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As Christians we have often read the verses: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) and: “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Have you ever wondered what these verses are saying? In the midst of the sorrows, struggles and the unpredictability of life, is it possible to have a joy that is constant, a joy that exists because God has commanded us to have it? Let us look a little closer to understand what this joy means and what the Word of God teaches us about joy.
In Galatians, Paul wrote to a church that was in danger of giving in to the false teachings of the Judaizers. They were so persuasive that many in the church were giving in to their narrative. Paul, warning them of the futility of following the law, wrote explaining that justification was by faith alone and that the freedom in the Holy Spirit was given not because of them following the law but because of what Christ had done. Those who followed after the flesh – even though they follow the law, Paul tells us, are characterized by vices, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:9-21 ESV).
Paul then went on to contrast those who lived by the flesh to those who lived by the Spirit. He uses the word fruit to describe the virtues of a believer in Christ who lives not by the sinful nature but by the new nature that is given when we believe in Christ. Such a believer is filled and controlled by God’s Spirit and in them is found this fruit. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). So, these nine aspects of fruit that Paul mentions are what a believer’s life consists of in Christ. It cannot come from any self-effort, or from the world, the fruit comes from the Spirit of God who indwells us from the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Saviour.
We will be focusing on the second fruit that is mentioned – Joy. So often we confuse joy and happiness. Happiness is always circumstantial; just think of any cricket match where India has either won or lost the game! When circumstances are ideal; we are happy and when things go bad, our happiness vanishes like a mist. But joy, as mentioned in the Word of God, is more than happiness! It does not depend on us, our current emotional state, financial struggles, or other problems. This is joy that the Lord gives and produces.
Let us look at Christ himself. His life was not an easy one. In the three and a half years of his earthly life and ministry, he did not have many possessions or a place to rest, he was constantly being opposed, threatened, questioned, accused, or mocked. People wanted only his miracles and healing but did not want to follow him. He came to his own, the writer John tells us, but they rejected him. Yet in the midst of this, he lived a life of joy. No one in the history of the world has had to face sorrow like Jesus and yet he could tell his disciples that his joy would be theirs. And he promised this joy to his disciples. In John 15:11 he tells them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Spoken in the context of bearing fruit by abiding in Christ, Jesus tells them that the world is going to hate them because it hated Christ first. One thing that stands out is that Jesus found his joy in the Father's love and obedience to his will; that is what he desired for his disciples as well. If our joy is based on what the Lord Jesus constantly had and also desired for all those who are his, then our joy too will be like his. Even in the face of the cross, we are told in Hebrews 12:2 that in the running of the race of faith, we must be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Can you imagine the import of this verse? Jesus went to face the worst death, absolute shame, and loss of fellowship with his father with joy! Why and how can this be? Jesus was focused on doing the Father’s will, loving sinners like us, and knowing that his death on the cross will atone for the sins of the world and that he would rise again and be seated at the right hand of the Father! Jesus is our model of joy. His joy did not hinge on emotions or experience; it rested on his relationship with his father. Our joy too must rest on God otherwise it cannot be called joy at all.
How do we translate that into our daily living when we face trials, temptations, sorrow, death, and pain? We must, firstly, rest our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust his sovereignty over all areas of our lives. It takes faith to believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. Next, when we trust in God’s will for our lives, we will learn over time that even the most bitter experiences are allowed by God for His glory and for our good. Does this make it easy? Not at all! But it helps our joy to be constant when things around us are always changing – sometimes pleasant, and other times painful.
To a believer whose faith is resting on Christ, we will look back at all things that we have gone through and recognize that God’s hand has pruned us to be more fruitful. And that will only make our joy more precious.