Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His Servant?

On the Concept of JOY

I am somewhat obsessed with joy.  It is not that I am an especially joyful person;  but I wish to be more joyful, especially since joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Well – recently I was given the chance to write an article about joy for a Bible dictionary.  I will post the text below.  I wish I had the time to do more research, and I hope to come back to this subject in much more detail (I had a limit of 800 words).

Meanwhile, before I post my text, I would like to list this relevant note from John Piper (www.desiringgod.org) about Benjamin Franklin (deist) and George Whitefield:

[In the most cynical, unsympathetic, and misleading biography I have ever read, there is a magnificent paragraph about Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.

The Deist and the Calvinist were best friends. “Franklin became Whitefield’s best American friend and, reciprocally, Whitefield was Franklin’s only evangelical friend” (The Divine Dramatist, 220).

Here is the diamond paragraph:

Here we see the greatest difference separating the religious worlds of Franklin and Whitefield.  For Franklin, the experience of personal friendship could not be translated into an experience of personal faith. The result was profound pessimism. Ironically, Franklin’s personal religion was more serious and filled with a sense of ultimate depravity than Whitefield’s Calvinistic-but ultimately optimistic-Methodism. Franklin, the outwardly jovial humorist, and Whitefield, the outwardly stern Calvinist, were at heart opposites. In all his activities, Whitefield was forever buoyed by the hope of a caring God, while the unceasingly active Franklin felt forever tortured by the fear that no one took note of his petty “little affairs.” Whitefield built a revival confident that the drama in which he played at center stage was a divine one. Franklin built a nation plagued by the fear that no one ultimately cared. (231)]

Here is my short article on JOY:

Joy is not a prevalent theme in most of the Bible.  In fact, the word is almost completely missing from the first books of the Old Testament, and makes only sporadic appearance in many other books.  The lack of prevalence of this word is understandable, since most of the Bible deals with a world in which the humans are outside the garden of Eden.  The most enthusiastic and concentrated expressions of joy are found in the context of worship when the people of God find joy in the presence of the Lord, usually when the community is gathered for various feasts.  Thus, words that connote joy are concentrated in the following Old Testament books: Deuteronomy, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Isaiah, and especially the Psalter.

As expected, people in the Old Testament are found rejoicing in the ‘simple’ joys of life: when meeting a close relative (Exod. 4:14), when their enemies are defeated (1 Sam. 18:6; 2 Chron. 20:27 etc.), when a child is born (Jer. 20:15), at the sound of music (Ps. 45:8), and when they hear a good word (Prov. 12:25).  Jonah is ‘exceedingly glad’ (NIV ‘very happy’) because a plant grew as a shade over his head (Jon. 4:6).  Ecclesiastes urges his students to rejoice in their youth (11:9), and he considers that it is a good thing to be joyful (Eccles. 3:12, 8:15 etc.).  Wine may gladden the heart of humans (Ps. 104:15), and life in general (Eccles. 10:19).  More important, men are encouraged both to bring joy (NIV ‘happiness’) to their young wives (Deut. 24:5), and to rejoice in the wife of their youth (Prov. 5:18).  The ‘teachings’ of the Lord are a reason for joy to the psalmist (Pss. 19:8 and 119:111).

It is by far more common, however, to find joy and delight in the presence of the Lord, especially when the community is gathered to celebrate various feasts.  The psalmist understands quite well that more than wine or a young wife, it is the Lord who brings joy to his servants (Ps. 86:4).  Thus, the earliest calls to rejoice are always in the presence of the Lord (see Lev. 23:40 and Deut. 12, 14, 16, 26, 27).

One of the most inspiring passages on joy is found in Psalm 16:11:

You have made known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

In the last chapter of Habakkuk, even if the crops would fail and there is nothing left to eat, the prophet finds reason for joy in the Lord, the only one who can bring salvation:

…yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Hab. 3:18)

This verse is important because it shows that the people of God must be able to rejoice apart from material blessings, and also because it unites two central reasons for joy in the Old Testament: the Lord, and his salvation (Ps 9:14; Ps. 21:1; Isa. 25:9; Isa. 61:10 etc.).  The prophet Zechariah looks forward to a time of great joy when a righteous king will bring salvation to Zion (Zech. 9:9).   Finally, real and complete joy can exist only when and where the Lord reigns (1 Chron. 16:31; Ps. 97:1 etc.).

The New Testament interprets the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 as referring to Jesus (Mark 11:9f; Luke 19:37), and there is a strong note of joy already at Jesus’ birth (Matt. 2:10; Luke 1:47 and 2:10).  Jesus’ life (Luke 10:17; John 3:29) and resurrection also evoke intense joy (Matt. 28:8; Luke 24:52).  In the Gospel of John, joy becomes now the result of a deep fellowship between Jesus and the church (John 16:22; see also 1John 1:3-4), and in Acts it marks the life of the early church (Acts 2:46, 8:8, 13:52, 15:3).

Paul uses joy in al least three ways:

First, progress in faith of the children of God, particularly those he has led to Christ, is a great cause for joy (1 Thess. 2:19f; cf. Phil. 2:2).

Secondly, Paul stresses the paradox that joy may be the outcome of suffering and even sorrow for Christ’s sake (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 6:10; cf. 1 Pet. 4:13 etc.).  Thus Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, even though written under circumstances of great suffering, is also the most joyous of all his letters (Phil. 2:2, 3:1, 4:4).

Finally, joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and the true believer should be careful in his daily walk with the Lord to avoid ‘interrupting’ this gift.

The last word on joy is appropriately found in the book of Revelation (19:7):

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!

For the wedding of the Lamb has come,

and his bride has made herself ready.

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