Connections 10.15.2017: Joy on Tuesday

Philippians 4:1-9

We’d pack into the Children’s Department Assembly Room like sardines in a can and, if it was summertime, our skin would be about as slick. The girls wore their best dresses and frilly white socks. The boys wore their best shirts and non-frilly white socks. We were a pony-tailed, crew-cut, snaggle-toothed mess of early and prepubescent childhood.

We were there to sing, and we weren’t bashful about it. Ours was a singing church, and our apples didn’t fall far from the adult trees.

Miss Rachel played the old upright piano and Mrs. Smith called out the song titles.

“Deep and Wide.” (For some reason, on the second time around we’d leave out “deep,” on the third time around we’d omit “wide,” and on the fourth we’d cut out both. Where we omitted the spatial references we inserted “Mmmm.” I never figured out the theological significance of “There’s a fountain flowing mmm and mmm.” We always did the hand motions though, so we were at least acting out what we didn’t say.)

“If You’re Happy and You Know It.” (We’d clap our hands, stomp our feet, and shout “Amen” to affirm our knowledge of our happiness. I never figured out what I was supposed to do if I wasn’t happy, which I sometimes wasn’t. We didn’t do laments in Children’s Sunday School Assembly.)

We also sang “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.” I’d been going into that assembly ever since I graduated from my crib in the nursery, so I learned the lyrics to these songs and the hymns we sang in church (we didn’t have a Children’s Church; when you got out of the crib, you went to the sanctuary) by hearing them rather than by reading them. Sometimes I misheard. For example, when we’d sing “Whosoever Surely Meaneth Me” in worship, I thought we were singing “Shirley,” which raised some questions in my young inquiring mind: (1) who was Shirley? and (2) what did she have to do with coming to Jesus?

Anyway, instead of “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay,” I thought we were singing “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in heart Tuesday.” I wondered why we couldn’t have joy but one day a week. And why Tuesday, of all days? I mean, shouldn’t the church be promoting Sunday? I certainly felt something akin to joy while watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Now that I’m an adult (and have been one for a long time), I have put away such childish ways. I no longer wonder why we should have joy only on Tuesday. I now sometimes wonder how we can have joy on any day.

I especially wonder about it on days like Monday, October 2, 2017, the day we woke up to the horrible news from Las Vegas. As much as I wonder about how to follow them, in such times I find myself turning to words like those Paul offers: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4).

I think maybe “in the Lord” is the key phrase. Knowing and being known by God and loving and being loved by Jesus gives us a perspective from which we can see that everything is going to be all right someday. God’s Spirit can give us a spirit that is able to rest in the Lord no matter what is happening—or at least to do so eventually. Trusting God for the long run helps us find joy even in the worst of times.

But you know, clichés don’t help in times of tragedy. Trite phrases don’t heal wounds. Expressions of joy can seem cruel in the face of suffering. Sometimes we just have to own our grief and sadness.

Still, we have the gift of joy in the Lord to offer. How can we do that in ways that take people’s suffering seriously?

We should try to share our joy with others. Hopefully we can wear our joy lightly enough that its subtle expressions have a positive effect.

But maybe our joy in the Lord should inspire us to do something to lessen the possibility of future tragedies like the one that happened in Vegas. Maybe being blessed with joy should inspire us to at least do all we can to keep people from having to bear unnecessary sorrow.

Discussion

1. When Paul urges the Philippian Christians to “stand firm in the Lord in this way” (v. 1), what “way” is he talking about? (Read Phil 3:17-21 for help.)
2. Why do you think Paul names names in verses 2-4?
3. Paul strongly encourages the Philippians to “rejoice” (v. 4). Do we need to hear this encouragement? Why?
4. How does Paul say we can grow in knowing God’s peace?
5. What are some examples of the kinds of things Paul says we should “think about” (v. 8)?

Reference Shelf

Three features characterize the repeated emphasis on joy in this letter. First, joy is highly paradoxical. It appears where it is least expected—often amid suffering and trial. Paul explains this paradox in Rom 5:1-5, but it is abundantly clear in Philippians, where the audience is threatened with persecution and the writer is in prison. As Calvin wrote, “It is a rare virtue that when Satan endeavors to irritate us by the bitterness of the cross, so as to make God’s name unpleasant to us, we rest in the taste of God’s grace alone, so that all annoyances, sorrows, anxieties, and griefs are sweetened” (Calvin 1965, 267).

Second, joy is eschatological. Often used in conjunction with hope (e.g., Rom 12:12; 15:13), joy is “the Christian’s relatedness to the future” (Bultmann 1952, 339). As those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (3:20) and for whom “the Lord is near” (4:5), the readers have reason to rejoice.

Third, joy entails mutuality. It is the experience of shared delight and deep pleasure shared between parties (as in 2:17-18). The phrase “in the Lord” (4:1, 2, 4) carries ecclesial as well as christological overtones.

Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and First Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 182-83.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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