We all struggle with discouragement as Christians. We wonder, “Why I am I not more joyful?” One of the ways joy grows in our lives is through the practice of evangelism. Many people I know say that if they are discouraged, one helpful diagnostic question they ask themselves is “when was the last time I spoke to a person who does not yet believe in Christ about the kingdom of God?” The Lord delights to multiply our joy by calling us into the harvest fields with him. He just does.
The seventy-two that Jesus sent out in Luke 10 experienced this increase in joy first-hand. Their circumstances and calling were not identical to ours, but our gladness will grow similarly as we serve as Jesus’ witnesses in our own settings. Why does joy grow when we proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to those yet apart from Christ?
- Joy increases through evangelism because we see the power of God at work. Luke 10:17 records “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Jesus said of what he had seen while they were on their mission “I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven.” When we shine as lights and tell others that the kingdom of God has come, the darkness is pushed back. The work is difficult and requires courage that only God can give, but Christians always experience joy when they faithfully testify for Jesus. David did not slay Goliath by sitting back with the bread and cheese. The joy of victory comes where the battle is fought. The front lines are all around us. Those who engage in ministry have the joy of seeing Jesus work in the lives of individuals and communities.
- Joy increases through evangelism because we are reminded of God’s grace to us personally. Jesus was glad for their labor and success, but quickly warned the seventy-two “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Joy grows through ministry, but our labor and engagement is not the source of it. When we tell others about the grace of God, we first remember that the Lord has been gracious to us and rejoice in his saving love. Charles Spurgeon has famously said “Christ did not love you for your good works. They were not the cause of His beginning to love you. So, He does not love you for your good works even now. They are not the cause of his continuing to love you. He loves you because he loves you.” Our joy comes not from our work but from the God who has loved us.
- Joy increases through evangelism because we see the fellowship of the triune God. After this exchange with the seventy-two, Luke writes “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will’” (Luke 10:21). These seventy-two saw him rejoice (the word for ‘rejoiced’ in Greek in verse 21 is a stronger word for ‘joy’ than the words used in the preceding verses) in the Holy Spirit and praise his Father in heaven. Jesus’ joy made a profound impression on the disciples. Those who make known the glory of God’s salvation taste and see something more of the perfect fellowship of the triune God. This is a higher joy than knowing that we have been saved from our sins. How does this happen in our day? One friend of mine was converted to Christ. Though he was young in his faith, he began to talk to people about Jesus. Before long, he was in discussions with anti-Trinitarian Oneness Pentecostals. His debates with them drove him back to hours of study in the Scriptures, to books that articulated the doctrine of God, to sermons on the nature of God, and to prayerful fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, when I think of people who really delight in the Trinity, I think of this particular friend first. Faithful evangelism will always lead us on a path to greater fullness of joy in union with God. Jesus’ disciples saw something new about their Savior’s relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit as they proclaimed his greatness. One can imagine them relaying this event with joy to Luke years later as he gathered testimony to write this gospel. They would never forget how their joy increased through laboring in his name. And we will never forget our joy increasing as we labor in his name too.