Biblical Joy
By Paul Robison

Someone observes, "Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God" (De Chardin quoted in Swindoll).  Someone else puts it this way: "The bottom line for you and me is simply this: grimness is not a Christian virtue.  There are no sad saints.  If God really is the center of one's life ..., joy is inevitable" (Larson in Swindoll).  Lastly, a lady writes in a letter: "It seems to me [that] joy is sadly lacking in the lives of many Christians, when we ought to be the most joyful people on the face of the earth" (quoted in Wirt)!

Let's look at three areas about biblical joy.  First of all, some definitions for joy will be given.  Secondly, some explanations from biblical passages on joy will be shared.  And lastly, some applications of joy will then be made.

Looking at the original Hebrew and Greek words and other definitions provide some interesting considerations.  Someone has calculated that there are 542 references to joy from Genesis to Revelation (Wirt)!  The basic Hebrew word for joy had its root in a term that means "to be bright" or "to shine" (Erickson in PEB).  The Greek word for joy basically means "to rejoice" or "to be merry" (TDNT), but the gladness and jubilation associated with this word are not emotions, as we usually view them (Erickson, PEB).  We usually associate joy as the outgrowth of some spontaneous circumstance of good fortune, but in the New Testament, this is not the case.  If fact, joy is a quality rooted in a relationship, and this means it is not necessarily the product of circumstances.  For example, note what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."  You see, Peter says that there can even be joy in persecution.  Why is that?

Notice, our relationship with Christ is what makes the difference. Just as Christ suffered in His stance against evil, so we can rejoice in our sufferings knowing that we are imitating Him in what  He did.  And when we do this, we know that our faith is genuine, and when He comes again, we won't be ashamed, but we'll be glad with exceeding joy because we know that in our relationship with Him, we'll be on the team that will gain eternal victory!  It's a quality rooted in relationship, a relationship that can change our whole perspective on the circumstances that we might face.

Having looked at these definitions, now let's move on to some interesting things that we find in the Bible on joy.  First of all, let's consider the joy of God.  Often, when we think of attributes of God, we think of things like holiness, power, righteousness, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  But often, we fail to link joy with God.

Why is it that we rarely think of God as being joyful?  Let's consider several passages and see if joy might be added to the attributes of God as well.  First, let's look at Numbers 6:24-26: "The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace."

The Hebrew word for joy came from a term that meant "to shine".  So for God's face to shine upon us means that He looks at us with benevolence or joy (Wenham).  "When God 'hides His face,' He is angry ... So when He lifts up His face, He looks on His people for good" (Ashley).  Now let's look at two passages in Psalms.  The first is 16:11: "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  Don't we see here that David teaches that experiencing the fullness of joy only comes through closeness to God?  The second passage is Psalm 147:11: "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy."  Interestingly, this passage links God's pleasure with our respect for Him and our trust in Him.  Now let's look at two passages from the prophets.  The first is Isaiah 65:18-19: "But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem , and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying."  God is the speaker here, and we see that He is promising to rebuild the capital of the Jews; He describes this as being a joyful occasion for Himself.  A second similar passage is found in Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."  God will save His people and will rejoice greatly over their new situation!  Here are two passages in the New Testament.  The first is Luke 12:32: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."  Jesus is speaking here, and He underscores that God delights in making His new eternal kingdom available to all people.  The second is Luke 15:23: "And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry."  The Greek word for joy meant to be merry.  God rejoices when a sinner repents and comes home.  Now these passages are not teaching that God is Santa Claus or some clown; God's dignity is not diminished in any way.  We see that God's relationship with His people is very close, and based on that relationship, He responds in joy and with pleasure in His dealings with them!

Now let's consider the joy of the Holy Spirit.  Let's notice three passages here.  The first is Romans 14:17: "... for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  One commentator made this interesting observation: "This is, of course, the opposite of what life was like under the old covenant.  Though righteousness, peace, and joy were to be had, there was quite a bit of emphasis given to eating and drinking.

The Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament, but not as an indwelling reality in the life of the believer.  Under the new covenant, it [is] the opposite.  Righteousness, peace, and joy derive not from what one eats or drinks but from whom one is filled with—from the Holy Spirit" (HNTC6).  Joy originating from the Holy Spirit is also underscored in Galatians 5:22, where we discover that it is among the attributes which the Holy Spirit produces: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."  A final passage is 1 Thessalonians 1:6: "And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit. so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe."  As Christians, we are given the gift of joy by the Holy Spirit; there is the joy of knowing that we have been reconciled to God, the joy of knowing that afflictions cannot rob of our identity in Christ, the joy of knowing that we can overcome whatever the world and Satan may throw at us since our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33)!  "Since our source of joy is rooted in [the Spirit], and not in the changing circumstances of life, or in the other things of the world, we have [a] source [for] joy that the world can't really know, and which the world can't [ever] take away" (Bales).

Now let's focus on the joy of Jesus.  If there is a joy of God, and a joy of the Holy Spirit, then we should not be surprised to find a joy of Jesus as well.  Let's notice what the Scriptures reveal.  First of all, Jesus expresses joy.  Before we read Luke 10:21, note the context.

Seventy of Jesus' disciples returned rejoicing that the demons were subject to them, but Jesus says they should be rejoicing because their names a re written in heaven.  Then the text says: "In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes."  Jesus expresses His joy through a prayer!

Jesus exhibits joy when He receives the little children in Mark 10:13ff.  Children are pretty good judges of character, and we see that they were not afraid of Jesus.  He was approachable and was probably smiling.  Mark even adds in verse 16 that Jesus "took them up in His arms."  Doesn't this sound like He was enjoying them?

Jesus prays for joy for His disciples.  Look at John 17:13: "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in them."  Just a little bit earlier, Jesus had told His disciples that He would be taken from them, but their sorrow would be turned to joy (John 16:22). Jesus is praying that the joy of His resurrection will become a reality for His disciples!  This is His unique joy, that nobody else has ever been able to duplicate!  Believers in Jesus can now face death without fear.  This joy is not an emotion, but a quality rooted in relationship, a relationship that can change our whole perspective on the circumstances we might face.Next, Jesus shows joy in some of His teachings.  Having a log in one's own eye while trying to find splinter in another person's eye would have been a humorous illustration to the Jews (Matthew 7:3-5).  Now Jesus was making a serious point, but He does it in a way that teases our imaginations.  His teaching on the blind leading the blind is again both serious and somewhat ridiculous (Matthew 15:14).  Even in His rebukes, He could also inject some humor at times.  Remember how He told the Pharisees in Matthew 23:24: "Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!"  His disciples were probably chuckling about that exaggerated imagery for some time!  The amazing thing is how Jesus does not use His sense humor flippantly or arrogantly, but He knows how to it wisely to drive home His point!

Lastly, Jesus always keeps joy uppermost in His mind.  There's a fascinating passage in Hebrew 12:1-2: "Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Christ had to bear the torture of the cross, with all its physical abuse, mental agonies, social degradation, criminal implications, and psychological humiliations.  But what was it that got Him through all that torture?  Our author affirms that it was "the joy that was set before Him," and what was this joy that motivated Him so highly?  It was the joy that God would bring complete victory through His death—victory over sin, victory over death, victory over Satan and his evil cohorts, victory over all the barriers that separate people, victory in doing God's will by being the perfect sacrifice for all people, and victory in returning to God!

This joy of victory can be ours as well because the same God who rewarded Jesus will reward us for our faithfulness as well.

Let's recap our main points here: Jesus expresses joy, exhibits joy, prays for joy, shows joy in His teachings, and keeps joy uppermost in His mind to overcome the cross!  One author challenges our thinking with these words: "Everywhere Jesus went, joy tagged along.  His joy, merriment, and gladness of spirit made Him irresistible.  He carried an easy burden and operated with a light heart.  It's hard for us to bear that in mind because we are so used to the man-made 'holy' depictions of Him and heavy religious solemnities.... He comes through the Gospel accounts as an attractive, loving personality, so different form the legalistic types He encountered during His ministry.... Ordinary people sensed something leveling, something winsome about the Man and His cheerful demeanor" (Wirt).  Yes, Jesus' joy was a wonderful reflection of God and the Spirit's joy!

Now that Jesus has come, we can find joy in three areas: in His hope, in the new covenant, and in His body, the church.  Our joy as Christians should be much deeper since we have blessings that were not possible under the law.  Let's examine each of these areas briefly.

We can find joy in His hope.  Jesus' hope includes at least three realities.  First of all, Jesus told us quite plainly that we would be persecuted if we truly try to imitate His ways in the world, but because of our relationship with Him, however, such persecution does not have to unnerve us.  In fact, Jesus Himself states it this way in Matthew 5:11-12: "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  Notice something here: "reviled, persecuted, and falsely accused for My sake”--this is a new kind of suffering; it's a personal suffering for Jesus that had never been done before in all history.  Now if Jesus is introducing a new kind of suffering, could He also be introducing a new kind of joy?  You see, this joy is not an emotion, but a quality rooted in our relationship with Jesus.  There's a great security in this joy because Jesus says when we are persecuted for His sake, we are in the right camp, right along with those faithful Old Testament prophets, and we are shooting for the right goal—for great is your reward in heaven—our suffering will be temporary, but our great reward will be eternal!  Jesus' brother, James, tells us in 1:2-3 that this kind of new suffering with its new joy can bring us spiritual maturity: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

Secondly, Jesus' hope includes joy in the reality of eventual resurrection.  Paul says these words in Acts 20:24: "But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."  How could Paul face death with joy?  He knew that He shared in Jesus' victory over death, and as Jesus was resurrected from the grave, he too would be resurrected as well!

Jesus' hope also includes joy in the reality of eternal life!  Our reading gave a glimpse of joy in Revelation 19:6-7: "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters, and as the sound of mighty thunderings [Do you get the idea that this was really a high volume event?], saying, 'Alleluia!  
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready [this wife is the church, and saints in it have been preparing themselves to spend eternity with Jesus].'" Christians will enter into the joy of their Lord where there will be no death, no sorrow, no crying, and no pain!  Christ's good servants will be sharing in a joyful future which their Master has prepared, and that future is not just going to be lying around on clouds playing harps!  Now that's joy in His hope!

Next, we can find joy in the new covenant.  Jesus, the Word of life, preached the good news of a new kingdom and new sheep fold where all peoples could be united and enjoy the promise of eternal life.

The apostle John writes in 1 John 1:3-4: "That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full."

Living under the new covenant can bring full joy!  All our adult classes did a recent study on forgiveness, and we compared the forgiveness under the old covenant with its animal sacrifices, day of atonement, scapegoats, and priests.  Every class, without exception, said that they were so thankful that we live under the new covenant where forgiveness can be experienced in much easier way through our great High Priest, Jesus Christ!

Lastly, we can find joy in the church.  Our studies in Ephesians have shown us that the church was an entirely new fellowship united around Christ.  With this new situation, there are other new things for which we can be joyful.  We can rejoice with the apostle Paul that missionaries are proclaiming the Gospel all over the world (Philippians 1:18).  Those good reports from the members on our missions committee are usually very uplifting!  Obeying Christ's commands can bring joy as well.  Jesus told His disciples that if they would obey God's commands, not only would they abide in His love but also such obedience would make their joy full (John 15:9-11)!  Jesus also told His disciples that praying in His name can now also make their joy full (John 16:24)!  As members in Christ's body, we are involved in sharing both the good and bad in our lives with each other; we weep with those who weep, and we rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15)!  Seeing members grow in faith, hope, and love is especially joyful.  The apostle Paul said that his converts were his joy and crown, and the apostle John said that he had no greater joy than to see his converts continuing to live according to the truth (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3 John 4)

Now let's make just a few brief applications.  Someone made this interesting comparison: "Jesus came and spanned the gulf between God and sin.  The church can proclaim to the world that in Christ our 'God problem' has been solved. .... Thanks to the work on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ticket to heaven is already filled out, [and] the Holy Spirit has it waiting at the airport" (Wirt).  If we will go through the loading ramp of baptism, we can enter the plane, and if we will stay on the plane, love the pilot, and serve the passengers, then we can have a clean flight, a beautiful flight, and a joyful flight as we wing our way to heaven!  Do our lives show that we're enjoying our flight?  Someone once said that they were thinking about becoming a Christian until they visited a worship service because all the members looked like pallbearers and preacher looked like an undertaker (modified Holmes).  How well does this following sober statement fit our congregation: "Joy is the missing ingredient in contemporary Christianity—the problem is our powerless piousness and grim religiosity" (Wirt quoting Ogilvie)?  Is Jesus' flag of joy flying at the castle of your heart (Ragland)?

We have seen that whatever elements of gladness and jubilation that joy may have, the New Testament indicates that joy, at the highest level, is a product of our relationship with Christ, which is lasting and not temporary (Harrison).  "What Jesus actually brought with Him from heaven was something more than a new start for humanity, it was a clear, bubbling, unpolluted delight in God, in His physical creation, in His redemption, in His new spiritual creation—the church, and in His promise of eternal life" (Wirt)!  The Gospel is the greatest news that ever came to the human race, and Jesus has given His church this message of joy!  God's joy, the Spirit joy, and Jesus' joy can strengthen, uplift, and enrich your life!  Jesus' new joy can provide you security in suffering, in death, and in that day when all people will be judged!  As a Christian, you can have joy in Christ's hope, joy in the new covenant's blessings, and joy in the church’s progress!  Someone made this good observation; ''We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink, and sex, and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a [vacation] at the seaside, we are too easily pleased" (C. S. Lewis).

Don't settle for less, Jesus' unique joy can be yours today! Believe that He can make a difference in your life, determine to get out of the sinning business, confess that He is God's Son and you want His joy, and then demonstrate your determination to be His follower by being immersed into His name and living daily according to His teachings!

God will rejoice, the angels will rejoice, and this congregation will rejoice!  Everywhere Jesus goes, joy tags along!  Embrace that joy!