1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7 “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia– your faith in God has become known everywhere.”
There is something different about Christian joy. Worldly joy comes in the context of some great success or benefit. Your team wins the championship. Your wife has a baby. Your lottery ticket matches all the numbers on the TV screen. Your dear one survives the surgery and recovers. Your application is accepted.
But look at the context of the joy Paul describes. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering you welcomed the message with joy.” When we are suffering severely, we are like Jesus, and we are like Paul, aren’t we. Maybe we forget that about being “Christ-like” sometimes. No student is above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his master (See Matthew 10:24-25). Jesus suffered. So did Paul. If we are like Jesus, so will we.
But that does not squelch Christian joy. Christian joy isn’t joy in our circumstances. We are aliens in a foreign land (Hebrews 11). It isn’t joy in our accomplishments. Like Paul, we consider them all rubbish or dung (Philippians 2). It isn’t joy in our possessions. They are subject to rust, and moths, and thieves (Matthew 6). It isn’t joy in our relationships. With Jesus, a man’s enemies are often the members of his own household (Matthew 10).
Christian joy is joy in the gospel message we have been given: Heaven is my home, Jesus won my victory, Forgiveness is my possession; and God is my dear Father, Jesus my dear Brother–the family who loves me without conditions and without limits. That joy never goes away, and no one can ever take it from you and me.
That joy also makes our faith infectious. “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia– your faith in God has become known everywhere.”
Some place in his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis has a chapter entitled, “The Good Infection.” “Good things as well as bad,” he tells us, “are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.” The thing that has them, he tells us, is the Holy Spirit, as Paul has also made clear to these Thessalonians. The way that we get close to the Holy Spirit, and he gets into us, is through the message of God’s Word that gives us joy.
Our joy in that message helps to make our faith contagious. We become models whom others want to imitate. We attract attention to the difference God’s Word makes in a believer’s life. Through the Word some can catch the good infection from us, and they in turn can pass it on to others. The influence of our joy and faith is then felt in places far from where we first lived and shared it.
Christianity is not an easy faith. But it isn’t a gloomy one either. Catch the joy. Then pass it on.