Steven F. Deaton
Each Christian should have a life filled with joy. However, it is not something that is automatic. Rather, effort must be put forth to bring about joy. The Holy Spirit revealed joy, part of the fruit of the Spirit, comes about as the result of a "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16, 22).
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines joy (chara) as "joy, delight." Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says it is "joy, gladness." These are somewhat vague definitions. And, sadly, joy has been redefined by men. Many today believe that joy in the life of a disciple of Christ involves nothing more than a superficial feeling of giddiness. They believe it derives from a "church" baseball game, a "fellowship" dinner, or a "religious" retreat. That is, many have a shallow view of what joy in the Lord truly is. The Spirit said, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Joy is deeper than what men would lead you to believe. It is more concrete than the fleeting, fleshly things of this world. Joy in the Holy Spirit is, as He defined it, walking in the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit is to abide by the revelation of the Spirit (Romans 8:1, 2).
Jesus said, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44). Discovering the truth ought to be a great joy to one and all. When a man burdened with sin and its guilt comes to the realization that this can all be removed, what joy it brings to his soul (cf. Acts 8:36-39; 13:48). He is willing to trade all he has for the precious jewel of the gospel. He is willing to give up his old walk, to walk in the Spirit.
This gladness of learning and knowing the truth should never fade. John, in addressing Christians, said, "And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4). Remember also, John's first epistle was written in the context of knowing soul-saving truth as distinguished from soul-damning error. John wrote against the anti-christ, informing his readers that God had come in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Whenever we learn truth which helps us to escape or avoid error, we should be filled with great joy.
Luke recorded, "So being sent on their way by the church, they [Paul and Barnabas] passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren" (Acts 15:3). There are those who have a negative attitude toward the salvation of others. The Jews were hostile toward the gospel going out to the Gentiles as Gentiles. No doubt, this same attitude exists in some quarters today and will cause some to lose their own soul. Rather than this, we are to rejoice in the salvation of one-and-all.
Further, when one who has been saved turns back to the world, it is an occasion of great sadness, or ought to be. When that one again turns to the Lord, both men and angels are to rejoice (Luke 15:7, 10). Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some disciples are unwilling to forgive one who has committed a "terrible" sin like adultery or drug use. The godly attitude is to have joy over any and all who repent no matter what they have done.
When experiencing the trials, tribulations, and temptations of life, most people are miserable. They complain about how awful their plight is and why they are so mistreated. In stark contrast to this, we read of those in the Bible who had great joy in the midst of suffering and persecution.
The Macedonians were poor, but they had gladness (2 Corinthians 8:2). The reason they could have joy is because their lives were not based upon worldly matters, but upon heavenly ones (cf. Matthew 6:19-21; Colossians 3:1-4). The text says they had given themselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). This allowed for their joy and to give liberally out of poverty.
Paul was a hunted man. He did all within his power to spread the gospel of Christ the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Yet, there were men who hated him for this. So, they sought to kill him. This would be a stressful and depressing time for most men, but Paul could say, "I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 7:4). This is the same attitude we should all have.
Whether physical, financial, or spiritual in nature, our trials are not to get the best of us; they will not if we walk in the Spirit. We need to understand that there are times when the Lord chastens those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:5-8). "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11). Just as Jesus looked beyond the cross, we need to look beyond our present trials and temptations to the great joy ahead (Hebrews 12:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9). Remember, each trial we go through only makes us stronger and prepares us for greater service in the kingdom. Therefore, with James, let us say, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2).
When we walk in the Spirit, we will have the fruit of the Spirit, including joy. This joy is derived from a love for the Lord, His truth, His kingdom, and the souls of men. It does not just happen, but is the result of a concerted effort to follow the precepts of God. Again, this joy will not be attached to the ever changing standards of men, and therefore fleeting, but it is anchored to the eternal truth and promises of our Savior. Do you walk in the Spirit and have His fruit? The presence or lack of joy in your life is one indicator.