JOY WITH PERSECUTION
The apostles and faithful Christians of the first century were persecuted continually, yet they were able to maintain their joy despite suffering greatly. Logically speaking, since persecution is dependent upon unpleasant physical circumstances, it is a subset of sorrow. Thus, all persecution is sorrowful, but not all sorrow is a result of persecution (cf. I Pet. 3:17). II Timothy 3:12 should be a great source of encouragement when one finds himself suffering for the Lord, whether the persecution arises from the world or from false brethren. There Paul declares that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." That's a pretty broad statement. For the faithful, persecution is not a matter of if, but when! If one never suffers persecution for the Lord, could the reason be that he is not living the kind of godly life that God expects? Let us now talk about...
PERSECUTION WITHOUT JOY
Unfortunately, some Christians allow the sorrow of persecution to overwhelm them and cause them to abandon their joy. They begin by living faithfully to the Lord, but when persecution grows strong, they lose their proper spiritual perspective (e.g., Matt. 13:20,21); that is, they forget about the fundamental spiritual truth and focus on their suffering. When a Christian stops reminding himself of the depth of God's love, he will be tempted to forsake the Lord in order to escape the suffering caused by persecution. Let it never be forgotten that "if God is for us [and He is, -SRB], who is against us?" (Rom. 8:31). Although earthly persecution can complicate life and leave physical and psychological scars, it cannot quench joy that is founded upon God's love and love for God--not even if one is persecuted to the point of martyrdom. No person or thing can extinguish the joy of a Christian because no person or thing can separate the Christian from the love of God except, of course, himself!
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35,38,39). Let us now contemplate...
Besides considering joy, happiness, sorrow, and persecution, some attention should be given to the subject of indifference, especially since a significant portion of humanity is aptly described by this term. To be indifferent is to be cold or numb; it is to be devoid of feelings. Joy and indifference cannot co-exist together. A child of the devil is indifferent if he is neither happy nor sad; he's just "existing." A child of God is indifferent when he gives up his spiritual fight because he just doesn't care anymore. It is hard to imagine such ever happening to a Christian who is continually mindful of the infinite manifestations of God's love for him.
We will conclude this series of lessons tomorrow by considering some examples from the book of Acts showing righteous servants of God maintaining a joyful spirit even in the midst of adversity. Friends, I genuinely believe that if they could do it with the Lord's help, so can we! It is possible to "rejoice in the Lord always"!