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Are you still reading your Bible? This year has certainly been a good reminder that we all need to spend time with our God. Let’s put it a different way. If you miss brushing your teeth for a day, would you just give up and never brush your teeth again? If you miss reading your Bible for a day, be sure to get back to doing something far more important than brushing your teeth. Take care of your eternal soul!
Let’s begin with a silly question or two. Do you prefer to be joyful or blah? Do you like being so joyful that you just can’t contain yourself? The simple fact is that this is likely one of the spiritual qualities that shines through even in our human forms.
It seems that people have often associated joy, real joy with God. Moses promised true joy to God’s people in celebrating the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 16:15) and offered God’s curses on those that failed to serve the Lord with joy and a glad heart (Deuteronomy 28:47). As David made the preparations for his son Solomon to build the Temple, he blessed those preparations with joy at the willingness of God’s people to make offerings to the Lord (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:17).
When God’s people returned to the Lord after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra observed the joy of restoring the house of the Lord and all the resulting blessings of faithfulness to God (cf. Ezra 6:16, 22). Nehemiah would outright say that their joy came from God (Nehemiah 12:43). And Zephaniah the prophet would remark how, when God’s people obeyed the Lord that, He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17).
Look back at that passage from Zephaniah. The Hebrew uses three different words for God’s joy. The first two, He will exult over you with joy and He will rejoice over you are terms of an ecstatic, joyful dance. God simply cannot contain Himself and dances for joy. The final shouts of joy is a single word of jubilation and triumph as follows a successful battle or the winning of a war.
Apparently, God knows all about joy and not only shares that attribute with His people but actually feels that joy to the highest degree when His people are faithful. What a picture of our God!
The New Testament Greek is a bit more similar to the English in almost understating the idea of joy. Chara is variously translated as joy, gladness, rejoicing, cause of joy, occasion of rejoicing, bliss, gladness, happiness. You get the point, but God still manages to let His lessons be seen through.
When the Wise Men visit the young Jesus in Bethlehem, the KJV, NKJV and NASB all say that they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. The Greek is literally, they joyed (rejoiced) with very much mega-joy! It seems that the joy in seeing the Lord is almost beyond the terms of human expression! It seems to harken back to Nehemiah’s statement that the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The joy of the Lord. Now THAT is joy worth possessing and sharing.
But let’s move on a bit and also note how joy takes on some very special meanings as the New Testament moves into the lives of God’s people now. Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
Joy is something that belongs, not only to God, but to Christ’s church, the Kingdom (from Acts 2 onward). In Galatians 5:22 Paul lists joy just after love as part of the fruit of the Spirit. You may also recall that joy and rejoicing are favorite terms for Paul to use as he writes to the always faithful and encouraging congregation of God’s people in Philippi.
Peter, in discussing Jesus our Christ says, though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). He goes on to say in verse 9 that the result or outcome of such joyful faith is the salvation of our souls!
There is one other form of that New Testament word, sugchairō, and it very specifically means joy that is shared. Luke uses this word for Elizabeth when, in her old age, her son, John, is born and her neighbors and relatives are all rejoicing with her (Luke 1:58).
There’s an old saying that is found in many languages and cultures around the world. It says that sorrow shared is halved and joy shared is doubled. God’s people have known that to be a fact all along. Paul told the Corinthians if one member suffers, all the members suffer with them; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with them (1 Corinthians 12:26). He goes on to define love as not rejoicing in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
Joy is a trait, a power, a gift of God. Satan and sin have no joy but rather come to steal our joy. And joy shared with God and His people is even more powerful!
Before we finish, though, consider one more Bible verse about that marvelous gift of God. The elderly Apostle John would write, I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). What greater joy can there be on this earth than to love, be with and work alongside God’s people? What greater joy can there be than to share God’s love with another and watch them go to heaven with us?
Be faithful. Be prayerful. Be IN God’s word. And be joyful in all, for that is God’s gift to us!
—Lester P. Bagley