“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). This post introduced the idea that God wants us to have joy. How can that be? God is the source of joy. Therefore God is most joyful. He has joyful joy, the joyfullest joy that any being can enjoy. And He is generous with it. God desires that His followers have joy, even that our joy may be full, jam-packed, brimming over, abounding.
What is joy?
Joy is great delight and pleasure. John the Baptizer gave us a picture of it when he said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29). The friend is glad because of the bridegroom’s happiness. The heart of the Christian’s joy is the Lord’s joy. The Christian rejoices that his Lord’s works are accomplished, that his Lord is exalted.
Joy does not rule out all sadness. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Repentance involves godly grief over offending God by sins. Repentant grief over sin is what results in salvation, which is the first godly joy a person ever has. It is the door to the eternal comfort of forgiveness. It is right to be sad over loss of loved ones. It is right to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Compassion and empathy for others are ways to love them. Loving others, because it delights the Lord, also produces joy alongside (not always to the exclusion of) sadness. The two can coexist.
Joy is a duty.
Philippians 4:4 commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” What an unusual command! How often has an authority in your life commanded you to have joy? Authorities command us to do our homework, take out the trash, pay the traffic ticket, finish the project, etc. But has one ever ordered you to rejoice? God does. What is more, it is emphatically commanded. “Again I say, rejoice!” Joy in the Lord is not merely some hopeful wish that God holds out to us, though a desire of God’s would be enough motivation for us to act on it. Rather, joy is commanded.
Does that sound contradictory? It might if the commander was a cruel tyrant. But the One so commanding is:
- The Creator of beauty (Ps. 33)
- Love (1 John 4:8)
- Good, and the source and preserver of good (Ps. 31:19)
- Grace and truth (John 1:14)
- Truth with no falseness in Him (John 14:6)
- Life (John 14:6)
- Light (1 John 1:7)
- Omniscient. Omnipresent. Holy. Wise. King. Provider. Protector. Rock. Shield.
This is a very short list from a Bible full of such wonderful descriptions. And this God, so transcendent from us, actually desires that His children experience ongoing joy. I sometimes ask myself, in consideration of God’s character, how can I not be joyful?!
Furthermore, the Lord Jesus gave His own life as a ransom to pay for sins, even the sins of enemies (Matt. 20:28; Col. 1:21-22)! It was a payment so complete that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
And furthermore, the Lord continues to work in His own, conforming them to His image from glory to glory (Phil. 2:12-13; 2 Cor. 3:18).
And furthermore, those who have repented and turned to follow Him have the sure hope of heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). He wants us to behold His glory unhindered, eyes not dimmed with remaining sinfulness, able to enjoy it to the fullest (John 17:24).
Therefore, to say that joy is a duty is not contradictory. Rather, the “joy” that is illogical is the delight we take in those worldly objects and actions which distract us from enjoying the Lord. For the person who worships the Lord Jesus Christ, rejoicing in Him makes complete sense. It is fitting (Ps. 33:1).
Even as I write of these truths, I feel the rebuke for my own seasons of joylessness.
The first time I heard that joy is a command, I was both confused and relieved. I was relieved because if it is commanded then there must be a way to experience it, which also means that there must be a way out of sadness and depression. I was confused because joy is an emotion. How can one choose an emotion? I decided to work on choosing to rejoice even without complete understanding of how it would work. We don’t have to understand every detail before we obey.
Lord willing, in the next post I will offer a few ideas I’ve since learned about how it works, how we can put on joy. Meanwhile, isn’t it encouraging to recall that the command to rejoice in the Lord is a grace to us? How is it a grace? How does it favor and enable us? The command, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” shows us that His will is for us to experience joy, even reside in it permanently. It shows us the source of joy (Himself) and motivates us to pursue that joy by pursuing Him who is all-satisfying. The fact that it is non-optional communicates that He is serious about it, serious because joy reflects His character. Since He is joyful, for us to be the image-bearers He made us to be we must rejoice. God is gracious to command us to rejoice.
Joy is a joyful duty.