Joy anchored in glory
First, back to the phrase: “I don’t want them to steal my joy.” I totally agree with you because in John 16:22 Jesus tells the disciples who were upset that He was going to leave them and would soon be crucified, and they didn’t understand what was going on: “Now you have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” So yes, it shouldn’t happen. Don’t let this happen. This is the right desire, good confidence and the right goal.
The joy of a Christian is rooted in Christ—in who He is and what He has done. And this joy cannot be taken away. It has a deeper and stronger anchor than any other joy. “No one can take your joy away from you,” Jesus said. In fact, it is a deep, unshakable joy that does not depend on external circumstances (for example, whether you were waved in greeting or insulted), but which is rooted in the all-consuming Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 ). Such joy is exactly what we can offer our neighbors. Their joy rises and falls according to circumstances. Our joy is not like that. It is based on unchanging glory. “We boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
Therefore, even when we mourn—which is quite real for Christians—for example, because we are rejected by our neighbors, Paul says that “we are grieved, but we always rejoice” (2 Corinthians 6:10). These unsociable, even hostile neighbors may seem like a sting in the flesh. But here’s what Paul says about thorn in his flesh: when he asked Jesus to remove it (and I’m sure you asked for it too), Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Then Paul says in reply, “I will much more gladly boast of my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he adds, “So, for Christ’s sake, I’m content.” He has joy, he has contentment, even in the midst of all these weaknesses and insults. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
You see that Paul did not in any way allow the thorn to rob him of his joy. “I will much more gladly boast of my infirmities.” “I am content with insults, neighbors who ignore or ridicule me.” It’s a miracle. We must pray for such a miracle in our lives. Yes, yes, yes, don’t let anyone deprive you of Christ-exalting joy.
GIVE FOR JOY
Now a few words about “no”. The strategy of paying with the same coin – ignoring for ignoring or insult for insult – does not work. Dot. No. Jesus has another way for you to protect joy. I know this feeling: just to run away from what takes away my joy. No, this is not an option if love is at stake. Just the opposite.
If you join them in their strategies, then the reward you get is the pleasure they get. You’ll hear Jesus say, “You’ve already received your reward,” and that’s it. Of course, there is a kind of pleasure – there really is – in returning insult for insult and ignoring in return for ignoring. This is sinful pleasure. And it’s such a pleasure to feel like you have the last word, or to feel that you’re so above other people’s criticism that you don’t even feel it: “That’s it. You insult me, but I don’t feel it. Well, please! This is not a Christian strategy. This is a stoic strategy for maintaining joy.
And Paul’s strategy is recorded in 1 Corinthians 4:12-13: “We are reviled, we bless; they persecute us, we endure; blaspheme us, we pray; we are like rubbish to the world, like dust, trampled down by all until now. In other words, he could say: “When we are ignored, we smile and wave back.” What is the joy strategy? Let’s remember what Jesus said in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It’s nice to be greeted. This is good. Great. We want it. But Jesus says that greeting others is what gives the greatest pleasure.
What matters to Jesus
I remember 48 years ago when I was doing my doctoral dissertation on Jesus’ command to love your enemies, I read articles and books on how to love your enemies. It was a constant effort to resist the desire to individualize love for enemies and turn it not into everyday, but vital, practical trifles of everyday life, but into big social problems or topical issues of the day. “That’s where the love of enemies really matters.”
I remember during one of these exchanges, I simply pointed to Matthew 5:47. I mean, the texts are great in arguing with other books. I have just moved on to Matthew 5:47, where Jesus explains what He means by “love your enemies” with the following sentence: “And if you greet only your brothers, what special thing do you do? Don’t the pagans do the same?” What else can you say? Say hello to the enemy when you pass bywalking down the street with a smile and a hello – that’s not the biggest topic of the day, right? But it just so happens that this is extremely important to Jesus. Why? Because it opens our hearts.