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
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
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
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
and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
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!
the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!
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
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.
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