During my freshman year of high school, my sunday school class went through John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life”. As you probably know, John Piper is a brilliant theologian, and therefore, sometimes a bit hard to follow if you’re a concrete, feet-on-the-ground, just-give-me-something-practical person like me. Summarized version of the book: God’s glory ↔ Our joy. Since we have been made in God’s image, and since we’ve been made new people (2 Cor 5:17), we find the deepest joy when we glorify God. And God, our Father, is honored and glorified when we find joy in Him. It’s a circle: We get joy by glorifying God, and God is glorified in the joy we find through it.
In class last week, we went studied 2 Thessalonians, and the first chapter gave this concept a whole new flavor to me. Paul’s addressing a seriously discouraged church, one suffering from persecution and wolves in sheeps’ clothing (aka, not trustworthy “experts” throwing their deceptive 2 cents in), so this whole book is filled with various encouragements.
” We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters,and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thess 1:3-12
Ok, so what does this passage have to do with God’s glory ↔ our joy? What exactly is joy? Based on the majority of the ways we see “joy” used in the Bible, we could give it this definition:
Joy = the resolute assurance that God has neither lost the interest nor the power to deal with my problem.
Through the Holy Spirit, Paul comforts the Thessalonian church by saying things like, “We constantly pray for you”, “God is just”, and “they [the persecutors] will be punished”, assuring them of God’s power and sovereignty over the situation. He is not ignorant of what’s happening them, nor is He powerless to stop it. Why, then are these people God loves suffering?
The answer is a long one, but, simplified it all comes down to God’s glory. God made us with free will, because He wants us to choose to glorify Him; He gets more glory that way. The trouble is, a choice always has at least two options; in this case, it’s glorifying God or doing our own thing. As you well know, we often pick the second choice. Adam and Eve made that choice thousands of years ago, and that changed things forever. Now, even if our sufferings aren’t the direct result of a “do your own thing” choice (ours or someone else’s), they might be a natural consequence of living in a broken world. Disease. Hurricanes. Food Allergies. God cares about us, so much so that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place so we could have a relationship. But He cares about His own glory more, so He gives us the choice to choose Him or our way.
Back to 2 Thessalonians… Paul comforts the Thessalonian church by reminding them to be joyful, to remember that God is neither ignorant or powerless in their pain, even though it may seem like it. And if they stay true their calling, choosing joy over despair, God is glorified. Paul encourages them to stay strong till the end, so “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”.
Not only does glorifying God bring us lasting fulfillment and the overflowing peace/love/energy/happiness we often associate with joy, but in those moments when we’re really struggling, in those times when life seems to be our enemy, those seasons where the hard just keeps getting harder… In those times, when we choose joy, God is glorified. God’s glory ↔ Our joy.