The Diaconate - A Study Guide

READ 1 Timothy 3:8-15

Intro

The NT teaches that at the heart of every healthy, sustainable and fruitful church there are two teams - a team of elders and a team of deacons. This two-fold leadership structure means leadership in the church works in plurality (in teams not in one person) and in partnership (elders and deacons working together). The bible describes this partnership like this:

1.        A team of Shepherd leaders (“elders”) lead, oversee, teach and provide pastoral care to the church. Elders focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. They guard the theology, vision, mission and values of a church.

2.       A team Servant leaders (“diaconate”) serve in areas of stewardship, operations and care for the tangible needs of people and of the church as a whole.  Their servant leadership enables the elders to focus on the ministry of the word and prayer.

This study guide provides an overview of the role of deacon in the life of the church.

What is a Deacon?

Even though passages like Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-15 indicate that deacons played a key leadership role in the early churches, the bible doesn’t anywhere describe exactly what a deacon is or does. How are we know what a deacon is? We have two sources that help provide the answer:

a)       The Word “Deacon” – The word “deacon” was used to describe a servant, an attendant or a table waiter. A deacon is a servant who meets the tangible needs of others.

b)       The Origin of the Role –Acts 6:1-7 describes the origin of what would later be formalized into an official leadership calling/office. The verb from of the word “deacon” is used to describe the ministry need these seven servants were chosen to meet (v2 to wait on tables = diakonen). These servants were chosen by the congregation to meet an important need in the early church community so that the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer.

From these two sources, we can arrive upon a working definition of a deacon: What is a deacon? A deacon is a servant called by God to ensure that the personal and operational needs of a church are identified and met.

Why Do We Need Deacons?

Acts 6 also shows us why every church needs deacons. As a church grows (this church grew to 5000 people!), personal and operational needs in a church increase. As a church grows, the need for leadership oversight and the individual and corporate ministry of word/prayer also increase. When these needs increase and outpace leadership capacity, people’s needs will be overlooked. This is what happened in Acts 6. When these Greek speaking widows were overlooked, it eventually was expressed as a complaint. This conflict had the potential to weaken the church and cause disunity. Instead, because the church took these needs seriously and these seven leaders were chosen to serve, the church was strengthened and grew.

Deacons serve the health and mission of the church as those a church community trusts to bring their needs and as those who are gifted by God with a particular ability to see and meet needs so that needs in a church are not overlooked.  A diaconate helps us be the church by activating living faith and practical love in the body so we all see and meet one another’s needs (see 1 John 3:17 and James 2:15-17).

Who is a Deacon?

1 Timothy 3:8-15 describes the qualifications of deacons. Notice that the qualifications are all about character. There’s nothing here about accomplishments, titles or natural abilities and skills. What kind of character is needed? We could summarize it like this: A deacon is the kind of person you can trust to care for the important (sometimes sensitive) personal and operational needs in the church.

This text tells us we should be looking at qualified men and qualified women when it comes to diaconal ministry. 1 Tim 3:8 speaks of male deacons and 3:11 speaks of “women” or “wives” – the word can be translated either way. When it comes to women’s role in the diaconate, there are two main options based on our understanding of this text. 1 Tim 3:11 is either speaking about the wives of deacons or it is speaking of women who served alongside the male deacons in some way. Is it describing a servant-leadership role that is shared by a husband and wife (qualified couples), or a servant-leadership role that is carried out by men and women in partnership (qualified men and women – who are not married to each other)? Let’s look at the arguments on either side:

1) In favor of “women”

  • The parallel structure of the descriptions (use of the word “likewise” for deacons and “women”) indicates a similar position and role.

  • There is no possessive pronoun – it doesn’t say “their wives”, so this would lead us to translate the word in its more general sense – “women”.

  • There is no parallel  set of qualifications for elders wives.

  • The requirements closely match the qualifications of deacons which indicate they were active in the work, not simply married to a deacon.

  • In addition to 1 Tim 3, Rom 16:1 – Paul mentions a prominent woman named Phoebe whom he calls a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 

2) In favor of “wives”

  • Paul returns right back to speaking of male deacons in v12 (husband of one wife), so his remarks on these women are a part of one train of thought.

  • The nature of diaconal ministry would call for wives to come alongside their husbands.

  • Pheobe might not be an official deacon but a very active, important “servant”, ie a leader but not with office/position.

Historically, churches have landed on both sides of this discussion and churches have varied in how to involve women in diaconate ministry. Our denomination allows for two interpretations of this text – it is either referring to the wives of deacons or assistants to the diaconate (non-ordained deaconesses). At Trinity, deaconesses will be appointed servant-leaders who will serve alongside the ordained deacons to assist in ensuring that the personal and operational needs of our church are met.

How to Deacon

The biggest and most difficult obstacle to a people’s needs being met by others and the biggest obstacle to a church’s needs being met is the selfishness of the human heart. How can this be overcome in one person – let alone in an entire church community?! The only answer is the gospel. When Jesus’ disciples debated which of them deserved leadership positions in Jesus’ coming kingdom, he said this: 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (deacon)27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served (deaconed), but to serve (deacon), and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We can only deacon with joy and for the good of others to the extent we understand how Jesus “deacon-ed” us first. The gospel is God Himself saying to us in Christ, “I came to serve you whatever it takes, whatever the cost. I will pay the price (the ransom) so your greatest need is met.” This is what makes the God of the Bible vastly different from any other thing we can serve. Every other thing we serve says , “You serve me enough; you do what I say; you obey me, you give me your allegiance, time and effort and then I will give you what you want from me.” But this doesn’t cure selfishness, it only fuels it! It only leads to bitterness/entitlement (if we think we are serving enough) or burnout (when we can’t serve anymore).

Jesus melts our selfishness by the power of his serving love for us. This is the great benefit of those who deacon others in his strength – they gain greater standing and assurance in the gospel as they learn to serve (1 Tim. 3:15).

Discussion Questions

  • What about the sermon/study guide most impacted you? What left you with questions?

  • What is the difference between the role of elder and deacon? Why do you think both are needed for a healthy and sustainable church?

  • Read the definition of a deacon above. Why do you think God has created a role like this and given it to the church?

  • Is the role of deacon something new to you? Have you seen a diaconate functioning in a church in the way defined in the study guide? If so, how did the diaconate help build a healthier and stronger church?

  • In the sermon, it was said that in OC, we struggle to make our needs known and we often don’t see or ignore needs because our lives are so full, busy, and fast-paced. Do agree with this? How does it ring true in your life? How might deacons help a church address this

  • Based on your understanding of the Bible, how important is it that a church be committed to seeing and meeting needs? Why? How would you respond to the idea that churches should give priority to the spiritual needs over physical, tangible needs? How might Acts 6:1-7 help answer these questions.

  • When it comes to the call to “deacon” for every Christian, what is the hardest part for you in taking the role of a “table servant” in your relationships?

  • How does this gospel keep us from becoming bitter in service or burnt-out in service? How do we know the difference between service and unhealthy boundaries and limits?  

  • Please pray for Trinity as we trust God to raise up deacons and deaconesses to provide servant-leadership.

Why Follow Jesus? Jesus and the Storm

Matthew 8:23-27 | Study and Discussion Guide

The large crowds following Jesus (see 4:25) continued to grow as his teaching astonished them (7:78-29) and his power to heal attracted the broken, sick and outcast from all around. When Jesus saw the crowds swelling, he “gave the order to go to the other side of the sea” (8:18). Clearly, Jesus’ mission wasn’t to build a crowd – it was to make disciples. Jesus got into the boat and his small band of followers got in with him. What happened on the sea reveals three things every follower of Jesus and every person who is considering following Jesus needs to know about being a disciple of Jesus.   

A Challenging Truth

The clear sense in this story is that Jesus is in the lead and knows exactly what he’s doing. He is in no way surprised by the sudden violent storm that arose. In fact, he is sleeping through it! The storm appears to be a part of his plan all along. This is the challenging truth – Jesus will lead us into the storm. This wasn’t just any ole storm, Matthew says it was a “seismos megas” - a seismic, earthquake storm. These weren’t just any ole people in a boat – they were fisherman! They practically lived on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and had managed many a storm in their work. The sea was the one place where they felt in control. The challenging truth of following Jesus is that he will lead us into chaotic situations beyond our control. Why would he do this? Why would anyone want this? The answer: Jesus uses the storm to cure his followers of the illusion of control. He confronts us with the challenging truth that we don’t have control over our lives. We need to accept this so we can accept the greater and more important truth – we are not in control, but He is. He is Lord over everything - even the storm.

A Comforting Promise

Right alongside this challenging truth is a comforting promise. It’s a promise we are meant to hold onto when the storm comes; when we are “being swamped by the waves”. Jesus will be with us in the storm. Jesus didn’t abandon them in the storm. He is with them in it. At first, it can be frustrating that he is sleeping through it. He seems absent! But upon further inspection it should be profoundly comforting - someone greater than the storm is with us in it. The comforting promise of this story goes further. If Jesus leads us into the storm and he is with us in the storm, he will also calm the storm. It won’t last forever. In his time, he will stand and with a word rebuke the storm and bring the calm.

This helps us see how this story primarily speaks to something larger than our personal “storms” in life. In the Bible, the sea represents the chaos of evil, sin and suffering that is beyond our control and our ability to conquer. This is the bigger point here – Jesus has come to bring an end to the greater storm. He has come to end all evil, all chaos and everything that threatens his purposes for us.

The Central Question

The central question in this story is the question in v27 -What kind of man is this? Who is this sleeping in the boat like a man who gets tired and then standing up to command the wind and sea like only God can? The central question is not about the storm (why is this happening?) and not about us (what are you teaching me?) The question that is MOST important when any kind of storm hits and fear begins to take hold in our hearts is, “Who is Jesus?”

If we don’t see this as the central question of this story, then Jesus’ question to the disciples will seem unfair and cruel. He asks ,“Why are you afraid you of little faith?” Why!?! This is a hurricane level storm that was sinking their boat! The point behind Jesus’ question is this: It’s in the storm that we discover both the object and the degree of our faith. This is what our fears show us. Jesus is saying, “If you really knew who I was, you’d have great faith in me and no fear – even in the storm. If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t fear the storm you would fear me.”

Who is Jesus? This story shows us that He is the Lord of the storm whom we should fear more than anything. But the wonder of the gospel is that the one whom we should fear more than anything loves us - so we don’t have anything to fear! 1 John 4:18-19 says it like this, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” Jesus entered the greatest storm we could ever fear – the storm of what we deserve for our lack of faith. The storm of God’s judgment on sin and evil fell on him. He entered that storm alone for us on the cross. He got the greatest storm; we get the great calm. How do we get this calm? By faith. A faith that looks to Jesus and knows we can surrender control to the Lord of the storm who loves us.

Discuss

1.        Is there currently a storm in your life (a chaotic, difficult situation that is beyond your control)? How are you handling it? What fears is this storm revealing?

2.       Where in life do you most cling to the illusion of control? How does this story challenge you to accept the truth you are not in control? How might this part of your life change if you accepted the truth that Jesus is in control even though you are not?

3.        How can the comforting promise of this passage bring us calm when we are overwhelmed and afraid?

4.       In the Bible, the sea represents the forces of evil, sin and suffering beyond our ability to control. Why is it important that we keep this bigger picture in mind in understanding and applying this text to our lives?

5.       “It’s in the storm that we discover both the object and the degree of our faith.” How have your storms/fears shown you exactly what you are trusting in and how much trust you have put in it? How have your storms/fears shown you the “littleness” of our faith in Jesus?

6.       Verses 25-26 Jesus responds favorably to the disciples’ little faith yet also rebukes them. It is encouraging to note that the amount of our faith doesn’t determine Jesus response to us in the storm. But it is also important to note the amount of our faith does impact our experience of fear in the storms. If we can’t increase the amount of our faith by willpower and effort, how does our faith in Jesus grow bigger?

7.        The wonder of the gospel is that the one whom we should fear more than anything loves us - so we don’t have anything to fear! How is the gospel the most effective antidote to fear?

 “Faith, which is trust, and fear are opposite poles. If a man has the one, he can scarcely have the other in vigorous operation. He that has his trust set upon God does not need to dread anything except the weakening or the paralyzing of that trust.” (Alexander Maclaren)

Why Follow Jesus? The Call to Follow Jesus

Matthew 8:18-22 | Study and Discussion Guide

In Matthew 8:1-17, Jesus rolled out the welcome mat to every kind of outsider in his day. In dramatic fashion, his healings showed everyone that his kingdom was open to those who were considered spiritual, ethnic and gender outsiders. In our modern western culture this is one of the most compelling things about Jesus. He brought the most inclusive welcome the world has ever seen. But immediately after these healings, we come to what might be the most difficult thing about Jesus for us today. He also brought the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. In one moment, Jesus is lowering the bar and welcoming everyone in; in the next, he’s sending people away by raising it impossibly high. What’s going on?

What Jesus Is After

In Matthew 8:18-22 Jesus’ goal and purpose is clearly revealed. Jesus saw a large crowd around him and said, “Yes! This is exactly what I’m after! Success, numbers, celebrity and popularity. I’m hitting all my goals”! No. “He gave the order to go to the other side of the sea” (v18).  Jesus was not after large crowds. He was after followers (disciples). Crowds came to Jesus to have an experience, to be inspired, to learn a little and go on with their lives. Disciples came to Jesus to be trained, to be led and to give their whole lives to Jesus. Time and time again in the gospels we see that a person must come out of the crowd to truly encounter Jesus.  As long as our thinking and choices are determined by the crowds, we’ll never come out of the crowd to see who Jesus is for ourselves.

How Jesus Shows Us What We Are After

Two people come out of the crowd who were interested in following after Jesus. What they discover is that Jesus was a master at showing people what they are really after when they come to him. Is it the same thing he is after? Or are they coming to him for something else? The seemingly harsh responses of Jesus are actually his loving way of uncovering for them what they were really after.

  • After a Teacher on my terms. A scribe came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go”. On the surface, this looks like exactly what Jesus would want to hear. But upon closer inspection there are major problems. First, no real disciple ever calls Jesus, “Teacher”. Secondly, in the gospels, it’s Jesus who initiates the discipleship relationship with people, not vice versa (see Matt. 4:18-21; 9:9-11). It’s likely this scribe was coming to Jesus thinking he was doing Jesus a favor (he didn’t have a scribe on his team yet!). He was really coming to Jesus to advance himself on his own terms. That’s not how it works with Jesus. He shows the scribe – those who come to him as merely a “teacher” are really after a god they can explain and control, a god who will owe them for their obedience, a god on their terms.

  • After a Lord on my timetable – A second man approaches Jesus with what sounds like a very reasonable excused absence. He needed to bury his father! How could Jesus say no to that?! To understand Jesus’ response, we need to first see that it is highly unlikely this man’s father had just died (he would have been at home with family). It is more likely he’s using a Hebrew idiom that meant, “First let me tend to my family obligations and my father. When he is gone and I have my inheritance, then I’ll follow you”. If this is the correct interpretation, the key word here is “first”. He calls Jesus “Lord” but gives other things priority and importance over him. He was after a lord on his timetable. Jesus shows him a “lord” on our timetable is not really a “lord”.

Why Follow After Jesus?

Jesus is after disciples; disciples who follow after him on his terms and his timetable; disciples who call him Lord and give him priority over everything in their lives. Why would anyone follow someone who is so exclusive and demanding? This is the question underneath all questions of discipleship. Who is Jesus to make such a demand? This is the question Jesus wants us to ask. Since Jesus clearly rules out “religious teacher” here, there are really only two options he leaves open to us:

  • 1) He has complete authority over our lives and the world. He knows what is good, true and right for us. He has all the right to demand our exclusive trust and obedience. If he didn’t demand exclusive loyalty, he wouldn’t be loving. OR  2) He is a deluded crazy person and his demand for exclusive loyalty should be absolutely rejected.

How do we decide which it is? Is Jesus someone with loving authority or with maniacal and dangerous exclusivism? Jesus’ responses to these two men show us the only real option. He calls himself the “Son of Man” (v20). The Son of Man is a figure from the OT who would have complete and everlasting authority over everything (Dan. 7:11-14). Jesus says, “That’s me”. But he says something startling next, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. The one with a right to demand everything, gives up everything. Later he says, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).” This is the gospel – Jesus laid down his authority and right to demand our service, to serve us, to fulfill the demands in our place, to give his life for ours.  If Jesus is who he says he is, the real cost of our discipleship is what God Himself gave up to show us how much he loves us. When he calls for us to follow him exclusively in everything – it’s the most compassion and kind thing he could do.

Discuss

REFLECT – on these two statements based on Matthew 8:1-22: 1) Jesus brought the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. He crossed over every spiritual, physical, ethnic, gender wall in his time. He welcomed, touched, healed, commended and included those who were considered outsiders, outcasts and second class. 2) Jesus brought the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. He called everyone to follow him in everything, immediately.  In our culture, we are drawn to the inclusivity of Jesus but are repelled by his exclusivity. How do you reconcile these two things about Jesus? How could both be functions of his love for us?

1.        Why is it significant that Jesus always shunned and avoided celebrity, popularity and large crowds? What does this teach us about who he is and what he’s after?

2.       In what ways is your thinking and decision-making most influenced by “the crowd” (ie by what others think and do)? How can we come to see this when we don’t realize it is happening? Why is it that we have to come out of the crowd to see who Jesus is for ourselves?

3.        Which of the two people who came out of the crowd do you most identify with in the way you approach Jesus? 1) A teacher on your terms or 2) a lord on your timetable. How so? What would it look like for you to come to Jesus on his terms and timetable?

4.       Where in your life are you having the most difficulty in following Jesus currently? How might it be helpful for you to return to the basic question of discipleship – Who is Jesus? How does knowing what Jesus gave up for us change our response to his demand for exclusive obedience to him?

5.       Whatever the cost of following Jesus (and there will always be one), it is less than the cost of not following Him. Do you agree with this? How has this proven true in your experience?

SUMMARY: Why Follow Jesus?  Because he offers the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. His exclusivity is as much a function of his love as his inclusivity. Since He is the only authority who can lead us to life, the most loving thing he can do is to demand we follow him.

Why Follow Jesus? Jesus and the Outsiders

Matthew 8:1-17 | Study and Discussion Guide

The Gospel of Matthew has been called a “Manual of Discipleship”. The whole gospel can be read as preparation for the reader to hear the stunning challenge of the last words of Jesus, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus claims absolute and comprehensive authority. He calls for obedience in everything and commissions everyone to his mission.  Why would we follow someone who asks for such total surrender? Chapters 8-12 of the Gospel of Matthew answer that question in this way:  If you truly understand who Jesus is, you will come away saying, “Why would I do anything else?”

The Welcome to Outsiders: Matthew 8:1-15 tells the story of Jesus healing three people who were considered outsiders by the faithful religious community of his day. 

  • The Leper - Spiritual/Physical Outsider: Lepers were the furthest outside the social-religious community of Israel. They were considered unclean and cast off to live alone. This leper broke all the rules (see Leviticus 13:45-46) to get to Jesus in hopes that he wouldn’t be turned away. Not only was he not cast away, he was made clean by the touch of Jesus. He was sent to the priests to be officially pronounced clean and brought back inside the community.

  • The Roman Centurion - The Ethnic Outsider: A Roman centurion was the furthest ethnic outsider at the time of Jesus. Not only was he a Gentile (a non-Jew), he was a commander in the Roman army. His job was to keep the Jewish people oppressed and subjugated under the rule of Rome. He would have been considered unworthy of receiving anything from God but judgment. Yet Jesus allowed him to come near and commended his faith as being greater than any Israelite he had ever met!

  • Peter’s Mother-in-Law - The Gender Outsider: In Jesus’ day, women were considered second class citizens. They were not allowed past the “court of women” in the temple and worshipped in the back of synagogues behind screens. Here Jesus breaks all the conventions and goes to Peter’s mother-in-law without being asked. He touches her and welcomes her service.

A Warning to Insiders

Alongside, his unprecedented and scandalous welcome of outsiders, Jesus gives a sober warning to those who consider themselves on the “inside”. In 8:10-12 he says to his followers that many of those you think are outsiders (“from east and west”) will come inside to share in the feast of my kingdom and many who think they are insiders will be on outside. Outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth are horrible images of being outside of God’s eternal kingdom. The sober warning is here is directed to “those following him” (ie insiders). Frederick Dale Bruner notes that “all of Jesus’ warnings about hell occur in messages to people who believed themselves to be heirs of the kingdom, Jesus does not preach hell to pagans; but to those who think themselves believers” (The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 383-4).

The Way In for Everyone

The welcome and the warning BOTH lead us to the same place. It’s what gives great assurance to those with an outsider-heart. It’s what convicts and breaks the pride of insider-heart. It’s the way in for everyone. Matthew shows us the way in by providing an interpretive summary in verse 17. The healings are a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. Isaiah said a Suffering Servant would come to take and carry our weaknesses and disease. This servant doesn’t just heal, he takes and carries the effects of our sin, the judgment our sin deserves and our sin itself. This servant would take our place on the outside so we could have his place on the inside. This is the only way in for everyone. We are equally unclean, unworthy and unable. Jesus the only Insider had to become the ultimate outsider in our place.

REFLECT – on the chart below. 

Chart_Jesus and the Outsiders.JPG

Do you agree that the answers are accurate? How do you account for the differences? What can followers of Jesus learn from this about how we represent Jesus to those who don’t believe? What would it look like for Christians to live out Jesus’ attitude and approach to outsiders?   

  1. This passage shows us that Jesus brought the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. He crossed over every spiritual, physical, ethnic, gender wall in his time. He welcomed, touched, healed, commended and included those who were considered outsiders, outcasts and second class.

    How does this help us in our doubts or skepticism when we ask, “Why follow Jesus?”  How does this encourage us when we feel like we are never good enough and will never measure up to being a “true follower of Jesus”?

  2. An insider-attitude says to God, “Of course I’m in. I expect to be. No surprise there.” Jesus had a very serious warning to those who have this attitude. Two warning signs of an insider-attitude were shared in the sermon:

    a. There’s Comparison and No Conviction

    1. Do you find yourself favorably comparting your “small” sins to the “big” sins of others? How so? How does this passage help you see great danger in this?

    2. Is it hard for you to genuinely say, “I am as unclean as a leper, as unworthy as the roman commander, as sick & unable as a Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed. In my sin, I am outside. I’m not clean, I’m not worthy, I’m not able!” Why is this hard for you?

    b. There’s Presumption and No Surprise - Surprise and wonder are the key to following Jesus. The more regularly we are surprised that we are in; the more we will obey him, follow him and do whatever he says to do.

    1. Where do you see signs of presumption in your faith?

    2. When have you felt moments of surprise and wonder? What led to these moments?

  3. Use Isaiah 53 to answer these questions: What does it mean that Jesus took our place on the outside? What does it mean that we get his place on the inside? Why is this the only way in for everyone?

SUMMARY: Why Follow Jesus?  Because he offers the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we would all still be on the outside. Because of Jesus, anyone can come in.

Anatomy of the Soul - Prayer and Unshakeable Joy

A Prayer Guide

1. Read psalm 16 Aloud

2. A Guide to Understanding Psalm 16

Psalm 16 is not just a joyful prayer, it’s a prayer of unshakeable joy. It’s a prayer of joy that fills our entire being (v9); a joy that can be had in any circumstance, a joy that cannot be shaken (v8), a joy that somehow even death itself won’t take away but will only lead us into its full experience.

How can we get this kind of joy? The first Christian sermons (see Acts 2 and Acts 13) said this kind of joy can be ours because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All who believe in the Risen Jesus get this kind of joy. They said this is what Psalm 16 was about all along. Let’s see how Psalm 16 leads us straight to Easter.

Why Our Joy Gets Shaken: The first verse in the Psalm shows us that this was a prayer written by David when he was really shaken up. Verse 1 is the prayer of someone who was badly shaken and needed a safe place to regain perspective. We don’t know exactly what happened but it had to be something big since David was contemplating the end of his own life. Verse 1 is our “gateway” into the rest of Psalm 16. Like David, our joy in life gets shaken. This happens to everyone. Why? Because in life, everything gets shaken - our beliefs, our dreams and circumstances are all challenged or change. Not only does everything get shaken in life, but eventually everything gets taken. Our achievements, our comforts, our loved ones and our own lives – eventually all of these are taken from us. How can we be truly joyful when the things we take so much joy in can be shaken or taken from us at any time? In Psalm 16, David refuses to accept “that’s how life is”; he’s after an unshakeable joy.

When Our Joy Gets Shaken– In life, our joy will get shaken and it will be taken. When it does, we can do what David did in this Psalm. He took the opportunity to ask himself, “What is the joy I am really running after?” He prays, “the sorrow of those who run after another god will be multiplied” (v4) When our joy is shaken–we can more clearly see what we are running after. Is it the God of the bible or another god?

At this time, the things they were running after were attached to idols. They were deities (gods) with names. There were gods of harvest for those running after the joy of security and success. There were gods of fertility for those running after they joy of family. There were gods of festivals for those running after the joy of pleasure. We don’t have the same gods anymore, but we are running after the exact same joys they were. They are not just good things we hope to enjoy in life; they are the ultimate important things that drive us. They are the gods we run after. David says I see clearly now that my joy can be shaken - if I run after these things and make them my gods, because there’s no joy in them. There is only sorrow that multiplies. These good things can’t bring joy if we make them gods. Only God Himself can be our ultimate joy.

Instead of running after another god, he says to God, “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing!”. The person who can say this to God finds the joy of verses 5-9 flooding in. This is the teaching of Christianity on joy. We must say to God – I run after you for you alone! The bible says there are only 3 options in the search for joy: 1) Keep running away from God and chase after good things as our gods = sorrow multiplied. 2) We run to God… to get good things from Him = sorrow multiplied (same as option 1) 3) We Run to God to get God = unshakeable joy.

How We Get an Unshakeable Joy – How can we become people who run after God for God? How can we stop chasing other joys and run after Him for Him? Easter is the answer. Easter gives us a joy that is grounded in unshakeable truth and is better than any other joy we could imagine.

In v10 David is giving us the reason and ground for his unshakeable joy (“For…”). The whole Psalm stands on the ground of verses 10-11. All the joy is based on this. David says, “I don’t believe death can be the end of my relationship with God. How could he abandon me to the grave? How would he let my body corrupt? Our relationship will last forever!” If David isn’t right, then he is chasing the wrong joy. If his joy in God doesn’t last forever, why would he stop chasing after life’s other joys? Is he right?

In their sermons on the resurrection, both the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul point out that David died and his tomb was still with them in their day. Was David wrong then? Was he wrong about joy? No, they explained because this prayer wasn’t just about David. It was about one of his descendants. David spoke ahead about the resurrection of the Holy One whom God would not abandon to death; whose flesh will not see any corruption. He spoke of One whom death could not hold and who would rise bodily from the grave. He spoke of Jesus.

Easter is our ground for unshakeable joy. We get this unshakeable joy by following our reason to the resurrection. It’s not just a wish, a myth or a story – it’s true. It’s a solid, historical basis for our joy. But reason will only take us so far. We also need to follow our joy to the resurrection. Nothing promises a joy like the bodily resurrection of Jesus! All who believe in Jesus will be raised bodily from the dead to live with God forever in a new creation. No other religion or belief system dares to promise such joy! In the new creation, our joy in God will be full and eternal. The joy of unhindered communion with God will spill over into all the other pleasures we were made to enjoy for his glory – the joys of food, of creation, of relationship, of art, of work and of music. All these joys will find their fullest expression in unending praise of the Holy One who saved us from sorrow into eternal joy. This is the joy Jesus died to give us – an unshakeable joy

A Guide to Praying Psalm 16

REFLECT – What is your response to this imaginary appeal from God based on Psalm 16? Which of the bullet points below do you most need to hear?

I know you are running after joy. I made you to do this!

o   You won’t find it running away from me…  I have to save you from irreligion.

o   You won’t’ find it if you are running to me to give it to you apart from me… I have to save you from religion.

o   You will only find it when you run to me for me.

PRAY  

Praise God and Take Refuge in Him

  • Praise God as your Protector and Refuge. Thank Him for his loving protection over your life. Praise him for being a refuge who is safe.

  • Tell God specifically how you are feeling: Describe your lack of joy and what you feel has caused this.

Repent – Feel from False Joy

  • Confess how you are running after other things to give you joy in life. Confess what’s holding you back from saying: “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing!”

  • Be specific and tell God how you have made these good things into gods. Be specific about how these things have failed you and caused you sorrow.

Believe - Ground Yourself On Jesus, Our Unshakeable Joy

  • Pray slowly through verses 5-9. Though you may not feel these things turn them into requests – ie “Lord I want you to be my portion – you are everything I need!” “Lord you are my cup – you are worthy of celebrating and praising!” “Fill my entire being with joy, flood my body and spirit with the joy that can only be found in you” (v9).

  • Using verses 10-11 as a starting point, prayerfully ground yourself on the joy of the resurrection.

    • Jesus rose from the dead and conquered all our sin, all evil, suffering, sin and death itself!

    • Jesus saves us from running after false joy!

    • What happened to Jesus will happen to all who believe in Him. We will glorify and enjoy God forever and eternally experience the joys of the new creation!