The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:10, gives one of the most apt descriptions of the reality of the Christian life when he says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We live in a broken world, a world filled with evil, suffering and death. Yet, we rejoice as followers of Jesus because we know he is sovereign and he is good. To live in this tension is the center of the Christian life.
It is not hard to be filled with sorrow in this world. Think of these last few months in our country.
Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have been ravaged by hurricanes. There was the tragedy in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and injured 546 more.
Then, last weekend, as many of us were gathered with our church families praying together, hearing God’s word proclaimed and singing praises to our king, a man burst through the door of First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs and killed 26 people as they worshipped.
There is no doubt this world is broken. Our response to this brokenness is not to sweep it under the rug or to ignore it altogether. None of us can escape the effects of sin on this world. We see the brokenness and the evil and we are filled with sorrow.
The church must be honest about our sorrow. The prosperity gospel and our tired clichés have tried to paint over the truth of how hard it is to live with hope and joy in the midst of a world where people enjoying a concert, or even praying together in a church, can be gunned down.
Paul knew sorrow and Paul was honest about his sorrow. It is OK for us to admit we are sorrowful.
Maybe your sorrow is close in this season of your life. Paul says he lives in this tension of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We live in this same tension. Sorrow is a state we often find ourselves in because of the reality of sin, evil and death, but we can walk through this sorrow with joy.
Paul has known sorrow intimately and yet continues to rejoice in Christ. Paul trusts Jesus in the midst of his sorrow.
The foundation of Paul’s joy is the hope of the gospel, the hope we have in Jesus because he died, rose again and will return to make all things new. We groan and we long for redemption and restoration, and, in the resurrection of Christ, we have the down payment of this renewal. This hope produces joy.
Joy is more than a feeling. It is more than being in a good mood or being optimistic. Biblical joy faces this world honestly, standing on the promises of God and the hope of the gospel.
Joy and happiness are not the same thing, and our churches must teach our people the difference. The church must prepare our people to learn to live in the midst of sorrow with joy.
It is not our calling to entertain, and it is not ultimately our calling to be relevant. We are called to make disciples and, to effectively make disciples for this sorrowful world, we must teach our brothers and sisters how to honestly live with gospel joy. Biblical joy anchors our soul in the storms of this world.
This last week, at a press conference following the tragedy at First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs, Sherry Pomeroy, the wife of pastor Frank Pomeroy, read a statement about what happened and the loss of their daughter. Her powerful words were filled with sorrow, but they were also filled with hope.
She proclaimed beautifully the hope of eternity that is ours in Christ. At that moment, we saw what it means to be sorrowful, to grieve an unimaginable loss, but to stand on the truth of the gospel firmly and boldly.
Sometimes, we rejoice with tears in our eyes and a heart that is broken. This is a part of the tension of following Jesus. We walk with sorrow in this broken world, but we rejoice because we know this evil will not last, death will not have the final word and Jesus is king.
In Jesus, we can truly be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.