these things

In my study of joy, I’ve come across numerous instances where joy is attributed to obedience. In other words, if we obey God, we will have joy. In John 15, though, we have a little different take on this connection. As Jesus prepares for the Garden and the Cross, He spent a night hanging out in a quiet, private upper room with his disciples and engaged in what may have been His most candid conversation recorded in the Bible. And among a long list of encouragements and exhortations, our Lord delivered this in John 15:9-11: “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Let’s follow the logic behind these three verses really fast. The Father loves Jesus, and Jesus loves the disciples. They need to make sure they stay in a position for that love to continue to cover them. How do they do that? They need to obey Jesus’ commands, just as He was obedient to the Father’s commands. But Jesus realized immediately that this whole keeping My commands thing was not exactly¬†palatable to His disciples or, really, humanity in general. Simply put, we don’t like to obey. We want to do our own thing, go own our way, be our own person. So, in order to head off the obvious protest at the pass, He made sure to provide a little insight into the reasoning behind those commands: “I have spoken these things… so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

In other words, joy does not just happen to flow from obedience. It’s not an accident that obeying God’s commands leads to joy.

No, God designed His commands to realize – and maximize – our joy.

Now, I must admit at this point that I have a hard time swallowing this. I mean, it’s not exactly fun to be the only kid that’s a virgin. It’s not exactly joyous to tell someone the truth when it gets you in trouble. It’s not exactly easy to look across the fence and see the neighbor’s shiny new boat as he’s getting ready to take it out for the weekend.

But then again, as we’ve seen time and again, joy isn’t always about the here and now. Sometimes – often, in fact – joy depends on me taking the long view. In other words, it might not be the most fun, wonderful, or even easy thing to do to obey right this instant, but at some point down the road, the reward will be worth it.

Indeed, the reward for faithful obedience, which is eternity in heaven, will be worth it. And that’s why – and how, for that matter – God designed His commandments. Obedience may sting in the moment, but our joy is founded on the hope and promise that our prize is waiting in heaven. And since God’s commandments are designed to point the way to heaven, they are designed to give us joy.

But you know, as I think about this, the joy of obedience isn’t always solely a long-view sort of thing. I mean, how often have I done something that I knew was wrong thinking that it would make me happy – or at least avoid a little bit of pain – only to find that my disobedience only made things worse? How many have compromised on Jesus’ prohibition of adultery and lust and ended up with an unexpected child or unsatisfied heart? How many have told a little white lie only to find themselves tangled in a mess of untruths? How many have forgotten Jesus’ relating anger and murder and then been racked with bitterness, guilt, and worse?

So yes, obedience does lead to joy. Not just because. And not by accident. But because God designed His commandments that way.

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