We all know it's not that simple. We can fight tooth and nail for joy, and it can still be beyond us. That's because joy is God's gift. But how do you fight for something which is a gift? That's what chapters 3 and 4 are about.
If at any point you find these chapters hard going, remember that you can sum them up with two simple Bible verses:
the command - we fight for joy:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Phil 4:4)
the gift - God enables joy:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22-23, my emphasis)
My Bible study group found this very comforting! Even if we couldn't understand every word of Piper's argument (one woman admitted that she read each sentence three times and still didn't get it!) we understood and were convinced by this.
We were also deeply convicted by John Piper's definition of evil:
"My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13). ... Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil. (p.34 my emphasis)
We're in trouble, aren't we? Our hearts are evil, and we naturally prefer the things of this world to the things of God. Only God can change our hearts so that we rejoice in him:
We are like the blind in the art gallery of heaven ... we are commanded to do what we cannot do. And we must do it or perish. ... We must obey the command to rejoice in the Lord, and we cannot, because of our willful and culpable corruption. ... We must delight in God. And only God can change our hearts so that we delight in God. We are thrown back on God utterly. (pp.49, 53 my emphases)
So how does it all fit together? How do you fight for something which is a gift? How do you fight for something which isn't under your control? As Piper says, "You don't get up in the morning feeling blue and then immediately experience joy simply because you decide too" (p40). I love Piper's three-part answer:
- the fight itself is a gift. "God's work in us does not eliminate our work; it enables it. We work because he is the one is at work in us." (p. 41, Phil 2:12-13)
- we fight to put ourselves in the God-ordained path of blessing. My favourite quote in the whole book, which has comforted me innumerable times, and reminded me to wait for God and keep fighting when joy seems a million miles away, is this:
We are like farmers. They plow the field and plant the seed and cut away weeds and scare away crows, but they do not make the crop grow. God does. He sends rain and sunshine and brings to maturity the hidden life of the seed. ... We must learn to wait for the Lord. ... In obedience to God's Word we should fight to walk in the paths where he has promised his blessings. But when and how they come is God's to decide, not ours. If they delay, we trust the wisdom of our Father's timing, and we wait. In this way joy remains a gift, while we work patiently in the field of obedience and fight against the weeds and the crows and the rodents. Here is where joy will come. Here is where Christ will reveal himself (Jn 14:21). But that revelation and that joy will come when and how Christ chooses. It is a gift. (pp.42-43 my emphases)
- we fight to see. All we're fighting to do is to see Jesus more clearly. As we see more of Jesus, and get to know him, joy will be the result. We don't have control over our emotions: but we can fight to know the Jesus of the cross better.
Questions for discussion and reflection:
How do you fight for something which is a gift? How does knowing that joy is a fight help you when you're going through dark times? How does knowing that joy is a gift help you when you're going through dark times?
image is from Jaako at flickr