What is Joy?
What is joy?
I am not talking about the happinesses that come and go as a part of daily living, such as doing a task well, buying something that you want, getting a compliment from someone, having a situation turn out to your advantage, etc. These are fleeting at best, and somehow (but always routinely) leave us feeling unfulfilled. These are like rudderless boats, which have no direction, and allow the waves of life to carry us not only onto their highest crests, but more often than not into their lowest troughs.
What I am talking about when I discuss joy is a quiet, pervasive, persistent sense of calm, assured elation that is with us through the best and the worst of times. A characteristic of joy is that it cannot be shaken, no matter what circumstances of life come against it; it is as ever-present as the breath of life itself.
One of the people who knew joy as I describe it is Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was (almost constantly) literally awash in an eye-popping variety of very trying circumstances throughout his time of ministry for the Name and the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul could say this:
What anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:21-29)
However, Paul could also say this:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)
What was Paul’s secret? We need look no further than the very next verse:
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
The basis for Paul’s joy was not in the world… although Paul was a Roman citizen (a very high privilege at that time), educated, affluent, influential among the learned Jews of his time and rapidly advancing in Judaism… he disparaged all of this, to the point where he placed absolutely no confidence in the flesh:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:4-11)
Paul reflected the deep-seated joy that he carried with him everywhere, no matter what circumstances he faced… his joy in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, King and Messiah could not be contained, and his words reflected this:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
I have mentioned the Apostle Paul, who turned his back on the world he was once a major player in as an educated man, a Roman citizen, and a trained and recognized Pharisee of more than some repute and power. However, he will not be the main subject of this post. Rather, a man who was less than nothing in the eyes of the world will be.
Perhaps the most poignant story in the entire Holy Bible is the following:
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)
The man on the cross who pleaded with Jesus to remember him was nothing in the eyes of the world… to the world he was a faceless, nameless criminal, a trainwreck of a man, a social outcast, uneducated, crude, without family, without love, without religion, without a reason for his life, without hope.
But he was none of those things to Jesus.
When the man turned to Jesus, he did not have the luxury of time… he did not confess his sins to Jesus, he did not utter a prayer of repentance, his was a last-second approach to a man that he did not know for something that he did not deserve. But his plea was not an ‘I will do this because there is no better alternative’ declaration born from desperation: it was a declaration of faith in Jesus that came by divine revelation. He was shown the glory of the Living God, and he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Let us be amazed: this is how simple personal salvation is.
Imagine the joy of this man when he heard Jesus Christ, the LORD of all that is seen and unseen, say to him that in that very day, he would be with Him in paradise!
That is joy.
The man receieved the greatest possible gift, even after having lived a life away from God, because he surrendered his will and placed his faith in the One that God sent:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – (John 1:12)
Do you know Jesus Christ? Is your faith in Him? We will do well to turn our backs on the world, and believe in the One that God has sent, even His only Son Jesus Christ. We see from the story of the man crucified with Jesus that the only requirement that God places upon us is to believe in the Name of His only Son; even after a life of utter perdition and sin, God can and will forgive those who call on the Name of Jesus Christ and place their faith in Him. However, we must not receive God’s grace in vain: this is to say that when we know in our hearts that we have knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ, we must not delay in surrendering our wills and our lives to Him, because we do not know how much time is left for us. Holy Scripture is emphatic as to what the ministry of Jesus Christ to the world is (italic emphases mine):
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
Holy Scripture is also equally emphatic in its warning (italic emphasis mine):
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Jesus Himself declared that faith in His Name was the touchpoint for salvation (italic emphasis mine):
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Jesus could therefore declare the truth that all men must know and accept to know everlasting joy and personal salvation:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
If you are reading this commentary and you are convicted in your heart that you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, then I plead with you to go to Him! You do not need to start by opening a Holy Bible or going to church… you need to start the way that the man on the cross next to Jesus Christ started:
by placing your faith in Him.
The Holy Ghost, God’s amazing grace, will do the rest.
Please do not let your heart be hard against God. God has been ever merciful in convicting your heart, and offering you salvation and eternal life with Him rather than an eternity in hellfire, but understand this…
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
There is punishment for those who defy God’s grace and provision:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
KNOW JESUS. KNOW JOY.