It is only when we study it in detail that we discover what a book of joy the New Testament is. In the New Testament the verb chairein which means to rejoice occurs seventy two times, and the word chara which means joy occurs sixty times. The New Testament is the book of joy.
The normal Greek greeting both in speech and in letters is the word chairein, and it is usually translated simply ‘Greetings!’. It is so used in the letter to Felix about Paul of the Roman officer Claudius Lysias (Acts 23.26). If we were to give chairein its full and literal translation, it would be: ‘Joy be with you!’, and there are certain occasions in the New Testament when only the full translation will do.
When the Church decided at the Council of Jerusalem that the door of the Church was to be opened to the Gentiles, the leaders of the Church sent to the Gentile Christians in Syria and Antioch and Cilicia a letter informing them of that great decision, and the letter begins ‘Chairein. Joy be with you!’ (Acts 15.23). The door to Christian joy was open.
- When James was writing to the Christians scattered throughout the world, and when he was thinking of them as the exiles of eternity, he begins his letter: ‘Joy be with you!’ (James1:1).
- Almost the last word that Paul wrote to his friends at Corinth was: ‘Joy be with you, brothers!’ (II Cor. 13.11).
There are two very beautiful uses of this word chairein in connection with the life of Jesus.
- When the angel came to Mary, to tell her of the child whom she was to bear, his greeting was: ‘Joy be with you!’ (Luke 1.28).
- And on the Resurrection morning the greeting of the Risen Christ to the women who had come to mourn was: ‘Joy be with you!’ (Matt. 28.9).
This great greeting, ‘Joy be with you!’ rings triumphantly through the pages of the New Testament.
So, then, let us examine this Christian joy as the New Testament tells us of it.
We must begin by noting that joy is the distinguishing atmosphere of the Christian life.
We may put it this way‑whatever be the ingredients of the Christian life, and in whatever proportions they are mixed together, joy is one of them. In the Christian life joy always remains a constant. ‘Rejoice in the Lord,’ Paul writes to his Philippian friends, and he goes on to repeat his command: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 3.1; 4‑4). ‘Rejoice always,’ he writes to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 5.16). It has been said that ‘Rejoice!’ is the standing‑orders of the Christian.
In the letter to the Colossians there is a very significant passage. Paul tells the Colossians that he is praying for them, and that he is asking God that they should be filled with all knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they may live a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God. Then he goes on: ‘May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience’and then there come the final words ‘with joy’ (Col. 1.9‑11).
Every virtue and all knowledge is to be irradiated with joy; even the patience and the endurance which might well be bleak and grim things are to be lit with joy. ‘The kingdom of heaven,’ Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘is righteousness and peace and joy’ (Rom. 14:17).
There is no virtue in the Christian life which is not made radiant with joy; there is no circumstance and no occasion which is not illumined with joy. A joyless life is not a Christian life, for joy is the one constant in the recipe for Christian living.
When we examine the references to joy in the New Testament in all their variety and their multiplicity, they fall into a certain pattern, and they tell us of certain spheres in which the Christian joy is specially to be discovered.
(a) There is the joy of Christian fellowship.
The New Testament is full of the simple joy of what can best be called ‘togetherness’. It is a joy even to see such fellowship. Paul writes to Philemon to tell him what joy and comfort he has received from the sight of Philemon’s love and from the sight of the way in which the saints have been refreshed by Philemon’s loving care (Philemon 7).
In the famous saying the heathen looked at the Christian Church and said, ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ It must never be forgotten that one of the greatest evangelizing influences in the world is the sight of true Christian fellowship, and one of the greatest barriers to evangelism is the sight of a church in which fellowship has been lost and destroyed. It is a still greater joy to enjoy Christian fellowship.
It rejoices Paul’s heart that his Philippian friends have remembered him with gifts (Phil. 4:10). To see Christian fellowship is great, to be wrapped around in it is greater yet. It is a joy to see Christian fellowship restored.
When Titus came back from the troubled church at Corinth with the news that the breach was healed and fellowship restored, then Paul rejoiced (I1 Cor. 7:7, 13). It is a joy to experience Christian fellowship reunited. The New Testament knows the simple joy of meeting friends again. John trusts that he will meet his friends again, and then his joy will be complete (II John 12).
In the New Testament there is nothing of that religion so‑called which isolates a man from his fellow‑men. The New Testament vividly knows the joy of making friends and keeping friends and reuniting friends, for friendship and reconciliation between man and man are the reflection of fellowship and reconciliation between man and God.
(b) There is the joy of the gospel. There is the joy of the new discovery. It may be said that the gospel story begins and ends in joy. It was tidings of great joy that the angels brought to the shepherds (Luke 2.io), and the wise men rejoiced when they saw the star which told them of the birth of the king (Matt. 2.io). So in the beginning there was joy.
On the Resurrection morning the women returned from the tomb and from their encounter with the Risen Lord in fear and great joy (Matt. 28.8). The disciples could scarcely believe the good news for very joy (Luke 24.40. When Jesus came into the midst of them the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20.20). And at the very end, as Luke tells the story, after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24.52). The gospel story begins, continues and ends in joy.
There is the joy of receiving the gospel. It was with joy that Zacchaeus received Jesus into his house (Luke 19.6). The Thessalonians received the word with joy (I Thess. i.6). Repeatedly Acts tells of the joy which came to men when the gospel arrived in their midst. Philip’s preaching brought joy to Samaria (Acts 8.8); after his baptism the Ethiopian eunuch went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8.39). There was joy in Antioch of Pisidia when the Gentiles heard that the gospel was to leave the synagogue and come out to them (Acts 13.48). The New Testament makes it clear that conversion should be one of the happiest experiences in all the world.
There is the joy of believing. It is Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Rome that the God of hope will fill them with all joy and peace in believing (Rom. i5.i3). It is the joy of their faith that Paul wishes to increase for the Philippians (Phil. 1.25). The New Testament makes it clear that Christian belief is followed by Christian joy. It was said of Burns that he was haunted rather than helped by his religion. There have always been those who have made an agony of their religion. But for the New Testament belief and joy go hand in hand.
There is a certain sternness in this Christian joy. It is a joy which rejoices even in discipline and in testing. James bids his readers to count it all joy when testing comes (James 1.2). The Christian joy is like the joy of a woman whose travail has passed and whose child has come (John 16.2 1, 22).
It is a notable thing how often in the New Testament joy and affliction walk hand in hand. In spite of persecution the Christians in Antioch are filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy (Acts 13.52). The Christian may be sorrowful but he is also rejoicing (II Cor. 6:10). The gospel brought tribulation to Thessalonica but it also brought joy (I Thess. 1.6).
This joy in tribulation can be a very wonderful thing, and its wonder lies in the fact that it is endured and undertaken for Jesus Christ. Peter and John left the Sanhedrin and its threats rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5.40. Peter encourages his people by telling them that when they suffer they are sharing the sufferings of Christ himself (I Peter 4. 13).
The most startling passage in the New Testament is in Col. 1.24 where Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings. ‘In my flesh,’ he says, ‘I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.’ How can there be anything lacking in the sufferings of Jesus Christ? How can anyone in any sense complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Let us take an analogy. It may be that in his laboratory or his operating theatre or his research room a scientist or a surgeon or a physician toils and sweats and labours and suffers and endangers and risks and destroys his own health to find some cure or some help for the pains and ills of men.
But that discovery remains useless until it is taken out from the laboratory and made available for men all over the world. And it may well be that those who take it out to men have to sweat and toil and suffer and sacrifice to make it available. And it may accurately and fitly be said that their sufferings to make the gift available to men fill up and complete the sufferings of the great man who made the original discovery.
The work of Jesus Christ is done and completed. But it has still to be made known to men. Time and time again in history men have laboured and suffered and died to tell men of that which Jesus Christ did for them. And in their sufferings they may well be said to be completing the sufferings of Jesus Christ himself. Here is the great uplifting thought that, if ever our loyalty to Jesus and our service of him cost something, it means that we to are completing the sufferings of Jesus Christ. What higher privilege could there be than that? If this is so, it is true that ours is a joy which no man taketh from us (John 16.22).
(c) There is the joy of Christian work and witness. There is joy in the sight of God in action. The Seventy returned with joy, because the devils were vanquished at the name of Christ (Luke10:17). At the sight of Jesus’ wonderful works people rejoiced because of the glorious things that were done by him (Luke 13.17; 19.37).
There is joy in the sight of the spread of the gospel. Barnabas was glad when he saw the Gentiles gathered in at Antioch (Acts 11.23). The tale of the spread of the gospel brought great joy to the brethren (Acts 15.3). The gospel is the last thing which any Christian wants to keep to himself. The further it spreads and the more who share it, the greater his joy. There is the joy of the teacher and the preacher in the Christian progress of his people. The news of the obedience of the Christians in Rome has spread abroad and Paul is glad on their behalf (Rom.16:19).
The unity of the congregation is the joy of the pastor (Phil. 2.2). Even in his absence Paul rejoices at the steadfastness of the Christians at Colossae and the progress of the Christians at Thessalonica (Col. 2.5; I Thess. 3.9). John rejoices when his children walk in the truth (II John 4). `No greater joy,’ he says, ‘can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth’ (III John 4).
It must never be forgotten that, as the New Testament sees it, the object of all Christian preaching is to bring men joy. ‘These things have I spoken to you,’ said Jesus, ‘that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15.11). Jesus’ object in speaking to his disciples was that they might have his joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17.13).
John’s aim in writing to his people was that his and their joy might be complete (I John 1.4). It is Paul’s desire for the Corinthians that he may work with them for their joy (II Cor. 1.24). Paul would wish to be spared for a little while longer that he may help the Philippians in their progress and joy in the faith (Phil. 1.25).
It may be that a preacher has to awaken sorrow and penitence in his people; it may be that he has to awaken fear within their hearts; it may be that he has to rouse them to self‑loathing, and to humiliation. But no Christian sermon can ever end there. The sermon which leaves a man in dark despair is not a Christian sermon, for after the shame and the humiliation of penitence there must be the joy of forgiveness claimed and the love of God experienced. No man should ever rise from a Christian service without the possibility of joy flaming and blazing before him.
Stanley Jones tells of Rufus Moseley ‘the most bubbling Christian’ he ever knew. Someone said of him: ‘The first time I heard him I thought he was crazy, but the second time I heard him I knew he was crazy.’ Someone once asked Mosely if he thought that Jesus ever laughed. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but he certainly fixed me up so I can laugh.’
It may be that in the end of the day the greatest of all will be the joy in the people whom we have brought to Jesus Christ. To Paul it is the Philippians and the Thessalonians who are his joy and his crown (Phil. 4.1; I Thess. 2.19, 2o). The writer to the Hebrews urges those who are set in leadership and authority to be so faithful to their trust that they may render account at the end of the day not with grief but with joy (Heb. 13.10.
And so we come. to the end, for this joy is nothing other than the joy of God, for the joy of God is the joy of one who finds things which have gone lost, like the shepherd and the lost sheep (Luke 15.5, 7; Matt. 18.13); like the joy of the woman who found the coin that was lost (Luke 15:10); like the joy of the father whose lost son came home (Luke 15.32).
For man and God alike the greatest of all joys is the joy of love reborn and love restored, and the joy of the pastor in his people is nothing other than the joy of God.
SOME ENEMIES OF JOY
Sometimes we’re robbed of joy by the differences between generations.
There have always been generation gaps, but it seems to me that generation gaps are more obvious now than they’ve ever been before.
A second enemy of joy is unresolved guilt.
A lot of people are unable to accept themselves, & to accept the forgiveness of God. You may have come through a divorce & you feel that you’re inferior in the sight of God. Or you may have had a brush with the law & you feel that you’re not welcome in God’s house. Or that people would not understand if they knew the secrets of your life.
David was the same way in the O.T. He had committed adultery, & he felt enormous guilt over it. He wrestled with the guilt & finally came to God in Psalms 51:12 & prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”
A third enemy might be a wounded ego.
A lot of us walk around with our feelings exposed, just waiting for someone to say the wrong thing or not to say anything at all. And it happens. People don’t always act the way we would like. They don’t always say the right things. Sometimes they offend us, & our feelings are hurt. We feel unloved & unneeded & left out.
The fourth enemy of joy is unpleasant circumstances.
All of us, I think, begin life with unrealistic expectations as to what life is going to be like. I know that I started out thinking, “Well, I’ll marry the perfect woman.” And I did. “And we’ll have perfect children.” And we do. And that we would live in the perfect house, & make lots of money. Which we haven’t. And we would be wondrously happy all of our lives, & there would never ever be any problems.
But problems do come, & they come to everybody. You may lose your job. Your children may disappoint you. There may be heartaches. Your health may break. Problems do come.
But here’s the good news. Even though the circumstances are unpleasant, God still wants to give you joy, to change who you are, & the way you think.
A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF JOY
Secondly, let’s look at a perfect example of joy in John 15:5-11, & see what we can learn from it. But first, listen as I set the stage for you.
It’s the night before the crucifixion of Jesus. He is in the upper room with His apostles. Soon He will be going to Gethsemane. Soon He will be arrested & tried & convicted of crimes He did not commit. Soon they will be laughing at Him. They will put a crown of thorns on His head, & mockingly call Him “the king of the Jews.” They’ll slap Him, & spit upon Him, & whip Him with a cat o’ 9 tails. Soon His body will be nailed to a cross, & He will die. And He knows that all of this is going to happen. It’s not a very joyful time, is it?
But listen to what He says in John 15:8-10, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands & remain in His love.”
Now listen to vs. 11; “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you & that your joy may be complete.”
On the last night of His life, facing the cross, Jesus talks about love & joy. And the next day He goes to the cross & dies for us.
The writer of Hebrews looks back at that & writes these words in Hebrews 12:2; “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross & scorned its shame.”
SUM. How can there be any joy in a cross? I hope before this sermon is over we’ll understand how that can be true. Listen carefully now, as we consider the question, “How can we experience that kind of joy?”
HOW CAN WE EXPERIENCE THAT KIND OF JOY?
I believe, first of all, that we need to develop & maintain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Listen to what Jesus says in John 15:5,6, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me & I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away & withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire & burned.”
Jesus is saying that when we become Christians we’re like a branch attached to the vine. Jesus is the vine, & we’re the branches. As long as we’re attached to Him we’ll bear fruit.
Paul writes, “Therefore we don’t lose heart. Though outwardly we waste away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our light & momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” [2 Corinthians 4:16-18].
Joy is present as a result of:
- Knowing Jesus Christ
ILLUS. The Ethiopian Eunuch: “… the eunuch… went on his way rejoicing.” Acts 8:39
QUOTE “Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.” John C. Wheeler
- Serving Jesus Christ.
“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name.” Luke 10:17
“And at midnight Paul and Silas… SANG PRAISES unto God…” Acts 16:25
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” 1 Thess. 2:19
- Seeing people trust in Jesus Christ.
“And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.” Acts 15:3
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7
- The Bible – the words of Jesus Christ..
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” John 15:11
“And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” 1 John 1:4
- Prayer – talking to Jesus Christ.
“Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24
- Persecution, trials, problems.
“But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 13:51-52
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers tempations (trials).” James 1:2
- Finishing the course
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy…” Acts 20:24a
Fellowship with other Christians
“Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy.” 2 Timothy 1:4
“Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” 2 John 12.