Summary: This sermon compares what people see in the church today, and its overall lack of joy, to that of the first church is how is was filled with joy.
A Joyous Church
One look at human history and what we see a story of humanity’s endeavor to solve its own problems, from food to famines, from violence and war, to who’s got what and how can we get more. And seeing that there are more problems facing the world today than ever before, it seems that humanity hasn’t done a very good job of solving what ails it.
And the same could be said about humanity’s search for happiness and joy. They’ve done everything possible to find it, which has been centered more on sinful behavior than it has upon the Lord and following His ways. And because of it, every year it just keeps getting worse. What history has revealed is that humanity’s endeavors have been unsuccessful, to say the least, and the question, “How can I find happiness?” still eludes the world.
But the early church knew that what they had found is what the world was so desperately searching for. Hearing the truth of the gospel message and believing it for their lives, they turned away from humanity’s unending quest and found unending joy, a joy that can only be found in a relationship with the Lord and with one another.
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity -- all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NLT)
Is this, however, what we’re seeing in the church today? Is the church filled with such joy? Are we a joyous church?
Joy has been a characteristic of the early church as seen throughout the New Testament, along with every period of church reformation and revival. But this runs counter to many people’s idea of the church today.
People look at the church as some big spoil sport. And if we listen long enough, we’ll hear more negative comments than we will positive comments and feelings.
They say that the church is filled with narrow-minded people who live miserable lives characterized more by what they don’t do than what they do. They say that Christians find no enjoyment in life.
That is how I grew up, and the observation that I had of the church I grew up in. But then I met true believers in Jesus Christ who enjoyed life with a capital “L.” And since they were Jewish they lived by the Jewish word, “L’chaim,” which means, “To Life.” They lived their lives in true freedom and joy.
But this dour perception of the church and Christianity is not without substance as those outside the faith see those who call themselves Christians trying to fulfill duties and responsibilities, afraid that somehow if they don’t they’ll miss out on heaven.
This type of legalistic atmosphere is what pervades the church, and because of it Christians are missing out on what God desires to bless them with. And one of the top blessings is that of joy.
Is it therefore any wonder why so many people don’t consider the church in their search for happiness and joy?
But this is not the life found in the early church. They had joy, and they lived their lives in gladness and a singleness of purpose, which found them praising God and having favor with everyone. And that is the picture of the church throughout the New Testament.
To the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul said,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV)
Fifteen times Paul used the word “joy” and “rejoice” in this letter, which is why Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is called the joyful letter. The reason is because it was in Philippi that Paul found that the power of God is revealed when such joy and rejoicing occurs. We’ll get to why I say that in a moment.
We also see this joy being talked about by the Apostle Peter in the church’s relationship to Jesus Christ.
“Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8 NKJV)
And so, a church without true expressions of joy from its members is nothing more than an institution, and has little if anything in common with the early church, and what God called the church and for Christians to be. Think about it, how do you think Christianity turned the world upside down in a single generation if it was filled with laws and regulations and was as negative as people perceive it to be today?
What conquered the ancient world was the Spirit of God moving through the gospel message of Jesus Christ given by a people and a church that was filled with joy and gladness.