How To Have Joy No Matter What’s Happening In Life
In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul says that he was treated outrageously in Philippi. What happened in Philippi? Well, when Paul was there, there was this little girl who was demon possessed and some older men realized that they could make a lot of money off of this girl, so they made her their slave and charged people to see her and have her tell their fortune. But then this slave girl saw Paul, and the demon must have known clearly who Paul was, because the girl started shouting out “These men are servants of God!” And Paul commanded the spirit to leave the girl, and it did right away. Now that sounds like a miracle that everyone should celebrate, but her owners just lost their income. So they forcibly grabbed Paul and Silas and brought them to the city officials and said that they were disturbing the city. They stirred up a whole crowd to agree with them so the city officials of Philippi ordered that Paul and Silas have their clothes stripped off and then be beaten with rods. After they were terribly beaten, they were put in this dingy Roman jail where their feet where shackled to the floor, and they put a guard to watch them like they’re Hannibal Lector.
Let’s pick up the story there in Acts 16, at one of the worst moments of these guys’ lives: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Wait what? Do we see the audacity of what really happened here? Men actually took rods and beat their naked bodies over and over and then chained them, probably naked, to a dark, horrible smelling prison cell. And they’re…praying and singing? Hymns? Hymns are usually full of…praise? They’re not singing “I fought the law, and the law won.” They’re singing things like: “I exalt you, my God the King, and bless your name forever and ever. I will bless you every day; I will praise your name forever and ever!” from Psalm 145. Every day. Not just the days where things are going their way. This is incredible!
Paul and Silas set a standard for what it looks like to follow Jesus that was then imprinted on the churches they planted. And in that standard we see here that we can DEPEND ON GOD THROUGH SUFFERING. Even in moments like this, but in far lesser things.
But, how did they get to that point; the point where they could depend on God through suffering?
First, they already knew how to pray. They didn’t get into this situation where they were suffering and then say, “Well, what do we do now?” Their default was to pray rather than complain. That didn’t just happen. That was fostered, grown, over a long life of regular prayer.
Second, they already knew hymns to sing. They weren’t writing their own music in that jail cell, they had sung praises to God over and over throughout their lives that they had them memorized and could probably think of ones that fit the situation they were in.
Third, they’d already experienced God’s grace. Here’s how we know that, look at the rest of the story: “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? ” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.” Guys only God can do this kind of work in someone’s life. I mean, it’s really God, or it’s insanity, right? Either God really showed himself to this jailer or the jailer done went and lost his mind. The guy he’s guarding is now sitting at his dinner table, a traitor to Rome, probably a bounty on his head, after he washed Paul’s wounds and Paul dunked his whole family under water. You’ve got to look at this and say it’s either God or insanity.
And God did all of that because Paul had already experienced God’s grace in a powerful way, himself, personally, and now Paul was ready to give that grace to others. So that even during suffering, Paul was looking at how he could bless other people.
Life is really hard. Most likely some kind of suffering is coming your way, or it might already be consuming your life. Maybe for us it’ll never get to being beaten by rods or cuffed to the floor of a jail cell, but maybe it’ll be the death of someone we love. Maybe it’ll be a disease or mental illness. Maybe it’ll be a struggle or inability to have kids. Maybe it’ll be your kids.
How do we know that we’ won’t crumble, but that we’ll respond like Paul and Silas? How can we know that we’ll depend on God during suffering and still have joy?
Look at 1 Thessalonians 2 verse 3: “For our exhortation didn’t come from error or impurity or an intent to deceive. Instead, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please people, but rather God, who examines our hearts. For we never used flattering speech, as you know, or had greedy motives — God is our witness — and we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others.” So most scholars believe that because Paul goes into this pretty lengthy defense of how he lived among them for those few weeks that he was there, it means that someone has come along and is questioning Paul’s motives or spreading rumors that he was just after their money or in it for his ego. Well if he was after their money he was pretty dumb because we already saw that these people were dirt poor. But could he have had other selfish motives for coming to Thessalonica and preaching the Gospel? Could he have been trying to deceive them or tell them things they wanted to hear, but not actually what was in God’s Word?
Look at verse 7: “Although we could have been a burden as Christ’s apostles, instead we were gentle among you, as a nurse nurtures her own children. We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember our labor and hardship, brothers and sisters. Working night and day so that we would not burden any of you, we preached God’s gospel to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers. As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to live worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Paul lays out all this evidence for why his motives were pure when he came to their city. He were gentle, not overbearing, treating these people like a mother treats her baby. A mother sacrifices her needs to meet her baby’s needs. Paul cared for them, shared his life with them. Paul wasn’t just after likes and retweets, he actually cared for these people. He’s not giving them clickbait. He gave them the Gospel, the truth.
That was super common at the time, because there were many traveling teachers and preachers who would roll into town, they were great speakers so they could work up a crowd, and they’d tell the crowd things that they wanted to hear: God loves you just the way you are, you don’t need to change at all…If you give to God, he’ll give back 7 times what you give to him…If you follow God you’ll be blessed and have the best life you can dream of right now…Those kinds of things. And they’d collect the people’s money and praise and then be off to the next city, leaving the people in no better of a situation than when they came, and probably with less money.
And Paul enters that profession when he becomes a traveling preacher. So, you can imagine what kind of reputation he’s stepping into. And he’s preaching a message to the Thessalonians, the Gospel, that has an even worse reputation. Everywhere the gospel goes, people who believe it are getting arrested, run out of town by angry mobs, or killed. Paul’s living the story and inviting the Thessalonians into the story of being a people who are despised and rejected because of what they believe.
Which means that well need to DEPEND ON GOD FOR OUR IDENTITY. Because our reputation as followers of Jesus is gonna get beat up in the world.
How could Paul, how could the Thessalonian church, come to a point where they live so recklessly, not caring about their reputation in the world but honestly believing what God says about them? What allowed them to know and trust in their identity as God’s children, citizens in God’s Kingdom, members of God’s family?
We see the answer in verse 13: “This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe.” Paul constantly thanks God because when they received the Gospel, the word of God that Paul shared with them, they welcomed it. But they didn’t just welcome it as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God. And how does Paul know they welcomed it that way? Because it has worked effectively in those who welcomed it It has an effect.
So we need to DEPEND ON GOD’S WORD. It’s powerful. It has an effect in your life when it’s welcomed as truth. Know it. Know it. I read a story about a guy who lost his voice, and his wife would have to talk for him, and then she’d look at him to get a thumbs up or down to see if what she said actually represented what he wanted to communicate. He gave far, far more thumbs up than down. It was because they lived life for so long around each other, getting to know each other, that she just knew him. That’s how we should be getting to know God’s Word. Scripture helps us think and live like him, know what he loves and hates, know how we should act in certain scenarios, and know what he thinks about us. That’s how we get our identity. And it’s how we can live joyfully even during suffering.
A dependence on God’s Word leads to an knowledge of and dependence on our God-given identity which then allows us to depend on God during suffering. It all starts with a dependence on God’s Word; receiving it as truth, believing what it says about God and ourselves, and letting it define who we are in Christ.
Do you want to have joy even through life’s difficulties? Depend on God’s Word. Let it tell you who you are because of Jesus. Welcome it into your life.