He gives us richly all things to enjoy.
1 Timothy 6:17
As we continue to consider the sources of joy available to the Christian in this present life (beneath our primary joy – God Himself), I want to focus this week on relationships. God by nature, in His triune being, is a relational being, so it is not surprising that we, in His image, are are also relational by nature. The human history begins with “it is not good for man to be alone”. On that basis God created woman, and instituted marriage (Gen 2:18, 21-25), which was established to be the primary relational unit in human society. Within that core of marriage and the family is to be found great joy as we strive to develop loving interactions with one another. Sin has definitely complicated things so that relationships usually bring with them great challenges, and even great pain; there are no perfect families. But if we purpose to bring marriage and the family into line with God’s purpose, we will find that there will be times of deep joy that surpass any effort required. As time passes, the memories of those blessed moments extend their joys into our old age; and the regret of old age is most often the failures of nurturing and savoring more time with family.
For those who have come up through severely broken and dysfunctional families, please know that God truly is your loving Father who loves you more than any earthly father could (John 17:23; 1 John 3:1), and that Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24, Heb 2:11). God can take a broken and painful past and use it to bring forth glory to Himself, and great blessing and joy to you. In addition, we are co-members of His family, the Church, through which we may develop loving familial relationships that are good and blessed. And, if you yourself are married, or going to be married someday, you have the blessing of working hard to establish a family that is God-honoring and brings joy.
Beyond the core of the family unit is that inner circle of close friends. Jesus had his inner circle of Peter, James, and John, who are mentioned repeatedly as being with Christ at times when the others were not. Like family, these relationships are always challenged by the complications of sin, but they also are a great source of joy in life. In this life there are usually only a handful of “inner circle” friends, and we must cherish them and strive to develop and maintain those relationships.
Finally, interaction with our casual friends is also a source of joy in this life. Whether it be an occasional meal together, participating together in a club or a bowling team, just to have fun with others is rewarding and enriches life. Here also is the opportunity to interact with those who are not believers and to sew some seeds of faith by your demeanor, example, and words.
So how good is our relationship score?
As Christian’s, our relationship with others is paramount. After the topic of Jesus, Himself, the New Testament has more to say about our interaction with others than about any other aspect of our faith. The Church, locally and universally, is a living relational temple of of our relational God. May we each purpose to be better spouses, parents, friends, and living stones of the Temple of God, the Church.
And remember, a person who would have friends must show himself friendly (Prov 18:24).
We previously said that Christians must keep their hearts from being entangled with this present world’s sources of joy and its values if they are to find abiding joy in this present age; that such joy only comes through an abiding love relationship with God through Jesus Christ; and that our first joy must be the Person of God, himself. So what, if any, existential pleasures are available to the child of God?
Clearly, Peter did not find it an unspiritual desire to want to “love life and see good days” (1 Peter 3:10). We are not called to live self-flagellating, monastic lives. He gives us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). He who is truly dead to the world is free to truly enjoy many of the “things of the world” according to conscience, as long as it does not harm or exploit others. (Titus 1:15) Here is the fallacy (and danger) of legalistic religion that forces all types of obligatory restrictions and taboos upon the Christian. Such religion replaces joyful communion with God with either the superficial joy of being among the self-righteous few, or with self-condemnation and defeat. Ultimately, there is no middle ground. (see Colossians 2:16-23). Happy is the man who does not condemn himself (either by conscience, or by becoming enslaved) in the things which he allows (Romans 14:22).
Our separation (crucifixion) from the world, then, is first and foremost a condition of the heart. The infallible (though often ignored) warning flag is when the abiding joy of the Lord is obscured or replaced by the things of this world. At that point some self-imposed austerity might well be in order as we seek earnestly to rekindle our supreme love and joy in God himself. May we be able from our hearts to say with Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Next week we will consider our present joy.
About Ed Ross
Ed Ross has been pastor of Springwood Chapel in York, PA for the past 16 years. He and his wife, Lynna, have been married 34 years, and have three grown children (a son and two daughters) who are all actively involved in the church and/or missions work.
Having attended Millersville University (PA: 1969-1972), Maranatha Baptist Bible College (WI: 1977-1980 ), he received a bachelor of theology from International Bible Institute & Seminary (FLA). He was first ordained into the ministry in 1980, at which time he and his wife began an Independent Baptist church, remaining there for eight years.
Ed has been bi-vocational at times, working in supervisory and management positions in the quality and manufacturing engineering fields.
He is actively involved in missions work, having spent significant time teaching among the amaZioni peoples of southern Africa. Ed has written numerous tracts and pamphlets, and currently publishes Tuesday’s Touch, a weekly e-devotional. He has also served as a city police chaplain for a number of years, and enjoys writing music/poetry, hiking, and traveling with his wife.