By Mike Hess
An oxymoron can be defined as “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.” Shakespeare illustrated this beautifully in Romeo and Juliet with these words: “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate! O any thing, of nothing first create!” Even in Christian circles we use oxymorons, and some can be unhelpful: “dead church,” “boring preaching,” “lifeless singing,” “fruitless Christian,” and—the one I believe severely hurts our testimony as followers of Christ—“joyless Christian.”
Paul the apostle brilliantly used oxymorons in 2 Corinthians 6:8–10 to illustrate the character of the ministry the Lord had entrusted to him. Even as he grieved, he still rejoiced. Many considered him financially poor, yet he still enriched others spiritually. From the human perspective, it seemed as though he had nothing. But taken from the perspective of truth, his adequacy came from God (2 Cor. 3:4–5). Therefore, he truly had everything. He went so far as to say that he was “always rejoicing” (6:10).
Ministry is getting a lot of bad press these days. More and more I’m talking to men who either want to avoid full-time vocational ministry or desire to get out. It has become popular to overemphasize the struggles of being a follower of Christ instead of highlighting what a great joy it is to be in Christ. Don’t get me wrong. Things like discouragement and difficult times are real and should be taken seriously. But look at Paul. While he could honestly say he had endured beatings, prison, riots, going without sleep, and even physical hunger, he could also say he was “always rejoicing.”
As Christina and I travel and I preach at various state meetings, one theme that I plan on emphasizing is “Restoring the Mindset of Joy in Ministry.” I firmly believe that we do great harm to the cause of the gospel when we portray a joyless attitude. It’s an oxymoron for a believer to be a “joyless Christian”—for Jesus promised His followers in the Upper Room discourse that the very words He spoke to them would give them “full,” or complete, joy (John 15:11). As we face persecution and rejection, our relentless joy in Christ demonstrates that what we have has taken root in our hearts, that the Savior has transformed us in such a way that our temporary trials never threaten our abounding joy in Him.
The fact is, Christians have anchored their joy in different waters than the world. Allow me to unpack five sources of joy for the Christian:
- We’re joyful in the character of God. Notice that Jesus promises “My joy” in John 15:11. No one knew suffering like Jesus did, yet Scripture tells us that during His suffering He manifested joy (Heb. 12:1–3). This joy is a far cry from the range of emojis on a smartphone. This is a consistent and lasting joy. It’s the joy we find in the unchanging character of our God. So think of it this way when going through overwhelming trials: your circumstances can never change God’s character. Anchor your joy in the character of your unchanging God.
- We’re joyful in the significance of our work. “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2). One of my goals as a parent is to never communicate to my children that serving God is a drudgery. I want my family to know that it’s a great privilege and the joy of my life to serve our risen Savior. Whatever task God ordains for us in His service, may we do it with gladness and joy. If you are a church leader, consistently communicate with your attitudes and actions that you consider it a great joy to be serving Christ in local church ministry.
- We’re joyful in the reality of our position in Christ (Gal. 2:20). I’ve never met a person whose life goal was to be unhappy. But I’ve met many who pursued joy by chasing financial wealth, occupational titles, fading possessions, and the passing glory of this world. In a positional sense, our standing in this world fluctuates. At one moment we’re considered young. Before we know it, we’re considered senior citizens. But our standing in Christ is constant—both now and for all eternity.
- We’re joyful in our sufficiency in Christ (2 Cor. 3:4–5). How many times have we gotten discouraged, thinking we don’t have enough talent, money, giftedness, or good health? On the human side, we’re never convinced we have enough. To be joyful in our earthly resources is to be joyful in what’s passing. Where will our joy be if God ordains that we can no longer use our giftedness or that we be stripped of our earthly resources? Our sufficiency in Christ connects our joy to the source of our joy. Trusting in our own adequacy is a recipe for joyless living. The sufficiency of Christ is a never-ending well of joy for those who draw from His inexhaustible resources.
- We’re joyful amid trials. James wrote, “Count it all joy” (James 1:2). Why joy? When do we consider something joy? How do we have joy? Most of us associate joyful experiences with winning or when life has gone according to script. But James encouraged his first-century audience to consider the bigger picture: be joyful in trials, because those trials are producing a maturity that would never develop if it weren’t for those trials. God considers our growth and maturity more important than our personal comfort. That truth is great cause for joy.
Think of it this way: would others characterize your attitude and approach to service for Christ with the word joy? We as a fellowship of churches take our doctrinal position very seriously. It has been our bedrock foundation for nearly 90 years. Our joy as believers should be a manifestation of what we believe the Word teaches about our great God. Therefore, those with solid doctrine should have abounding joy.
May our posture as we serve God be one of joy. It is such an undeserved privilege to serve our great God. I pray for myself and for those I’m blessed to serve with that we never lose the sense of joy that comes from belonging to our great God, Who has done so much for us in Christ. And may it be the norm, not an oxymoron, that when people observe us, they come to the undeniable conclusion, “That person is a joyful follower of Christ.”
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).
Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.