Monday, 19 December 2011

Joy to the World. Whose Joy?

Photo Credit: GlacierTim
http://www.flickr.com/people/glaciertim/
“Christ in you, the hope of glory”
Colossians 1:27

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n, And heav’n and nature sing.” So starts off Isaac Watts’ classic Christmas hymn based on the 98th Psalm.

It’s Christmas time again. For some, this is a big event. For others it is a little less so, as I wrote on in a previous blog entitled So This Is Christmas. However, regardless of how you view the season, one of the big Christmas words is the word “Joy.”

Aside from the usual Christmas connotation, what comes to mind when we speak of joy? As I reflected on this I began to think that maybe we tend to often look at joy the wrong way, or at least, partially the wrong way. How do we do so? I believe that we often think of joy only in terms of personal joy. We often think of it along the same lines as the infamous “what’s in it for me” question. So what’s wrong with that? After all, that is exactly what the word means, isn’t it?

There are at least three Greek words for “Joy” used in our New Testaments. First, there is the word "agalliaõ," which basically refers to a corporate, public and rejoicing worship expression. Secondly, there is the word "euphrainõ," which is more like the kind of joy that we’d find at a community banquet, such as at the celebration of a wedding. Thirdly, there is the word "chairõ." This is the most commonly used New Testament word for “Joy.” It tends to be more subjective in that it is focused on the things that bring joy. While “agalliaõ” and “euphrainõ” are no doubt interesting words in their own right, for the purpose of this article, I would like to focus only on the “chairõ” type of joy. What is it that brings us joy?
Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy (chairõ) may be in you and that your joy (chairõ) may be complete.” (John 15:11; NIV)
It is probably safe to say that every person who ever has lived desires a joyful life. Other than perhaps the odd weird exception, none of us wants to go through life being miserable. I would like to suggest that before we can properly consider what it is that brings us joy, we Christians need to first consider what it is that brings Jesus joy. If our joy is not in line with His joy, I would argue that we will never be fully satisfied with the joy that we think we’re experiencing. Why? This is simply because if we take Jesus out of the equation, what we’re left with is only a worldly and material-based joy. Such a joy will never satisfy. Such a joy is only a pseudo-joy; it is a phony joy and it is a fake joy.

If you’re a non-Christian perhaps your joy is found primarily in God’s material blessings, even if you don’t acknowledge that those blessings come from the hand of God, or if they are even rightly called “blessings” at all. However, even if that “thing,” whatever it may be, gives you some kind of joy now, it will be short lived. A classic example of this is looking at what the world finds pleasurable and joyful. Money, cars, houses, and all the latest toys - all of which will rust and disappear. If your hope is built on this, you will never have enough and whatever joy you do have, will soon evaporate. Once the money is gone, then what? However, I’ve digressed.

Back to our question: What is it that brings Jesus joy? Is it not to “do” the will of the Father? What is the will of the Father? Perhaps Heavenly Father’s will is best summed up in Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” No doubt living that kind of life gave Jesus joy. Does it give us joy as well? I wonder. Let’s consider a couple more Scriptures.

Jesus received joy at finding the lost sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully (chairõ) puts it on his shoulders” (Luke 15:5). What are your thoughts on relational evangelism? A common theme in Luke is that Jesus takes the initiative to seek out lost people. One of the best ways to do that is by building relationships with them. He was often accused of eating and drinking with “sinners.” Despite the accusations, finding and bringing a lost soul into the kingdom brought Jesus joy. Does it do likewise for us?

Jesus received joy simply because of His connection to the Father. Jesus prayed, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy (chairõ) within them” (John 17:13). Did you notice where Jesus said His joy was? It is “within” the believer. As Jesus prayed, and as we near the end of our brief walks on this earth, does our awareness of the approval of the Father and the knowledge that we have accomplished that which He has called us to accomplish bring His joy deep within us? As with Jesus, does the expectancy of glory and of soon seeing the Father face to face create a real joy in us?

Jesus’ joy sustained Him even on the cross. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy (chairõ) set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). On the one hand, this verse is a little problematic, for how could there be joy in the cross, in that horrible Roman instrument of torture and death? Yet I believe that Jesus was able to look through the cross and see all the coming joy of salvation that His cross would bring to those He loved. He endured the cross because He knew the joy in the bigger picture. Likewise, are we focused on the bigger picture? If so, His joy will bring us joy as well.

The Apostle Paul said that Christ is now in you (Colossians 1:27). One of the things that this means is that the things that gave Him joy also now give you and me joy. What gave Jesus joy? It is in those very same things that the Christian finds true joy. Unlike the non-Christian, a Christian’s joy is produced by the Holy Spirit residing within him or her. The focus that brings joy is now the very same thing that brought Jesus joy. The joy of the Christian is now also obediently “doing” the will of the Father (Matthew 7:24, Matthew 12:50, John 7:17, John 14:23, John 17:6), just as Jesus was obedient to the will of the Father (John 14:31, John 15:10, Romans 5:19, Hebrews 10:9).

Even when things get difficult and persecutions plague us, circumstances strangely have no effect on the Christian’s joy. The early missionaries (or “apostles” as they were first called) knew this full well. Despite their constant persecutions, “the disciples were filled with joy (chairõ) and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Despite the persecutions, Paul was able to say, “I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy (chairõ) knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Likewise, James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy (chairõ), my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” How is it possible to be joyful even in persecutions? It is possible only by the Spirit of Jesus dwelling within the believer.
Photo Credit: Rob Wood
http://www.flickr.com/people/worobod/

Yes, “Joy” (chairõ) is subjective in that it is in the eyes of the beholder. However, for the Christian, true joy is found, not so much walking as Jesus walked, but rather being sensitive to what He is doing in and through us right now, and then walking that path. I believe that failure to do that will only result in disappointment, a lack of peace, and a lack of joy.

Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy (chairõ) will be complete” (John 16:24).

  • How’s your joy? Is it complete, or is it missing something?
  • If joy is still missing, is it because you’ve failed to ask?
  • What brings you joy? Is it the things of God, or the things of man?
  • Do you have joy in your spirit, even in the midst of economic recession, persecution and oppression? Why or why not?
  • Is joy a choice?

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