A Beloved Phrase
But all that does not quite get at the ethos—the feel, the spirit, the mood, the tone—of Christian Hedonism. The biblical phrase I have used more than any other to capture this tone is taken from 2 Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” But seldom do I comment on it exegetically or give illustrations. I want to do both briefly.
In 2 Corinthians 6:3–10, Paul is illustrating how he puts no stumbling block in anyone’s way by his lifestyle (v. 3); rather, he commends himself as authentic in every way he can—with thirty kinds of experience.
Among these thirty is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” It occurs among several similar pairs: “as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as disciplined, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:8–10).
What Is True of Paul
I was once asked why I treat “sorrowful” as something true of Paul when others in this list contain something false which is then corrected (for example, “as deceivers, and yet true”). Maybe Paul means he is viewed as “sorrowful” but really is not; rather, he is always rejoicing.
The reason I don’t think that’s what Paul means is that Paul shifts from pairs that contrast false and true (such as “deceivers, yet true”), to pairs that are both true (such as “poor, yet making many rich”).
In Paul’s way of thinking, “unknown,” “dying,” “disciplined,” “sorrowful,” “poor,” and “having nothing” are all true of him. So at the beginning of verse 9, he shifts from false claims corrected by true ones and begins to list pairs that are both true but form a bit of paradox: unknown/known, dying/alive, disciplined/not killed, sorrowful/joyful, poor/enriching.
So yes, Paul thinks of himself truly as “sorrowful.” This is no surprise in view of Romans 9:2–3: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart . . . for my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Unceasing sorrow and anguish. Amazing.
If this was true of the great Apostle of joy, how much more is it true for us? Surely, our lives will be marked by continual sorrows (and joy) as well. If they are not, it may be that we don’t love lost people the way Paul did.