By Paul R. Blake
“Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). This instruction was written by the apostle Paul who was enduring strong trials while being inspired to write the book of Philippians. He suffered oppression from civil government, interference from his countrymen, and jealousy from some of his brethren. How could this sorely tried saint find cause to rejoice under these circumstances? His answer is in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Paul found strength in Christ to be joyful in the most difficult of times, because his joy as a Christian was the product of a right relationship with God. True joy cannot be generated and maintained by the purposes and plans of men.
What is Our Joy?
Joy is the resolutely happy, peace- fully content condition that comes from knowing and serving God. It is the emotional frame of mind that is excited by gaining what is good and by anticipating better things to come. Joy is not directly related to happiness, for happiness is dependent upon circumstances that are subject to change. On the other hand, the Christian’s joy is rooted in things that do not change, such as God’s promise of a home in heaven for the righteous, the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, and our fellowship with God through his word.
In fact, joy can be experienced during affliction, and it can thrive in the hardest of times. Paul told the Corinthians that from one perspective he had cause to be sorrowful, but instead he found himself rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). He further states: “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 7:4). This is easily understood when we remember that our joy is based on a right relationship with God. Can suffering separate the devout from God? On the contrary, suffering draws the disciple closer to the Lord. Can a persecutor force himself in between the faithful and the Lord? Under persecution, children of God are refined and strengthened (1 Pet. 1:3-9). As long as our fellowship with God continues, our joy remains steadfast. Remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord.
” What is the Source of Our Joy?
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the gar ments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10). We have great joy in God because it is through him that we have obtained remission of sins. He made it possible for man to be free from all unrighteousness and its attending consequences. How can one be unhappy who has had all guilt removed? How can one not be joyful who has had the sentence of spiritual death lifted? Paul pronounced a blessing on the Romans by saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing . . .” (Rom. 15:13). God gives us joy through the happy condition of sinlessness. The Father also grants us joy through anticipation of a home in heaven. Jesus, because of the joy to which he looked forward, was able to endure the temporary suffering on the cross just by focusing on the promised reward (Heb. 12:2). Likewise, when we anticipate heaven, we are able joyfully to endure the temporary trials in the present life.
God is also the fountain of our joy in daily living. Through him we have joy in our families (Prov. 5:18), joy in food and things that sustain us (1 Tim. 4:4-5), and joy in our fellowship with other Christians (Phil. 4:1). God, as the giver of all things good, has certainly blessed us with strong cause to be filled with joy.
What is Unique About Our Joy?
First, one’s capacity for joy is increased by sorrow and trials. Jesus told his disciples that the sorrow they felt over his departure will make their joy even greater upon his return (John 16:20-22). Just as thirst can make a cool drink taste more refreshing, so present sorrows can help intensify appreciation for future joy. In the world, grief robs us of joy; in Christ, grief becomes an avenue for joy.
Second, true joy helps the Christian to discover profit and advantage in his sufferings. James instructs us to take joy in trials (Jas. 1:2-4), for trials bring patience, a much needed virtue for Christian living. The Hebrews took joy in the robbing of their property by persecutors because it reminded them of their great possessions in heaven (Heb. 10:34). The apostles joyfully viewed persecution as an affirmation that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). Jesus taught that those who suffer persecution should take joy in the sharing of suffering with himself and the prophets (Matt. 5:11-12). Outside Christ, suffering becomes a cause for anger and despair. Among Christians, burdens are looked upon as welcome opportunities.
Third, joy is shared among Christians. In Luke 15, Je- sus relates three parables designed to teach us to rejoice together, especially when the lost are restored to God’s favor and to our fellowship. In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd calls his neighbors together when he finds the sheep and says “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost” (v. 6). In the account of the lost coin, the woman, upon finding the coin, summons her neighbors saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost” (v. 9). Upon the return of the prodigal son, the father says to the envious older son, “It was right that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (v. 32). Joy begets joy among God’s children (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26); in the world, joy often produces jealousy in the hearts of others.
Lastly, Christian joy is burglar-proof; it cannot be stolen away by anyone or anything. Jesus said in John 16:22 that no man would be able to take away their joy. Grief and suffering do not have the capacity to rob us of joy; no man can steal our joy; no force of nature can diminish our joy. The lost have a joy that is easily taken away; the saved have a joy that cannot be moved. One might ask at this point: “If Christian joy cannot be taken away, then why are some Christians unhappy?” The answer is simple — our own sins diminish our joy. Our sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). Since our joy is based on a right relationship with God, when that relationship is damaged, our joy is dam- aged along with it. When David sinned, he acknowledged that he had to be restored to righteousness before he could find joy again (Ps. 51:8, 12).
Joy is not elusive; it is readily found by those who pursue righteousness. Joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, produced by those who live according to the guidance of the Word. If we walk in fellowship with God, Christian joy will be our companion along the path- way. “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).