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For the JOY

All believers have been given the Great Commission to, "go into all the world to make disciples."

What do we do when people sneer? What do we do when we're persecuted for sharing the good news?

I want to briefly share a personal story of my own rejection. The second half of my third-grade year was one of the hardest times in my childhood socially. Upon sharing my faith with the teacher and students in my class and my personal convictions as a believer, I was bullied and tormented for the entire last half of that year. The persecution was so intense, I did not ever abandon the Lord or the gospel in my life, but it silenced it, sharing the gospel only in places where it was welcome; or just telling people I'm a Christian, and for the most part, leaving it at that and keeping Christ to myself. I did this because I did not enjoy being persecuted.

I was a child then, and looking back on my life there were definitely times I shared the gospel. I wasn't completely negligent. I will spare you all of those stories to protect those involved because I was rejected again. Not once, not twice, not even three or four times but every single time and suffice it to say I can see why in my life in the last five to ten years. I'm not eager at all to share the gospel with all the rejection, I continually endured.

But I wish I knew then what I know now. They were not really rejecting me. They're rejecting Christ.

Unfortunately, I took all this rejection so harshly that it silenced me for a long time from sharing the gospel.

As believers, we can learn a lot from Paul and how he persevered in sharing the gospel. He took beatings, physical ones, not just a tongue lashing or a harsh word. If he had given up, if he had decided, "This is too much! I throw in the towel!" he would not have reaped and received the reward of the church in Thessalonica.

When Paul, Silas, and Timothy left Philippi to begin their second missionary journey to Macedonia they ended up in Thessalonica. The church of Thessalonica was actually one of the churches that Paul never had to write to and say, "Guys, you're off track. Let's get back on track." like he had to do with the Corinthians and many other epistles that he wrote to the early church. What joy and rest he received there! When I first read the book of First Thessalonians I have to be honest; I wept reading how he felt towards this faithful church, "who's a labor of love and steadfastness of hope and Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NASB), he equates them with his "joy and hope and crown of exultation." (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NASB)

I had to read chapter two, verses 19 and 20 a few times to get the full picture. And I'll read it to you today. It says, "For who is our hope, or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus that is coming for you are our glory and joy? And if you're missing what Paul is saying because I certainly did for the first time I read through it, he is envisioning these new believers, these converts, the church of Thessalonica, clothed in white in the presence of Jesus, when He will someday return for his bride.

What is the reason for Paul's joy?

He isn't referring to riches, or souvenirs he received while visiting Greece, or delighting in the fine Greek cuisine. He delighted in their salvation and equates it to a crown of exultation, glory, and JOY!

We cannot allow rejection to stop us from sharing the good news!

What if Paul had stopped? Thessalonica would have missed out on the comfort and joy that comes from knowing Jesus and awaiting His return.

Paul declares in Acts 20:20-24 saying, "I did not shrink back from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly from house to house solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And behold, now bound by the Spirit, I'm on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what's going to happen to me there except the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that, 'bonds and afflictions await me'. But I don't consider my life as any account as dear to myself so that I may finish my course. And the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God."

Paul didn't allow anything, not even what he already endured to stop him. He had been wrongfully beaten, imprisoned, stoned and dragged out of cities, and left for dead. He didn't let that hold him back and stop him from sharing the gospel! Knowing that chains, rejection, and suffering awaited him, did not stop him. Sharing life in Christ was of greater importance!

This perspective on JOY really convicted me. It got me thinking about what we prioritize. Yes, there are many wonderful joyful experiences that we have as human beings, but none of it should compare to the joy we have in Christ and the joy in knowing those who know Jesus, who believe in His name, will stand before him clothed in white, awaiting a place where tears are wiped away. Where there's no longer any suffering any pain in our physical bodies. Even right now. I can feel a burning in my wrist from all the writing I've been doing lately. All of that's going to be gone! All of it will go away.

I have to admit, I did not list that moment, the moment of my salvation, the moment of the salvation of my children, to be among my greatest joys. But may I propose to all of us today, that it should be?

The Bible tells us to store up our treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy. I've always associated this verse with our heavenly rewards, the mansion, the crowns, but with Paul calling these believers in the church of Thessalonica, "his crown of exultation" I just picture Paul, Silas, and Timothy being crowned with joy for the people that are now in heaven because they weren't afraid to share the gospel.

So I have to also wonder, is it part of our treasure, our reward, our joy the people who are in heaven because of us? The ones who are saved from eternal separation from God? In heaven, our tears will be wiped away and there's going to be no weeping, agony, or gnashing of teeth.

Hell is not what I want for my loved ones. I do consider some of my greatest earthly joys and treasure to be my friends and family. I cannot imagine life without them. Or worse, eternity where they're experiencing eternal suffering, with no hope for peace.

I am confident in this new revelation of joy because of what is said of Jesus, "For the joy set before him he endured the cross." (Hebrews 12:2) It's always hard for me to really think about what Jesus went through when He went to the cross, but He endured it. He did it for the JOY of me, and for the JOY of you.

And every time I think about those nails that were driven through His hands and the crown of thorns that pierced His skull, and tore His flesh, the ridicule that He endured, He did all of that for the JOY.

So, therefore, "I cannot be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:18)

Will it be hard to share our faith? Yeah. Will we be persecuted? Possibly and rejected? Yes. Thankfully in America, our worst persecution is something like rejection or tongue-lashing. I cannot forget about our brothers and sisters in Christ in China, and in other countries where sharing the gospel is actually illegal. They have to meet in underground churches and carry around scripture written in composition notebooks so that they don't look like Bibles. Please remember them in your prayers and be grateful that we have the freedoms to share our faith.

So what is stopping you? I know I can't stay silent anymore.

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