That’s All, Folks!

Well, here we are. It’s been over two years since I started this word study about joy. I’ve learned a lot along the way about what joy is, what it’s not, what fuels it, what quenches it, and more. I’ve had my perspectives broadened to realize that it’s not just my joy that I should be considering. I’ve had some misconceptions cleared to discover that real joy can and does thrive even in the midst of incredible hardship. In some cases, I’ve had my expectations and understandings challenged. In others, I’ve had them confirmed. It’s been a good, enlightening, encouraging, equipping journey. And I’m glad I’ve taken it. Joy is, after all, the second integral component of the fruit of the Spirit; it must be an essential part of being a believer. As I come to the end of this study, though, I do want to dig into one more passage. It’s fitting that this passage comes at the end of the Bible and my study because, unlike most of what I’ve found in my study, it is forward looking. In Revelation 19:6, St John was standing in a vision in the middle of heaven as mind-blowing events unfolded all around him. And suddenly, we read, “I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying ‘Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!'” He continues in vss 7-8, “Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself! She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.”

Did you get that? The apostle calls me to rejoice because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride, the Church, is ready. He goes on to say that, by “ready,” he means that she has donned righteousness and is therefore the holy and blameless bride Paul knew Jesus was anticipating in Ephesians 5.

At first glance, that seems ridiculous. As I told someone the other day, in my position of ministry within the church, I am uniquely positioned to realize that no one this side of heaven – and most certainly not the Church as a whole – is finally perfected. Yet. (Before the Wesleyans out there go ballistic, that is consistent with John Wesley’s understanding of holiness!) But I think there are a few things here that make this statement that John overheard not only true, but also the second greatest proclamation of all time.

First, I think John is using what one commentator called “prophetic perfect” tense. In essence, this is when a prophet, in faith, refers to things which are not yet done as though they are. So John and this voice are not saying that the Church is actually perfect today. It’s proclaiming, in faith, that it will be. John took this declaration of what was yet to come as so firm, so real, that he recorded it as though it had already happened. The Church will be purified. It’s only a matter of time.

Second, it’s important to take all of these three verses together to realize something: the church is putting on this righteousness or perfection as a garment. In other words, like a pair of coveralls we would wear to protect us from the cold or mess, the Church “was given fine linen to wear.” So this holiness is not just something that is down the road. It is something which we should be putting on even now. Sure, it’s ill-fitting. But that just means we’ve got work to do to fit into it before that Last Day.

And third, this is an entirely different perspective of the Church than that held by a good number of people, both inside and outside the Church. The truth is, the world doesn’t think too highly of the Church. That comes as no surprise to anyone. The Bible says that, to them, we are the stench of death. But what is perhaps surprising is that there is a large chorus of voices which sound similarly disparaging notes of the Church from within her walls! I suppose it is partially due to the perennial tension between the declining generation, the generation currently in its prime, and the generation which is desperately trying to make its way into the spotlight. To be honest, though, I think it has gone beyond that.

In many corners of the Church, particularly in North America, we have surrendered to the lie that the Church is inherently ineffective because it is fundamentally dysfunctional. In other words, we think the Church is broken beyond repair and must therefore be scrapped, re-engineered, and re-built from the ground up.

John’s declaration here in Revelation 19 stands in stark contrast to that notion. In one swoop of the pen, he declares that (a) reports of the Church’s demise have been exaggerated, (b) the Church remains the singular bride of Christ, and (c) as unhealthy (or even dead) as she may look right now, she is not beyond recovery and will, in fact, be one day restored and even perfected.

So I should not be disparaging of the Church or discouraged by her present condition. Rather, I must continue to work in and for her, looking forward to that day when she is finally made ready for her groom and rejoicing in that that day is certainly coming and that, until it comes, she is a work in progress.

So there we have it. One final thought on joy before I move into a new study. I’ve had a number of ideas on my mind to study next, but I think I’m being drawn toward Jesus’ method of discipleship. It means an in-depth study of the gospels for keys into how Jesus understood and implemented the concepts of rabbi/teacher and disciple. But that’s another blog post entirely!

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