"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cycle of Joy

In the 70's there was a trend in Bible studies (before they were tagged as "small groups" or "life groups"). This new facet was a sign of the times, and it was called "sharing." Truthfully, I am not sure whether it grew out of group therapy or the other way around (I was not involved in the counseling field until the mid-80's). The idea was, everyone had a perspective to contribute. I call it a sign of the times because American society was drifting away from authority (and absolutes) and into individuality, and subjective interpretations and applications.

In the New Testament, sharing has an entirely different meaning. In the early church, each shared according to his or her ability. What set this apart from a socialist state was the voluntary, from-the- heart, aspect of their giving. It was motivated by the Holy Spirit, not by the strong arm of government. Many of Paul's letters include statements of gratitude that the churches he knew and loved shared in his ministry. Such statements are found in his (nearly) closing statements to the church in Philippi:

" I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed you have been concerned but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out form Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.  Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account." Philippians 4: 10-11; 14-17

Paul found joy in the expression of their concern for him. Apparently this was practical, tangible support as he speaks to his contentment in the material realm (under any circumstances). He has not forgotten earlier days when the Philippians stood alone in their support of him. Interestingly, Paul's maturity shows in that his joy is not in what he has received from them so much as the rewards they will receive for their generosity. They shared in his troubles, they shared in his financial burden, and they will share as well in whatever " may be credited to their account." Such is the nature of Paul's love for the church: he always has their best interest at heart and he is joyful that they will now share in the benefits of giving from gracious hearts. This is not a prosperity doctrine, rather, it is an example of selfless living which finds its reward in the knowledge that God is pleased.

A consistent theme in this book about rejoicing is the focus on God and others. Paul appreciates their gift, and acknowledges it was good of them to give it. He is most excited, though, about what they will receive in the process. This may be eternal reward or spiritual maturity or both (I wonder if they are so different, really).

The cycle we can observe here looks something like this: Jesus laid down his life for us; Paul responded by laying down his life for others (for Christ's sake); others responded to their own opportunities for selfless living; Paul rejoiced and Christ was both pleased and glorified.

These are keys to the Kingdom. We do not earn salvation by good works but, we respond to salvation by good works. We want to please the One who laid his life down for us. Others are blessed and respond in kind and on and on. It is the reverse of cultural values to amass wealth and possessions as the meaning and measure of success. By asking, "How can I be truly helpful?" and, "Does it please God?' we find joy in sharing each other's burdens, triumphs and rewards. The paradox is that to find joy we give it to another. In order to do so, we need to take Jesus at his word when he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.