Joy… it’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you add almonds, it’s a candy bar. It features prominently in my kids’ current favorite Bible class song (and, by the way, if the Devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack). We talk about joy a lot, actually, but is it a fruit we have in abundance? Does it sweeten our lives like a candy bar? Does it feature prominently in our day-to-day life?
God’s word has a lot to say about joy. In the New American Standard version of the New Testament, we find joy and rejoice 135 times. It’s something many had at the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:10). The world had it at His death and the disciples had it over His resurrection and ascension (John 16:20, Luke 24:41). Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached, even from hearts whose motivations weren’t what he’d have liked (Philippians 1:18). Paul, Luke, Peter and James all agree that even in suffering, the Christian can have joy (Acts 5:41, Colossians 1:24, James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:13). The faith of another can cause rejoicing, even among the angels of Heaven (Luke 15:7,10). Joy is at the very essence of what it means to be in the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). Eternal life is referred to as joy (Matthew 25:21, 23). Joy is even commanded of God’s people (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It’s a topic worth examining further.
Romans 14:17 describes the kingdom of God as “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Joy is the very stuff the kingdom is about! In Romans 15:13, Paul offers up this prayer: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Joy is part of what enables us to hope, and not only to hope, but to overflow with hope. Have you met someone who oozes joy and hope? They never seem to stop smiling. Nothing the world throws at them seems to phase them even a little. They don’t have to find the bright side; they live there. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and when we’re living in accordance with the Spirit, with God’s word, joy is the result. It’s something that characterizes the Christian’s life… or ought to.
Sometimes overflowing with joy seems a struggle. We’re pressed on all sides and facing troubled days. Whether it’s money problems or family problems, or even persecution, joy is still attainable. James even commands joy in our trials (James 1:2). He says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” The way this is phrased is not only a command, but it also gives us a clue as to how to carry out this command. “Consider” is a word also translated “guide” or “govern” in other contexts. The parallel is that we can guide or govern our thoughts into seeing our trials as a joy. How could they be a joy? James goes on to explain that trials test our faith and a tested faith yields endurance. Endurance leads to a complete, whole person who is lacking in nothing (James 1:3, 4). Sometimes what makes rejoicing during trial difficult is the feeling of being alone in our trials, but we are not. Paul rejoiced through his sufferings (Colossians 1:24). Peter reminds us that our sufferings make us participants with Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). The apostles suffered and went on their way rejoicing because of it (Acts 5:41). After prominent people in Psidian Antioch stirred up such a persecution that Paul and Barnabas left the city, we see this description, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Joy under fire isn’t an impossibility… it is a choice to guide and govern our minds into the attitude which is to characterize a Christian.
At least six times in the New Testament we are commanded to rejoice. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 simply says, “Rejoice always.” In Philippians, the command is given four distinct times (Philippians 2:18, 3:1, 4:4). There is no mistaking that God expects to see joy among His people… even when times are hard.
Joy is not just a nice bonus that we might get on some good days when we live as Christians. It is one of the reasons Christ came to earth (John 15:11). It is given by God (Romans 15:13) and produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It should be in our lives if for no other reason than it was commanded (1 Thessalonians 5:16). We can have joy even when the circumstances around us aren’t what we would like, or what would make joy easy; it is simply (though not necessarily easily) a matter of guiding our minds to see the joy in the situation… even if all we can do is focus on entering into the joy of our master (Matthew 25:21).
As we have looked at joy and rejoicing briefly in the New Testament, let us consider these truths from God’s word and determine to make joy a feature of our lives. Let it sweeten your days as a candy bar sweetens the mouth. Let it abound and become contagious.