Thoughts on Joy (Part 2) or An Apology for Christian Joy

The three observations I offered in the previous post have prompted several more. God commands us through Paul to always “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3.1; 4.4; 1 Thess 5.16). I want to obey God’s commands; therefore, I must (1) repent of the sin of joylessness and (2) strive for greater measures of Christ’s joy he both promised to me and prayed for me. All of this is possible by the Holy Spirit’s advocacy and empowerment. Bear with me as I think out loud regarding the gracious command to “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Joy takes on many forms in our life. We can identify those forms by what we supply after saying, “Well, at least I still have my ________.” What fills the blank is what keeps us tethered to joy. No matter how bad things get, we can still find joy, gladness and hope in whatever “this” is. We can easily mention some things that fill the blank: spouse, children, health, job, retirement, dignity, pride, etc.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding joy in those things. In fact, it would be sin not to because the psalmist commands that we forget none of God’s good benefits (Ps 103.2ff). However, we do sin when we find ultimate joy in them. This for two reasons. (1) All those things are temporary. They can quickly become idols that when they fail us we doubt God’s goodness and grace. (2) Those less-than-ultimate means of joy confuse what is the greatest threat to our joy. To say, “At least I still have my children” assumes childlessness is the greatest threat to my joy. To say, “At least I still have my spouse” assumes widowhood is the greatest threat to my joy. To say, “At least I still have my job” assumes poverty is the greatest threat to my joy.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Losing a child, spouse, job, etc. are certainly threats to joy. But they are not the greatest threat.

The greatest threat to our joy is our sin without a remedy. It’s the thought that there is no way to rebuild what my sin has destroyed. It’s the truth that unless God does something about my sin, I will forever suffer his wrath. It’s the fact that I stand guilty before God, subject to his eternal punishment, with no recourse within myself. That is the epitome of joylessness.

You see, being childless or widowed (as tragic as those things may be) will not keep us from heaven. Being jobless or penniless will not bar us from eternal life with God. Our sin will, though. So whatever/whoever it is that can relieve that eternal joylessness is to be our ultimate joy (our “fill-in-the-blank” answer). Of course, that person is Jesus Christ who has removed the sting of eternal death and sin’s power to keep us eternally joyless.

In Luke 10, Jesus sent out 70 of his followers to declare the arrival of God’s kingdom in Christ. Jesus gave them authority over demons and sickness. They returned “with joy” (v17) recounting how they commanded demons. But as great as that was Jesus said (v20), “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” In other words, when his followers lost all they had they were not to say, “At least we still have the joy of having commanded demons.” That was not an ultimate joy that would sustain them through death. Knowing they were secured in heaven would.

So when Paul commands us to rejoice in the Lord, he’s saying to every Christian that God, by his sovereign and infinite grace, has chosen to relieve you from your greatest enemy: sin and death. Jesus has sealed and secured our eternal joy in him; therefore, there is no amount of suffering/tragedy in this life that can threaten that ultimate joy. No matter how bad things get (or appear to get), remember that they are not as bad as they would one day be had God not redeemed you in the Lord Jesus. Conversely, according to Luke 10, no matter how great things are, remember that they are not be ultimately trusted and tempt you to idolatry (Ps 62.10).

Friend, you may think that hell would be losing your most treasured possessions in this life. That’s not hell by a long shot. You may think that heaven is enjoying your most treasured possessions in this life. That’s not heaven by a long shot.

Our greatest enemy is not poverty, loneliness, ignorance or sickness. Therefore, our greatest joy cannot by definition be wealth, family, education or health. Our greatest enemy is God’s eternal wrath against our sin. Therefore, our greatest joy is Jesus Christ who has relieved God’s wrath and secured his eternal favor toward us.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Joy (Part 2) or An Apology for Christian Joy

  1. I am happy because Yeshua calls me “Friend.” I am happy because in spite of worldwide suffering and sorrow, I still can see God’s Hand and Beauty in His creation. I am happy because my children know and love me anyway… I am happy because my wife knows me and loves me anyway. I will be happy because God Almighty’s promise to me is unwavering despite the rising of the seas or fire and shaking of the earth He created… My future is assured to one day meet Yeshua face to face… I will joy in my tears to bow before He who showed me such unmerited favor to know Him and love Him, and Him who knew no sin to call me Friend… He is Holy and yet He reaches down to me… Sanctified and set free!!! I will also be filled with great joy in each of my daily remembering of people God placed and places into my life, those friends from this side of Heaven. YOU are among those friends for whom I rejoice and pray JOY upon your heart. The goodness of God be a washing upon your soul, from the inside out. Joy unspeakable and full of glory! Your Brother who loves you, Shawn

  2. Well, if doesn’t go a long way to help then nothing will! You’re a dear brother, Shawn, and a tireless encourager. Thank you.

  3. Barry,

    Thanks for your posts on joy and Philippians. I just started preaching through this book on Sunday, so it is encouraging to see your thoughts here. I may even quote them from time to time. Isn’t it great to know (and see modeled by men like Paul) that joy is not circumstantial but relational. When you combine that with the truth that God is committed to our relationship with Him through Christ because He planned it before the foundations of the world and will bring it to fruition for His glory, then we begin to see, as you stated, that ‘our greatest joy is Jesus Christ who has relieved God’s wrath and secured his eternal favor toward us.’ Amen, brother!!


  4. No, thank you, my brother. Knowing what we do about joy, it’s shocking how hard we must fight for it! Our sin runs deep, but grace deeper still.

    God be praised for your adoption journey. We cannot help but rejoice with you and Glenna.

    As I recall you’ve just finished Joshua, which we start this week. Let’s just swap notes and play golf the next few months.


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