The joy of the Lord: Joy as a fruit of the spirit

Someone has said that Christians have just enough religion to make them miserable!  Nehemiah has a cure for our gloom: “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).” God wants to discover great joy and provides a way for us to have it. It is one of the fruits of the fullness of the Spirit in our lives. It is also a virtue that God wishes us to possess because it is connected with other virtues and fruit of the Spirit.

Paul speaks of joy as one of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) and of “joy in the Holy Spirit” as an essential mark of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). This joy is associated with faith (Philippians 1:25), hope (Romans 5:2; 12:12), [and] brotherly fellowship and sympathy (Romans 12:15; 2 Corinthians 7:13; Philippians 2:1).). 

Peter says the Christian “rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8), in spite of his temporary afflictions (1 Peter 1:6). Christian joy is no mere gaiety that knows no gloom, but is the result of the triumph of faith over adverse and trying circumstances, which, instead of hindering, actually enhance it (Acts 5:41; Romans 5:3; James 1:2,12; 5:11; 1 Peter 4:13). 

Even our Lord Himself, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame” (Hebrews 12:2).  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes joy as “the infallible sign of the presence of God. Joy blossoms from a compassionate heart… When you understand that God is love, not only that he’s love but unchanging love, that he’s constant in his love for us, and that it’s possible to trust him in all circumstances, there is a certain relief that comes; a relief from needless anxiety and worry and fear and guilt and shame because the mercy of God comes upon all those who ask for it…Joy is the by-product of a very rich and deep faith, a faith that brings you to the vestibule of trust. And trust, of course, is the love answer. It’s the only thing we have to give to God that he hasn’t given to us in the first place….Joy will blossom from your trust and blossom from your compassion (James Orr, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for ‘Joy’. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915)

Joy does not come naturally—it is a gift from God. We experience joy on the human level—like when a new baby is born into our home, when your child hits his or her first homerun, when you get a needed promotion—or even a job. We sense joy in our hearts. Joy is born in worship. Psalm 66:1 says “Shout for joy to God, all the earth,” and in Psalm 98:4 “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music.”

  We are commanded to have joy, as in “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice (I Thess. 5:16).” Spurgeon wrote: 

“Notice that the apostle, after he had said, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” commanded the Philippians to be careful for nothing, thus implying that joy in the Lord is one of the best preparations for the trials of this life. The cure for care is joy in the Lord…Therefore, let us be thankful, let us be joyful in the Lord. I count it one of the wisest things that, by rejoicing in the Lord, we commence our heaven here below. It is possible so to do, it is profitable so to do, and we are commanded so to do (Spurgeon on joy).”

We read in Psalm 51 that sin destroys joy. In verse 12 David asks for this joy to be restored: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” 

Joy as a fruit of the Spirit comes because the Holy Spirit confirms to our hearts that we are truly one of God’s children. It is connected with deep, abiding assurance. Humans are not the only ones who experience joy—in Luke 15:10 we read that the angels experience joy each time someone enters the Kingdom of God.

Jesus experienced joy. He enjoyed the fellowship of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in their home in Bethany (Luke 10:38-39; John 11:3,5). Jesus spoke of his disciples about obedience to His Father, and told them, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11, NASB). Jesus wants His disciples to have joy. Later He promised that their joy after his resurrection would be indestructible—a permanent feature in their lives (John 16:22). It is said that Jesus went to the cross with joy because he sought to glorify His Father in all circumstances. “For the joy set before Him, [Jesus] endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). 

“Christian joy is a superlative. It cannot depend on outward circumstances, although 

circumstance may produce a particular expression of joy. Many people settle for pleasure, but 

joy is more than pleasure. Pleasure in itself is not wrong because Jesus enjoyed His friends. Joy, 

however, is higher and grander than pleasure. It is a constant experience that comes from your 

inner being. It is the joy of Christ in you (From  Joy: A Virtue of Christ (by T.W. Hunt and 

Claude V. King Excerpted from the Study: Mind of Christ, from LifeWay Christian Resources).”

Joy is deep and abiding, it does not disappear under stress or pressure or adverse circumstances. I

James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (1:2).” It is, in fact, an essential part of the gospel. The angels at the birth of Jesu said to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” The music of the first advent is clothed in words of joy, such as the hymn ‘Joy to the World’ by Isaac Wattts:

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.”

As well as the hymn ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee’ with the text by Henry Van Dyke (and
music by Ludwig van Beethoven):

“All thy works with joy surround thee,

earth and heaven reflect thy rays,

stars and angels sing around thee,

center of unbroken praise.

Field and forest, vale and mountain,

flowery meadow, flashing sea,

chanting bird and flowing fountain,

call us to rejoice in thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,

ever blessing, ever blest,

well-spring of the joy of living,

ocean depth of happy rest!

Thou our Father, Christ our brother,

all who live in love are thine;

teach us how to love each other,

lift us to the joy divine.”

  • Fullness of joy comes from being in the presence of God:” You will fill me with joy in your presence (Psalm 16:11.” 
  • Joy comes through faith in Christ: “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 (I Peter 1:8).”
  • It also comes through God’s Word: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:12).”
  • Joy is experienced when we suffer for Christ: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).” 
  • We are filled with joy when we consider all the things God has done for us: “The Lord has done great things for us, And we are filled with joy. Those who sow in tears will reap songs of joy. He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” ( Psalm 126:3, 5-6–a song of ascent—to Jerusalem for festivals after the return from exile)
  • Joy comes as we focus on God and not on ourselves: “ JOY AND PEACE come into our lives then, when we mind more about God than we do about ourselves, when we realize what the things that matter really are. The Spirit clears up our problems about what we want or ought to be at, simplifies us and throw us back again and again on the deep and peaceful action of God (Evelyn Underhill, The Soul’s Delight).”
  • The joy of the Lord is associated with the return of the people from exile and with the triumphal entry of Christians into heaven: “The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 51:11).”
  • Joy will be a special part of the great time of victory when the Lord comes again:  “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you  shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).
  • Joy as a compelling characteristic of a Christian: “The Lord, the Lord is my strength and my song: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). 

Joy is a defining characteristic of a maturing disciple on the journey to the depths of God. Our joy will increase, as does our love for God and others, as we get closer to the center of God. No doubt we will often find serious challenges to having joy, one’s that will seem to want us to lose this joy. While joy may be covered with a veneer of difficulties, it remains intact and acting in our life as a catalyst to an ever-closer relationship with Christ. 

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