What is Joy?
“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.” What is this joy that we hear so much about in scripture? Does it have to do with my emotional state or my level of happiness? When we hear of the joy of the Lord yet feel depressed and filled with all kinds of anxiety and stress, often the conclusion of the old man is that perhaps we have failed in some way or are not truly Christian and so we may fall into great despair because we do not have a feeling of joy within us.
But to understand this joy we must not look towards Webster’s dictionary or even our own fleeting feelings but to the scriptures themselves. And if we learn from them to understand this joy there is great relief and comfort for the Christian!
2 Chronicles chapter 30 can give us great insight into what joy is.
14 They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and cast them into the Brook Kidron. 15 Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought the burnt offerings to the house of the Lord…26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. 27 Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
The Law of God had just made clear to the people of Israel that they had fallen into condemnation through the worship of false idols and that they had lost the true worship of YHWH. In sorrow over their sin they brought forth sacrificial offerings and prayers of confession before the Lord, they gathered together to hear the Word of God and weep and mourn over their sin.
Yet in their sorrow they were comforted with the Gospel of the Lord, their sins forgiven. Here they experienced great joy. Joy such as this had not been seen since the time of Solomon, for though they had earthly pleasures in their abandonment of the Word they had no joy, for they were covered in sin and shame. Joy, in the scriptures, is described as being in right relation to God. This relationship cannot exist apart from forgiveness. So it starts with the Lord redeeming and sanctifying us. In that new blessed life we then celebrate and rejoice by offering up prayers, songs of praise, and thanksgiving to our God.
Their joy had nothing to do with earthly circumstances and everything to do with forgiveness of sin. With this understanding of Joy we may see how it is possible to have joy even in times of great difficulty. In James chapter 1 we hear, “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.” What is that full effect? The knowledge of Salvation in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, life amidst this valley of sorrow. Though we may suffer and experience hardships, there in the midst of it all is Christ offering to us forgiveness and life through his blood shed upon the cross. There, pouring from his side, is pure joy for there is the forgiveness of all your sin!
May that Joy of Christ be with you as you walk through this life both now and forever!