Many years ago I was involved in helping to plant a church in an impoverished and marginalized area of a large Central American city. This particular barrio was known for its destitution, rampant violence, blatantly open drug-dealing, and wide-spread prostitution. In the midst of such a bleak and depressing environment, the little church being planted was regarded by the community as a beacon of hope. That hope was most clearly seen in the abounding joy of the Christians whose hearts were hopeful in spite of the desperate circumstances. Truly joy is a wonderful gift which is able to flood even the darkest of environs.
Paul assigns joy the second place in his list of the “Fruit of the Spirit” as described in Galatians 5:22, directly following love. He does this for good reason. Anyone who knows the love of God, the gladness of heart of knowing one’s sins are forgiven, and the surety of heaven and Christ forevermore cannot fail to express a joy that is otherwise incomprehensible.
The dictionary defines joy as “delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation.” Interestingly, the Greek word for joy is chara which also forms the root of the Greek word charis, meaning “grace.” This provides us with a key to understanding the biblical concept of joy, that is, to recognize that it is indeed a manifestation of God’s grace. Joy is rooted in God’s love and grace and comes from Him. Joy is God’s gift to the Christian.
Because joy is from God and because it is a result of recognizing that no matter what happens, our ultimate and assured end is to be with Christ forevermore, joy is a virtue that is enduring. It does not, like happiness, rely on positive circumstances or advantageous situations. Certainly, the Christian will experience sadness at times (as did even our Lord) but beneath the emotional pain of the moment is the sure knowledge that one is loved by God and will be with Him forevermore.
Joy is able to change discouragement to hope, to transform despondency to enthusiasm, and to bring renewed strength out of despair. In fact, the greatest of all trials of human endurance was overcome through joy.
On their second missionary journey, Paul and Silas were traveling through the Macedonian city of Philippi when they were apprehended by the civil authorities, beaten “with many stripes,” and summarily incarcerated. Certainly, these two missionaries had just cause for bitterness from a human perspective. After all, they had labored hard for the Lord and had endured many difficulties and trials. Nevertheless, as the hours slowly passed in their dark cell, Paul and Silas were found, not complaining or engaging in self-pity, but rather praying and giving praise to God in joyful hymns. These two men knew the reality of true joy.
Years later, Paul was again in jail, this time in Rome. From such a bleak place Paul wrote an epistle to the church located in the city of his former imprisonment. In his epistle Paul emphasized to the Philippian Christians their need for the same grace that had unfailingly carried him through so many difficult experiences—joy.
With joy filling his own spirit, he wrote the following words:
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Philippians 3:1
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4
In his Philippian epistle, Paul informs the Christians of the “blessings” of his Roman confinement—i.e. that he had been able to preach Christ both among his fellow prisoners as well as among the guards. He concludes his hopeful discourse by saying, “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17).
Paul was echoing a truth that had been preached many centuries earlier by a Jewish leader at the time of the dedication of the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. After seventy years of exile a tiny remnant of Jews had returned to their homeland and were now standing attentively as Ezra the scribe read to them from the Bible. The people were sorrowful and discouraged. But then Nehemiah the governor raised his voice in exultation and shouted, “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Joy is able to change discouragement to hope, to transform despondency to enthusiasm, and to bring renewed strength out of despair. In fact, the greatest of all trials of human endurance was overcome through joy. The Bible tells us:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus endured the Cross of Calvary for the joy set before Him. That joy consists of having His children with Him forevermore because of the redemption and justification to be found in His blood. The joy that comes through the cross is ours too.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Happiness is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.”
As Christians we have, indeed, a very precious gift. It is worth vastly more than the pleasures of the world. It is simple, enduring, and energizing. It is called joy.
Jim Haesemeyer – Renew in Knowledge Core Team Member
Jim Haesemeyer is an elder at FreeWay Bible Chapel at Lubbock, Texas. Jim has served on the mission field in Honduras for nearly thirty years.