As Sorrowful, yet Always Rejoicing
We’ve come to the tenth and final theological trademark noted in John Piper’s book, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014). It concerns the Christian life as one characterized by Paul as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Continue reading . . .
We’ve come to the tenth and final theological trademark noted in John Piper’s book, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014). It concerns the Christian life as one characterized by Paul as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).
Piper contends that “what the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow” (162). When most people read 2 Corinthians 6:10 and then take note of Piper’s observation they think this to be an impossible expectation. They typically resort to the conclusion that the joy the apostle Paul had in mind comes only after the suffering and sorrow have passed. Certainly it can’t be expected that a person can entertain in one’s heart both experiences simultaneously. But that is precisely what the apostle calls for. We are “always” rejoicing, not just after the cause for sorrow has lifted but simultaneously with it. Says Piper,
“I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds like chipper, frisky, high-spirited chatter designed to make people feel lighthearted and playful and bouncy. I look at those service and say to myself: ‘Don’t you know that people are sitting out there who are dying of cancer, whose marriage is a living hell, whose children have broken their hearts, who are barely making it financially, who have just lost their job, who are lonely and frightened and misunderstood and depressed? And you are going to create an atmosphere of bouncy, chipper, frisky, light-hearted, playful worship?’And, of course, there will be those who hear me say that and say: ‘Oh, so you think what those people need is a morose, gloomy, sullen, dark, heavy atmosphere of solemnity?’” (163).
Of course, the answer is no. What they need, he contends, “is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow” (163).
Piper then turns his attention to 1 Peter 4:12-13 where we read the following: “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.”
Several things here are worthy of note.
First, we must keep on rejoicing because the suffering is not a surprise but a plan. When we suffer for Christ’s sake it should never strike us as “strange.” It is according to God’s will, the purpose of which is for our testing (“it comes upon you to test you”), to bring purity and deeper dependence on Christ.
Second, we must keep on rejoicing because our suffering as Christians is evidence of our union with Christ. We “share” Christ’s sufferings and in doing so demonstrate that we are in him and he is in us.
Third, we must rejoice because such joy strengthens our assurance that when Christ comes in glory we will rejoice with him forever.
Fourth, we must keep on rejoicing because then the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. Peter says in v. 14 that “if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” In that moment of trial you can be assured of God’s presence and the power of his Spirit to sustain you and give you the endurance needed to bear up under whatever comes your way.
Fifth, keep on rejoicing because in doing so you glorify God. In v. 16 Peter says that “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” You glorify God by demonstrating that even in deprivation and anguish God remains worthy of your confidence and love.
Sixth, and finally, keep on rejoicing because your Creator is faithful to care for your soul. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (v. 19). When suffering comes, “will you rejoice in that hour? You will if you entrust your soul to a faithful Creator. He created your soul for his glory. He is faithful to that glory and to all who love it and live for it. Now is the time to show where your treasure is – in heaven or on earth. Now is the time to shine with the glory of God. Trust him. And keep on rejoicing” (179).