People suffer! That is a fact. Especially if you live in Lagos State, Nigeria, and have to work outside your home. Some big, some small, but suffering exists, and it’s pervasive. It was Elizabeth Elliot who famously said: …suffering is anything from a burnt toast to losing a loved one (paraphrased). Her point is that suffering is in various degrees. And that I am not suffering to your degree doesn’t discredit my own suffering.
So I want to consider in this article and in 2 weeks’ time, the question of whether suffering and joy can co-exist in a believer; Is it possible to rejoice in the midst of your suffering? Or does one preclude the other?
I’ll focus my effort on explaining 1 Peter 1:6- “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”
I think it’s prudent we start from understanding what greatly rejoice means. In the original Greek text, it’s just one word- agalliaō. It occurs 11 times in the NT. Let me quote 3 of those times:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt 5:12 (emphasis added)
“At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”Luke 10:21 (emphasis added)
“And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” Acts 16:34 (emphasis added)
Did you notice that agalliaō is always used in the context of a spiritual reality? And it seems to be different from the common word used for joy (chara) or rejoice (chairō) so much so that it’s always translated as great joy! It is more than an inward placid serenity of mind and shows itself in the countenance and conduct especially in praise and gratitude (Rev 19:7).
It literally means exceeding glad or more than glad or to be filled with delight. Now, this should make your head spin. Not only does Peter want you to have joy in the midst of your suffering, he expects the joy to be exceeding or great! What?!
How is this even remotely possible? The possibility is found in what your mind is focused on.
If you look at the verse and its syntax, it’s obvious that verse 3-5 is what Peter enjoins us to rejoice in.
v3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
The knowledge of the great truths about our hope, present inheritance, and future salvation is antecedent to being able to obey the command to rejoice greatly.
So Peter’s command to “greatly rejoice” fits the other 3 passages I quoted earlier. In that, they are set in the context of a spiritual reality which is usually the precursor to being able to “greatly rejoice”
Matt 5:12 says to rejoice and be glad because of a heavenly reward. Jesus rejoiced greatly in Luke 10:21 because of a spiritual revelation, and the Jailor rejoiced greatly because of spiritual salvation.
See, joy is already a fruit of the Spirit who is a downpayment of your future inheritance (Gal 5:22). The kingdom of God is about joy (Rom 14:17). Jesus’ words give joy (John 15:11). But a deep experiential knowledge and meditation on the truths of and about the gospel of Jesus should put us in a state of “exceeding gladness”.
Does the truth and knowledge of what God has done in Christ cause you to overflow with joy? Does it cause your countenance and conduct to be filled with delight?
Joy is what makes us different in this world. What should cause your bowels to overflow with joy shouldn’t be wealth or any material need met but that God in Christ has met your greatest need- your need for a savior, your need for a relationship with God, and knowledge of God’s graciousness and mercy- this should cause you now and always to rejoice greatly!
Next time, we’ll consider how we can keep this attitude even in our deepest sufferings.