The joy of Jesus Christ
In his book The four loves, C. S. Lewis analyses four different kinds of love. The Bible speaks of different kinds of joy too. I want to draw your attention to four of them.
There is the joy of the wicked — ‘For like the crackling of the thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool’ (Ecclesiastes 7:6). The fool here, as often, is the wicked unbeliever. He has a kind of joy, but it is not really joyful.
It is hard, superficial, self-centred and does not last. Haman was joyful, when invited to dine with Queen Esther (Esther 5:9), but he soon found that he had nothing to rejoice about.
Unless true repentance intervenes, the joy of the wicked will end in eternal misery and torment. ‘Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors’ (Psalm 73:19).
The joy of man
The Bible speaks of a second kind of joy. This is the common joy of mankind — the joy of good company, happy relaxation and innocent enjoyment. The Lord Jesus, with his disciples, enjoyed the marriage celebration at Cana, even restoring their wine supply when it ran out (John 2:1-12).
Yet man in his fallen condition too easily perverts this gift. Innocent joy may quickly turn to sinful self-pleasing. Wine, given to man to make glad his heart (Psalm 104:15), is abused and becomes an instrument of sin (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-30).
That unique love between a man and woman, given for mutual enjoyment and fulfilment in the context of marriage (Genesis 2:23-24; Proverbs 5:18-19) is perverted in every imaginable way by man in his sin (Proverbs 7:6-23; Romans 1:24-27). What was intended for our pleasure we turn into an abominable death trap (Proverbs 7:27; Romans 1:32).
Then the Bible speaks of a false spiritual joy. This may be the result of false conversion — someone hears the word of the gospel with joy, but has no root in himself and withers when trouble and opposition arise (Matthew 13:20-21).
There is no true work of grace in the heart — only some kind of emotional or intellectual response to the message. Like Simon, who ‘believed’ to obtain power and wealth for himself (Acts 8:13, 21). Or like the temporary enthusiast, who has no stomach for the demands of true Christian discipleship (Luke 9:57-62). Though a response to spiritual truth, their joy is, in the end, false.
Is there then no true joy, which lasts and is not perverted by sin, unbelief or false understanding? Yes, of course there is. One of the central blessings that the Scriptures hold out to us in the gospel is precisely this — heartfelt, true, eternal joy, utterly fulfilling and satisfying.
This joy is the possession of all true believers in Jesus Christ. It begins with our regeneration and conversion, continues throughout the life of faith in this world, and is consummated in glory, when we go to be with our Saviour for ever. Our problem is that we do not always realise it as we should.
A few things need to be said here. This joy results from our union with Christ. The joy of the believer is Christ’s joy — whose joy is infinite. Though on earth he was the Man of sorrows, bearing our sins, he still had joy (Luke 10:21) — joy he wished to impart to his disciples (John 15:11).
His joy is that of the blessed Son of God, eternally one with the Father — now reigning in glory till his enemies are made his footstool.
It is the joy of one who rejoices over the completion of his redemptive work, and over the recovery of his lost sheep, his brethren and co-heirs (Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:17). It is that ‘fulness of joy’ of which Psalm 16:11 speaks (see Acts 2:28).
Rejoicing in Christ
This is why Paul says, ‘Rejoice in the Lordalways’ (Philippians 4:4). Because we rejoice in him,our joy is not dependent on our circumstances. In this world we experience trouble and suffering, sadness and pain. We are not supposed to say ‘praise the Lord’ through gritted teeth when trials and tragedy strike.
Christians mourn their dead (Acts 8:2); Christians may be hard pressed, perplexed, cast down (2 Corinthians 4:9). The ‘thorn in the flesh’ is painful (2 Corinthians 12:7). Yet there is a joy in Jesus Christ that nothing in this world can obliterate.
It is the joy of sins forgiven; the joy of peace with God; the joy of knowing that our Saviour rules the universe and works all things together for our good. Above all, it is the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and, through him, the only true God (John 17:3).
What can compare with this? A real, true, living, relationship with our Lord, who loved us so much that he gave his life for us.
Joy in the Holy Spirit
We share his joy. It is ministered to us by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Perhaps part of our trouble is that we do not take the Spirit’s ministry sufficiently seriously.
The joy of the believer does not mean that he is always laughing or outwardly happy. Indeed, the believer’s joy is — if I may put it like this — a very serious joy. I do not get the impression from the New Testament that the early disciples were always jumping around for joy, making exuberant noises.
No. They come across as a serious-minded group of men and women. Yet, says Peter, they experienced a ‘joy inexpressible and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8). They exulted in their new-found relationship with their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
They knew, indeed, that ‘the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). Do you know this? It is the birthright of every believer.
Let us learn to begin, even in this world, to ‘enter into the joy’ of our Lord.
The author is pastor of Banbury Evangelical Free Church and Chairman of Evangelical Press.