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Tongues, Fringe Believers, and True Joy


Many years ago, my wife and I visited another Christian couple for some fellowship. As often happens at such times, discussions about the Lord and His Word emerged. Good Christian fellowship is always sweet, and this occasion was no different. As we continued talking, we made our way to a very cordial discussion on the gift of tongues and at that point I sensed a bit of despair from my Charismatic friend. Remember, this was no debate, but rather, a conversation filled with the kind of heart-wrenching testimony much more inherent to the modern tongues movement than some would admit. My friend’s testimony, in fact, revealed a sincere but deep soulish agony generated by the supposed divine denial of the very experience his Church considered supreme. There was a self-inflicted guilt spawned by a supposed lack of the Spirit's "baptism" with the evidence of speaking in some "unknown" tongue. Sadly, I had found another defeated child of God who considered himself a fringe believer, one who felt deprived of something that God allegedly promised all believers. Understandably, then, there was a deep and sad absence of joy.


Fact is, vast numbers of sincere Christians struggle with these same feelings of deprivation. The "have-nots” continually sit on the experiential sidelines of their Church services only to depart without what their peers believe to be the "ultimate" experience. The New Testament, however, gives a distinct two-part formula for joy and the slightest investigation reveals that neither depends on a particular spiritual gift. Let’s begin with Jesus where He links the believer’s joy to our attachment to and continued fellowship with Him (John 15). It is in that context that Christ told His disciples that He was the vine and they the “branches” and that even His purpose for telling them this was that their “joy might be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy, then, is the fruit of continued fellowship with Christ and this fellowship with Him is accomplished by “abiding” in His word (John 15:7).


Take the Apostle John's first letter as another prime example. After emphasizing the disciples' first-hand knowledge of Christ's life and ministry, he revealed his primary intent for writing his Epistle in the first place. "And these things, write we unto you," he said, "that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4). Don't miss the point here. John doesn’t boast of the Apostolic privilege that he and the others knew in walking with Christ in the flesh or bemoan an opportunity missed by those who missed out on that experience. He didn’t point to fellowship with God in Christ as a thing of the past, but rather pointed to the written Word as the believer’s foundational source of joy right then and there. It is therein, said John, that we know both God and His will. It is the source of our growing knowledge of Christ and His work on our behalf as our sin bearer, our Great High Priest, and our soon coming Lord. Joy, then, flows from a growing knowledge of Christ gained through the written Word rather than the possession or use of any particular gift, including the gift of tongues.


The second part of the formula for joy involves the Holy Spirit. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus warns His disciples that the world’s hatred of Him would flow in their direction after He was gone, hence, He gave them the promise of the coming “Comforter” (John 15:26). While it was true that the world’s hatred would be redirected toward the disciples of Jesus after His ascension, He reminded the twelve that the Comforter, also known as the “Spirit of Truth,” would be “in” them, sustain them, and enable them to continue as His witnesses (John15:26-27).


Of course, we must also consider Paul’s input on the matter and he does not disappoint. Writing to the Galatians about their legalism, he finally gets to the point where he contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit. “This I say then,” said Paul, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Of course, he did not stop there, but proceeded to list the “works of the flesh” which included everything from “adultery” to “heresies.” From there he jumped to what he called the “fruit of the Spirit” where he listed those qualities intrinsic to those who “walk" in Him. This fruit included, among other qualities, is “joy,” and while it is generated by the Spirit, it has nothing to do with either the possession or practice of any particular gift. Hence, full joy is Word based, not gift based.


So, the two-part prescription for Christian joy is the Word of truth and the indwelling Holy Spirit just as Paul mentions again in Thessalonians. “And ye become followers of us, and of the Lord,” he said, “having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Joy, then, is not subject to either the possession or expression of some spiritual gift, but dependent upon one’s relation to the vine, which is Christ, and obedience to His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit whom every believer possesses. Joy, then, emerges via the Word of Christ and the indwelling Spirit per the promise of Jesus with any other supposed path being an exercise in futility.


Tony


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