The Overflow of Joy in God
In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:2)
Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-8, Paul does not set up the Macedonians as a model of love just because they sacrificed in order to meet the needs of others. What he stresses is how they loved doing this (remember Micah 6:8). It was the overflow of joy! They begged earnestly to give (see 2 Corinthians 8:4). They found their pleasure in channeling the grace of God through their poverty to the poverty in Jerusalem. It is simply astonishing!
This is why a person can give his body to be burned and not have love.(1 Corinthians 13:3). Love is the overflow of joy-in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake or right for right’s sake. It is not resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person. It is first a deeply satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person.
When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints, we may assume that this is not just what they ought to do or have to do. It is their joy- an extension of their joy in God. To be sure, they are denying themselves whatever pleasures or comforts they could have from the money they give away, but the joy of extending God’s grace to others is far better reward than anything money can buy. The Macedonians have discovered the labor of Christian Hedonism: love! It is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.
Every church struggles with having enough volunteers and those who volunteer frequently talk about burnout. Burnout is that place of becoming tired and feeling unfulfilled with what one is engaged in doing. The enthusiasm of the work has now become duty, obligation and to some degree resented. Every recruiting method known to man has been tried to motivate people to volunteer and to continue to volunteer. The same is also true as it pertains to the giving of financial resources.
We have all heard that we ought to volunteer and give because it’s the right thing to do. We have been shamed and pressured into doing both. We have been the subject of the called favor- we volunteer because our dear friend has begged us to do so.
This is not only true in the work of God but participation in attending church or spending time in prayer or even the reading of the Bible. Many start enthusiastically but somewhere along the way their desire drains away and they are left with going through the motions because they feel compelled to do so.
While we must recognize this malady as a reality, we must also ask it there is a cure and whether it is possible to become vaccinated against its effects. What is it that moves a Paul to give their whole lives to the cause of the gospel? We read that his life certainly wasn’t an easy one.
John Piper, I believe gives us this secret. All that we do must come from the overflow of the joy in God. In other words, we serve and give and work for the pure joy that we find in God. This doesn’t mean that there are never frustrations or tiredness of body. It doesn’t mean that there is no suffering or loss or challenges. It’s all about motive and attitude.
Some years ago God gave me a sermon on the idea of “whether we have to” or “whether we get to.” This is what defines our work. Do we as the Macedonians see it as a privilege and honor God has graciously allowed us to have? Is what we do out of the sure joy of pleasing God and blessing others? I’ve been often asked why I am still doing what I’m doing. There are those who have been concerned about me burning out. I say this with no ego at all. I’ve found the secret to enthusiastically serving God and His church. For me it is pure delight in the idea that God would choose and use someone like me for His purposes. Now let me be honest. Not every one of my experiences have been pleasant. Sometimes the very people I’ve worked with and for have been ungracious and unkind. Sometimes there has been little or no response to my efforts. I’ve preached sermons with all my heart and ability only to have people in that moment occupy themselves with anything but listening. Often my family has had to give up lots of things for the sake of ministry and not every church has done well in providing a livable income. I must also confess that sometimes people are difficult to work with and some are demanding and some can even be cruel.
So my question then becomes, “Why am I doing this?” Often we find ourselves doing things, especially church things because we feel some duty or obligation to do so. May I say that’s the poorest reason to do so. It won’t take long before you begin to resent having to do the work. Often we are guilted into doing something, sometimes because we see our friend struggling and want to help them or sometimes they guilt us into doing it.
Oh that we as the people of God would discover this wonderful secret of the Macedonians who out of their own poverty begged for the privilege to give. You see it’s easy to volunteer when we have extra time or to give out of our riches and overflow beyond need. It’s something deeper to volunteer at the sacrifice of other things getting done or to give out of our need. But once you discover this overflow of joy in God and find yourself motivated to give and volunteer for the pure delight of serving God you will find that the time and resource you give will almost seem as nothing. We come to this place by understanding that all we have is a gift from God. All my time each day is a gift from God. All my talents, skills and abilities are a gift from God. All my resources have their root in the provision of God. The job I have, the family I have, the home I live in, and the church I attend are all gifts from God. All that I am and all that I will ever be is a gift from God. The very air I breathe, the food I eat and every heartbeat is a gift from God. Whatever I accomplish or attain is from God. This is why I say all the time that anything you find good in me or about me is from God. When you know that God is the giver of all these things, you can see the privilege rather than the duty of giving and serving. Once you come to this place with your relationship with God you cease to measure your involvement with the involvement of others. You cease to count the hours or the amount of resources you give. You become free to enjoy being a gift to God and others and you discover that the time you give is never missed for God somehow grants you the ability to get all that you need personally to get done. When you discover that God is your source, you give without fear for you know that He will somehow add back to you. But neither of these things motivate you. You are motivated simply out of the overflow of joy in God.
After all these years of serving God and serving the church; in spite of the difficulties and struggles, I can say I find it still a delight and something I look forward to with joy, delight and enthusiasm. It is such a need now that when I’m not able to give or serve, it almost feels like depression. Maybe I’m just a God junkie who needs their fix everyday. But I can say that serving God is the most satisfying thing any human can do and I pray that you find that place of overflowing joy in your life.
Dr. John Thompson