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Colossians 1:24 by Robert Dean
What is suffering? What is happiness? Many would say that suffering is when life doesn't meet with our expectations. Many would say that happiness is associated with a specific set of pleasurable circumstances.

In this lesson we learn more about different levels of joy and happiness, and what gladness means. We learn that when our happiness is influenced by people, emotions, and circumstances, we become enslaved to them. We learn what robust joy is. We learn how abiding in Christ is connected to real joy and stability.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:54 mins 38 secs

Joy and Peace in Adversity. Colossians 1:24


Jesus Christ set the pattern for us and became the model for us on how we in our humanity can also surmount and overcome adversities without succumbing to failure in terms of mental attitude or overt sin. We can have joy in our suffering; we can learn to love the battle just for the sake of the battle, because we understand why we are in the battle.

John 15:11 NASB "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and {that} your joy may be made full." He has taught them certain things so that the foundation for having the kind of joy that Jesus is talking about here is a joy that is not based on circumstances—on people, on emotion—it is based on understanding truth, truth with a capital T: absolute truth, understanding reality as God defined it, and which we know because it has been taught us by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit through the writings of the apostles and the prophets. So the basis for having this joy is on the Word of God. So first and foremost, if we are going to have this kind of joy then we need to strengthen our minds with God's Word. "These things I have spoken to you" is for two purposes. The first purpose is expressed in the next purpose clause: "that my joy may abide in you." He is recognizing that it might not abide in you. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying in this section is in the concept of the word "abide" which comes from the Greek word meno [menw]. Abiding in Christ is not something related to salvation as some people believe, it is related to fellowship. It is another way of looking at what Paul talks about as "walking by the Spirit" in Galatians 5:16. It is comparable to what Paul also refers to as being filled by means of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18. It is the walk of fellowship with God. When we sin we quit abiding in Christ. When we confess our sins and we are back in fellowship then we resume that position of abiding until again we sin. The passage in John 15 is about how we grow as believers so that we produce fruit. So the first thing that Jesus is teaching is how to remain in fellowship, and if they remain in fellowship then one of the fruits that God the Holy Spirit produces in them is joy.

The second reason He gives for having taught them these things is "that your joy may be full." There are two different joys here. There is His joy which is given to us, a joy that never changes because it is the joy that has a supernatural origin and is not the kind of joy that we can manufacture in our own life apart from God. He is giving us His joy so we are able to share in the same level of joy or happiness that the Lord Jesus Christ had that got Him through every adversity that He endured in life. The word that is translated "be full" is a Greek word, pleroo [plhrow], the same word that is used in Ephesians 5:18 for "be filled" by means of God the Holy Spirit. It is a word that has a number of different applications in Scripture and one of them is to talk about the fulfillment of prophecy. That is similar in meaning to how it is used in this passage. The Greek uses the subjunctive mood here which means the actual carrying out of the task is still a potential, a probability but it hasn't actually occurred yet, and so you can't use a mood of reality like the indicative mood. The subjunctive mood indicates the fact that for this to be realized our volition has to be engaged. We have to make certain decisions and think and act a certain way in order to realize this joy.

Another thing that we learn from this about this joy and the concept of being full or filled indicates something that is progressive. It is not as if one day if we are applying doctrine our joy is as rich as it cane be, not either we are completely full or not; it is something that is a result and is related to our ongoing spiritual growth and maturity. As a baby believer a person can experience a measure of joy that is produced in them by God the Holy Spirit, but as they grow to maturity that joy will increase and have a greater impact and benefit to them in their spiritual life.

When this word is used of prophecy, when prophecy was fulfilled in history the writers of Scripture used this word pleroo. It is that which had potential of happening and it has now fully come to pass. That is the same idea of having joy in our lives. It is that which is a potential for every Christian to have but it only comes to full realization under certain circumstances—if we apply the principles the Word of God has. In the Oxford English Dictionary it states: "To achieve or realize something desired, promised or predicted; to fulfill one's self or to gain happiness or satisfaction by fully achieving one's potential." So every one of us has the potential of having and experiencing the full joy that the Lord Jesus Christ had but this comes only as a result of our application of doctrine when we get in those test situations and circumstances, when we can either choose to try to handle them on our own, through our own emotional reaction and depending on our own strength and power, or we can depend on the Lord's power. It is the kind of joy that is distinct from anything that can be produced in just our normal human life. This is seen from passages such as Galatians 5:16, 22, 23 where Paul gives the command to walk by means of the Spirit and then gives the fruit or production of the Spirit when we walk by the Spirit. Notice the first things mentioned as being produced by the Spirit: love, joy, peace. There is an important connection, especially between joy and peace.

This concept of bearing fruit is at the core of our passage in John 15. Jesus begins the discourse by saying, verse 1 NASB "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser." He is setting up an analogy that would be obvious to anyone in the ancient world who knew anything about viniculture. Jesus then says: "Every branch in Me…" This phrase "in Me" as it is used by John is not talking about the Pauline concept of being in Christ, which is positional, but it is a phrase used in John to refer to fellowship, to close association with the Lord Jesus Christ. "… that does not bear fruit, He takes away…" The phrase "takes away" is the Greek word airo [a)irw], and it is a play on words here because the word airo is the root of the word for pruning in the next line, which is kathairo [kaqairw] related to cleansing or purification. In the ancient world—we have descriptions of this from Philo—when a vine was growing in its early stages and when shoots would come out from that grape vine, it wasn't that the vinedresser would come along and cut them off or take them away (which is how this word is translated), but this word airo was also used there in the sense that they would be lifted up. He would take those new shoots that had not yet born fruit because they are too young and would tie them up to the trestles so that they could get better sunlight and air. Thus in the next season as they had grown and as the new vine had thickened it would then produce fruit the next year. This is comparable to a young baby believer who has not yet learned enough of the Word of God and spent enough time walking by the Spirit to have any fruit produced in his life. 

Anyone who has ever tried to grow any kind of vegetable plant knows that just because the seed is planted and then the shoots have come out and it is growing it doesn't begin to bear fruit for maybe ninety or even one hundred and twenty days. It takes time for that plant to grow and mature before it can produce fruit. Often many people who handle this passage confuse growth with fruit. Fruit is the result of a process of growth. So fruit isn't simply to be equated with the idea of just spiritual growth, it is the result of a lot of spiritual growth. So Jesus says, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He lifts up." That is one kind of believer. Then He speaks of a second kind and says, "every {branch} that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." This is not a negative divine discipline because positive things are happening here—walking by the Spirit and bearing fruit—so the pruning here is as the Father comes along and prunes things out of our life that are distractions that prevent us from bearing more fruit. So there are young believers here who don't bear fruit and are lifted up so that they can bear fruit further on. This is analogous to encouragement of young believers so that in the future they can bear fruit. Then those who are maturing will bear more fruit when certain distractions are taken out of their lives.

John 15:3 NASB "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." The word "clean" in the Greek word katharizo [kaqarizw] which indicates they are already believers. They have already been cleansed positionally by virtue of their faith in Christ. Because they have responded to the message of the gospel they are already saved.

John 15:4 NASB "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither {can} you unless you abide in Me." The point is that the fruit that is born in our life is not a fruit that we can generate on our own; it is a supernaturally produced fruit that comes only through abiding in Christ or walking by the Holy Spirit.

John 15:7 NASB "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…" That is still talking about fellowship and the application of God's Word and the teaching of our Lord. "… ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." That relates to prayer.

John 15:10 NASB "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." We have seen in the past in relation to handling adversity and the spiritual skills that God has given us the first spiritual skill taught was confession of sin. If we haven't been cleansed of sin we are not in right relationship to God the Holy Spirit and we are out of fellowship. When we are out of fellowship all we can do is live on the basis of our sin nature. That has no eternal value and no spiritual problem-solving efficacy whatsoever. We may figure out some means to get around whatever the problem is but it has no real enduring spiritual value. So first we have to recover from any sin by confession (1 John 1:9). The second spiritual skill is walking by the Spirit, and that is the reference in Galatians chapter five—we are to walk by means of the Spirit. We continue. Getting into fellowship is just a static shift; it doesn't get us anywhere, it just puts us from a position where we are dependent on our own resources to where we can be dependent upon God's resources and we are in right relationship with Him. Now we have to move forward. We have to take step-by-step obedience to God's Word and the Holy Spirit as we grow and mature and as we handle the problems through various other problem-solving spiritual skills that God has given us.

Then we realize that the next category of problem-solving skills that we focus on—doctrinal orientation, grace orientation, faith-rest drill—are all based on understanding what God has revealed to us, the promises that He has given to us, and orienting our thinking to the reality of God's Word. This is why Jesus emphasizes here abiding in Him (ongoing fellowship; walking by the Spirit) and then letting His Word abide in us—where we depend upon them and the faith-rest drill and we are obedient to Him. As we go through this process we see that we have to know certain things in order to have this mental attitude to be able to make it through life. It is an important mental attitude that is the key to this. We see this again in James 1:2-4. He says "Count it all joy." You can't command an emotion; you can only command a mental attitude. James is not talking about an emotion of joy here, he is talking about a mental attitude of joy, and the reason we are able to count it joy is because of the verb that is used at the beginning of the next verse. It is usually translated as a simple participle—"Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance—but it really has the nuance of cause. We are able to count it joy because we know something. Then it comes back to understanding God's Word and understanding the nature of reality, and how God has structured things. If we understand that there is a reason and a purpose for whatever it is that we are going through then we can on that basis focus on the right thing, remain in fellowship and grow through the process.

As we look at this we also see that there is a relationship between joy and peace. John 14:27 NASB "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." So we not only have the joy given to us but His peace. These are related because peace has to do with the inner contentment or tranquility which is related to this mental attitude of joy. It also involves a stability of our mind, our thinking, in terms of contentment and tranquility. John 16:33 NASB "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation [thlipsis/qlipsij/adversity], but take courage; I have overcome the world." How is it that we are able to handle all of this? We do so by relying upon the Word through the faith-rest drill—through trusting in God, putting our faith and trust in Him.

Isaiah 26:3, 4 KJV "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord God is everlasting strength." At the beginning there is the emphasis on mentality. The word in the Hebrew is built off the word yatsar which is used to refer to forming something as a potter would form clay, but it is applied to the mind having to form certain plans and purposes. So it emphasizes a certain mental focus, a mental state, something that is formed in the mind. Again it comes back to a mental focus, a mental toughness in order to discipline ourselves to respond the way that we should and not just give in to the flow of the sin nature. The word "stayed" is a translation of the Hebrew word samak which means to lean upon something for support. In 2 Kings 18:21 Hezekiah was warned not to lean or depend upon Egypt for aid, he was to instead lean upon Yahweh and to trust in Him. The word for "trust" in both verses 3 and 4 of Isaiah 26 is the Hebrew word batak, meaning to have a confidence in something and to rely on it. When we look at the word "strength" at the end of verse 4 it is interesting that there is no word for "strength" in the Hebrew. The word is tsur, which means "rock." A rock in relation to God is often a metaphor for strength, so literally "for in the Lord God is an everlasting Rock." He is that mighty fortress that we sing about; He is the Rock of our salvation, our fortification.

The question is: how do we develop this kind of mental attitude? The word "hardy" means to be strong, robust, as well as to be cheerful. That is a great word to describe the mental attitude of a believer. We should be spiritually hardened. Scripture clearly teaches that this is how we grow as believers. We have to develop mental toughness. The Word of God makes it very clear that if we are going to have joy and happiness and stability in the midst of suffering then we do it because we know certain things. That means we have to be students of the Word of God. Not only do we have to be a student of it, we have to be reminded of it over and over and over again because it is easy for us to forget. But we have to put it into practice; we have to make is a part of our life for our own day-to-day decisions when we face all of the minor little difficulties, obstacles and opposition in life so that we instantly respond by claiming promises, by prayer, by putting it in the Lord's hands. In that way we train ourselves so that when the more difficult things come along that will be our default position. What happens so often is if we don't learn to pass the small tests by handling them with the Word then when the more difficult tests come we haven't prepared ourselves and we just set ourselves up for spiritual failure.

But the hope that we have from Scripture is clear, and this is what the apostle Paul develops in Romans 5. And he focuses on the fact that we can have real hope even in the midst of tribulation, because we understand that adversity produces hope.