“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11).
But these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Tribulation” is a strong term and in our present-day, North American prosperity. It may seem distant to us. The 10 plagues of Egypt—that was tribulation; lions eating Christians for breakfast -that was tribulation; martyrs burning at the stake that was tribulation. But can we say that today in our world, with all our comforts and prosperity, WE have tribulation? The answer, of course, is “yes.”
Webster’s dictionary defines tribulation as “great misery or distress, as from oppression; deep sorrow; affliction; trial.” In one degree or another we all experience tribulation. It may be the deep sorrow of a father and mother who’s infant child just died. It may be the chronic pain of disease that is slowly eating away your strength and health. It may be the marginal treatment you receive at school or work because you are living out your faith and don’t join in certain activities. It may be the pain of a broken home or marriage. It may be the continued temptation of a “besetting sin” and your weariness of fighting. Oh yes, in this world we DO have tribulation. And yet, knowing this will be the case, Jesus says, “Be of good cheer.”
Joy is the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, 23 and the verses above indicate that one purpose, at least, of Jesus’ coming is that we might have this joy. What is this “good cheer,” this joy that Jesus gives? On what basis can the Christian have joy, especially considering the troubles of life? Some may even ask, “Why don’t I have this joy?”
The Definition of Christian Joy
Jesus’ words in John 16:33 give us a glimpse of true joy – it is “good cheer.” It is a disposition of wellbeing and cheerfulness. John Calvin directly applies this when, commenting on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he defines joy as “that cheerful behavior towards our fellow-men which is the opposite of moroseness.” When the fruit of joy is produced in the Christian’s life, he knows delight, pleasure and cheer.
Those who portray Christianity as only dark and gloomy, whether movie producers with an agenda or professed Christians, are telling a lie about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Grinch who stole away joy! He is the great and loving God who gives and produces joy in the hearts of His people.
I have heard the criticism that in our “traditional” style of worship there is no joy. How ought we to evaluate this? Possibly the one making the remark has misunderstood true, spiritual joy. They may have wrongly identified quiet, subdued, reverent worship as joyless while thinking that loud, boisterous worship is joyful. In this case the fault would be with the critic since a style of worship is not necessarily a criterion to measure the level of joy in the worshippers’ hearts.
But there is another possibility. Maybe the critic has identified an actual problem. Maybe as he observed congregation singing “My Heart was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound,” he saw no change from when they sang, “O Lord, Regard Me When I Cry.” It is possible that the problem was not the style of worship but rather the obvious disengagement of the congregation in worship. Where there should have been cheerful voices singing with gusto, there was only emotionless hum-drum. Maybe he recognized the incongruity (hypocrisy?) of those who sing praise to God in worship, but then complain and nit-pick with a sour face in the fellowship room immediately following. In this case the fault is with those who profess Christ and are joyless at the same time. Their passionless apathy has told a lie about Christ and His Spirit.
The joy that is produced by the Holy Spirit is not a façade that is only skin deep, it is the disposition of one’s personality toward cheerfulness.
The Basis for Christian Joy
What is it that makes the Christian have such joy? How can he, while enduring hardship and the trials of life, be of good cheer? Jesus’ answer is quite simple: “I have overcome the world.” The world may kick and fight but the battle is over. Christ has conquered. Those who are in Christ know the joy of victory, the joy of celebration.
Every year there is joyful celebration by the winners of the Super Bowl and their fans. I recall the joy of victory when the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the USSR’s team for the gold medal in 1980. The Christian’s joy is like that, but so much more. The victory of Christ over the world and Satan is not as transient as an Olympic gold or the Super Bowl. Christ has overcome the world – this is a cosmic victory. It is a lasting victory. It is a victory that has won our salvation, confirming in our hearts the words of Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
The Hindrance to Christian Joy
You might ask why you are not experiencing this joy. There are two possible answers to this question. It might be that you are focusing and thinking too much about the tribulation of this world, and too little about the victory of Christ. This is easy to do, but you must resist it. God encourages us this way: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘my son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’” (Hebrews 12:3-6)
Even in the hardship of life, the Christian can be assured that God is producing a harvest of righteousness and peace, giving him the capacity to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Another answer to why you are not experiencing spiritual joy may be sin and guilt. David clearly understood this: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me, my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5)
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. . .I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.” (Psalm 38:3,4,6)
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. . .” (Psalm 52:79,12a)
To confess your sins and trust in God’s forgiveness through the atoning death of Christ restores joy to the Christian’s heart.
In Luke 10 we read of Christ sending out the 70 disciples into the cities. “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” (v. 17) Jesus’ responded, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (v. 20) That is the Christian’s joy. Jesus came in the flesh to take away our sin, to overcome the world and Satan, and to redeem a people for Himself. That, as the angels said, is “good tidings of great joy!”
Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen