“Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name’… ‘Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17, 20)
Why did the Lord reprehend their joy? Is it wrong to be joyful? Is it wrong when we are victorious over sin and Satan’s power? Should we not rejoice when the Lord empowers us to help others also escape the enemy’s power? Yes, we should rejoice! In Acts 8:5 and 8, we read about the efforts of Philip in a similar situation as the seventy, when the unclean spirits departed from the possessed. Many disabled and lame were also healed, and a huge sense of joy filled the town. We read of the same joy in Acts 15:3 when Paul and Barnabas gave account of the heathen conversions in various churches. It caused joy among all the brethren.
Isn’t the gospel a joyful message for the messenger and for the ones who genuinely accept the message? Even the enemies noticed and marveled at the joy that filled Paul and John. So why did Jesus rebuke the seventy, telling them not to rejoice that the spirits were subject to them? Was the Lord not pleased with the success of the seventy? Yes, He was happy that very hour (Luke 10:21-22) because His life’s mission had begun to reap visible fruit. He obtained coworkers, and His prayers had begun to be answered: first twelve, then seventy. Satan’s power and reign crumbled, and he was thrust out of men’s hearts. The powerful evil one had to flee from the Almighty One. Yes, that was reason to rejoice and thank God!
Why, then, was He not pleased with the joy of the seventy? Perhaps the One that sees the heart and all things noticed some selfish pride in their joy. Sadly, He often took notice of that very thing in the twelve disciples. They said: “The demons are subject to us in your name!” And Jesus answered them: “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you.” Next to the Lord Jesus and His name, they seemed to “see themselves,” namely their own persons. Their joy would have been pure if they only had given God the glory. But since they regarded their own deeds, the Lord criticized them. There was a certain amount of danger that their selfish joy would likely turn into pride. The good Shepherd, who cared so deeply about them, warned them for this reason and said: “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you.” It was the unsanctified condition of their hearts before Pentecost, which is also prevalent in our day and age. The eye of the Lord finds this tendency, too, today in many who are born-again, not only in self-serving joy, but in other things as well. The Lord reminded His disciples of these self-serving tendencies time and time again and taught them pure and complete love by His own perfect example and word. He saw their deficiency in this and prayed for their sanctification, as noted in John 17:20. He still prays this for you and for me. The Lord also gave His life so that all born-again believers would be sanctified in truth. Truth will not only set us free from our committed sins but also from this depraved, self-seeking tendency. Only then can we experience a full and pure joy in the midst of great blessings and give God the glory alone. That is what the Lord meant when He said that we should rejoice because our names are written in heaven. He wanted to direct the attention of those seventy from their “self” to the grace of God.
After the disciples experienced sanctification on the day of Pentecost, we read wonderful accounts of their success in their work for the Lord. Great rejoicing was not only in their hearts but also noticeable in their faces and they gave God all the glory from the bottom of their hearts. Their joy was pure. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul gives account of his achievements in the ministry. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
And now I ask you, dear brother and sister: If you are successful (as the seventy were) in your work for the Lord, in your sermons, in answered prayers, divine healing, expulsion of evil spirits, at the conversion of sinners, as well as you as a choir director, singer, musician, Sunday School teacher, etc. – is your joy pure? Is anything that is self-seeking still within? When God blesses you materially, what kind of feelings do you harbor? The nature of your joy can help you determine how you stand before God. Have you not experienced sanctification yet, and do you notice any selfishness in your joy? The Lord will caution you to prevent evil fruit from prospering. And He will say to you: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this…but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” In other words, give God the glory in all of your success! Fervently seek the experience of sanctification!
Do sanctified people never have temptations to entertain self-seeking motives? Yes, of course! We are human beings and as such will always have to deal with “self.” The Lord was also tempted in this area. Before His spiritual work began, the enemy tried to defile the Lord by tempting Him to act according to human and selfish desires. He was asked to perform miracles for self-seeking reasons. However, He recognized the devil and the danger He was in and resisted him. He waited for God’s timing and then performed great miracles according to God’s assignment. He also did them out of the purest motives, namely in God’s love.
Paul received a thorn in his flesh, lest he slipped into false joy. This kept him humble. We must continue to pray that our own joy might not mix with impure thoughts and that we may always have the joy of the Lord in our hearts. Our greatest joy should be that our names are written in heaven.