A common association we all make is always affiliating joy with happiness. The reason for the association between joy and happiness, yet the cause for the dichotomy between joy and sorrow, is that we define joy solely as an emotion – a natural, instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships – and not defining joy as a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is a temporary emotion created by positive events and lost upon negative events in our lives. We are not happy during a challenging episode in life or during a time of grief, but we are called to be joyful. Joy is a character of the Spirit displayed by believers whose mindset is based on knowing and living in the truth of God’s word, irrespective of their successes, failures, the wounds they endured, or the accolades they achieved. Joy is not dictated by our present situation in life. I am joyful, not because my life has and will go accordingly to my plan, but because I believe God is sovereign over the mountaintop and the valleys of my life. A person is not recognizable as a child of God without the character of joy.
Joy Through our Actions as God’s Children
As Christians, joy is not a temporary emotion, but a nature of the Spirit exhibited by all those who are led by the Spirit. Joy is a fruit that evokes selfless actions aligned with the nature of Christ, as it says in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” As a Christian, you are called to put others above yourself. Our primary focus should be the needs of others and make our own desires secondary. You may ask how it is that you can carry out the command in Philippians 2:3-4, so here are some examples: forgive someone when you have every right to seek justice on your behalf, serve in the local church by giving your time to teach Sunday School, lead worship, or greet a member outside of your social circle, provide servant leadership in church seeking no personal gain. These examples do not make an exhaustive list, but they share a common trait – selflessness. Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” When we focus less on ourselves and more on others, joy increases in our hearts because our focus is on serving others and not to our own desires. If we focus on ourselves, our world becomes small because our view is centered on us. However, if we focus on others, we realize how blessed we are in Christ and how much the world needs to experience His love.
Joy Through our Promised Inheritance
In the famous hymn “How Great Thou Art”, a verse states: “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” The joy described in the hymn is the same joy Jesus described in the Gospel of John. In John 16:17-33, Jesus tells the disciples that the current sorrow will turn to complete joy. Additionally, Jesus tells the disciples that they will face troubles in this world, but to take heart because Christ has overcome the world. Jesus’ brother echoes this in James 1:2-4 when he reminds us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
As Christians, we are called to see the grander scheme and plot – this world is not our home, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Attaining such an understanding of our faith is a sign of maturity (Phil. 3:15). I find life to be more joyful when I see this world as temporary because it reduces our cravings for the things of this world and maximizes our longing to spend eternal life at home in communion with God. With the understanding that our eternal home is in heaven, we adjust our actions to complement our longing to be with God – we conform our actions to imitate Christ. We embrace the attitude of Christ by focusing on the Father and the eventual completion of our faith. Paul urges us in Philippians 2:5 that our attitude should mimic Christ’s attitude. The Spirit dwells within us to conform our minds to the likeness of Christ, rather than the dead-ends of the world. In the total pursuit for God, we must put aside the sinful aspects of our earthly lives that destroy our joy.
Sin, in all its manifestations, robs us of our joy. Sin causes separation from God and leaves a void in our soul’s longing for a reunion with God in eternity. However, in this flesh and in our temporal lives on earth we tend to fill the void in our souls with the false promises and immediate gratification that sin offers. The more we allow sin to gain a stronghold in our lives, the more we are focused on the present life while on earth. When our hearts are set on the things of this world, we become increasingly attached to the world and detached from heaven. Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Living to fulfill the pleasures of our earthly life causes us to build our own kingdoms on earth instead of building up God’s Kingdom, of which we all are heirs. A focus on earthly joy will put the importance of our eternal lives in the periphery. But God calls us to put aside the tendencies of the flesh and allow the Spirit to work in us to conform us to the likeness of Christ. In doing so, He has promised to grant us eternal joy.