“Learning to Live Joyfully”, from J.I. Packer (theoloy of Joy, Eternity in our hearts)

J.I Packer: How I learned to Live Joyfully

Christianity Today, (2015, Vol. 59, No 7, Page 56, The Joy of Ecclesiastes)

Christians like to quiz each other about their favorite book in the Bible. Finding out how people experience Scripture—especially those who write books about the Bible—is a natural interest to us. When asked which Bible book is my favorite, I say Ecclesiastes. Should people raise their eyebrows and ask why, I give them two reasons.

First, it is a special pleasure to read an author with whom one resonates. That is how the writer, who called himself Qohelet—Hebrew for “Gatherer,” a title that in Greek became Ecclesiastes, the “Assembly-man”—strikes me. I see him as a reflective senior citizen, a public teacher of wisdom, something of a stylist and wordsmith. As his official testimonial or third-person testimony (it might be either) in 12:10 shows, this man took his instructional task very seriously and labored to communicate memorably. Whether he was the Solomon of history or someone impersonating him—not to deceive but to make points in the most effective way—we do not know. All I am sure of is that each point has maximum strength if it comes from the real Solomon at the end of his life.

Whoever he was, Qohelet was a realist about the many ways in which this world gives us a rough ride. But while temperamentally inclined to pessimism and cynicism, I think, he was kept from falling into either of those craters of despair by a strong theology of joy.

How far this matches the way people see me, I do not know, but this is how I want to see myself—and why I warm to Ecclesiastes as a kindred spirit. (One main difference, of course, is that his thinking is all done within the framework of Old Testament revelation.)

Second, looking back to my late-teens conversion, I see myself as having received from Ecclesiastes wisdom that I needed badly. When Jesus Christ laid hold of me, I was already well on my way to becoming a cynic. But by God’s grace, I was tamed thoroughly, and I see Ecclesiastes—the man and his book—as having done much of that taming.

Cynics are people who have grown skeptical about the goodness of life, and who look down on claims to sincerity, morality, and value. They dismiss such claims as hollow and criticize programs for making improvements. Feeling disillusioned, discouraged, and hurt by their experience of life, their pained pride forbids them to think that others might be wiser and doing better than they themselves have done. On the contrary, they see themselves as brave realists and everyone else as self-deceived. Mixed-up teens slip easily into cynicism, and that is what I was doing.

Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him.

I was reared in a stable home and did well at school, but, being an introvert, I was always shy and awkward in company. Also, I was barred from sports and team games by reason of a hole in my head—literally, just over the brain—that I had acquired in a road accident at age 7. For years I had to cover the hole, where there was no bone, by wearing an aluminum plate, secured to my head by elastic. I could never get my body to learn to swim or dance.

Being an isolated oddity in these ways was painful to me, as it would be to any teen. So I developed a self-protective sarcasm, settled for low expectations from life, and grew bitter. Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him. However, becoming a real as distinct from a nominal Christian brought change, and Ecclesiastes in particular showed me things about life that I had not seen before.

Learning to Live

Waiting for me in the pages of Ecclesiastes was a view of reality very different from my junior-level cynicism.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Old Testament’s five wisdom books. It has been said that the Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live. How? With realism and reverence, with humility and restraint, coolly and contentedly, in wisdom and in joy.

The Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live.

People who may not have read beyond chapter 3 might think of Ecclesiastes as voicing nothing more than bafflement and gloom at the way everything is. But 2:26 already goes beyond this: “to the one who pleases him God has given … joy” (ESV, used throughout). In Ecclesiastes, joy is as central a theme, and as big and graciously bestowed a blessing, as it is in, say, Philippians.

Ecclesiastes is a flowing meditation on the business of living. It has two halves. Each is a string of separate units juxtaposed without connectives in a loose-looking way, which yet links them logically and theologically by subject matter. And binding everything together are three recurring imperatives:

  • Revere God: fear in Ecclesiastes, as in Proverbs, means “trust, obey, and honor,” not “be terrified” (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13).
  • Recognize good things in life as gifts from God and receive them accordingly, with enjoyment (2:24–26; 5:18–19; 8:15; 9:7–9).
  • Remember that God judges our deeds (3:17; 5:6; 7:29; 8:13; 11:9; 12:14).

There are two further unifying features. The first is the bookend sentence, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. . . . All is vanity”—the opening words in 1:2 and the closing words in 12:8. Vanity literally means “vapor” and “fog,” and appears more than two dozen times to convey emptiness, pointlessness, worthlessness, and loss of one’s way. “Striving after wind”—that is, trying to catch hold of it—is an image of parallel meaning (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4; 6:9). Both metaphors point to fruitless effort, of which the world is full, says the writer.

The second unifying feature is the phrase “under the sun.” It specifies the standpoint and pinpoints the perspective of no less than 29 verdicts on how things appear when assessed in this-worldly terms, without reference to God.

The first half of Ecclesiastes, chapters 1–6, is in effect a downhill slide “under the sun” into what we may call the darkness of vanity. The natural order, wisdom in itself, uninhibited self-indulgence, sheer hard work, money-making, public service, the judicial system, and pretentious religiosity—are all canvassed to find what meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment they yield.

The reason for enquiring is given: Deep down in every human heart, God has put “eternity” (3:11)—a desire to know, as God knows, how everything fits in with everything else to produce lasting value, glory, and satisfaction. But the inquiry fails: It leaves behind only the frustration of having gotten nowhere. The implication? This is not the way to proceed.

The second half, chapters 7–12, is somewhat discursive—we might even say meandering. It labors to show that despite everything, the pursuit and practice of modest, quiet, industrious wisdom is abundantly worthwhile and cannot be embarked on too early in life. After comparing old age to a house falling to pieces (12:1–7), the writer works up to a solemn conclusion:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

That last phrase is elusive; duty may be its focus, or the phrase could be carrying the thought “the completeness of the human person,” which the Good News Bible has neatly rendered:

Fear God and keep his commands, because this is all that man was created for. God is going to judge everything we do. (12:13–14)

How then should we finally formulate the theology of joy that runs through and undergirds the entire book? Christian rejoicing in Christ and in salvation, as the New Testament depicts, goes further. But in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy of everyday activities and relationships, Ecclesiastes lays the right foundation:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. (2:24)

I commend joy. (8:15)

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun. (9:9)

Being too proud to enjoy the enjoyable is a very ugly shortcoming, and one that calls for immediate correction. Let it be acknowledged that, as I had to learn long ago, discovering how under God ordinary things can bring joy is the cure for cynicism.

J. I. Packer is Board of Governor’s Professor of Theology at Regent College and author of more than 40 books, including his bestseller Knowing God.

Editor’s note: You can now read or share this essay in Spanish and Korean.

Source: Christianity Today (2015)

Learn about J.I Packer

“The Heart of Jesus”, by Dane Ortlund (Gentle and Lowly, Loved, Embraced By Kindness)

The Heart of Jesus by Dane Ortlund

July 14, 2020

My dad pointed out to me something that Charles Spurgeon pointed out to him. In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — 89 chapters of biblical text — there’s only one place where Jesus tells us about His own heart.

We learn much in the four Gospels about Christ’s teaching. We read of His birth, His ministry, and His disciples. We are told of His travels and prayer habits. We find lengthy speeches and repeated objections by His hearers, prompting further teaching. We learn of the way He understood Himself to fulfill the whole Old Testament. And we learn in all four accounts of His unjust arrest and shameful death and astonishing resurrection. Consider the thousands of pages that have been written by theologians during the past 2,000 years on all these things.

But in only one place — perhaps the most wonderful words ever uttered by human lips — do we hear Jesus Himself open up to us His very heart:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

In the one place in the Bible where the Son of God pulls back the veil and lets us peer way down into the core of who He is, we are not told that He is “austere and demanding in heart.” We are not told that He is “exalted and dignified in heart.” We are not even told that He is “joyful and generous in heart.” Letting Jesus set the terms, His surprising claim is that He is “gentle and lowly in heart.”

One thing to get straight right from the start is that when the Bible speaks of the heart, whether Old Testament or New, it is not speaking only of our emotional life but also of the central animating center of all we do. It is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what we daydream about as we drift off to sleep. It is our motivation headquarters. The heart, in biblical terms, is not part of who we are but the center of who we are. Our heart is what defines and directs us. That is why Solomon tells us to “keep [the] heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is a matter of life. It is what makes us the human being each of us is. The heart drives all we do. It is who we are.

When Jesus tells us what animates Him most deeply, what is most true of Him — when He exposes the innermost recesses of His being — what we find there is: gentle and lowly.

And when Jesus tells us what animates Him most deeply, what is most true of Him — when He exposes the innermost recesses of His being — what we find there is: gentle and lowly.

Who could ever have thought up such a Savior?

Gentle and Lowly

The Greek word translated “gentle” here occurs just three other times in the New Testament: in the First Beatitude, that “the meek” will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5); in the prophecy in Matthew 21:5 (quoting Zechariah 9:9) that Jesus the king “is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey”; and in Peter’s encouragement to wives to nurture more than anything else “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). Meek. Humble. Gentle. Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to Him is not a pointed finger but open arms.

“… and lowly …”

The meaning of the word “lowly” overlaps with that of “gentle,” together communicating a single reality about Jesus’ heart. This specific word lowly is generally translated “humble” in the New Testament, such as in James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” But typically throughout the New Testament this Greek word refers not to humility as a virtue but to humility in the sense of destitution or being thrust downward by life circumstance (which is also how this Greek word is generally used throughout the Greek versions of the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms). In Mary’s song while she is pregnant with Jesus, for example, this word is used to speak of the way God exalts those who are “of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). Paul uses the word when he tells us to “not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16), referring to the socially unimpressive, those who are not the life of the party but rather cause the host to cringe when they show up.

The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that He is accessible. For all His resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, His supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ. No prerequisites. No hoops to jump through. In “The Person and Work of Christ,” B.B. Warfield, commenting on Matthew 11:29, wrote: “No impression was left by his life-manifestation more deeply imprinted upon the consciousness of his followers than that of the noble humility of his bearing.” The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: Open yourself up to Him. It is all He needs. Indeed, it is the only thing He works with.

Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.” You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; He says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.

“Gentle and lowly.” This, according to His own testimony, is Christ’s very heart. This is who He is. Tender. Open. Welcoming. Accommodating. Understanding. Willing. If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honoring Jesus’ own teaching if our answer is gentle and lowly.

A Yoke of Kindness

This is not who He is to everyone, indiscriminately. This is who He is for those who come to Him, who take His yoke upon them, who cry to Him for help. The paragraph before these words from Jesus gives us a picture of how Jesus handles the impenitent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! … I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:21, 24). “Gentle and lowly” does not mean “mushy and frothy.”

But for the penitent, His heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures. For lowly gentleness is not one way Jesus occasionally acts toward others. Gentleness is who He is. It is His heart. He can’t un-gentle Himself toward His own any more than you or I can change our eye color. It’s who we are.

The Christian life is inescapably one of toil and labor (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 1:12-13; Colossians 1:29). Jesus Himself made this clear in this very Gospel (Matthew 5:19-20; 18:8-9). His promise here in Matthew 11 is “rest for your souls,” not “rest for your bodies.” But all Christian toil flows from fellowship with a living Christ whose transcending, defining reality is: gentle and lowly. He astounds and sustains us with His endless kindness. Only as we walk ever deeper into this tender kindness can we live the Christian life as the New Testament calls us to. Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.

That notion of kindness is right here in our passage. The word translated “easy” in His statement, “My yoke is easy,” needs to be carefully understood. Jesus is not saying life is free of pain or hardship. This is the same word elsewhere translated “kind” — as in, for example, Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted” (also Romans 2:4). Consider what Jesus is saying. A yoke is the heavy crossbar laid on oxen to force them to drag farming equipment through the field. Jesus is using a kind of irony, saying that the yoke laid on His disciples is a non-yoke. For it is a yoke of kindness. Who could resist this? It’s like telling a drowning man that he must put on the burden of a life preserver only to hear him shout back, sputtering, “No way! Not me! This is hard enough, drowning here in these stormy waters. The last thing I need is the added burden of a life preserver around my body!” That’s what we all are like, confessing Christ with our lips but generally avoiding deep fellowship with Him, out of a muted understanding of His heart.

This high and holy Christ does not cringe at reaching out and touching dirty sinners and numbed sufferers. Such embrace is precisely what He loves to do. He cannot bear to hold back.

His yoke is kind, and His burden is light. That is, His yoke is a non-yoke, and His burden is a non-burden. What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’ yoke does to His followers. We are buoyed along in life by His endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; He lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into His tender embrace. It is His very heart. It is what gets Him out of bed in the morning.

This is not how we intuitively think of Jesus Christ. Reflecting on this passage in Matthew 11, the old English pastor Thomas Goodwin, in his book “The Heart of Christ,” helps us climb inside what Jesus is actually saying.

Men are apt to have contrary conceits of Christ, but he tells them his disposition there, by preventing such hard thoughts of him, to allure them unto him the more. We are apt to think that he, being so holy, is therefore of a severe and sour disposition against sinners, and not able to bear them. “No,” says he; “I am meek; gentleness is my nature and temper.”

Perfect Gentleness

We project onto Jesus our skewed instincts about how the world works. Human nature dictates that the wealthier a person, the more they tend to look down on the poor. The more beautiful a person, the more they are put off by the ugly. And without realizing what we are doing, we quietly assume that one so high and exalted has corresponding difficulty drawing near to the despicable and unclean. Sure, Jesus comes close to us, we agree — but He holds His nose.

This risen Christ, after all, is the one whom “God has highly exalted,” at whose name every knee will one day bow in submission (Philippians 2:9-11). This is the one whose eyes are “like a flame of fire” and whose voice is “like the roar of many waters” and who has “a sharp two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth and whose face is “like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:14-16); in other words, this is one so unspeakably brilliant that His resplendence cannot adequately be captured with words, so ineffably magnificent that all language dies away before His splendor.

This is the one whose deepest heart is, more than anything else, gentle and lowly.

Goodwin is saying that this high and holy Christ does not cringe at reaching out and touching dirty sinners and numbed sufferers. Such embrace is precisely what He loves to do. He cannot bear to hold back.

We naturally think of Jesus touching us the way a little boy reaches out to touch a slug for the first time — face screwed up, cautiously extending an arm, giving a yelp of disgust upon contact, and instantly withdrawing. We picture the risen Christ approaching us with “a severe and sour disposition,” as Goodwin says.

This is why we need a Bible. Our natural intuition can give us only a God like us. The God revealed in Scripture deconstructs our intuitive predilections and startles us with one whose infinitude of perfections is matched by His infinitude of gentleness. Indeed, His perfections include His perfect gentleness.

It is who He is. It is His very heart. Jesus Himself said so.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


Dane C. Ortlund (Ph.D., Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” and “Edwards on the Christian Life.” He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Wheaton, Illinois.

Source: ByFaithOnline.com

“Humility; Crucifying pride – Glorifying God”, Pastor Tom Holliday (Gospel Unity, The Lordship of Jesus Christ)

“Humility; Crucifying Pride – Glorifying God” Quotes from Tom Holliday, Pastor

I sat in a middle seat, somewhat far from the pulpit feeling nested by the congregation.  As the sermon began my pen was poised just in case Pastor Tom Holliday (of Alexandria Presbyterian Church) said something that I needed to note. Usually, I like to just listen and allow the Holy Spirit to reach my heart. On this day there was much that I wanted to share with you all. The sermon was deeply stirring. It touched upon Humility, Pride and God’s Glory.

The bold message was about the need for the death of pride. Perhaps this is difficult to hear. This is a message that many are timid to teach. I loved it, we need to soak in it not just now but for every time, every generation. 

In the past weeks, one of the overarching themes has been Unity. I have noticed how many times our lack of unity can be traced to pride. It was remarkable to listen to scripture, Philippians 2:1-11 and how Pastor Tom Holliday gleaned the wisdom. Here are some of the quotes (please excuse if they are not perfect, I was writing while listening):

The Sermon was titled “Finding Unity in The Gospel”

“The challenge is really that if you are Christian, you need to crucify your pride.”

“We will not grow if we will do not suffer. We will not grow if we don’t see our own pride.”

“Get your act together. Get your eye on the ball. Get it off of one another. Lift it off of the sharp edges that wound others. Can we try not to be so pointy? Not to offend and not to be so easily offended. Not fragile.” (Referring to the Philippian church and common problems in today’s churches, all churches)

“Whose Love? Christ’s. All have the same love of Christ in them. Do you know that God has no favorites? He loves the person next to you just as much. ‘In full accord’ means thinking and feeling as one soul. That is how the body of Christ thinks and feels.”

“The Body of Christ vs us. The Body of Christ did not live and die for empty glory. Don’t live and die for empty glory.” (what is empty glory? Pride)

“In Problems of Pride, Augustine considered Pride the root of every sin.”

“Humility is the answer.”

“Some people will try to walk all over a humble person. Shame on that.” (James 2:1-18 “Count it all loss”)

“Jesus left a perfect environment to come to this mess. We know how hard it can be. Sometimes there is no unity in our families, in our communities. We, who are empty of Glory go around seeking to grab Glory anywhere we can. We are fragile. we want to steal. Put the spotlight on Jesus and we will not become Glory Grabbers. Boast in the name of Jesus who humbled himself on the Cross.”

“When you look at how He obeyed, you submit and bow your heart a little bit in a messy relationship, in a messy world. You pray Lord, forgive me, show us Christ who was obedient to the point of death.”

“Help us to know the death of pride, of desire and of will.”

“If you are desiring to be followers of Jesus- will people in your life become uncomfortable with you living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ?”

Phillippians 2:9-11 -Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

“We, who are empty of Glory, go around seeking to grab glory anywhere we can. We are fragile. We want to steal. Put the spotlight on Jesus and we will not become Glory Grabbers. Boast in the Name of Jesus who humbled Himself on the Cross.”

All of the quotes above are from Pastor Tom Holliday

All of the sermons are archived on the website; this one available on 2.25.20 at Alexandria Presbyterian Church Sermon Archives

I am so glad that today, I was able to listen and to scribble some notes all at the same time. It was all such a joy. The death of pride is not an easy journey, but it is in that same glorious mess that Jesus walks with so closely with each of us. We see Him before us and confessing that He is Lord is the way to a joy unspeakable, one that nothing else in this life can compare to.

L.Willows