The Christian's joy is not based on physical circumstances or human relationships. We can rejoice even as we suffer in these physical ways. Our joy is based on spiritual circumstances: forgiveness of sins, our fellowship with God, and the blessings of serving Him and the hope of eternal life.
Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.
One of the blessings of being a Christian is an inner joy associated with our faith and hope. Yet all of us experience times of sorrow, discouragement, and grief. Do our times of sadness mean we are missing the joy we should have?
The purpose of this study is to consider what the Bible says about joy.
What is this joy like? How can we have it? Does joy mean we should always experience an emotional high and never feel sad or troubled?
True Joy Does Not Eliminate Sorrow and Heartache.
Some people criticize Christians if they think our outward expressions of joy do not measure up to their preconceived expectations. Denominational teaching often leaves the impression that true Christians should always smile, skipping through life humming happy tunes like butterflies in the sunshine. Nothing should ever bother us. To achieve this view, some denominations deliberately design their worship to artificially drum up excitement.
Scriptures Showing that Christians Do Suffer and Grieve
1 Corinthians 12:26 – If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 – There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Christians experience both sorrow and rejoicing. Our joy does not eliminate sorrow and grief.
Acts 20:18-25,37,38 – Paul served God with tears and trials caused by persecution (verse 19). He knew chains and tribulations were ahead, yet he was willing even to give his life for God’s work (verses 22-24). When he told the elders they would not see him again, they wept and sorrowed (verses 25,37,38).
Persecution was a common theme of Paul’s life (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He was in prison when he wrote that Christians should rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). Surely Paul, of all people, would never teach that Christians have no problems and never grieve.
John 11:33-35 – When Lazarus died, Jesus Himself groaned in spirit, was troubled, and wept.
Matthew 26:37-39 – In the Garden on the night before His death, Jesus was deeply distressed, exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. His agony was such that He sweat like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
So even the Son of God and His own apostles endured grief, tears, sorrow, and distress. Did this mean they were somehow unfaithful to God? Were they somehow missing the joy they should have had in serving God?
Sometimes we sorrow unnecessarily.
People often endure heartaches as a result of their own sinful choices. So when Christians are depressed, we need to seriously consider whether or not we are suffering for our sins.
It is also true that Christians sometimes worry and become anxious more than we should. If we would trust the Lord more, we may have less trouble and less heartache.
Nevertheless, even faithful Christians sorrow at times.
Christians live in a world cursed by the consequences of sin. Sometimes we grieve, not because we have sinned or lack a good relationship with God, but simply because heartache and suffering are the common lot of all mankind.
So, the fact a Christian has sorrow and trouble does not necessarily mean he has sinned, that his doctrinal beliefs are wrong, or that he should feel guilty. Denominations are mistaken when they believe Christians should always experience an emotional high, so they are mistaken when they attempt to artificially drum up excitement in their worship.
Christian joy is not an artificial mood.
It does not mean we must always be on “cloud 9,” blissfully unaffected by the pain and suffering that surrounds us. Life is often tragic, and Christians are not immune.
On the one hand, I suspect that most of us allow the problems of life to be a bigger burden than they need to be. I know at times I fail to put my burdens in God’s hands and trust Him to care for me. Nevertheless, Bible teaching – including the example of Jesus Himself – shows that God’s people do not always experience a continual emotional high and a life free from problems.
(Amos 6:6; 1 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 12:7-10)
True Joy Does Not Depend on Physical Circumstances/Treatment.
Sometimes people think, if God wants us to have joy, He should solve our problems. How can we rejoice when we are suffering?
Passages Showing that People Had Joy Even as They Suffered.
Matthew 5:10-12 – Even when people persecute and speak against us, we can be blessed, rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. This does not mean the suffering does not hurt. Jesus and Paul both grieved in their suffering. The basis of our joy is the knowledge that we are pleasing to God and will be rewarded eternally. (Luke 6:22,23)
Acts 5:40-42 – The apostles were beaten and commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name. Yet they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Did they not feel the beatings? Yes, but they had joy despite the pain.
2 Corinthians 7:4,5 – Paul went to Corinth after being run out of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16-18). He was troubled on every side. On the outside were conflicts, “inside were fears.” Paul was not a superman who could ignore suffering. Joy did not eliminate the fear. But he had comfort that sustained him and gave exceeding joy despite the tribulations (verse 4).
Hebrews 10:32-34 – After their conversion, these Hebrew Christians endured a great struggle with suffering. They faced reproaches and tribulations. Their goods were plundered. But they took it joyfully because they knew they had a better possession in heaven.
(Psalm 119:141-143; 1 Thessalonians 1:6)
Biblical joy does not depend on physical circumstances or on the treatment we receive from others. It does not mean that other people will always act the way we think they should or that we will always have fulfilling relationships with others. We may have severe problems in all these areas. Yet at the same time we can have joy!
Joy does not eliminate or ignore physical problems. It does not mask them with a superficial facade of excitement. It recognizes that real problems exist, grieves over them, and deals with them. But it also realizes that there is more to life than these physical matters. We can have joy in the deeper things in life in the very midst of our burdens and hardships.
As essential truth of Bible joy is this: A Christian can have joy even while he suffers!
(2 Corinthians 8:1,2; 12:7-10; 6:10; Psalm 126:5,6; John 16:33; Acts 13:50-52; 20:18-24; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:5-9; 4:12,13)
True Joy Is Based on Spiritual Circumstances.
If joy is not the result of physical circumstances or how people treat us, and if we can have joy even while we suffer, then how does joy come? What is the basis of joy?
Christians Should Rejoice in Our Relationship with God.
We rejoice in forgiveness.
Psalm 51:3,4,7-12 – The guilt of sin alienates us from God; but when our sins are forgiven, we are washed and cleansed whiter than snow. This leads to joy and gladness (verse 8). Before we were forgiven, God hid His face from us. After we have been forgiven, God hides His face from our sins (verse 9). We then have joy in God’s salvation (verse 12).
Luke 15:4-10,22-24,32 – The Pharisees criticized Jesus because He associated with sinners (verses 1,2). Jesus responded with three parables each of which expresses the joy that comes when a sinner repents. When the shepherd found the lost sheep, the woman found the lost coin, and the prodigal son returned, in each case there was great joy.
The Pharisees were like the older brother who saw no reason to rejoice. He looked only at physical consequences: his father hadn’t thrown a party for him like he did for the brother who squandered his money (verses 28-30). But the father said his son had been dead but was alive again: spiritually. This was proper cause for gladness and rejoicing (verse 32).
Acts 8:39 –The Ethiopian treasurer, having been baptized, went on his way rejoicing. Baptism is a time for joy because the sinner knows his sins are forgiven and he has been restored to fellowship with God.
The conversion of sinners is also a time of joy for all who love the Lord because we know God and the angels are rejoicing like the father of the prodigal son. That was the lesson of the stories in Luke 15: Jesus associated with sinners because He wanted them to have the blessing of salvation.
If we appreciate the importance of lost souls becoming right with God, then we too will work for their salvation and will rejoice when they are saved.
We rejoice in our fellowship with God.
Psalms 35:9 – My soul shall be joyful in the Lord; It shall rejoice in His salvation. The joy of God’s people is centered in God Himself. The ultimate destroyer of joy is the loss of our relationship with God due to guilt. When we are guilty, God cannot bless us as His people. When we are forgiven, we have fellowship with Him.
Philippians 4:4 – This is why Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Our physical circumstances and our relationships with people are not the basic foundation of our joy. Those may give us some blessings. But even when physical circumstances and relationships cause grief and heartache, we can still rejoice in the Lord because of our relationship with Him.
People rob themselves of joy when they don’t understand that the supreme blessing in life is being right with God. When we have lost that relationship, we have no cause to rejoice. When we are forgiven, we gain true joy. So having fellowship with God should be a continual source of joy.
Isaiah 61:10 – Our great joy is in the Lord because He has clothed us with garments of salvation like a bride and groom adorning themselves for their wedding day. We may have joy in this life because of our relationships with other people, especially if those people are serving God. But the most basic, fundamental joy anyone can have results from true fellowship with God.
The problems of life are here because sin has come into the world. Sometimes we grieve because we have committed sin. Sometimes we grieve because someone around us has sinned. But even when we suffer physically, we can be sustained if we are right with God. This is the joy the Bible describes.
Christians Should Rejoice in the Spiritual Blessings God Gives His People.
When we are right with God, He then gives us spiritual blessings that cause us joy.
We rejoice in prayer.
John 16:24 – If we have fellowship with God, He has promised to answer our prayers. This makes our joy full.
People who don’t serve God don’t have this promise. When we serve God faithfully, not only do we have this joy, but no one can take it from us. So we have this joy regardless of the circumstances in life.
We rejoice in the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:6 – Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but does rejoice in the truth. Notice again that not everything in life makes us joyful. When we see sin around us, especially in our own lives, that is cause for grief.
But when we learn the truth, accept it, live by it, and have the opportunity to teach it to others, that ought to be a source of true joy.
We rejoice in the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 1:3-9 – We greatly rejoice (verse 6) in the hope of the inheritance reserved for us in heaven (verses 3,4). We are still grieved by various trials (verse 6). So joy does not eliminate suffering and sorrow, but we have great joy despite the sorrow.
Our joy is inexpressible because we know the end of our faith is eternal salvation (verses 8,9). This requires faith since we do not see this reward nor the Lord who gives it (verse 8). So life is a trial of our faith (verse 7), but our joy lies in what we know comes after this life.
1 Peter 4:12,13 – Some people think it strange that Christians suffer. If we have true religion, they think we should not have to suffer. Some Christians share this misconception. But Peter says we should not think it is strange if we face fiery trials. Nothing about joy or any of God’s promises means we will not suffer.
Since Jesus suffered, why should we expect anything better than what happened to our Master? Our joy comes in knowing we are serving God and are partaking of suffering just as Jesus did. We are suffering for His sake just as He suffered for our sake.
But the ultimate joy will come when He is revealed from heaven. Then we will enter our eternal reward and will be glad with exceeding joy.
Application: We must remember our blessings.
When people mistreat us or we lack the physical blessings we would like or we are upset because of the sin around us, still we should rejoice in our relationship with God and the blessings He gives. This is the joy the Bible describes.
Christians should remind one another of what God has done for us and encourage one another to appreciate it. Too often we lack joy because we do not remember to thank God for what He has done for us.
The beauty here is that, since this joy is spiritual in nature, no one can take it from us. If our joy depended on money or good health or earthly relationships, people or circumstances could take those things away. But when our joy is based on our relationship with God, no one can take that away from us.
Do you have the joy that comes only from serving God?
(1 Samuel 2:1; 2 Chronicles 15:12-15; Psalm 1:1,2; 19:8; 37:4; 68:3; 92:4,5; 112:1; 149:2; Proverbs 23:15,16,24; Isaiah 12:2,2; 29:19; 51:11; Jeremiah 9:24; Hab. 3:17,18; Zech. 2:10; 9:9; Matthew 2:10; 5:10-12; 28:8,9; John 20:20; 15:11; Luke 1:46,47; 2:8-11; 10:20; Acts 11:23; 13:48,52; 5:40-42; Romans 5:1,2,11; 14:17; 15:13; 2 Corinthians 2:3; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 1:18,25; 3:1,3; Hebrews 3:6; 10:34; 12:2; James 1:2-4; 5:13; 1 John 1:4; Jude 24)
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2021