Joy and a Whole Lot More
“And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52 NIV)
If you walk into any Christian bookstore these days, you will find an abundance of titles just trying to get believers out of their “funk.” Depression appears to be a major tide in the Christian community. Researcher George Barna says today’s churchgoers are gulping down almost as many antidepressant drugs as their secular neighbors.
This is not a very good billboard advertisement for Jesus, who said, “ I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full... Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 10:10; 16:24).
But instead of being known as a joyous people, we often surrender to a victim mentality. I have heard repeatedly over the years, “Because such-and-such happened to me when I was growing up… because I was mistreated in a former church… because of all the pressures in my life that nobody else can feel… I’m entitled to sulk and pout.” A lot of pressure on pastors today comes from trying to deal with people who feel perpetually misunderstood or mistreated.
All this is in sharp contrast to the mental and spiritual state of the new Christians in Antioch of Pisidia, a city Paul visited on his first missionary journey. Luke summarizes the state of that newborn church in words we almost never hear today. “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Notice that this succinct, twelve-word description focuses on the spiritual condition of those recently won to Christ. How many church leaders even think along these lines when discussing the work of God? Instead, it’s all about attendance numbers, the physical plant, and the budget. I’m afraid we’re missing the point.
At first glance you might be tempted to assume that the Antioch people were riding just an initial burst of enthusiasm following salvation. They were fired up in the beginning, but they probably settled down within a few months, right?
In response to Paul’s initial ministry in the synagogue, some people had begun to open up to the gospel. The apostles “talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” The text doesn’t say anything about giving these people twenty rules of Christian conduct or asking them to make a series of promises and commitments to “live right.” Instead, they highlighted the fact that God was working in their lives through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. This was the essence of the New Covenant, and so the new converts should continue in openness and trust.