Two weeks ago, Pastor Winsome Wu taught us how to cultivate joy in life. Last week, I talked about how we can experience joy by choosing the right expectations for each day and for our future. So intentional efforts are required to experience joy.
Joy, we talked about, is more than happiness. Joy is long lasting, even eternal. Joy is a matter of spirit, the part of us that relates with God. Joy results when we think, live and relate the way God intended for us to think, live and relate. So, joy doesn’t come to us by accident; rather, joy comes to us by obedience to God.
Unfortunately, many people think joy automatically comes with the Christmas season. After all, there is a great deal of gift receiving, parties and decorations. But none of these activities ensure joy.
On Friday, Mel and I went out to lunch. And as we headed toward Peking Wok, a homeless person stopped us for money. So we invited him to have lunch at Peking Wok. I talked and prayed with him for a few minutes. He ate his lunch, and then he left.
After lunch, I hurried back to my office to start this morning’s message. As I began to type, I wondered if that homeless person experienced any joy from a free lunch, a listening ear and prayer. We can receive a great deal without ever experiencing joy.
Have you ever received something with suspicion? Maybe your co-worker offers you help only because he needed your help the next minute? Or have you ever received something, and instead of feeling joy and gratitude, you felt indebted to the giver?
Few people are taught in life how to receive gifts or help with joy. Instead of joy, some people experience greed, arrogance, indebtedness or disappointment when they receive gifts from others.
Our Bible passage this morning will teach us how to experience joy from what we receive. The text is John 3:22-36. Let me read it for us.
Before we talk about how to experience the joy of receiving, let me introduce you to John the Baptist. John the Baptist, you need to know, was a distant cousin of Jesus, because their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, were relatives. You also need to know that John the Baptist did not write the book of John. John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote this book.
John the Baptist and Jesus were both conceived miraculously. The angel, Gabriel, announced the miraculous conception of John the Baptist when his mom and dad were very old. The angel, Gabriel, on the other hand, announced the miraculous conception of Jesus when his mom was still a virgin, not having had intercourse with a man.
Furthermore, John the Baptist was given the charge to prepare people to turn from their sins and turn to the Savior, Who is Jesus. And Jesus was given the charge to save people from their sin by his death on the cross. Both had a clear life purpose.
What we read this morning is a record of John the Baptist experiencing the joy of receiving. If we read carefully, we would know that John’s joy came not from what he received but how he received. Let’s look together.
First, John was full of joy because he received from God without comparison to others. Verses 22-27.
John was performing a symbolic ceremony called baptism for all who want to be cleansed from sins and made ready for the Savior, Jesus Christ. In verse 23, we read that people were constantly coming to John to be baptized. And in verse 26, we read John’s disciples telling John that everyone is going to Jesus to be baptized.
How could everyone be going to Jesus to be baptized, when people were constantly coming to John to be baptized? If verse 23 is true, then verse 26 cannot be true. Was John, the author of this book, contradicting himself?
The answer is "no." What happened was the disciples of John the Baptist began comparing the number of people going to Jesus with the number of people going to John for baptism. Comparison can distort the truth and rob us of the joy of receiving.
Back in 1999, we moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment, because we were expecting Esther. We were thrilled to have a larger place. A year later, Esther began to sit up and crawl, so we bought some plastic playpen gates to keep her out of trouble. We felt like the luckiest people in the world, until we went to visit some friends out in the East Bay.
They had just bought a house. We were invited to lunch, and when we entered their house, we saw the same playpen gates set up. Except their playpen area seemed much smaller in their living room, which was about three times the size our living room.
When we got home, I opened the door to our apartment and found that our apartment had shrunk to one-third of what I remembered. For the next couple of weeks, I complained that the playpen took up all of our living room space. Comparison had robbed me of the joy of receiving.
If you are married, don’t compare your husband or wife with another person’s husband or wife. Or you will lose the joy God intended for you to experience for your spouse. Discipline your thinking and learn to cherish and pamper your spouse.
Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." If you make time to think about the good points of your spouse, to serve her, to buy gifts for her, to treasure her, your heart will be filled with joy for her.
Don’t compare spouse, don’t compare house, don’t compare children, don’t compare titles, paychecks, intelligence or even spiritual gifts and services. James 1:17 tells us, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
The jealous person or the proud person is criticizing God’s wisdom. God knew what He was doing when He gave you your abilities. God knew what He was doing when He gave your husband his abilities. We can experience the joy of receiving when we don’t compare ourselves and what we have with others and what they have.
Second, John was full of joy because he received from God without competition to God’s glory. Verses 27-30.
John understood that he was not the chosen One of God; he was only there to prepare the people to receive Jesus. The Bible describes believers as the bride, and Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom. And John the Baptist was charged to be the best man to the Bridegroom. The best man’s part is to bring the bride and Bridegroom together.
John’s joy came as a result of carrying out his part, not taking Jesus’ part. John’s part was to bring people to Jesus, and now people were going to Jesus. John was satisfied to hear Jesus’ voice saying, "You are a good and faithful servant."
Most of you don’t know this, but when Mel became the chairperson of our church two years ago, he vowed that it was his job to help me succeed as the pastor. I think he even said that he would make it his goal to make me look good. Mel chose his satisfaction in making me look good as a pastor.
I look more competent and capable than I really am. Each time I say something dumb in the Council meetings or the Business meetings, Mel would step in and help me out. In biblical terms, Mel was giving me the glory. He didn’t compete for glory. He was satisfied to give the glory to me.
Everything we receive in life can either compete with God’s glory or magnify God’s glory. When we allow the gifts we receive to compete for God’s glory, we may gain happiness, and there is nothing wrong with happiness, but we lose our joy. A promotion at work, for instance, if it takes your focus and time away from God, competes with God’s glory.
The best way to give God the glory is to be satisfied with God above anything we can receive. When Esther, my daughter, chooses me over candy or television, I receive glory. People will not say, "My how discipline Esther is. She has self-control." No, people are going to say, "My, Esther’s Dad must be a real neat father. She’s choosing him over candy and television." Esther gives me glory when she is satisfied with me above anything else.
If Clifford gives Connie a bigger gift for Christmas than he gives to me, I can still experience the joy of receiving by being satisfied with God. When I’m satisfied with God, I don’t even need a gift from Clifford.
If we feel joy only in getting what we want and more than someone else has, that joy is nothing more than happiness in disguise. If, however, we are satisfied with God, no matter how little we receive, whether paycheck, talents, possessions, appearance, or actual Christmas gifts, we will always experience the joy of receiving.
Third, John was full of joy because he received from God without confinement to earthly blessings. Verses 31-36.
John knew the higher value of heavenly blessings over earthly blessings. Earthly blessings include possessions, power and prestige. John was willing to lose his popularity to gain the heavenly blessings of Jesus Christ and eternal life. Eternal life is a gift from God that we can have by trusting in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross to save us from our sins.
Many people believe that if we had the perfect husband or wife, we would have joy. Or if we had the perfect job or vacation, we would have joy. If we had the perfect house or health, we would have joy. We foolishly confine God’s blessings to the material, psychological or financial.
It was Jim Elliot who said, "The man is no fool who gives up what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose." Everything that makes you happy today will be taken from you one day. But no one can take away the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was wise to give up possessions, power and prestige to gain eternal life through trust in Jesus Christ.
In Luke 10:17, seventy-two of Jesus’ disciples returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."
And Jesus replied, "...do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In other words, do not be over-joy because you have power, but we over-joy because you have the heavenly blessing of eternal life.
Someone has said, "Joy is central to the Christian life, because death holds no fear for the Christian. But fear is central to the non-believer’s life, because death holds great fear over the non-believer."
If you reject Jesus Christ, you reject any possibility of real and lasting joy for your life. We can only experience the joy of receiving when we don’t confine blessings to earthly blessings, but receive God’s many heavenly blessings awaiting us in Jesus Christ.
Let me close with a short poem:
As a rule, mankind is a fool
When it’s hot, he wants it cool.
And when it’s cool, he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.
We don’t have to live under such foolishness anymore. God has given us a wiser way. True joy comes when we receive without comparison to others, without competition to God’s glory and without confinement to earthly blessings.