What is Unique About Christian Joy?
What Is Unique About Christian Joy?
By Paul R. Blake
Most of the world doesn’t seem to get it: how can Christians experience joy when their lives appear as burdened and troubled as everyone else? Perhaps the author put it best when he wrote: “To pursue joy is to lose it. The only way to get it is to follow steadily the path of duty, without thinking of joy, and then … it comes most surely unsought, and we ‘being in the way,’ … bright-haired joy, is sure to meet us.” (Alexander Maclaren) What makes Christian joy so special?
First, a Christian’s capacity for joy is increased by sorrow and trials. This is true even though it may appear counter-intuitive. Jesus told his disciples that the sorrow they felt over His departure will make their joy even greater upon His return (John 16:20-22). Just as thirst can make a cool drink taste more refreshing, so present sorrows can help intensify appreciation for future joy. In the world, grief robs us of joy; in Christ, grief becomes an avenue for joy.
Second, true joy helps Christians to discover profit and advantage in sufferings. James instructs us to take joy in trials (James 1:2-4), for trials bring patience, a much needed virtue for Christian living. The Hebrews took joy in the robbing of their property by persecutors because it reminded them of their great possessions in heaven (Heb. 10:34). The apostles joyfully viewed persecution as an affirmation that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). Jesus taught that those who suffer persecution should take joy in the sharing of suffering with Himself and the prophets (Matt. 5:11-12). Outside Christ, suffering becomes a cause for anger and despair. Among Christians, burdens are looked upon as welcome opportunities.
Third, joy is shared among Christians. In Luke 15, Jesus relates three parables designed to teach us to rejoice together, especially when the lost are restored to God's favor and to our fellowship. In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd calls his neighbors together when he finds the sheep and says "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost" (v 6). In the account of the lost coin, the woman, upon finding the coin, summons her neighbors saying, "Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost" (v 9). Upon the return of the prodigal son, the father says to the envious older son, "It was right that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found" (v 32). Joy begets joy among God's children (Rom. 12:15; 1Cor. 12:26); in the world, joy often produces jealousy in the hearts of others.
Lastly, Christian joy is burglar-proof; it cannot be stolen away by anyone or anything. Jesus said in John 16:22 that no man would be able to take away their joy. Grief and suffering do not have the capacity to rob us of joy; no man can steal our joy; no force of nature can diminish our joy. The lost have a joy that is easily taken away; the saved have a joy that cannot be moved. One might ask at this point: "If Christian joy cannot be taken away, then why are some Christians unhappy?" The answer is simple... our own sins diminish our joy. Our sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). Since our joy is based on a right relationship with God, when that relationship is damaged, our joy is damaged along with it. When David sinned, he acknowledged that he had to be restored to righteousness before he could find joy again (Psalm 51:8, 12).
Joy is not elusive; it is readily found by those who pursue righteousness. Joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, produced by those who live according to the guidance of the Word. If we walk in fellowship with God, Christian joy will be our companion along the pathway. "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).