There’s been some great moments in the Olympics this past fortnight, hasn’t there. Moments of enormous excitement. Of genuine joy and surprise.
Perhaps my favourite was the Australian women’s 200m freestyle relay (slide 2). They weren’t EXPECTED to do well. None of the s, INDIVIDUALLY, were competitive in the 200. The Australian champion, Linda McKenzie, hadn’t even made the final.
In fact, winning was so far from the mind of 18 yr old Kylie Palmer that she forgot her presentation tracksuit. She had to borrow pants from fellow swimmer Kate Campbell and a jacket from Matt Targett – both several sizes too big.
Going into the race, China and America were the big favourites. At best, Australia was hoping for a bronze. Double gold medal winner Stephanie Rice led them off. She’d never led a relay before. She swam a personal best and at the first change Australia trailed by a fingernail.
Next in was Bronte Barratt. By the end of HER leg, Australia suddenly LED. Which was unexpected. The Aussie tactics were based on the US being ahead, and us having to catch up on the third leg. .
Head coach Alan Thompson said, “I’ve got to tell you, our thoughts were to have Kylie Palmer in the third leg because we knew what a scrapper she was,” “She’d pick up some ground for us if we were behind. We didn’t expect to be where we were.”
Palmer was ready. “My heart was pumping so hard,” she said. “I was given a really big opportunity. I knew I had it. I just had to put it together in a race.”
At the last change, Australia led by more than three seconds, about four body lengths. Linda MacKenzie, dived in. The Chinese and Americans were coming.
In the first 100m they made up 1.6 seconds. But MacKenzie’s plan was to CONSERVE energy in the first 100, knowing her rivals had to EXPEND it. In the last 100, they didn’t make up any time at all. (slide 3)
Australia not only won, but they smashed the US’s world record by 5.78 seconds! On the pool deck, three Australian swimmers hugged and screamed, while MacKenzie, still in the pool, stared at the scoreboard in disbelief. (slide 4)
The celebrations seemed to take half a day, the press conferences the other. “It’s one of the biggest roller-coaster rides I’ve had in swimming,” said head coach Alan Thompson. I think the s are STILL celebrating.
Bubbling, exuberant, unexpected, contagious JOY (slide 5). Not expecting ANYTHING, but coming away with EVERYTHING. On past performances, expecting NOTHING, but receiving GOLD.
Where’s your joy gone?
And Paul says that’s how it USED with the Galatians. Back when they first believed. Back when Paul FIRST told them the good news about how Jesus had died to save them from judgment and . And about how they had forgiveness and eternal life, and the Holy Spirit and an inheritance. And that it had nothing to do with their performance, or their heritage, or their rule-keeping. But it was all a wonderful gift. They deserved NOTHING. But received EVERYTHING.
See how Paul describes those first days. V13.
13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you WELCOMED ME AS IF I WERE AN ANGEL OF GOD, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.
Seems like Paul was high maintenance. Perhaps some sort of disability. But none of that mattered to the Galatians. Because he brought SUCH GREAT NEWS. They were OVERJOYED. They could scarcely believe it. Aliens, rebels, enemies ONE DAY. Then friends, sons and heirs the NEXT. They welcomed him as if he were an angel of God. As if he were Jesus himself.
But everything had CHANGED. V15.
15 What has happened to ALL YOUR JOY?
Where’s it all gone? Where’s your elation?
And you could ask the same thing of plenty of Christians you meet TODAY. Where’s your joy? You’ve been saved. You’ve got a gift you can’t earn, and don’t deserve. You’re a CHILD of GOD. You’re supposed to be living eternal life. With PURPOSE and VALUE. You’ve done WAY BETTER than winning the lottery.
Why are you looking like life’s MISERABLE? Why are you STRIVING to make yourself ACCEPTABLE. Worrying if you’ve done enough? Judging others who don’t measure up? Where’s your joy?
Paul’s heart-broken. He’s confused. He’s afraid for them. He’s PERPLEXED.
And it’s all because they’ve turned away from the FREEDOM they’d discovered/ to go back to SLAVERY. Gone from GRACE / to LEGALISM.
Remember what’s been happening? The Jewish false teachers have come along and said that it’s NOT ENOUGH to believe in Jesus. You have to keep the Old Testament law AS WELL. Just to BE SAFE. To help out GOD’S part, with some effort of YOUR OWN. See it there in v8?
(8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by re are not gods). 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-HOW IS IT THAT YOU ARE TURNING BACK TO THOSE WEAK AND MISERABLE PRINCIPLES? Do you wish to be ENSLAVED BY THEM ALL OVER AGAIN? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
They USED TO worship IDOLS. Always striving to earn the favour of the gods. Scared of putting a foot wrong. And copping the vengeance of the gods.
Why would you go back?
Then they discovered the TRUE God. Through Jesus. And now Paul CAN’T BELIEVE they’d turn back to KEEPING RULES. Weak and miserable principles he calls them. Why would you go back he says.
It’s slavery to WORRY about doing something on a CERTAIN day. Or NOT doing something ELSE on ANOTHER day. As if God’s going to be impressed. It’s SLAVERY! Why would you choose that over freedom? Over JOY? Paul can’t understand it. Down in v20 he says he’s PERPLEXED about them!
It’s so SAD to see someone who USED to have JOY. But now they’ve chosen the OPPOSITE. Like someone who’s trapped by addiction, or gambling. Or caught in an abusive relationship. They USED to be so full of life. But now their life’s being slowly destroyed. They’re miserable. But they just can’t seem to choose anything else. And, when you SEE it, you feel HELPLESS. And PERPLEXED.
A life lesson – Gen 15-17; 21
But Paul’s not going to sit back and do nothing. He wants them to REDISCOVER all their LOST JOY. So, from v21, he turns to a life lesson. Abraham. Again. It’s the third time he’s brought him up. And each time his purpose has been a bit different.
This time, he wants to focus on Abraham’s two SONS. Ishmael, and Isaac. Perhaps you remember the story. God promises Abraham LOTS OF CHILDREN. And we’re told in Genesis 15 that Abraham BELIEVES God, and God credits righteousness to him because he BELIEVES.
But as time goes by, Abraham gets older. And still there’s no kids. So he and his wife Sarai decide perhaps they better give God A HELPING HAND. And Abraham sleeps with Sarai’s maidservant Hagar. An Egyptian slave. Perhaps that’s what God meant.
And Hagar becomes pregnant. And then Ishmael’s born when Abraham’s 86 years old. That’s at the end of Gen 16. But it’s all because Abraham hasn’t trusted God’s word.
Then, in the next chapter, after 13 more years, Sarai’s STILL not pregnant. And God promises Abraham AGAIN that he’ll be the father of a great nation. And that it will definitely be through SARAH.
And Abraham has a little GIGGLE to himself because he’s 99, and Sarah’s 90. But sure enough, in ch 21, we’re told Sarah DOES become pregnant, and she gives birth to ISAAC. It’s GREAT NEWS! V6. Sarah’s OVERJOYED. Now it’s HER turn to LAUGH.
6 Sarah said, “God has brought me LAUGHTER, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
In fact, the very name Isaac means HE LAUGHS.
Two sons. One born to a SLAVE. The other to a FREE WOMAN. One born because Abraham DIDN’T trust God, and the OTHER born because Abraham TRUSTED God’s PROMISE. And even his NAME means JOY.
And Paul’s point, from v21, is that, just like Abraham had a choice, so do the Galatians. Abraham had the choice to either help God out by joining with the slave Hagar, or to TRUST God, and join with his FREE wife Sarah. To take him at his word.
One to do with SLAVERY AND EFFORT. The other to do with FREEDOM AND PROMISE.
And the Galatians can either trust God’s promise. Which brings FREEDOM. Or they can try to do it themselves. They can either believe God’s pledge that he’s dealt with their sin in the of Jesus, and offers them grace and forgiveness. Or they can try to EARN God’s favour by law-keeping. Which leads to SLAVERY.
Two different WOMEN. Two different AGREEMENTS. Two different CITIES. Look at v24. It’s all a picture of the choice that faces the Galatians.
24 These things may be taken FIGURATIVELY, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
That’s what Paul’s readers are settling for by going back to law-keeping. Slavery. But compare the option. V26.
26 But the Jerusalem that is ABOVE is FREE, and SHE is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be GLAD, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
Sarah eventually had her children. And there was GREAT JOY. Because it only came because of God’s GRACE.
And when we choose GRACE instead of works. When we choose BELIEF instead of EARNING. When we trust GOD’S PROMISES instead of OUR EFFORTS. Then we belong to the HEAVENLY Jerusalem. The city where there’s GLADNESS. The city of FREEDOM, rather than SLAVERY.
Get rid of the slave woman (30)
And if that’s the choice, then we should FOLLOW ABRAHAM’S EXAMPLE. V30.
“Get RID of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
Let go of slavery. And cling to the PROMISE. Cling to GRACE. Cling to FREEDOM.
And if we’re FREE. And if we’re SONS. Then we have AN INHERITANCE.
Flip back up to v4 as Paul describes what it MEANS to be a son or daughter of God through Jesus.
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the FULL RIGHTS OF SONS.
And here’s what you get as sons and daughters. The full rights.
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Here’s reasons to be JOYFUL. God’s given you His Spirit. And he’s given you access to him that’s intimate and personal and constant. You can call him “Abba, father”, which is a bit like Daddy. The Creator and Sustainer and Judge of the whole Universe! You can approach him confidently as your heavenly Father.
That’s part of your inheritance. An inheritance that only comes as a GIFT. That can’t be EARNED.
These things are a REALITY. They’re WHO YOU ARE as one of God’s children. And they’re reasons why JOY should characterise your life.
But perhaps you’re wondering whether you’re really understanding this difference. How can you be SURE you’re turning away from the slavery of law-keeping, and instead rejoicing in the freedom of trusting God’s promise?
Give yourself a score on this quick test. There in the outline. Like one of those diagnostic tests in the Women’s Weekly. Take a moment.
How often is your life characterised by JOY?
Never, Rarely, 50-50, Frequently, All of the time
How often is your life characterised by FEAR?
Never, Rarely, 50-50, Frequently, All of the time
How often is your life characterised by WORRY?
Never, Rarely, 50-50, Frequently, All of the time
How often is your life characterised by being DISCONTENTED or RESTLESS?
Never, Rarely, 50-50, Frequently, All of the time
The opposite of JOY is fear, worry, and restlessness.
You see when we start going back to the weak and miserable slavery of legalism, then JOY GOES. And it’s replaced by Fear. Or WORRY, or DISCONTENT, or RESTLESSNESS. “What’s happened to YOUR JOY?” says Paul.
When you start taking our eyes of God, and focussing instead on your own efforts, then JOY seeps away. Fear replaces it. Fear about our own goodness and righteousness before God.
And worry comes in. Worry about tomorrow. Worry about whether God will provide. Doubts about God’s goodness.
And instead of joy, there’s DISCONTENT. A restlessness with where God’s put you. Not content with being God’s person in God’s place. But striving for something better. Something DIFFERENT.
Rather than REJOICING in the rich mercy of an inheritance you don’t deserve. A future you can’t lose. A Saviour who won’t let you go. A Father whose arms wrap you up in love.
“What’s happened to all your JOY?” says Paul. If that’s something Paul would say if he looked at YOUR life, what can you DO about it.
Perhaps you’re thinking joy is fine while things are going WELL. But you don’t understand, Dave. You wouldn’t expect me to be joyful if you knew what my life was like.
Let me suggest you’d do worse than looking at Paul’s life. Whose life was FAR from easy. In particular in his letter to the Philippians, which has been called the letter of JOY. (p830)
In ch 1, he’s in prison. And his rivals are preaching out of envy and rivalry. But Paul doesn’t mind, as long as Christ is preached. V18. And because of this I REJOICE. And I will CONTINUE TO REJOICE.
Where’s that joy come from? Knowing and living the truth of the gospel. Down in v20.
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by . 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Over into ch 2 v17. Talking about all the suffering he’s endured for the sake of the Philippians.
17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
And into ch 3, he talks about the treasure he’s found that makes everything else RUBBISH. V8.
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
And then into ch 4. Commanding his readers. V6.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And a of paragraphs on, Paul’s joy has nothing to do with his situation. How much stuff he has. V10.
10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I HAVE LEARNED TO BE CONTENT whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN ANY AND EVERY SITUATION, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
The joy of being IN Christ. Of being God’s CHILD. Of trusting your FATHER. Of rejoicing in the freedom of following and honouring his Son. Of living a life of eternity you can’t EARN, and can’t LOSE.
That’s the sort of experience that’s caused Christians down through the centuries to SING WITH JOY. Words that are rich and deep with EMOTION. With JOY.
Like this one
Once I thought I walked with Jesus, Yet such changeful feelings had;
Sometimes trusting, sometimes doubting, Sometimes joyful, sometimes sad.
Oh, the peace the Savior gives! Peace I never knew before;
And my way has brighter grown Since I’ve learned to trust Him more.
Now I’m trusting every moment, Nothing less can be enough;
And the Savior bears me gently O’er those places once so rough.
Blessed Saviour, thou dost keep me by thy power from day to day
And my heart is full of gladness. Thou will keep me all the way
Or this one.
1. How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear.
2. It makes the wounded spirit whole, And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul, And to the weary, rest.
3. Dear Name, the Rock on which I build, My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled With boundless stores of grace!
4. Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend, O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End, Accept the praise I bring.
5. Weak is the effort of my heart, And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.
6. Till then I would Thy love proclaim With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of your Name Refresh my soul in !
Or lastly, this one
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.