“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). There is a family I have known for many years. I find myself eagerly anticipating every visit to their home. What is the reason for my avid expectation? There is always hospitality, food, and conversation.
However, hospitality, food, and conversation can be found in many places, but a solid, underpinning joy is rare. The foundation of all those characteristics in that home is a genuine joy. That is the reason I am drawn to their abode like a child to candy. Is joy a hallmark of your life and of your home? I am convinced that one of the most powerful testimonies to Christ in our lives is a sensual, spiritual, unabashed, reveling, and unleashed joy.
A Commanded Joy
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” That is a command from God. Many think that joy is like the flu: it is something you catch. It just happens. Others opine that joy is in the genes. It is an innate character trait in some people that automatically emerges from their DNA. Yet all through Scripture, God commands joy. Joy is the second element listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Love is the first. Is love a virus that is caught? Is love automatic? No, God commands us as Christians to love, even in the most difficult situations. Husbands and wives are commanded to love each other because authentic love is not an involuntary action. Just so, we are commanded to rejoice. It is a decision — a choice — we make. Every day we will choose either joy or cynicism; joy or despair; joy or desolation; joy or worry; joy or complaining. Many Christians are like Eeyore, the perennially dreary donkey from the Winnie the Pooh series who spreads gloom over the Hundred Acre Wood. He is not dismal because bad things happen to him. He is grim by choice even in favorable situations.
A Consecrated Joy
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” The world can know love and joy because every person has been made in the image of God. So why is joy listed as a unique element in the fruit of the Spirit? How is the Christian’s joy different from the world’s joy? Our joy is founded on Christ. It is a consecrated joy. It is a supernaturally empowered joy. The follower of Jesus has been changed by the Holy Spirit in the core of his being. He has been given a heart with a greater capacity for joy. More than that, he is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who brings His omnipotence to bear in every part of his life. This joy is a testimony to the reality of a reborn heart and the presence of the Holy Spirit. An individual can confess orthodox Christian doctrine with his lips and deny that faith with a life marked by despondency and melancholy. Consecrated joy flows only from the ocean of our Creator and Redeemer. William Gurnall wrote that “Christ takes no more delight to dwell in a sad heart, than we do to live in a dark house.”
A Constant Joy
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” Our joy is founded in the Lord, not in circumstances. Thus, this joy can be a constant in our lives. Joy is easily expressed when you are enjoying a beautiful morning and all winds are favorable. It is not so easy to say, “This is a day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” when leaving the cemetery after burying your ten-year-old daughter. Yet, even though the circumstances have changed, the Lord has not. He is still sovereign, good, merciful, and present. His promises to work even the darkest acts of death for the good of His children are current and valid (Rom. 8:28). Does that mean the Christian parent who has suffered such a loss leaves the graveside laughing? Such a thought is a shallow misinterpretation of this joy. Beneath the heart-wrenching sorrow, beneath the tears there abides the truth that we have a Father who gave His own Son to die for our sins. There is the truth that this daughter is with Him and that we shall see her again. There is the reality that no sorrow is outside of His all-powerful consolation. We cannot know the power of His joy until we walk through our darkest hours.
A Conquering Joy
This joy is a fortress for the Christian in a fallen world. Nehemiah said to his people who were in tears, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). We may think he should have said, “The strength of the Lord is your joy.” No! Nehemiah understood. The great joy of the Lord is a powerful fortress. Dear reader, what keeps our lives from being consumed by sorrow, despair, and cynicism? The joy of the Lord is our stronghold. In all the great cities of the ancient world, there was an acropolis (acro=hill + polis=city). It was a fortified height in the city to which the people retreated when threatened by an enemy. The acropolis of the kingdom of God is the joy of the Lord. That is what Paul implied when he said we are “more than conquerors” in difficult situations (Rom. 8:37).
Will the world see this constant, consecrated, conquering joy in us today?