Joy and Love

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, . . . — Galatians 5:22

By Carl Hagensick

Joy, like love, is difficult to define. It may best be described by the things which it does. Like love, it describes an entire spectrum of emotions. (See box on page 9). Like love, it is developed in stages. It can perhaps be roughly defined as the delight of the mind in consideration of a present or future good.

Joy is not merely a feeling of elation, for it may be experienced in the most trying of times. It can be expressed in the midst of famine (Hab. 3:17, 18), in persecution (Acts 5:41), in the loss of temporal possessions (Heb. 10:34), and in trials (1 Peter 4:12, 13).

Three Stages of Love

The three types of the emotion of love are expressed by three different Greek words. Eros describes erotic love, physical love, and is expressed by the kiss and other acts of physical intimacy. It is proper enough within the confines of the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4) and is not to be denied to a marital partner (1 Cor. 7:5).

Phileo denotes a higher step on the love ladder. It is love rendered in response to love and is best expressed with kind words, tender touches, and the ever helping hand. But the apex of love’s pyramid is agape, a selfless love which delights in service without thought of reward and independent of the attitude of the one being loved.

As with love, so with joy. It also has stages. Ecstasy, hilarity, or mirth are all expressions of joy. But, like the eros of love, they are physical in nature and find their expression in laughter or the dance. This type of joy is proper enough within its contexts: " A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (Prov. 17:22). There is great value to an appropriate sense of humor to keep life in the proper perspective.

A higher attainment of joy is encompassed in the words gladness or happiness. These are responsive forms of joy and describe our reaction to external circumstances. "The LORD hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad" (Psa. 126:3). It was this kind of response of which Satan accused Job (Job 1:9-11).

Joy, like the agape of love, is not dependent on outward experiences and is expressed with a constant song in the heart. This joy we see in the songs which Paul and Silas sang while bound in prisoner’s chains. This is the joy the Christian is to imitate and to put on as one of the fruits of the holy spirit.

These three stages of joy may be referred to in Esther 8:16, " The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor." The incident here was when King Ahasuerus gave the Jews permission to defend themselves against the decree of genocide secured by the wicked Haman. Not only did they experience that light-headed elation which comes when triumph is snatched from the jaws of defeat; but there was also a responsive gladness expressed in thanksgiving. On top of all this, though, there was the joyful heart, which had the assurance that the Lord was with them in all their experiences. This latter emotion brought them the honor of being part of God’s chosen people.

Joy in Adversity

This true joy enables its possessor to keep an even keel despite the turbulence all around him. We would all like to mimic Paul and Silas in their singing within the midst of their dungeon experiences. But how to obtain that perfect tranquility which leads to such joy often eludes us. Four principles, however, will aid in this endeavor.

First is to have the positive assurance, that bleak as the moment may seem, it is intended for our eventual good. This requires a long-range vision. With this vision Paul could state: " For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). With such an eye to the future we can better appreciate the complete confidence stated just ten verses later: " And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (v. 28).

Second, if we have a knowledge of the principles behind our trials, that they are productive of good traits, we can the more joyfully endure them. Notice the words of James 1:2-4: " My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

A third help is to completely adjust to not only accept God’s will in our lives but to delight in such acceptance. This brings about contentment, which is the prelude for true joy. " Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil. 4:11, 12).

A final clue to finding joy in difficult experiences is to label them not as trials but as challenges. The entire life of the Apostle Paul was one trial after another; yet he took each one as a challenge to serve his Lord more completely. Notice his words in 2 Corinthians 7:4-7: " Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more."

The Sources of Joy

There are a number of sources of joy for the Christian to draw from often. Joy can grow thin and needs regular refilling.

One of the surest ways to keep our joy replenished is to constantly read, study, and seek to understand the word of God. This was the source of joy for the Israelites returning from their seventy year captivity in Babylon. " So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. . . . And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them" (Neh. 8:8, 12).

A second fountain of deep joy is living close to the Lord by seeking constantly to do his will. Well has the Psalmist said, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psa. 16:11). Again, in Isaiah 26:3 we are told: " Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee."

The feeling of having done the will of God is a rich encouragement to try harder to do it all the more. Success in our endeavors produces increased joy: " He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psa. 126:6).

Still another source of our joy is answered prayer. Each fulfilled request is an assurance of the closeness of the heavenly Father. As Jesus told his disciples: " Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).

Enemies of Joy

Satan, the wily adversary, would seek to rob the Christian of his joy. He has many tools to accomplish this purpose. Among them are:

DISCOURAGEMENT: The story is told of an imp, one of Satan’s servants, sent to discourage a Christian. By repetitively suggesting to him that he was discouraged, the Christian soon began to believe it and became so. But, when given a second assignment, he met determined resistance. "No! I am not discouraged and will not become so, so you might as well leave." Returning to his master, it was the imp who said, "Now I am discouraged." We need to discourage discouragement.

Recognizing that the purpose of failures is to keep us humble and to enable us to sympathize with others who likewise face discouraging trials, we can rededicate ourselves to combatting it.

We can fight discouragement over our failures by realizing the basis of God’s judgment on our actions, that he is interested in our intentions and efforts more than our actual accomplishments (2 Cor. 8:12). It is predicted, after all, that "the just man shall fall seven times, and rise again" (Prov. 24:16).

UNWORTHINESS: How often we each feel our faults and failings. The poet has said:

I know my faults and failings,I fight them day by day;But from sin and all its weaknessI cannot get away.

The call of God is never based on the worthiness of the called one but solely on the grace of the one who calls. "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (Heb. 5:4).

If God has given the call it is because he has seen something in the one he has called that he can develop. If he so loves us, can we not respect ourselves for whatever it is in us that he can see, even though we may not see it (Eph. 5:29).

CONFORMITY: Pressures to conform frequently leave us discouraged because we are each so different from one another. This difference is not bad, it is designed. As each member of the body is uniquely formed for its own particular function, so each member of the body of Christ is dealt with on an individual basis. Each has weaknesses and each has strengths. Therefore the Lord has designed that the body grow "by that which each joint supplieth" (Eph. 4:16).

INTROSPECTIVENESS: Desiring to be more acceptable to the Lord, some continually examine themselves and find that their acts of introspection induce discouragement. This, too, is an enemy of joy. The Apostle Paul said that he did not judge himself (1 Cor. 4:3). Neither should we, because God knows our hearts even better than we know them ourselves (1 John 3:20).

The Perspective of Joy

The trust and contentment that produce true joy are based on a proper set of values where our preferences and desires are sublimated to those of the Lord and of those around us.

Someone has spelled "joy" this way:

J = Jesus
O = Others
Y = You

As one writer has expressed it, "The complete removal of the mind from self and the complete absorption into the activities of Christ puts the mind into the sphere of its greatest success and, therefore, its largest reservoir of joy."