As you probably know, Kyle preached (his best sermon yet, in my opinion) last week on Psalm 90. Because my family will be on vacation for the next two Sundays, John is going to preach next week from John 9 and Grant is going to preach the following week from Psalm 25. I didn’t want to go back to Genesis for just one week, and so this morning I’m going to preach a one-off sermon that has been on my mind, heart, and prayers for a while.
As we continue to creep out of the COVID cave and all the (spiritual, emotional, physical, political, ecclesiological, theological, and other) challenges it introduced, as we are all still reeling from the societal unrest that has come from a contentious election and racial tension, and as we continue to work through Genesis and all of the challenging situations it presents, I’ve noticed that a lot of things are fighting against our joy. Therefore, it seems good to remind myself and all of us that God has called us to, and provided us with, a joy that these things cannot shake or take if we endure them in faith. I am going to preach on joy this morning.
Along those lines, I once asked one of my oldest and most educated friends how he made decisions. His answer was quick and straight-forward, “I ask myself what will make me most happy.” His unapologetic life mission and moral code was to pursue his happiness wherever it may be found. While most adults (not to say kids) are a bit better at masking it in something a bit more virtuous sounding, I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone wants to be as happy as possible as much as possible.
As thoughtful Christians, however, we don’t stop at asking what is. We need to get to what ought to be. Does God want us to be happy? Does He care about what makes us happy? Is there such a thing as too much happiness? Is there a difference between happiness and joy? These are some of the questions we’ll consider this morning in looking at fourteen biblical principles on happiness. The main point that I hope you all take away is that God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever. Let’s pray that it would be so.
THE NATURE OF JOY
God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever. We see this, once again, through fourteen joy principles laid out in the Bible which fall fairly neatly into three broad categories: the nature of joy, the source of joy, and the lifespan of joy. We’ll begin, then, with the nature of joy and within that, a definition of joy.
I read several definitions of joy this week. It seems to me, however, that the most helpful way to understand biblical joy is in recognizing that in general, the many biblical terms connected to it are mostly synonymous with it. In other words, gladness, happiness, blessedness, satisfaction, contentment, and joy all mean the same thing in the Bible. What is biblical joy? It is gladness, happiness, blessedness, satisfaction, and contentment. What is biblical gladness?
And yet, I’ve chosen to mainly use the word “joy” in this sermon because, in spite of the largely synonymous use of terms in the Bible, in our culture it probably comes closest to the biblical meaning. For instance, the words “happiness” and “joy” really do have different connotations. For most people happiness is more fleeting than joy. We’d do well to let the Bible define our terms for us, but to avoid confusion I mostly use “joy” in this sermon.
If joy is gladness, happiness, blessedness, satisfaction, and contentment, what does the Bible say about them?
God is a joyful God (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 35:27; John 15:11, 17:13)
The second thing to see, and the true heart of a right understanding of joy, is that our God is a joyful God. God is more than joyful, but He is not less than joyful. To be happy, then, is to be godly in an important sense.
We see this in passages like Nehemiah 8:10, which says, “…do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” God is a joyful God. He has great joy in Him.
Likewise, we see the fact that God is a joyful God in Psalm 35:27, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” God is a God of delight (in us).
And we see it in John 17:13 in the words of Jesus, “I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Jesus, the Son of God, is full of joy (see also John 15:11).
Because of sin, the joy of God is sometimes muted in our experience (more on that later), but God is eternally and unwaveringly joyful. Whatever joy we experience, therefore, is rooted in God’s very nature. And, as we’ll see even more as we go on, God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever. Do you know this about God? Is this how you think about Him and His heart for you? My prayer is that it would become so increasingly today.
Joy cannot be stolen by trials (Luke 6:22-23; Hebrews 12:2; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter)
Third, all too often God’s people fall into the trap of believing that joy and trials are mutually exclusive. To be in a trial is to surrender joy. To have joy is to be free of trial. On the contrary, James says, trials are not only compatible with joy, rightly endured, they actually add to joy.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Trials bring joy in that they produce something greater than temporary comfort. It’s like getting joy from investing $10 in the knowledge that it will yield $1000 over time. Losing the $10 hurts a bit, but doing so aware of the much greater gain it will produce makes us glad in the midst of the loss.
In Luke 6:22-23 we read, “Blessed [happy] are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
1 Peter is mostly about joyful obedience in trials.
Hebrews 12:2 teaches us that the Lord, Jesus himself knew joy through the harshest trial of all, “…[Jesus,] for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”.
Grace, the kind of joy, gladness, happiness, blessedness, satisfaction, and contentment that the Bible talks about cannot be stolen by trials. Indeed, by God’s design, trials only add to joy for God’s people.
Joy and sorrow can coexist (2 Corinthians 6:10, 7:4)
Similarly, joy and sorrow can coexist. We are complicated people by God’s design. We are (like God) capable of experiencing simultaneous, seemingly incompatible emotions. For that reason, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that he (and his fellow ministers of the gospel were), “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
This is so critical for living a life of faith in a broken world. None of what I will say this morning—that is, none of what the Bible teaches—is meant to suggest that there is no place for sorrow in the life of a Christian; only that the joy of the LORD goes deeper than the deepest sorrow. Even as we mourn with those who morn and weep with those who weep we do not do so as ones without hope; and, therefore, we do not do so as ones without a foundation of joy that can never be swallowed up by pain. And that leads to the next biblical principle of joy.
Joy is commanded (Psalm 81:1; Isaiah 12:6; Philippians 3:1, 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16)
One surprising reality of the Bible is that God regularly commands emotions. While it might seem counterintuitive to command something that we think of ourselves as having control over (how do you tell someone to feel a certain way about something?), God does so without blinking. The fifth biblical principle, then, is that joy is commanded.
Psalm 31:23 Love the Lord, all you his saints!
Psalms 33:8 Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
Psalm 64:10 Let all the upright in heart exult!
Psalm 42:5 Hope in God.
Psalm 33:2 Give thanks to the Lord.
And for our purposes we read the commands to “Rejoice in the Lord…” (Psalm 97:12) and “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) and “Shout for joy to God” (Psalm 66:1) and “Be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 32:11).
In simplest terms, this means that joy is not only compatible with trials and sorrow, it is also not optional during our trials and sorrow (or at any other time). By the authority of God, we are commanded to be joyful. Grace, rightly understood, it is a sin for you to lack joy in the Lord. Where you lack joy, then, you must fight for it. Again, we’ll see more about what that means in a bit, but for now, remember that God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever.
Joy ought never to leave us (Philippians 4:4)
If joy is commanded, and to be ours through trial and alongside suffering, we might ask how often are we to be joyful. The sixth biblical principle, and the last under this heading, is that there is a kind of joy that is able and meant to remain in us no matter what. That is, there is a kind of joy that ought never to leave us.
In Philippians 4:4 Paul wrote (commanded), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
We’re right to ask how that could possibly be, but we’re wrong to miss this biblical principle. The joy of the Lord ought to be with us always. God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever.
THE SOURCES OF JOY
God is a joyful God, joy cannot be stolen by trials, joy and sorrow can coexist, joy is commanded, joy ought never to leave us, our joy in God delights God, and joy is in walking uprightly. Having seen a number of biblical descriptions of the nature of joy, then, let’s consider next some of the biblical sources of joy.
Joy is a gift of God (Psalm 4:7, 21:6, 51:12, 105:43, 126:1; Ecclesiastes 2:26, 5:20; Isaiah 9:3, 29:19, 35:6, 10, 60:15, 61:7; Jeremiah 31:13; Romans 15:13; Colossians 1:11)
Given the nature of the joy I’ve described from God’s word, I hope above all you are wondering how to get that kind of joy. Your main question ought to be where it is found. Well, at its most foundational level, all joy comes to sinners as an undeserved blessing from God (Isaiah 16:10, 24:11; Jeremiah 48:33; Ezekiel 24:25; Joel 1:16). Joy is, therefore, a gift from God.
Nehemiah 12:43 God had made them rejoice with great joy;
Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 92:4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy…
Every ounce of joy that has ever been experienced has been a gift from God.
Interestingly, if you read through scripture, you’ll find that virtually every kind of joy that God gives, He gives to non-Christians as well as Christians (Acts 14:17). One pastor (David Murry) has noted seven kinds of joys found in the Bible (and only one, which happens to be the most important and deepest kind of joy, is not available to non-Christians—more in a bit). In other words, by God’s hand, joy often comes to Christians and non-Christians alike when we experience a fruitful harvest, a close relationship, the music of a skilled artist, and the laugh of a child. Joy comes from God.
Joy comes from walking uprightly (Proverbs 10:28, 12:20, 21:15; Psalm 35:27, 68:3, 97:11, 149:5)
Further, eighth, whether you are a Christian or not, the Bible teaches that there is a kind of joy that comes from waking in uprightness. The Proverbs especially are filled with that kind of language.
Proverbs 10:28 The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.
Proverbs 12:20 Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.
Proverbs 21:15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
One significant reason, then, why you might not experience joy, is sin. If you are not walking as God intends, your joy will constantly be assaulted. If you are a mean person, it’s harder to have joy when people despise you. If you are a thief, it’s harder to have joy when you are constantly worried about being jailed. If you are a liar, it’s harder to have joy when you’re always worried about getting caught by your parents. If you disobey God, it’s harder to have joy when guilt is always crouching close by.
Let us be a people who seek the joy of the Lord where it may be found—through walking uprightly.
Fullness of Joy comes only in the godhead (Psalm 16:11; Isaiah 24:14), through Jesus (Matthew 13:20; Luke 2:10; John 3:29, 16:24, 17:13).
All of that leads us to the ninth biblical principle on joy and the very heart of true joy. God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever and the final few principles get to the source of this highest joy (the only one not available to non-Christians).
Fullness of joy comes only in the godhead. That is, full, everlasting joy is not ultimately found through God, but in God—Father, Son and Spirit.
Psalm 16:11 …in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Isaiah 24:14 They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the LORD they shout from the west.
Habakkuk 3:18 I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Jude 1:24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.
God is not the source of joy mainly in that He is the owner of all the things that we might want. Once again, He is the source of joy mainly in that He is infinitely glorious. The greatest joy that God offers is not His stuff, but Himself.
The problem, however, as Psalm 32:1 says, is that this highest joy in God comes only to those whose sins have been washed away, “Blessed [happy, joyful, glad] is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” But how do we get that? How do we get the highest joy of fellowship with God through covered sin?
Luke 2:10-11 “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Fullness of joy comes only in the godhead, but that, only through the forgiveness purchased by Jesus on the cross. And now we’re starting to see the fullness of the main point of this sermon: God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22-23)
To press even further in on the unique joy found in God through faith in Jesus, the ninth principle is that joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives in all Christians and continually works to produce joy. The most straightforward passage on this is Galatians 5:22-23.
Galatians 5:22-23 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…
The Holy Spirit in us is a source of highest joy for all who hope in Jesus.
Joy comes to God’s people through God’s blessings (1 Sam 18:6; 1 Kings 1:40; 2 Chronicles 20:27, 30:26; Ezra 3:12; Esther 8:16-17; Psalm 20:5, 71:23, 107:22; Luke 10:17; Acts 8:8, 13:52)
Probably one of the more obvious principles is this one: joy comes from God to God’s people through God’s blessings. At the rebuilding of the temple, for instance, which was only possible because of an unbelievable series of blessings of God…
Ezra 3:11-12 And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 …many shouted aloud for joy…
The Bible is literally filled with descriptions of God’s people rejoicing at the blessings of God.
Joy comes to God’s people, through God’s people (Acts 15:3; Romans 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:24, 7:13, 8:2, 2:3; Philippians 1:4, 25, 2:2, 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:4; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:17; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:4)
I was surprised to find that this one is near the top in the number of biblical references. God’s joy comes to God’s people, through God’s people. This was the Apostle Paul’s almost constant cry.
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
This means at least two things. First it means that if you want joy, especially the highest kind, you need to be among the people of God. You cannot stay away from the gathering of the saints and get this joy. You can’t be sporadic in your attendance and participation in Christian fellowship and find this joy. Are you struggling to be joyful? If so, I invite you to consider whether or not you have really given yourself to God’s people.
The second thing to see here is that it is not just the gathering of Christians through which God gives this kind of joy, but the gathering of Christians around the mission and purposes of Jesus. The deep, deep joy that comes to God’s people, through God’s people is the product of laying our lives down together for one another and the advancement of the gospel. Do you want great joy? Give yourselves increasingly to this church and the mission to which God has given us.
Joy comes from belief in the glorious promises of God (1 Peter 1:8-12)
Thirteen, joy comes from belief in the glorious promises of God. This next-to-last principle on joy is a sermon in itself. In fact, I’ve given several sermons on it. For that reason, I mean to simply read a short passage that holds out the highest joy-producing promise of God and then say just one thing about it.
1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be [happy is] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The nature of the joy promised in this passage (and the many, many passages like it) is sufficient to overwhelm even the darkest night and the sharpest pain and the severest trial. And forgetting it is why it seems like trials and sorrow and other things can steal our joy. It is because we fail to believe the greater promises that are under and over and around our hardships. To go back to our earlier illustration, it’s like forgetting (or never knowing about) the $1000 that is a year out from our $10 loss. There’s no joy in simply losing $10 without a greater pay off coming later. In the same way, there’s no joy in getting persecuted for your faith or faithfully enduring sickness in this life or acting justly to the temporal detriment of our comfort, without a heavenly, eternal reward awaiting those who do. Grace, the biblical promises contain one hundred billion times more joy-power than all the money in the world.
God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever and that joy is found in Jesus and the eternal, unshakable promises His death and resurrection secured for all who would receive Him.
THE LIFESPAN OF JOY
Finally, and in conclusion, I want to point to highlight the lifespan of the joy of the Lord in Jesus. What we’ve seen indirectly to this point, I want to make explicit: the joy that God invites us into is never ending.
Joy will be ours fully in the fullness of the kingdom (Matthew 25:21, 23; Romans 14:17; Isaiah 35:10, 51:11, 61:7, 65:18; John 16:22; Psalm 30:5).
That’s a lot of talk about joy. That’s a bunch of huge joy promises that none of us are fully experiencing. It might seem like a lot of wishful thinking. But the Bible is not silent on this. Grace, we live now in the unfinished kingdom of God. Therefore, there is a measure (even a great measure; 1 Peter 1:8-9) of this joy that is available to us now. And yet, God’s Word is clear that only once the kingdom is complete will out joy be full.
Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Isaiah 51:11 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Revelation 21:1-3 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
God invites us to join Him in His joy through Jesus forever. Let’s do that by faith in a new way today. Let’s be a people who believe God in His unshakable, eternal joy promises. And let’s fight and fight until we’re in it.
Dads, obviously this isn’t a normal Father’s Day sermon. But it is, perhaps what we need most, because it’s what our kids need most from us. More than anything else, they need us to have our joy rooted in and built upon the joy of the Lord; and they need us to share that joy with them. Of all the good things you have done and might do for them, having and sharing unshakable, eternal joy in Jesus is what makes us good dads. May it be so today.