4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
What is joy and what is it based on?
The first thing we need to be clear on is that joy and happiness are very different.
Joy is much deeper than happiness. Pretty much everybody wants happiness. In fact, people do what they do for the purpose of finding happiness. People work hard to buy possessions that can make them happy. They look for happiness in entertainment, hobbies, sports, passions and various addictions, and even another person. The vast majority of parents, when asked what one thing they want most for their children, answer, “I just want my child to be happy.”
In 1988 Bobby McFerrin made an absolute fortune with his hit song, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
When you consider that happiness seems to be the main goal of so many, it may surprise you that the Bible doesn’t talk much about happiness. But the Bible says a lot about something that is often confused with happiness. The Bible says a lot about joy. The kind of joy the Bible talks about goes much deeper than mere happiness.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with happiness. Being happy is a wonderful human emotion. I would far rather be happy than unhappy, and I know I speak all of us when I say that, but happiness can be very brief. Happiness deals with what is happening. Happiness depends on circumstance. In fact, someone said that for most people happiness is nothing more than a temporary interruption to boredom. We’ve all heard kids complain, “I’m bored.” What they’re really saying is, “I want some happiness, and I’m not finding it.”
Genuine joy, on the other hand, does not depend on what’s happening. Joy is an inner sense of well-being that has nothing to do with circumstance. Joy is something which comes from the inside.
The kind of joy the Bible describes can’t be found in possessions or entertainment or even in looking deeply into your inner self.
Happiness meets surface needs, while joy meets your deepest needs.
Happiness is like a thermometer, in that it registers conditions, while joy is more like a thermostat. A thermostat regulates conditions.
We’ve all heard the words of James 1:2 many times: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” We also know what James means, but there is a part of us that cannot quite make sense of those words. He doesn’t mean we should welcome or seek suffering, but the Biblical principle he is teaching here is that in our suffering, Christians experience an inner joy which helps us to see the suffering from an eternal perspective. If we only saw things in the here and now, we would never be able to cope when things do go wrong and life is a struggle. It is because of the joy of the Spirit within us that we understand exactly what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 13:11-12, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”
Joy of course, is not the natural response to trouble. Nobody does a jig of joy when troubles come, so it would help us to try and see these things from God’s perspective.
Trials are meaningless, suffering is senseless and trials are pointless, unless if there is some good purpose for them. Romans 8:28 says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
God has a goal in mind. He knows what the good purpose is. Suffering is inevitable. James does not say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, if you face trials of many kinds.” He says we should consider it pure joy when the trials come.
So what does that tell us?
Firstly, it means that trials are not optional in the human experience. Also, suffering is a normal part of the process that God uses to bring us to glory. As we remain grafted into Christ, and as the Fruit of the Spirit takes hold of us, God gives us the power to rule over the trial and not allow the trial to rule over us instead.
Too often we allow the trial to rule over us and it defeats us. The Amplified Bible translates the next two verses in James 1 as, “Be assured that the testing of your faith through experience, produces endurance, leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed in your faith, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4)
God wants to produce patience (another quality of the Fruit of the Spirit) and endurance in us. His call to us is to not wilt or crumble under trials, because He equips us to not only face them, but to grow through them.
Make no mistake - trials will come. But rule over them with joy, knowing that God is with you. I often say to people who are facing a time of struggle that they are standing at a crossroads, and they are faced with the choice of either running to God, or running from Him. It is not my place to judge their decision, because I’m not in their shoes, but every time I’ve seen them running to God, I have seen their faith strengthened. Often we don’t know what faith lesson God is trying to teach us at the time, but it is a wonderful thing to see the assurance of joy at work in their lives during the times of trial.
James goes on in verses 5 and 6 to teach us how we are to respond in trials. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” When we lack wisdom, when we can’t understand why this is happening, we should seek God’s wisdom. We should be seeking our inner joy in Him, and try to resist the temptation to give up on Him.
Because without God, all we have is the things of the world, and we know these things don’t last.
We know the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 so well, but do we follow what He teaches? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Our joy should not be based on our surroundings, because nothing in life is guaranteed. Our surroundings do not determine our true joy.
But if we are to have true joy, we need to ask the question: Where does it come from?
First and foremost, joy comes through our salvation.
Receiving the salvation that God has provided through His Son Jesus Christ, changes our lives forever. We don’t have to spend eternity in hell, separated from God forever. Because of our salvation we are now free from the bondage sin had on us. This salvation enables us to live in this world with freedom and joy, both when life is good, and especially when life is hard. We are never alone because God is always with us. We are His. All this should bring joy, because we are saved. David writes in Psalm 51:10-12, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
If you are a Christian, then hold onto this truth: Jesus rescued you. No matter what happens in this world, and in your life, you know who you are and where you will spend eternity after you die. You have a reason to get up in the morning because you are precious in God’s sight and you were redeemed at a measureless cost. You are saved. Salvation is a precious gift that we should cherish every moment of our life. This brings a joy that no one can take away from us.
Our joy comes because of our salvation.
Secondly, joy comes from continually trusting God and His righteousness.
We can trust Him with every part of our life. He will show us the right direction we need to take. He will help us and give us wisdom for our everyday life.
In Psalm 16:11 David wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
What this means is that God will show us the right direction we are to take in life. He will be with us constantly, literally face to face. One encounter with God changes our lives forever. But in this case, we are with Him face to face on earth. We are His children and we can come boldly to Him like a young child would to their parent – with no fear of rejection. When you see someone who has total trust in God, you see the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
The greatest part of this verse is, “you will fill me with joy in your presence.” When you are full, you’re not lacking anything. The joy we have in Christ is total. It is not a partial or imperfect joy. It’s a joy which is full and complete.
Trusting God and knowing He is with us constantly, helps us to trust Him more and more. It empowers us to live our lives in boldness. It brings such a calm delight within us to know we are not alone. Paul writes in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s his prayer for us, and that is precisely what God promises.
Trusting in God fills us with joy and peace. It allows hope to overflow in us and brings such a reassurance that life is good even when the opposite seems true because He is with us, a bit like the old poem about footprints in the sand. When we need Him most, He carries us, and that brings us joy. His Spirit fills us with this hope.
There are so many verses in the Bible about trusting God and what happens when we do. In the book of Psalms alone there are over 80 verses on trusting God. Take time to study the Bible on trusting God. It will give you an inner joy deep inside of you that no one or nothing can take away.
Pain, sorrow, trials, and tribulations. All of these things are temporary, but joy is eternal. Happiness, as wonderful and as uplifting an emotion it can be, does not last, because it is temporary, but true, Godly joy takes root within and remains with us for an eternity.
We’ve heard the words on Nehemiah 8:10 many times: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Joy produces strength. And strength is needed to fight the good fight of faith. Many Christians have lost the will and the strength to fight for their faith because they have lost the joy of knowing God and His promises. If this is where you are now, then Psalm 51:12 is for you: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
If you feel overwhelmed by all of the things going on in your life, remember who you are in Christ. Refuse to allow these things to rob you of your joy.
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” How often are we to rejoice? Always! We are to rejoice always, because joy is the easiest fruit to lose. You can’t live off of the joy you had yesterday. Joy can give you strength only when you possess it.
If you had joy last week, that joy will not give you strength today. Joy can only give you strength today, if you have it today. This is why we must rejoice always. You might say, “I don’t feel like rejoicing.” But God didn’t say, “Rejoice, only if you feel like it.” No. He said, “Rejoice always.” Of course life is hard sometimes. God knows that better than we do. He also knows that we don’t feel like rejoicing always. Yet we need to rejoice always because if we don’t, then we lose the strength to fight.
The Christian teacher and author Tony Campolo tells a story about being in a Church once where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. He prayed boldly for the man’s healing. A week later the man’s wife phoned him. She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer.” Campolo thought when he heard her use the past tense that his cancer had been eradicated, but before he could say anything she said, “He died this morning.” Campolo felt terrible, but she continued, “Don’t feel bad. When he came into Church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to die in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence. But after you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. The last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve read Scripture. We prayed. These have been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.” And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, “He wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”
That is the kind of joy that only comes through the Fruit of the Spirit. In a time of great sadness and heartache, the joy of knowing Jesus became very real.
It is because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did that our joy is indestructible and perfect. The key is to look to Jesus, not to our situation, and declare our circumstances as joy.
Because true joy is a Fruit of the Spirit, satan cannot steal your joy since it is spiritual.
Allow the fruit of joy to grow inside of you, and walk in His promises daily. The Joy of the Lord is your strength!
I close with one of the many promises of God’s joy. 1 Peter 1:3-9: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Philippians 4:4-9
Discuss the differences between joy and happiness.
Why do you think there is so much confusion between the two?
The pursuit of happiness is common to all. No-one would prefer to be unhappy, yet there is a distinct lack of joy in many people. Why is this?
Describe a period in your life when although your circumstances may have been difficult, you knew an inner joy which only God could give.
What do you believe God was trying to teach you, and what effect did this have on your faith and your relationship with God?
Read Psalm 51:10-12
How are you able to identify with David’s plea in verse 12?
Discuss the close connection between joy and salvation.
Read 1 Peter 1:3-9
Nobody wants to struggle in their lives, but as we all know, times of grief and trials are inevitable in a sinful, fallen world.
Discuss in your group how this passage of Scripture helps us to deal with and overcome such times.
How do the many promises in this passage encourage you and give you hope?
Next week: The Fruit of the Spirit is peace.