of ourselves when we read this account. The apostles were imprisoned and flogged for doing the work Jesus called them to do. I suspect most American Christians would at this point find something else to say, or do something differently, if they knew they were going to suffer in this way.
Suffer in any way.
The apostles rejoiced because they had been considered worthy to suffer for His name. They were imprisoned. They were beaten. They had already been warned once before. They had already been imprisoned earlier. And they rejoiced. These things didn’t stop them.
They didn’t find a new message to preach; they said the same things in both chapters (Acts 4:10-12, Acts 5:20). Both times, they performed miracles in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:9, Acts 5:16). They knew what the consequences would be but they still did exactly as Jesus called them to do. They did not change the message to be less offensive, more appealing or more politically correct. They did not change their work to be easier, more time efficient or less distateful.
And when the powers that be, came up against them because of their words, they rejoiced.
Is This Something We Can Do?
As we think about this account, can we see ourselves doing what they did? I suspect most American Christians would say no.
“It’s too hard.” “It’s too dangerous.” “It’s too uncomfortable.” “What about my family that needs me?” “I might lose my job.” “I’ve got other plans at that time.” “The big game’s on.” “I’ve got to go to work now.”
The list goes on…
Yet we miss the point. The apostles didn’t return dismayed. They didn’t come out of the flogging disheartened. They were rejoicing.
They were joyful!
So they were imprisoned and beaten and that made them joyful? We need to figure that out.
How can these things make one joyful? Well, it can’t. Not if you’re a regular person. Not if you’re a human being part of the human race living in America.
But that’s the point. Christians are supposed to be a new creation. The old is supposed to be gone. We’re not supposed to live like the world; we are supposed to be set apart from the world. We are to be living in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to have the mind of Christ.
American Christians see themselves as part of the American culture. We are the richest people in the world. Even our homeless live better than most people in the world do. They have welfare, clothing, food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. That most Americans are not aware of this, proves how rich we are and how ignorant we are of the situation of millions around the world.
This mindset causes us to think in terms of comfort. We don’t want to say or do anything that will make us uncomfortable. This discomfort causes us to avoid any situation where we might get into trouble, have our reputations marred, or cause us to lose any time or money. Our wealth causes us to think we can pay our way through instead of working our way through.
We can give to the homeless shelter rather than assist at the homeless shelter. We can give to the food bank rather than work at the food bank. We find workarounds so we don’t have to get out of our comfort zone.
But the Bible shows that this attitude means we miss a main method God uses to bring us joy. The apostles did the hard thing and they rejoiced. If we would do the thing that might cost us the most, it might bring us the most joy.
The Exception or the Rule?
In case you think I am creating a rule from this single instance, let me give you more examples to prove this is not an exception:
Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. – John 16:20
Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. – 2 Corinthians 7:4
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. – Philippians 2:17
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit – 1 Thessalonians 1:6
For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. – Hebrews 10:34
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials – James 1:2
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials – 1 Peter 1:6
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. – 1 Peter 4:12-13
Let’s not forget the story of Paul and Silas:
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God – Acts 16:22-25
Finally, Jesus is our role model:
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2
Joy from Suffering
How is it that suffering brings joy? It is not the suffering itself. It is the sacrifice. When we sacrifice ourselves, as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for the joy set before Him, we give ourselves the opportunity for joy.
In many of these verses that combine suffering with joy, you will notice a common thread. The suffering is a temporary disposition. The view is not on the here and now. We are looking for the heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16). Our eyes are upon eternity. Our focus is on the heavenly realm. We are sacrificing for Him.
This is the problem with most American Christians. We are focused on our earthly lives. We are living for our comforts here. We are more concerned with what our reputation on earth is rather than what our reputation in heaven is. Sacrifice and Discipline are dirty words.
When we change our view and look to the heavens, we change our outlook. Our worldview shifts. Our point of view becomes God’s point of view. Our priorities change. Our comfort becomes less important. Suffering becomes a means to an end. Sacrifice becomes an act of love.
The Proper View
The apostles viewed suffering as a way to become closer to God. They saw it as evidence that they were in God’s will. They recognized that God is all-powerful and able to do all things; that He is good and allows all things that will result in what is best for eternity; that He is all-knowing and understands how things will play out over generations.
When we understand what God is, we can know that our suffering is good and we can rejoice that God is using us for His eternal plans.
Are you looking for the joy of the Holy Spirit? Are you feeling down and wondering why God isn’t lifting you up? Is joy missing from your life? Hear what the Lord is calling you to do and do it without trepidation, knowing that the more you suffer, the greater your joy will be. Simply keep your gaze on the cross, knowing that one day, you will be with Him in the place He is preparing for you (John 14:2).
Let us no longer fear suffering. Let us stop making excuses for not doing that to which God has called us. The more we suffer for Him, the greater our potential for joy. We need to change the way we think of joy. We need to change the way we think of suffering.
Like the apostles, let us rejoice that we have been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.