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Joy and Jubulation

“You love righteousness and hate wickedness, thus God — your God — anointed you with the oil of jubilation over your attendants.”

(Psalm 45:8 {verse 7 in English})

If there were any doubt as to whether this psalm were about the Messiah, this verse ought to put those doubts to rest, for the writer of Hebrews cites this passage and applies it to the Son of God (Hebrews 1:9). And indeed, Jesus Christ is the one who truly loves righteousness and hates wickedness, now and forever.

What is this language of the oil of jubilation (or gladness as many English translations render the word NØwcDc (sason)? Most commonly this term is used in the context of the worship of God’s people as a result of God’s redemptive work that culminates in the Messiah. As the prophet, Isaiah, writes:

“And the redeemed of Yahweh shall return and enter Zion with a cry of Jubilation and an everlasting display of joy upon their head. Jubilation and Jubilation will overtake them and grief and groaning will flee.”

(Isaiah 35:10)

The oil, of course, referring to the anointing of the High Priest and the King…rightly laid upon the head of the Messiah…whose very title means, “Anointed One.”

There is one more thing that we need to draw from this passage and that is the expectation of God that those who follow the Christ seek to imitate the Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Yet, do we do so? Do we take joy in loving righteousness? Do we recognize that we cannot love both righteousness and wickedness at the same time? To love the one, we must hate the other. Why is it that as Christians we pour out such affection upon sin? And, when it comes to living a life that is obedient to God’s word, we describe it as dull and restricting rather than as one marked by the oil of jubilation? The answer, of course, is sin — and sin is that which robs us of the joy of the wonderful salvation that our Lord has worked.

And thus, we turn back to scripture to set us upon a right path…a path that leads to joy and jubilation — a path that leads to honoring God. As is written in Jeremiah 15:16.

“Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me joy and the display of joy to my heart, for your name is proclaimed over me, Yahweh, God of Armies.”

Finding Joy

“Rejoice in the Lord at all times; again I say, rejoice!”
(Philippians 4:4)

Here we have one of the most quoted verses from this letter. And there is no surprise as to why this is such a beloved statement. Yet how often we find ourselves deserting these words and pursuing our own sources of joy. But notice, that these words are not only valuable for our personal worship and demeanor…they are the solution for the quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche. For the reality is, if you focus your mind on finding joy in Christ it is a corrective for all of the areas of your life because it puts them into perspective.

It has become my conviction that many of our psychological and relational problems can be traced back to a wrong view of worship. We come for many reasons: fellowship, instruction, to be encouraged, etc… But if any one of these reasons is the primary reason you come to worship on Sunday, your motives are lacking. The primary reason must be because you are seeking God and his glory. If your aim is to know God and him alone, all these other things will come into place…but it does not work if we come looking for human things first.

Like children, we often think we know what we want but we are so wrong. Often children will say, “if I just had this toy or that toy I would be happy.” Yet they find that even with those toys they are unsatisfied. Are the toys bad? No. Not in and of themselves at least. But the toys cannot satisfy apart from the love of the parent. As adults, we often tell God what we think we need. But what we most need is to be close to the Father. And if we are close to the Father, finding our joy in Him through the Son, then the other things will fall into their proper perspective. Otherwise, they just aren’t that satisfying.

C.S. Lewis used to argue that there were “First Things” and “Second Things.” First Things are the things of God; Second Things the things of this world. Lewis’ point is that if we pursue Second Things alone, not only will we lose the First Things, but the Second Things will never satisfy. Yet, if we pursue First Things alone, God will also give us the Second Things that we need.

So, beloved, find your joy in the Lord Jesus Christ…and in nothing else in this world. Pursue Him. Adore Him. And allow Him to define your perspective of all of life.

Food for the Soul and Guidance for Your Life

“Having said this, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write this to you is not something from which I shrink, on the other hand, for you it is firm ground.”

(Philippians 3:1)

This verse is a little bit idiomatic, but should not be too hard to sort through. It begins with the phrase to\ loipo/n (to loipon), which literally means: “the rest.” In other words, Paul is changing gears here with this statement. We are not just at the middle of the book, per say, but it is as if he is saying, “okay, I am done talking about the sickness that Epaphroditus has suffered…it was mentioned because it needed to be mentioned, but now I am getting back to the real reason that I am writing to you, and that is to offer counsel to your souls.” That, at least is the notion that is being conveyed.

So, having said all of this about his sorrows, Paul turns to words of counsel and begins with the statement, “Rejoice in the Lord!” But, Paul, what about all of the sickness and suffering of you in prison and Epaphroditus on the sickbed? Paul is saying to us that while those things are earthly realities, our God is not earth-bound and there is glory waiting for those who are faithful to the end. So, why our long faces? Rejoice!

In light of this…something that Paul will soon repeat…what I am going to say may very well frustrate some of my Reformed brethren…but they will get over it. Sometimes Christians hear and even affirm this language that we are to rejoice in the Lord, but we hardly communicate that when we gather to worship. We often find ourselves gathering with long faces and somber attitudes, like one would expect at a funeral, not like one would expect at a celebration of the Resurrection (which is every Sunday, by the way!). Even people’s attitudes before they arrive have not been helpful to their demeanor…how many times have we heard, “Do I really have to go to church today?” As if it is a chore!

Folks, don’t misunderstand me…I am not talking about dancing in the aisles or charismatic kinds of things. I am simply saying that when we gather to worship, everything from our thoughts to our actions ought to communicate what a wonderful salvation that we enjoy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our obedience to God ought to reflect the joy it is to serve the Lord we serve. And when visitors join our midst and see everything done in good order, they should not see that order as a bored routine, but as a glorious way to guide and train our affections toward an attitude of worship…genuine worship in Spirit and in Truth. We should look forward to Sunday worship for indeed, it is meant to be a taste of heaven…or at least practice for heaven. Yet, in how many churches was Mark Twain correct in saying, “They talk about heaven where they will worship God eternally but they dread doing so for an hour a week here on earth” (Letters From The Earth)? So, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice! But I get ahead of myself.

Finally, Paul begins a transition back to practical points of spiritual counsel. Again, the phraseology is a bit awkward in English, but what it seems to be that Paul is saying is that counsel is something from which he does not shrink. Sometimes it can feel awkward to say, “You need to do this or that,” but Paul recognizes not only that offering such counsel is his calling (so he does so) but that it is also good for the people of Philippi to receive this counsel.

How often professing Christians are faced with such counsel in scripture and act as if it were optional for them. “I can do this or that,” they think, but then they ignore the other things. Yet, Paul is making it clear that this counsel is a solid foundation on which to base their lives. And if it is good for the church in Philippi, it is good for our churches today. Take heed, beloved, to the words of the Apostle (as well as to the words of all the Scripture!) for they are food for your soul and guidance for your life.


“In the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

(Philippians 2:18)

The notion of sacrifice is so alien to our culture in the western world that this verse needs to be emphasized as well as the previous one. It is one thing to make a personal decision to pour oneself out even unto death for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. Yet it is entirely another thing to be prepared to rejoice when one that you love is doing so. How quick become filled with worry for others when those we care about make such a decision.

My favorite missionary from history is a man named John Paton. John discerned a calling from God to travel to the New Hebrides Islands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The problem? The tribes that lived on the islands were cannibals and had already slain (and eaten!) one group of missionaries who had traveled to that island group. When John announced that he would be going to Tana Island in the New Hebrides, a member in his congregation sought to change his mind. “But they will eat you!” said the man to John. John’s reply echoes the spirit of the Apostle Paul in this chapter; John said, “But when you die and they put your body in the ground, worms will eat you! Whether worms of cannibals, what difference does it make if I am serving God?”

How often, our response to those who are ready to pour out their lives for the Gospel is to tell them they need to pull back. How sad it would be if they were to die young, having spent themselves for the glory of God. How often it is counseled to young ministers that they need to slow down and pace themselves so they don’t burn out and so that they can have long ministries until they are ready to retire comfortably in old age. While I have no desire to disparage those to whom God has given a long and healthy ministry and have been able, in their old age, to look back and see how the hand of God was moving through them, we should be ready to “spend and be spent” for the Gospel, as John Wesley put it. And we should rejoice with those who have such a commitment.

As I write these words, my mind also thinks of those brothers and sisters of ours who come to faith in Muslim areas and who often face terrible repercussions for their conversion…many even losing their lives. Yet, would we be content to not evangelize them? Would we think that for them to live a healthy comfortable life here on earth is worth their losing their soul in Hell? Where a trade off needs to be made — comfort in this life or comfort in the next — which will we choose for others or for ourselves? Though we may live a hundred years on earth, what is that in comparison to eternity in glory? We place such weight in the here and now that we often lose perspective on the eternal. Rejoice, beloved, in the things that God has done in you but also rejoice and be glad for those that God has privileged to have their lives extinguished in the proclaiming of the Gospel. Grapple to taste just a bit of God’s eternal perspective rather than to be satisfied with the passing perspective of earth.

Fulfill my Joy

“If therefore there is consolation in Christ, if there is encouragement of love, if there is fellowship of the Spirit, if there is affection and compassion, then fulfill my joy in order that you might be disposed to these things: having this love, being united, and being of one mind.”

(Philippians 2:1-2)

Indeed, if there is any desire that pastors have for their flock this would summarize it. One might add: “attentiveness to the Scriptures,” yet I would suggest that the only way the above can happen in a body of Christians is if the body is attentive to the Word of God. How often churches go astray because they don’t start at the right spot…sitting under the Word.

Some translations render the phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” as “spiritual fellowship,” which is a legitimate translation as the word “Spirit” does not have a definite article. At the same time, given the language of consolation in Christ, the parallelism seems to imply also that the fellowship will be in the Spirit, hence the choice to capitalize the term, seeing it as a reference to the Third member of the Trinity and not to the spirituality of believers.

This notion of unity becomes foundational to what Paul will speak of next…wisdom for all of us in Christ’s church. If we cannot get this notion into our beings, we will fall into fighting and bickering. And where there is fighting and bickering, almost always this spirit of unity is lacking. I have said more times than I care to count that these first 11 verses of Philippians 2 are the most significant verses that guide our Christian living…they send a simple message but contain profound truths. Yet, all in Paul’s timing as he unfolds the words of this letter.

The Laughter of the Saints

“And Sarah said, ‘Laughter, God brings to me; all the ones who hear will laugh with me.’”

(Genesis 21:6)


The emphasis that is placed here is on the laughter. Usually, this word refers to the way we might mock someone by laughing and jeering at him, but in this context a very different sentiment is being conveyed. Here is the joy of a lifetime of reproach being lifted. The desire of Sarah’s heart, to bear her husband a child, has been denied to her through her normal childbearing years, yet he has remained faithful to her. Now, in her old age, a gift has been given to this woman. The shame and reproach that came with being barren has been removed and her only response is to laugh with joy at the thing that God has done.

What a beautiful picture of the response of this woman. Sometimes, when one has walked so long in the darkness of rejection and then suddenly one is thrust out of that despair and into joy, there is nothing to do but to laugh — one cannot contain the joy one is experiencing. Here, this woman who has tried to bring that child for Abraham in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of giving Hagar to her husband as a surrogate wife, is given the desires of her heart; what a beautiful and a human response as we see her laughing and anticipating the laughter of others who will join in celebrating with her.

Yet is this also not what Jesus does for every believer? He removes the reproach of sin and judgment from us as we stand before God. He gives us life where death was our only state of being. We are brought by him into the household of the Almighty God of the Universe and presented as clean and as a child of that God and King; beloved, what can we do but laugh in joy? What can we do but celebrate? The laughter of the saints is a holy thing and it is a thing that brings healing because it stems from a heart that has been redeemed. When God’s people gather together to fellowship, joyful laughter seems to be one of the most basic characteristics of those gatherings; I can only imagine what the joyful laughter will be like when we are all joined together before the throne of our Lord and our joy made fully and irrevocably complete. I pray that you are ready to join with me there on that day.

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Dreamed of by prophets and sages!

Manhood redeemed for all ages,

Welcomes thy hallowing might,

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Sweet be thy rest to the weary,

Making the dull heart and dreary

Laugh in a dream of delight;

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

-John Meyer

Seeking the Fullness of Joy

“Yet, now I am coming to you.  I speak these things in the world in order that they might have my joy in its fullness in themselves.”

(John 17:13)


Do you see what it is that Jesus is saying?  He is saying that now that he is getting ready to go to the Father, he is saying the things he has said (presumably in the prayer) so that the Apostles would have the fullness of Jesus’ joy in themselves.  Yet, what has Jesus been talking about?  He has been speaking about God’s election of his own people and his call of us (as believers) to himself.  He is also speaking of judgment upon those who disbelieve and of God’s promise to preserve his own despite the challenges of this world.

The point is this—Jesus is talking about theological matters—questions of truth.  And Jesus is saying that these kinds of discussions ought to bring us joy and make that joy complete.  How interesting it is that so many churches and even denominations stray away from speaking of theological things, but simply speak of practical matters.  How we have been depriving ourselves of joy by not thinking and speaking on these kinds of theological matters often enough.  How often we seek to find our joy in the comforts of this world rather than in the truth that can be found in God and in his Word.  Beloved, think on these things and trust God to make your joy full.

Jesus Paid it All–All to Him I Owe…

“And you, being dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, forgiving us all trespasses.”

(Colossians 2:13)


“And yet God demonstrates his own agape love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8 )


We who have nothing to bring to the table, we who have no righteousness of our own, we who stand guilty in our sin, we who stand as gentiles without the law, we who deserve God’s wrath and the fires of hell, it is for us that Christ died.  We initiated rebellion; God initiated restoration.  We sinned; Christ bore the punishment for our sins.  We have hated and despised the good and righteous law of God; Christ has loved us with a sacrificial love that loves regardless of whether that love is reciprocated and has fulfilled the law on our behalf.  In the fall, we rejected the earthly paradise that God has prepared; Christ prepares for us a heavenly paradise that cannot be spoiled.  Beloved, what more can I say?  Jesus did it all, how is it that we so often do not feel a compulsion to honor him with all of our beings in our worship and our lives?  How is it that we as believers so often live for ourselves?  Loved ones, give all of your life to Christ, holding nothing in reserve.  You cannot hope to pay him back for what he has done, but oh, how you can glorify him as you live out your lives in this world!

And when, before the throne,

I stand in him complete,

‘Jesus died my soul to save,’

my lips shall still repeat.

Jesus paid it all,

All to him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

-Elvina Hall

Restore the Joy of Your Salvation: Psalm 51 (part 13)

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation;

and with an honorable Spirit you shall uphold me.”

(Psalm 51:14 {Psalm 51:12 in English Bibles})


So often when we read this verse, or hear this verse cited by people in the wider church community, it is cited in a way that is almost totally centered on man.  They place all of the emphasis on the joy that they seek, and while looking for joy in the salvation that God has granted is not a bad thing—indeed, it is a wonderful thing—it is not the focus of this verse.  The entire focus of this verse is on God and upon God’s work.  David is reflecting on the misery that he has endured as a result of his sin and pleads with God that God would restore to him the joy he takes not just in his personal salvation, but in God’s redemptive work.  David does not say restore to me the joy of “my salvation” as Habakkuk does (Habakkuk 3:18), but he says, “your salvation,” reflecting on the redemptive work of God. 

I wonder, do we praise God enough for all of the giants of the faith that He has raised up before us that have guided and marked a way for us in this life.  Do we praise God for King David, who has given us such wonderful psalms?  Do we praise him for the Apostle Paul, who has given us so much of our New Testament?  How about some of the faithful early church fathers like Irenaeus and Augustine?  Names like Calvin, Knox, Luther, Zwingli, Owen, Ryle, and Hodge fill our libraries and have shaped the way we understand our scriptures.  How much light has been given to us by the likes of Matthew Henry?  What about the call to evangelism and holy living that came from the likes of George Whitefield and John Wesley?   The names of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and Fanny Crosby have become synonymous with hymns of praise.  What of missionaries like David Brainerd and William Carey?  Oh, beloved, we could go on and on with the role call of men and women of faith who have gone before us and given us so many riches from their insights into God’s word, but what about those countless, nameless Christians who have set an example for us in their simple daily faith?  What about those Sunday School teachers who have planted seeds of truth in our heart?  What about faithful preachers who opened up God’s word to us week in and week out?  What about the dear saints who have upheld us in prayer through the years?  What about the believer with the servant’s heart who quietly gives and gives so that the church may be about its work.  Oh, beloved, how we do not thank God nearly enough for the work of his salvation!  How our lives would be darker and duller without so many wonderful testimonies of faith!  How sad it is that we tend to look only to ourselves and neglect the shoulders of those upon whom we stand.

Now the question that is posed, depending on the translation that is used, is whether this spirit that is mentioned is the Spirit of God or the spirit of David.  Most of our modern English translations imply that David is asking to be upheld in his own spirit (ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV), and the King James Version seems to stand on its own in clearly attributing this to the Holy Spirit.  As we look at the context of the passage, what we find is that this passage comes on the heels of a plea to God that His Holy Spirit would not be removed from David’s presence.  Now, in this verse, the prayer seems to intensify, and the plea becomes one that not only includes fellowship but being upheld as well.  In addition, the verse that follows is basically a response to God’s restorative work.  David says that in the wake of God’s provision for him, he will teach sinners the ways of God so that they might turn back to the path that leads to salvation—how might that be done unless you are upheld by the Holy Spirit?

Loved ones, the language of joy is fairly strong within this verse and it is found throughout the psalms—the words “joy” or “rejoice” occur more than 80 times in the psalms alone.  So often we get so caught up in sin that we neglect the joy that comes with being redeemed in Christ.  Beloved, rejoice!  Rejoice for though you were dead in your sins and trespasses, Christ loved you enough to call you to himself and to bear the penalty for your sins!  Beloved, you were the sons and daughters of paupers and now, in Christ, you have inherited paradise!  You are promised perfect fellowship with God, and in the mean time, Christ dwelling in you through his Holy Spirit and making continual intercession on your behalf before the Father.  Loved ones, there is much to rejoice over, so why do we so often wear such sour faces when we come to church?  Rejoice, beloved, rejoice—for our Savior reigns!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven!  Alleluia!

Praise to thee by both be given; Alleluia!

Thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!

Hail the Resurrection, thou!  Alleluia!

-Charles Wesley

Let Me Hear Jubilation and Joy: Psalm 51 (part 9)

“Let me hear jubilation and joy,

Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice!”

(Psalm 51:10 {Psalm 51:8 in English Bibles})


Just as forgiveness can only come from the Lord, so too does restoration.  True joy cannot be had apart from God, because true joy is something that can only be experienced in relationship with God.  We may chase after many things that bring us pleasure, but it is only God who can bring us lasting joy, and oh, how our sin deprives us of such joy.  Sin is that which drives a wedge in the relationship we have with God, yet oh, how glorious our God is, in restoring that joy as he forgives our sins.

Also, beloved, do not miss what David is showing us in this verse—it is the bones that “you (speaking of God) have crushed.”  So often when we think of the horrid things that happen to us, we immediately blame the devil and his mischief, and there is no question that the devil is at work in this world.  Yet, never forget that our God is sovereign even over the devil and his actions and our God often uses the machinations of the devil to bring about his good pleasure.  It is God who brings about all things, both great and small, good and ill (Isaiah 45:7) either though his direct action or through his permissive will, and it is God who breaks us when we persist in sin, to bring us back to himself.  Yet, even the bones that have been broken and crushed may be restored to rejoicing in repentance.

Beloved, sometimes we get so lost in the rule and instruction of scripture that sometimes we can miss the incredible joy that can be found in Jesus Christ.  Yet, note that joy in Christ can only be had if it is done in submission to Jesus’ lordship.  Loved ones, seek to repent for the sins of your life, but in that repentance, pray that God would restore to you the joy that comes from a close relationship with him.  The closer you walk to your beloved, the easier it is to stroll hand in hand.