I love this motto behind me here — Education In Serious Joy — and I want you to love it, so I’m going to talk about it for about 15 minutes, and I’m going to break it down into what is education as we think about it? What is joy as we think about it? What is education in joy? And then, what is education in serious joy? So those are my four pieces. We do four here.
1. What is education at Bethlehem College and Seminary?
What is education at Bethlehem? Education at Bethlehem is the instilling of habits of mind and heart that incline and enable students for the rest of their lives to observe the Word and the world carefully, understand what they’re observing clearly, evaluate what they have understood fairly, feel that evaluation proportionably, apply their discoveries wisely to all of life, and express their discoveries clearly, accurately, creatively, and winsomely for the glory of God and the good of the world.
That’s what education is. It is not the transmission of a body of data. It is the inculcation of habits of mind and heart that enable them to be on with it for a lifetime in those six ways. So that’s my answer to what is education at Bethlehem? You’ll hear an echo of that if you go to the service afterwards.
2. What is joy?
Secondly, what is joy? I would love to hear your definitions. Here is mine: Joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit as he makes us see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ in the Word and in the world. Let’s walk through it one more time. Joy is a good feeling. It is not a thought, it is not an idea, and it is not a conviction. It is a feeling, emotion, or an affection. Those are all synonymous in my vocabulary.
Secondly, it is a feeling in the soul, not the body. Tingling of the eyelashes is okay. And not having a headache is really good, but that’s not joy. Joy is in the soul, which means you can have it when you don’t have a body anymore for a while.
It means God Almighty has joy without a body. And it is produced by the Holy Spirit. That’s explicit in the Bible. It’s called the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which means that as I define joy, nobody has it who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit because the last part of the definition is the way it comes into being is by a spiritual seeing and an affectional savoring of the glory of Christ, which you can’t see as beautiful without the Holy Spirit.
The world can look at Jesus, but they don’t see anything thrilling in Jesus. He’s a fact, or he’s a myth, but he’s not everything. So joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit. As we see, he helps us see and makes us see and savor the glory of Christ in the Word and in the world. The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
3. What is education in joy?
What is education in joy? It’s an ambiguous word, right? I don’t know what comes to your mind, but the two meanings that come to my mind are that this is a happy place to get educated, like education in a context of joy. That’s not what I mean. I hope that’s true, but when I say this phrase right here, that’s not what I mean. I mean something like education in physics. You’re not living in physics and physics is not the atmosphere around you, it’s the matter that you’re drawn into. It’s the attitude, “I’m going to go in there and figure this thing out. I want to know where it comes from.”
I want to know, “Where does this come from? How does it work? Where’s it going?” And there are two major discoveries we want every student to make if he sees it in there. One is that God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him, which is huge because there’s a syllogism therefore that would go like this:
Premise number one: Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Premise number two: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Now, write the conclusion to that. You know how syllogisms work — premises lead to a conclusion. All men are mortal, Plato is a man, therefore Plato’s mortal. Premise number one here is: Do everything, eating and drinking, to the glory of God. Premise number two is: God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him.
Here’s my conclusion: Therefore, the effort to clarify, awaken, strengthen, solidify, and stabilize satisfaction in God permeates all the activities of this institution. The aim to strengthen, deepen, stabilize, extend, and enlarge joy in God should be the aim everywhere if God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And that’s one of the things we hope they discover, believe, embrace, and live out.
Here’s the other one: People are most loved when they are cared for cheerfully and not begrudgingly, which means that the great commandment and the second commandment are in this sphere called joy. You cannot love and glorify and magnify God if you’re not satisfied in God. If you’re more satisfied in money than in God, you make money look really good, and God does not look really good. Therefore, you cannot magnify him vertically and horizontally, I’m arguing, unless this joy is spilling over as you walk to the hospital and you bring joy into that room where a person is dying.
If you bring hope and they know you want to be there to spill some of this over onto them, they will feel loved. They will not feel loved if you say to a person in the hospital, “I’m just here because I’m a pastor, and that’s what pastors are supposed to do.” They will not feel love. Duty will not cut it in the hospitals or on Sunday morning. This is just massive. I hope you can feel how this right here is not icing on the cake at this school. It is the heart of the Trinity. God loves God and God enjoys God. God is off the charts excited about the Son of God. And the Holy Spirit is that excitement in a person. So this is really big. This right here is not clever. It’s everything.
4. What is education in serious joy?
Last point. Why do you stick the word serious in that phrase? If this were a classroom right now, I could give a quiz and I could say, “Given the first three points of this talk, answer the fourth one for me. Write out an answer as to why we would put this here on the basis of what you’ve just heard.” And the answer would be: What is more weighty? What is more important? What is more serious, therefore, than the glorifying of God and the loving of people?
Do you have any candidates for anything more important, more weighty, and more serious than whether you magnify God and love people? There isn’t anything more important in the universe than those two things. Jesus said so. The first commandment and the second is like it (Matthew 22:36–40). This is really serious. That’s one reason.
Here’s another reason: This sin-saturated world into which you graduates are moving, and the rest of you are already living, without exception, will bring you suffering of mild and terrible kinds. Yes, it will. And the Bible does not say, “And during those times, you don’t have to have joy.” It says with intensity the opposite.
Those are the times when your joy will make God look best. It’s relatively easy to look to the world like you’re happy in Jesus when all is well with the world. When nothing is well with the world, or the family, or the body, and they still see you happy in Jesus, not happy in disease, not happy in the broken family, but happy in Jesus, he looks really good. He is off the charts magnified by joy in him when we are suffering. In view of that — you can just count on it — it’s part of the strategy.
Let me give you a flavor. You don’t need this because you’ve read them all, but what I did today was tune up my Bible software and read all the passages with joy, rejoicing, gladness, pleasure, etc. There were 159 answers in the New Testament, and I read them all. I collected the ones I knew I’d have time for so you could feel this. Here they are:
- When others revile you and persecute you, rejoice and be glad (Matthew 5:11–12).
- In his joy, he sold all that he had (Matthew 13:44).
- They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor and shame (Acts 5:41)
- We rejoice in our suffering (Romans 5:3–4).
- In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
- Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad (Philippians 2:17).
- I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake (Colossians 1:24).
- You received the word in much affliction and with joy in the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
- You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (Hebrews 10:34).
- For the joy that was set for him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1–2).
- Count it all joy when you meet various trials (James 1:2).
- You rejoice though now for a little while you are being grieved (1 Peter 1:6).
- Rejoice in so far as you share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
A Test of Joy
That’s the tip of the iceberg. This is serious business. What other word might you use except painful? Christian joy is highlighted most in the New Testament in suffering. How can it not be a blood-earnest affair? It would be almost a joke to say, “Joy is not a laughing matter.” So we have another motto around here, “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing,” which is a quote from 2 Corinthians 6:10.
Graduates, you’re probably old enough to know this by experience, but if you haven’t yet, you will. I just want to testify from a text like that (2 Corinthians 6:10), a phone call from yesterday, and many experiences in my life that joy and sorrow are not only sequential, or that they are not to be mainly sequential, but mainly simultaneous in your life. When I was young, I didn’t think that was possible, and now I know it is.
I got a phone call from a person I love very much yesterday, and I’d just love to tell you who it is, but I know my wife would scold me if I did. She’s on my case a lot for being too transparent. So I try to conceal things, but just know you can put pieces together if you want to. This is someone I love very much. She had told me in an email that her daughter has a mass that a CT scan found before yesterday, and she got it halfway out and she broke down and said, “It’s just so final. She won’t be able to have children. I know she won’t. They’re going to go in there and …” And when she said that I broke down, I totally did not make this phone call expecting to cry. I expected to read the word, pray, and help.
So we’re both blubbering to each other on the phone. We’re very close to each other, and then she asked me how my kids are doing. That’s the worst thing to ask when you’re crying already. We spent 20 minutes on the phone and I got off the phone, put it down, and prayed together. It was sweet; intense, but sweet. And I went to Noel last night and I said, “I want to talk to you about this phone call.” I said, “I talked to last night, and it’s one of the happiest phone calls I’ve ever had in my life because we were meeting in a way we haven’t very often. Our hearts were going into each other so deep in that phone call more than they had in a long, long time. And it was all tears. It was all tears. It was all sorrow with a daughter with cancer and stuff I’m dealing with. It was just all sorrow. And I hung up feeling soaring, just soaring with happiness in that relationship.”
I just am testifying to you that in the ministry, that’s going to happen a lot. There will be tears everywhere, but don’t equate that with joylessness. It is joy in suffering. For those reasons I’m thrilled with that motto.