03 January 2011


by Phil Johnson

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
"Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

uthentic joy is not about temperament. I hope you don't think of joy as a personality quirk that belongs to naturally upbeat people. True joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It's not a mood or a reaction that is triggered by external stimulus like slapstick or funny stories. True Christian joy is not a sensual emotion.

Don't make the mistake of equating the biblical concept of joy with laughter, merriment, or humor. Laughter and levity are sometimes fruits of joy, but they are not the essence of joy.

As a matter of fact, post-modern society is filled with laughter but almost totally devoid of real joy. Have you ever noticed that some of the angriest people in the world are our best-known comedians?

Laughter is often used to mask the utter absence of genuine gladness. The world uses humor and hilarity as substitutes for authentic joy. We in the church should not ape that mistake.

Nor should we take the approach of certain old-style Victorian high-church prigs who seemed to think every expression of jubilation or happiness was carnal and uncouth. The joy Scripture commends is a pure sense of well-being, delight, gladness. The joy the apostle Paul constantly wrote about is a vivid pleasure that arises from a sense of well-being and satisfaction—even in the midst of earthly hardships. It is a wholly positive thing. It does often produce smiles and even laughter.

Authentic joy—the kind of joy we have a duty to cultivate—is a deep gladness that springs from within. It is impervious to external circumstances. Its ultimate source and object is God. Scripture speaks of it as "the joy of the Lord." Nehemiah 8:10: "the joy of the Lord is your strength."

It is called "the joy of the Lord" because it comes from God. It is His gift to us. It is the birthright of every Christian and a natural result of our unshakable security in Christ. Again, it is not dependent on sensual delights or any external catalyst. Its source is God Himself. That is precisely what Scripture means when it calls joy a fruit of the Spirit. It is one of those inner qualities that comes to every true child of God when our heavenly Father "strengthens us with might by his Spirit in the inner man."

Also, the ultimate object of this joy is God. It is "the joy of the Lord"—joy in the Lord.

What is the chief end for which we were created? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. That enjoyment—a delight in God, a love for Him, and an attitude that finds gladness in every one of His attributes—that great delight and satisfaction is the source of true Christian joy.

So it's not merely a sense of humor or a love for laughter per se. But within the context of delighting in God—when He is the source of our joy—there is no limit to the happiness and rejoicing and pleasure we are entitled to enjoy.

Spurgeon said, "You cannot be too happy, brother. Nay, do not suspect yourself of being wrong because you are full of delight. You know that it is said of the divine wisdom, 'Her ways are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.' Provided that it is joy in the Lord, you cannot have too much of it."

Indeed, joy is our duty, and according to 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, it is a moral duty on the same level as prayer and thankfulness and doing good to one another.

Baal worshipers can cry aloud and "cut themselves with knives and lancets, after their manner." But Jesus said you, even when you fast, "anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret." We are supposed to be cheerful, contented, always rejoicing in the Lord. That is part of our testimony, and if your countenance is barren of joy and gladness, you are not being a good testimony for Christ.

ht: Tim Challies

Phil's signature


Wendy said...

I'm going through the Westminster Catechism with my son and every time I ask Question 1, inevitably I end up asking myself (silently), What am I enjoying? Where is my joy (if I'm finding myself miserable)? and Where do I expect to find joy (biblically) to get myself back on track?

Especially during the recent holidays, it's been humbling to say the least. How many times do I get caught up in work, mothering, ministry, etc and forget to simply sit at the feet of my Savior and enjoy Him?

On the other hand, isn't this snow the most amazing way to kick off the new year?!

Anonymous said...

Sermon: Are You a Satisfied Christian?

Thomas Louw said...

I’m for one enjoying John Piper’s sermons on Romans 5.
I have joy that I’m not “holywrath.”
I have joy that I will not suffer God’s holy wrath for who I am.
He has given us joy everlasting because what He has done and is doing.

Sonia said...

Thomas Louw wrote: I have joy that I’m not “holywrath.”

That reminds me of the following:

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men....'

Thomas Louw said...

Check the context.
The Pharisee was praying to God in the Tempel.
I was chatting to the guys on the net.
And after I made the remark
"I have joy that I’m not “holywrath.”

I pulled a tax collector and admitted how sinful I'm.

Glad to see that you know the Bible, now start qouting it in context.

Mark Lussier said...

When I think on the topic of joy, or if I need to fill up on some Godly joy, I go to Isaiah 12 to joyfully draw water from the wells of salvation. I'll include the last half of the chapter here: “Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known [4] in all the earth.
6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your [5] midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Think about, meditate upon and practice what it says!

Sonia said...

My comment was not meant as judgment on you--caution perhaps, for should we not stay as far from the appearance of evil as we can? Your statement "rang" in my mind with the same tone as that phrase of the Pharisee. But you know better than I what is in your heart.

It was a clever play on the guy's
'name', and quite likely in my mind that was all you intended.

But to address a point you raise: Does it make any difference whether we speak 'idle words' on the net or pray in the Temple? God knows our hearts either way! The Pharisee was glad that he was better than his brother!

Thomas Louw said...

"Does it make any difference whether we speak 'idle words' on the net or pray in the Temple?"

No it does not!!!

I feel convicted. I have a love for playing with words.

See my heart always making excuses.

donsands said...

"..even in the midst of earthly hardships."

And when our joy is genuine during trials, our light shines brighter for our Father, doesn't it.

I received a short note from Joni, and she shared how blessed she is, even though she is dealing with cancer, not to mention her being paralyzed. She has the joy of our Lord. And what an encouragement that is.

Thanks for the excellent word this morning. It truly helps on a Monday morning.

James Scott Bell said...

Well said. To be joyful is a duty. And really, if we are right thinking, how can we not walk in it? We rejoice because our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20) and because, through the Spirit, we have victory over sin (Ro. 8:9). We are being transformed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18) and will dwell with him eternally (Rev. 21:3). How much deeper that is than Brite-Smile nostrums like "Have a better attitude" and shopworn slogans like "Follow your bliss."

GW said...

Can I ask an off topic question?

(Sure go ahead)


Is there a website that reviews books where the reviews can be somewhat trusted? I am looking for a review of Good News for Anxious Christians by Cary. I don't trust a CT review alone.

Phil Johnson said...



Matt Aznoe said...

GW: Another good site for future reference is http://www.discerningreader.com/

I checked, though, and they do not have the book you are looking for.

Rachael Starke said...

This is an issue I've really wrestled with in the years since I've become a mother and I have an audience for my every emotional up and down. (Not that there are very many of those, of course). My emotions used to be tied to the attitudes and actions of my children/husband, sort of like a spiritual thermometer. If my children were all sweetness and lisping words of praise in the morning, well, joyful Mommy. God was obviously good that day. But if, for example, they're hopped up on post-Christmas sugar and schedule anarchy and not responding to my bedtime instructions with cheerful speedy obedience, well, God is obviously not so good, and boy will my kids hear/ see it in my tone and words.

But God is good, and does good, all the time! I'm His child all the time! Circumstances and sinful children (or, even more remarkable, a sinful mommy) doesn't change that. So my prayer has been that my kids would somehow see that truth in the way I respond when they're naughty, not just when they're nice.

Larry Geiger said...

My wife and I watched Alistair Sims "Scrooge" the other night. It is delightful because of the obvious change in Scrooge.

I think that his performance (to me) is as close as anything I've seen to what I think Paul must have felt and how infectious his joy was to those around him.

DJP said...

My only complaint about your comment, Larry, is that you imply there are other versions of Scrooge.

Worth talking about, that is.

Which there aren't.

donsands said...

"But if, for example, they're hopped up on post-Christmas sugar..." -Rachael

That Penguin looks like he may have had some of that sugar.

Nice video. Nice comment too.

Craig said...

So true that we shouldn’t be black clouds, floating around, raining on everything. Also true that Christian “joy” is not “happy happy bluebirds singing” joy – and it does come from God. I think of it as…

beyond the moment of circumstance joy

the knowledge and feeling that the only God is in control – kind of joy

And the God in control of all, cares about my cares, kind of joy

It springs from knowing that if I lay a situation at his feet, and ask for his will, and want his will, I will get his will, and that will be a good thing. It is mine to control what I can, and let him spin the universe. He’s good at that.

I’ve learned that whether it feels good or not, whether it seems to work out or not, whether there seems no ending to a trial or not, there is a kind of “joy” about that.

God Bless and thank you.

Thomas Louw said...

What gives? Yesterday I asked for suggestions on good apologetics sites and my comment gets deleted. (for the dating of the Gospels, everyone I found talks about “Q’ and don’t buy it.)Is it because I gave my e-mail address?

jen said...

The penguin kills me!!!!

Larry Geiger said...

I just wanted to make sure that those of the younger generations were not confused about the version that we watched :-)

Stefan Ewing said...

This was good to read. It's fascinating as I learn in my walk with Christ, that joy—like faith, love, sacrifice, service, and so on—is not so much a quality or an attribute, but a process and a duty. Joy is something we do (and must actively cultivate), rather than simply something we have.

Anyhow, again, good reading, lots of food for thought...and what a great video to illustrate the concept!