December 27, 2018 • Life for Leaders
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
The third stanza of Isaac Watts’s beloved hymn, “Joy to the World,” reads, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.” This verse, unlike the other three, is the least like what we find in Psalm 98, the psalm that provided the theological basis for “Joy to the World.” Given that this hymn was Watts’s singable, Christian version of Psalm 98, we may wonder where he got verse 3.
The answer points, first of all, to Genesis 3. There we find sin and sorrows, thorns infesting the ground, and the curse of both ground and the serpent. The man and woman would live in a world broken by the curse of sin. Because of sin and its curse, their work, whether giving birth or farming, would be painful and difficult. Clearly, Watts had Genesis 3 in mind while writing the third verse of his hymn.
But where does Watts get the idea that the Lord’s blessings would flow in such a way that sorrows would shrink and thorns disappear? Again, we need to look back to Genesis, this time to Genesis 1. There, after God created humanity as male and female, we read, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” God blessed the first humans, in part, by giving them work to do. Sin made their work painful and frustrating. But God does not leave humanity in this sad state, saddled by the curse. Rather, Christ brings the fullness of God’s salvation, forgiving human sin and restoring broken creation. Thus, the salvation of Christ leads to a new flow of God’s blessing “far as the curse is found.” The ground will no longer be cursed, making human work fall short of the blessing God intended it to be. The blessings of Christ’s salvation will indeed flow so as to restore the original blessing of human work.
Though we continue to live in a world tainted by sin, a world of sorrows and thorns, in Christ we begin to experience the life of the future. Yes, our work will still be painful and frustrating. But, through Christ’s grace, we will at times sense that our work is a blessing, a chance for us to partner with God in the good work of tending his creation. Thus, we will join creation in celebrating the coming of our redeeming, restoring Savior.
Something to Think About:
In what ways do you experience the “thorns” that plague human work because of sin?
Are there times when you experience work as a blessing?
In what ways have the blessings of Christ flowed into your life?
Something to Do:
Find a copy of “Joy to the World,” all four stanzas. Then, compare this Christmas hymn to the words of Psalm 98. See what you discover through this comparative exercise.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Christmas Reflection: Good News!
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.