Paul was prisoner in Rome, but he expected to be released. He planned to go to Philippi and visit his dear Christian friends there “so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me” (Phil. 1:26). Paul was the kind of Christian who brought the overflowing joy of Jesus whenever he arrived, and people hated to see him leave! (See Acts 20:36-38).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal. 5:22). Happiness depends on happenings, but joy is a much deeper experience that is created by the Spirit in the believer’s heart. We can always have joy in the Lord because the Lord never changes and always keeps his promises. The words “joy,” “rejoice” and “glad” are used at least sixteen times in the original text of Philippians, for this is indeed a letter that emphasizes “the joy of the Lord.” In the work ministry, circumstances and people don’t always give us cause for joy, but there is always reason to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4).
You can go to an amusement park or theater and purchase a few hours of entertainment, but not spiritual joy, for joy is something far deeper and longer lasting. “You will grieve,” Jesus told His disciples, “but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20). He compared this experience to the birth of a child: to the mother, the experience is painful but hte result is joyful. The baby that causes the pain also causes the joy! God doesn’t replace our sorrow with joy; He transforms our sorrow into joy. The Lord didn’t remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Instead, He used it to transform Paul’s weakness into strength, his hardships into blessings and his difficulties into opportunities. That’s a greater miracle than healing his body!
Can the Lord use me as a channel of joy to others? Can He use you? Are others pleased to see us come and sad to see us go, or vice versa? The overflowing life has its pains and problems, but they can never take away the joy God gives us, unless we stop walking by faith.
But the joy of the Lord isn’t something we keep to ourselves; it must lead to ministry to others. The churches in Macedonia are an example of joy transformed into generosity. “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up [overflowed] in rich generosity.” Is there a computer program available to explain this formula? Severe trials plus extreme poverty plus overflowing joy equals overflowing generosity! The undertow of the flesh could never produce this kind of giving, because the flesh is selfish.
Of course, their generosity was the fruit of God’s work in their lives. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). This poverty/riches paradox is a key to Paul’s life and ministry: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; pooor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). As long as we admit we are nothing and have nothing, we have access by faith to all of God’s riches, and He receives the glory. If you want an inventory of how rich you are in Christ, check Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:7,18; 2:7-8; 3:8, 16; Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:27 and 2:2.
According to the new book Passing the Plate, by Smith Emerson and Snell (Oxford University Press), if all Americans who consider themselves “committed Christians” would tithe, and extra forty-six billion dollars would be available each year for Christian ministries! This fund could support 150,000 new indigenous missionaries and 50,000 theological students in the developing world, as well as 5 million “micro loans” to poor entrepreneurs. It could supply food, clothing and shelter for all 6,5000,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It could provide enough money to treat and prevent malaria worldwide, as well as sufficient funds to care for 20 million needy children worldwide. If the Macedonian Christians could give generously out of their poverty, surely Christians in the United States could give a tithe out of the abundance!
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul wrote to the Colossian believers (Col. 3:16), and the Greek word translated “richly” carries the idea of “superabundance, wealth, extravagance.” We must do more than have the Bible in our homes, our hands and our heads; we need to have God’s Word dwelling richly in our hearts. No matter what kind of training we may have received, it is not a substitute for a living experience of the Word of God.
Listen to Charles Spurgeon on the subject as he spoke to his annual minister’s conference in 1877: “Let us, dear brethren, try to get saturated with the gospel. I always find that I can preach best when I can manage to lie a-soak in my text. I like to get a text, and find out its meaning and bearings and so on; and then, after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it, and let it soak into me” (An All-round Ministry; Banner of Truth Trust, 1960; p. 124).
Why should we become servants who overflow with the Word? Paul tells us in the rest of Colossians 3:16: “…as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Preaching, teaching and worship that glorify and please God must be empowred by the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18-20) and directed by the Word of God. We cannot lead our people in worship or teach and admonish them, nor do we have the wisdom to shepherd them, unless we are filled with both the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and no amount of technology or talent can replace them.
The ascended Lord must look at some of us as He did the lukwarm church at Laodicea, and want to say to us as He did say to them: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and nacked” (Rev. 3:17).
Are we ministering from the undertow or the overflow/
(copyright 2008 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved. Not to be reprinted without permission.)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).