Biblical Joy 301: How to Lose Joy, Part 2
Last week we saw how an unwillingness to seek and grant forgiveness leads to joylessness.
This week, here’s another way to lose joy: have a sense of entitlement. Entitlement is putting your rights and your expectations at the forefront of your mind. Entitlement puts what we want ahead of what God wants. It is the idolatry of self.
Let’s examine more closely why entitlement doesn’t work for Christians.
An Attitude of Entitlement Nullifies Jesus’ Blessings
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by explaining what leads to joyful blessing from God: being poor in spirit, mourning, humble, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, pure in heart, being a peacemaker, and experiencing persecution because of righteousness. (5:3-10)
After that, Jesus gives several real life examples of what that looks like. Later in the chapter, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” (5:38-41).
It is impossible to submit to that kind of oppression in the manner Jesus expects while also clinging to your own rights. And it is impossible to be blessed by God without having a humble attitude that gladly seeks to bless oppressive people. Hence, we would cut ourselves off from the joy Jesus promises by fighting for our rights in times when others may oppress us.
An Attitude of Entitlement Brings Strife to the Church
The book of James diagnoses the root cause of strife, “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3)
Passions, desires, wrong motives, pleasures. These are all self-absorbed attitudes dedicated to gaining what you want at the cost of relationships. Now consider all the ways to experience God’s joy that depend on close-knit relationships within the church: singing praise to God, partnering with others who serve Christ, listening to God’s word, caring for children, suffering for Christ, working with other Christians, praying, and trusting God through trials.
All those joyous experiences are either tainted or forfeited when we allow our sense of entitlement to guide us.
Hebrews makes a stark contrast between a harmonious church and a church in conflict. Describing the way to a harmonious church, it says, “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord.” (12:14) This verse echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 5. “Holiness” here is referring to the same “righteousness” that Jesus spoke of. And “peace” here runs parallel to the “peacemaking” action of a Christ-follower.
On the other side, the next verse describes how to make a church miserable, “Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many.” (12:15) There’s no holiness or peacemaking in a person like that. Gracelessness and bitterness replace those two virtues. That bitter person who infiltrates and influences the church in this way sucks everyone into their petty skirmishes.
How to Flee Entitlement
True joy occurs in a church full of people who are humble before God and peaceable toward others. This means that they humbly hold to the standard of holiness laid out by Jesus Christ in the Bible. They hold that as their standard rather than personal ambition
In addition, when Spirit-led people are mistreated, they don’t respond with harsh indignation, but with patience and grace. Such characteristics lay the foundation for joyous harmony among the people of God as they submit to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we honor God’s holy standard and strive for peace in our relationships within God’s family, God’s word promises us an abundance of joy.