The Gospel & Joy to the World

     One December, a week or two before Christmas, the worship leader announced the hymn "Joy to the World" and a woman nearby groaned, "Oh no, not 'Joy to the World' again." I understand her point; she wanted a new Christmas song, but still, how can we grow tired of joy to the world. Psalm 96 begins "Oh sing a new song to the Lord," so the desire for something new is legitimate. Still, we need to hear ourselves, since we can get tired of good news. We can forget the material advantages of living in the West. We can take loving family for granted. And we can forget the gospel or even tire of it. Again, we can understand this. The ultimate crime for a preacher is to propagate falsehood, but perhaps the penultimate crime is making Christianity [seem] boring. This happens when pastors or teachers present the same ideas in the same words over and over. Of course, that never needs to happen. The Bible is one story, but it has hundreds of subplots. It has one theme, but so many variations it makes Mozart look like a slacker.

     I was reminded of these things when I recently prepared a message on 2 Timothy. There, as Paul faces death, he calls himself apostle of the promise of life (1:1). Death is a terrible foe and the unjust execution that awaited Paul is an especially pernicious way to perish. But for Paul, the "promise of life… in Christ" (1:1) solves the problem of death, as he says a few verses later. The appearance "of our Savior Christ Jesus [has] abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" for which God appointed Paul and apostle (1:10-11). While believers grieve when a friend dies, the Apostle says, we do not "grieve as others do, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).

     Believers should learn from Paul, since most spiritual problems have their resolution or cure in the gospel. When we have a difficulty, we should stop and ask, "How does the gospel address this? As Paul faces death, he remembers that the gospel promises eternal life. The gospel addresses many other challenges:

  • If we face conflict with family or neighbors, we remember that "the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15) grants peace with God and the hope of peace with man.
  • If guilt burdens us, we trust "the gospel of the grace of God," since justification and propitiation remove the guilt of sin (Acts 20:24, Rom. 3:24-25).
  • If enslaved to sin, we remember the message of redemption (Eph. 1:7, 1 Cor. 6:11).
  • If we feel lonely or unloved, the gospel offers adoption into the family of God (Rom. 8:15, 23).
  • If we are estranged from God or neighbor, the gospel offers reconciliation with God, and then, if possible, with man (2 Cor. 5:18, Rom. 12:18).

     We may extend this principle broadly. Pastors often visit people who suffer from tragic accidents or illness. We can lead them to "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23, 24:14) which assures us that God reigns, come what may. If we minister to the betrayed, we remind them that Judas betrayed Jesus, so cruelly, with a kiss. Yet Jesus entrusted himself to the Father, who vindicated him (1 Pet. 2:23). If we are falsely accused, we remember first, that God has silenced the Accuser, Satan, who accuses God's own, "day and night… by the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 12:10-11). When we face a false charge, we should think, "I may face one false charge, but I am erroneously unindicted for ten others – and the gospel covers them all." If we are estranged from family, we remember that the gospel gives us new brothers and sisters and parents (Matt.12:46-50).

     So let us never grow weary of the gospel or the "joy to the world" that it brings. Rather let us return to the gospel, committed to exploring the ways it holds the answer to the fundamental issues of life, and to finding joy in it.

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.

Dan Doriani