Joy is one of those things that everyone seems to know about, but can never give a clear definition of. This has meant that joy has been widely misunderstood, especially in light of verses like:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
(Philippians 4:4 ESV)

How are you supposed to have joy in God at all times? Are we meant to be happy all the time? The Bible states that Christians are to expected to suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17 ESV). Therefore it can’t be a matter of being happy all the time. More than this the Bible clearly states that Christians should rejoice in suffering, because the end result of suffering is steadfastness and maturity in Christ (which will have its full effect on the last day).

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4 ESV)

The Bible clearly states that suffering and discipline are the mark of a true child of God.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector 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.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birth right for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.(Hebrews 12:1-17 ESV)

Also experience tells us that there are those who suffer from depression and are physically unable to experience happiness for long periods of time.

You have heard it said that JOY is an acronym standing for Jesus, Other, Yourself. While this has some merit in helping to understand priorities, it is largely unhelpful and confusing for understanding what joy in unity actually is. This acronym does not intuitively provide an explanation of joy it merely gives a list of priorities and is an over simplification of the Bible’s view of joy While priorities are good in light of unity this acronym is dangerous, pitting them against one another as if they were competing priorities. As already discussed, loving your family is fully in line with unity in Christ. Also in unity actions (love in unity) to benefit part ultimately serve to benefit the whole (Christ). This means that Christ can be glorified by loving others. Meaning that loving God with your whole heart and mind and loving your neighbour as yourself are a single command. Therefore as unity grows all members benefit. Also the work of Christ that all are involved in (building and sustaining unity) the present age is indeed Christ’s work.

In defining joy there are a few things that need to be understood. Firstly, joy is not an exclusively Christian concept and as such it should be defined with broader contexts in mind. Secondly, joy is not exclusively an emotion otherwise it would be perfectly interchangeable with happiness. Thirdly, joy is more about the object of desire and affection (good things) rather than the emotion or concept.

Therefore joy can then be defined as; a person’s attitude and reaction to good things.

Good and Evil
In the present age a “good” is understood as something that you can purchase. What most people don’t understand is that the term “good” (in this context) is a specific term used in economics. It describes anything that is intended to satisfy some want or need of a consumer. Things people want or need are things people desire to have, therefore goods are desirable.

As previously discussed, Genesis 1 reveals the living God through the story of creation. In creation the unity of God is clearly seen. At the end of each day God judged each part of creation to be “good” and ultimately judges the entire order of creation as “very good”. This judgement is a statement of approval, unity and harmony between the one true God and his creation. “Good” in this context is something that is associated with God, defined by God and is desirable to God.

Attitude and Reaction
Therefore it becomes clear that a person’s attitude toward those things that they determine to be good should be one of desire when they are withheld and happiness/satisfaction when they are obtained.

When the Bible says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” emphasis should not be on the joy but on what the object of desire is, Christ. What the Bible is commanding all Christians to do is to align their desires/wants and needs with Christ. That is to say all Christians should ever want or need is Christ and what he wants (unity). Therefore the Bibles view of what is good and what is most valuable for the Christian is Christ and unity in him. Seeking what most highly valued and seen as the greatest good will in turn produce a positive reaction (happiness/satisfaction) to obtaining it. The more closely aligned the desires of the Christian are with Christ the stronger the desire and reaction, even though they may not be able to “feel” it.

Reactions to good things not only encompasses an emotional reaction but rational decision-making also. When Christ and what he wants is the sole object of a Christians desire their reaction to him will be one of elation, happiness, etc. while the way it is expressed will be in a manner that is appropriate to one who is united to Christ. When a Christian experiences any good thing their appropriate response is to praise the God who has given all good things (in Christ). This means that the emotion is not necessary for joy.

Therefore idolatry can understood as; replacing Christ and unity in him as the object of desire and affection with something else. For example, When a person desires the feeling of happiness they seek out anything that can make them happy.

God is the greatest good from which all other goods come. Therefore if you share in the spirit of Christ, being united to him, you must align you attitudes so that you seek and desire him alone. Seeking to reflect him in everything you do. Knowing that your union with him will not be fully realised untill you are with him in his spirit.

When Paul declares to the church at Philippi that they are his joy this doesn’t conflict with his desire for Christ.

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
(Philippians 4:1 ESV)

This is a very important passage because it brings together the concepts of love in unity and reward in heaven. To love one another with the love that Christ demonstrated is what it means to be in union with one another (in Christ) and God.


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