By Mike Willis
In a somewhat joking manner one of the members spoke disparagingly of another member of the same congregation; he said, “If she smiled, her face would crack.” Though it has been some years since I have been in the congregation in which the member worships, I cannot help but confess that I was somewhat in agreement with the man’s assessment of the good sister. How frequently have I thought that some people’s outlook on life is so sour and bitter that I felt that they must have been weaned by sucking a lemon.
Yet, in contrast with this disposition, I am reminded that the Christian is to add joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Furthermore, Paul commanded, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1). Again, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Joy ought to characterize our general outlook on life as we think, not of what this world is coming to, but of who has come into this world.
Yes, brethren, we should think of the disposition which characterized Jesus. There are many intimations in the gospels that, in spite of the profound elements of grief and tragedy in His life, His habitual demeanor was gladsome and joyous. He was certainly no ascetic as His cousin John was; whereas John came as an ascetic, Jesus came eating and drinking (Mt. 11:19). He enjoyed such happy occasions as a wedding feast (Jn. 2) or eating a meal in a friend’s house (Mk. 14:3). He instructed His, disciples to give the appearance of joy even when they were fasting (Mt. 6:16-18). No, Jesus was no man with a bitter disposition and pessimistic outlook on life; He was a man of joy.
God has commanded that we who are Christians manifest this same kind of joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. If the expressions on the faces of some Christians is any barometer, there are some barren branches, some who are not bearing fruit, among us in abundance. Too many attending the worship services appear to be unhappy; they are not filled with the joy. Hence, we need to understand how one is to be happy in this life in order that he might be filled with the fruit of the Spirit known as joy.
Joy And External Circumstances
One of the things which we need to understand is that joy does not depend upon one’s outward circumstances in life. Indeed, some of the happiest Christians I know have so few of this world’s goods that one would expect them to be bitter about life. On the other hand, some of those who have so many of this world’s goods are the most unhappy. From observation, I can see that joy is not dependent upon outward circumstances for it to exist.
The circumstances which happen in life can produce joy. The women who left the tomb of Jesus were in great joy when they were told that He was risen from the dead (Mt. 28:8). The saints in Antioch rejoiced at the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 15:3). Both sorrow and depression can result from the circumstances which happen in life (cf. Acts 12:1-14). Yet, I see from the Scriptures that men were happy in spite of the terrible circumstances which they faced in life. The apostles rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for Jesus (Acts 5:41); the Hebrew Christians took joyfully the spoiling of their possessions (10:34). Here, the circumstances which should have caused tremendous sorrow resulted in happy saints. Thus, the outward circumstances in life did not cause joy to be absent.
The man who is filled with the Spirit will face situations in his life which cause him genuine sorrow. The difference, however, in his character and in that of the man without the fruit of the Spirit known as joy is that he will get over the tragedy without letting it ruin his outlook on life. When tragedy strikes, he will pick up the pieces and rebuild his life. He will not let a tragedy embitter him. He will not allow it to destroy his faith. Rather, he will look on Jesus as the perfect reminder of God’s genuine love for him and move toward recovery.
Sources of Joy
One of the reasons that so many have so little joy is that they have learned to derive their joy from the wrong sources. A man builds all of his joy from advancement in a company, in his job. Then, when he does not receive some promotion that he anticipated, he becomes bitter and resentful in life. Someone else derives his happiness from material possessions. Then when circumstances occur that he does not have the money to continue to add to his material possessions, his source of joy is gone and unhappiness reigns in his life. We could illustrate this point from several other instances but this should suffice to show that one’s source of joy is tremendously important insofar as one’s total happiness in life is concerned.
This is the reason that Paul said, “Rejoice . . . in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1). The other things in which people get their joy in life will fail a person; the Lord will never fail a man. We must learn that in God’s “presence is fulness of joy” (Psa. 16:11); “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Psa. 4:7). Here are some sources of joy which we get through the Lord:
(1) Salvation. “And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation” (Psa. 35:9). Even as the angels of heaven rejoice over the salvation of one of the lost lambs, so also we should rejoice both in our own salvation and in that of others.
(2) The word of the Lord. In describing the blessed man of Psalm 1, David said, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (1:2). “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: . . . More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psa. 19:8, 10). In the parable of the sower, one of the men “received the word with joy” (Lk. 8:13); the preaching of Philip brought joy to Samaria (Acts 8:4-8); the eunuch went on his way rejoicing, having obeyed the gospel (Acts 8:39). The Thessalonians received the word with joy even in the midst of persecution (1 Thess. 1:6).
(3) The obedience of others. John said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 4). Paul described the faithful brethren in Thessalonica as his joy and crown (1 Thess. 2:19, 20). Watching one whom we have helped to convert grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ should be a source of joy in the Lord.
(4) The fellowship of others. Paul rejoiced at the coming and presence of those who were faithful Christians (Phil. 4:10; 1 Thess. 3:6,7; Phile. 7). Hence, another source of joy should be our companionship with other saints. We should find happiness in being in their presence.
When our happiness comes from the proper source, we will not be let down. Jesus described the joy which He would give to His disciples as being different from any other joy because His joy would be one that “no man taketh from you” (Jn. 16:22). Whereas the joy which the pleasures of earth give are fleeting and temporary (Heb. 11:25), the joy which is in the Lord is permanent (Jn. 16:22). This is the reason that you can find many an aged saint with so little of this world’s goods abounding in joy and happiness. He has trusted in the Lord and the Lord will not fail him.
Joy Amidst Persecutions
James commanded, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4). Recognizing that the successful enduring of a temptation produced joy. James instructed Christians to rejoice when such temptations came upon them. This is the reason that the Apostles’ rejoiced when they had suffered for the Lord (Acts 5:41). Even Jesus viewed the tribulations which He endured in this manner. The writer of Hebrews said, “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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus looked beyond the temptation to the approval of God which would come to Him when He endured that temptation. We need to learn to look beyond the particular problem which we face to view the approval of God which comes upon successfully enduring and overcoming the problem and rejoice in the temptation.
Are you unhappy in this life? If so, you might need to look at the sources of joy which are in your life. If you find that you are depending upon material things to produce happiness for you, you are probably a most miserable person. The material things which one has in this life can only bring a temporary happiness; soon even that is gone and you are more miserable than before. The only real place of joy is in the Lord. Will you turn to the Lord for salvation, depend upon His holy word, obey Him today, and enjoy the fellowship of the rest of His saints? By so doing, you will find the lasting, permanent joy which Jesus promised to give His disciples (Jn. 16:22). You, too, can be happy in this life.
Truth Magazine XXII: 25, pp. 403-404
June 22, 1978