Rejoicing in God

In the midst of a prayer for deliverance, after expressing fear, a man of faith exclaims in Psalm 70,  “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’

His next words reveal that he does not find it easy  to rejoice: “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!” We too sometimes find it hard to rejoice in God.  Too many distractions erupt in our lives to permit enjoying our Creator’s world and his care for us.  We have bills to pay, and may fret about whether we can pay them.  A neighbor may tax our patience with loud music, yard work at odd times of the day and night, or with a pesky habit of cutting our decorative shrubbery to the ground without warning (The last happened to me the day before the closing meeting for a house I was selling.).  Some may question whether we should rejoice in God rather than fear him.

The Bible tells us that we should both rejoice in and fear God. This passage in Psalm 70 yearns for all God’s people to rejoice in him, but also recognizes the pain that awaits those that ignore God’s sense of justice.


Joy and theology belong together

It seems to be rare to hear the words “theology” and “joy” together. Dour, grumpy, maybe on a good day affable… but joy? Nah…

And that’s a shame because it’s one of the things I love most about theology. It’s why I care about it and why I study it. Why I write about it and talk about it and read about it. Theology is all about joy.

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Look to Jesus for Your Joy

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. . . . They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:5–7)

The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval. If we are getting our pleasure from feeling self-sufficient, we will not be satisfied without others seeing and applauding our self-sufficiency.

Hence Jesus’s description of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”

This is ironic. Wouldn’t you think that self-sufficiency should free the proud person from the need to be made much of by others? That’s what “sufficient” means. But evidently there is an emptiness in this so-called self-sufficiency.

The self was never designed to satisfy itself or rely upon itself. It never can be self-sufficient. We are are not God. We are in the image of God. And what makes us “like” God is not our self-sufficiency. We are shadows and echoes. So, there will always be an emptiness in the soul that struggles to be satisfied with the resources of self.

This empty craving for the praise of others signals the failure of pride and the absence of faith in God’s ongoing grace. Jesus saw the terrible effect of this itch for human glory. He named it in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The answer is, you can’t. Itching for glory from other people makes faith impossible. Why?

Because faith looks away from self to God. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. And if you are bent on getting the satisfaction of your itch from the scratch of others’ praise, you will turn away from Jesus. That is not what he is like. He lives for the glory of his Father. And calls us to do the same.

But if you would turn from self as the source of satisfaction (repentance), and come to Jesus for the enjoyment of all that God is for us in him (faith), then the itch of emptiness would be replaced by a fullness — what Jesus calls “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).


How Do You Define Joy?

The people of God


Joy in Serving Jesus

Joy is an underlying theme throughout the Bible. Just get a concordance and look up the words, joy, rejoice, gladness, and similar words, and you find that joy and gladness are important to God. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” In Philippians 2 you see the apostle Paul pouring himself out for the for the Philippians and finding joy in that service.
Joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit of God. Joy does not depend our our circumstances, but rises above them. We find joy in knowing God; we find joy in serving our brothers and sisters in Christ; we find joy in the hope that one day we will be with Christ.

As I have thought about joy all day today, I thought about how joy comes when we are selflessly loving and serving one another. Remember the old hymn by Oswald Chambers, “There is joy in serving Jesus?” Sing-songy as it is, I find truth in the words. Chambers talks about joy in darkest night and drawing on the power of Christ moment by moment.

Why is there joy in serving Jesus anyway? Joy, a gift that comes from Christ, comes when we finally learn that we can’t live the Christian life, obey Christ, or serve others without the power of Christ. It also comes, when we lay down our selfishness and start serving our brothers and sisters in Christ, as Jesus Himself would have done. Jesus, our example, was constantly putting others and their needs above His own. He drew His power and strength from God as He poured out His time and energy for those around Him. Down to His last breath, He was pouring Himself out for others. His prize was His Bride, the Church, and His Church brings Him joy.

We too share in that joy when we look past the pain and exhaustion of service, and draw on the strength and power that is found in Christ.

There is joy in serving Jesus,
As I journey on my way,
Joy that fills the heart with praises,
Ev’ry hour and ev’ry day.
There is joy, joy,
Joy in serving Jesus,

Joy that throbs within my heart;
Ev’ry moment, ev’ry hour,
As I draw upon His pow’r,
There is joy, joy, Joy that never shall depart.

There is joy in serving Jesus,
Joy that triumphs over pain;
Fills my soul with heaven’s music,
Till I join the glad refrain.

There is joy in serving Jesus,
As I walk alone with God;
‘Tis the joy of Christ, my Saviour,
Who the path of
suff’ring trod.

There is joy in serving Jesus,
Joy amid the darkest night,
For I’ve learned the wondrous secret,
And I’m walking in the light.


by Joy Baldwin

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by John Piper

Romans 12:11–12

Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Today we begin to answer the last question in our series of messages on Christian hope. Until now we have asked four questions:

  1. What is the definition of Christian hope?
    Answer: a confident expectation of good things to come (Hebrews 6:11).
  2. What is the ground of Christian hope?

  3. What is the cause of Christian hope in the human heart? What brings it about and sustains it?

  4. What is the content of Christian hope? What are we hoping for?

Now we will pose one more question and, Lord willing, spend the four Sundays of July answering it. The question is: What is the fruit of our Christian hope? What comes from hope? Does hope produce anything in daily life?

Hope as a Tree

Let’s use a picture to try to see what we have been doing over these weeks. Picture hope as a tree.

The ground from which hope can grow is the grace of God and the gospel of Christ.

The sprouting of the tree, the beginning of hope, happens in regeneration, or new birth.

The nutriment that sustains this new hope and makes it grow strong is the Word of God, especially the promises.

The strong fibers of the wooden trunk are the confident expectation that someday we will meet Christ face to face, we will have new bodies that never get sick again, we will be totally free from the struggle with sin, we will share in the glory of God, and we will never be threatened with loss because the new life will last forever and ever.

This simply leaves us now with the question: Does this tree bear fruit? The answer of the New Testament is a resounding Yes! And we are going to look at four of these fruits of hope.

  1. Hope bears the fruit of joy.
  2. Hope bears the fruit of love.
  3. Hope bears the fruit of boldness.
  4. And hope bears the fruit of endurance.

Or to say it another way, without Christian hope my life and your life cannot yield Christian joy or love or boldness or endurance. There are kinds of joy and love and courage and endurance that people have who don’t hope in God, but these are not the Christian graces that glorify God and give evidence of his saving work in the soul. Joy and love and boldness and endurance that do not grow on the tree of hope in the ground of grace and truth are of no spiritual or eternal value.

Three Questions About Joy and Hope

Today we focus on the first fruit of hope. Our text is the first phrase in Romans 12:12 — “Rejoice in hope!” We could paraphrase it like this: “Let your joy be the joy that comes from hope!” Or: “Bear the fruit of joy in the branch of hope!” Or: “Be glad because you have hope!” The text establishes a firm relationship between joy and hope!

To unpack this text let’s ask three questions:

  1. What is Christian joy? (We have already answered, “What is hope?”)
  2. Can this joy be commanded?
  3. How can we obey the command? How do joy and hope relate to each other in practical experience?

1. What Is Christian Joy?

It is very difficult to put emotional experiences into words. But let me try to at least point in the right direction with three contrasts — three things that joy is not and three things that joy is.

Christian Joy Is Not an Act of Will-Power

First, Christian joy is not an act of will-power, but a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart. Christian joy has this in common with all joy, whether Christian or not.

When Peter speaks in 1 Peter 1:8 of rejoicing with “unutterable and exalted joy” in anticipation of our final salvation, he is not describing a decision; he is describing an explosion. You can decide to brush your teeth, or get an allergy shot; but you cannot, in the same way, decide to rejoice. You can decide to do things that may bring you joy — drive to the country, visit a friend, read a psalm — but whether joy actually happens is not in your own power, the way many other acts are. It may or it may not be there.

That is what I mean when I call it spontaneous. You can prepare for it — like lifting your sail on a still ocean. But you cannot make the wind blow. The Spirit blows where it wills, and joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

That is the first contrast: Christian joy is not an act of will-power. It is a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart.

Christian Joy Is Not Superficial and Flimsy

Second, Christian joy is not superficial and flimsy, but deep and firm.

This is why people like to distinguish it from happiness and pleasure. Happiness and pleasure seem too superficial and flimsy. Of course we must be very careful here. There is a superficial happiness and a superficial pleasure. But the Bible also speaks of “pleasures for evermore in God’s right hand” (Psalm 16:11); and it says, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15). So the words happiness and pleasure don’t have to be superficial. They can mean the very same thing joy does.

But it is true to say that Christian joy is deep and firm rather than superficial and flimsy. The reason we know this is that the Bible describes Christian joy as flourishing right in the midst of pain and suffering. Romans 5:3 says, “We rejoice in our sufferings.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 8:2 says, “In a sever test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have over flowed in a wealth of liberality.”

This is clearly a very peculiar emotion that not only endures but seems to even flourish in affliction. It is even more startling to read that Paul’s joy could exist not merely alongside suffering but even in the midst of sorrow, which seems to be its opposite. In 2 Corinthians 6:10 he describes himself “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

This is what I am trying to get at when I say that Christian joy is not superficial and flimsy but deep and firm. I think I tasted a little bit of Paul’s meaning in my own experience, for example, when my mother was killed in 1974. I wept more than I ever had, but it was not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Deep beneath the turbulence on the surface of my life there was a strong current of confidence and joy that all was well in the hands of a sovereign God.

That is the second contrast to help us understand Christian joy. First, it is not an act of will-power, but a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart. Second, it is not superficial and flimsy, but deep and firm.

Christian Joy Is Not Natural

Third, Christian joy is not natural but spiritual.

This distinguishes Christian joy from all other joys. When something is called spiritual in Scripture, it means that it comes from the Holy Spirit and has the character of the Holy Spirit. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that something is “spiritual” simply because it has to do with the spirit, and that something is natural simply because it has to do with the body or with material things.

Pride is natural, but resides in the spirit of man. Envy is natural, but resides in the spirit of man. And so it is with jealousy and anger and strife and self-pity and resentment and bitterness and covetousness and hatred and selfishness. These all come from the inner spirit of a person, but they are not called spiritual in the Bible. They are called natural, because no special, supernatural influences of the Holy Spirit are needed to produce them. We produce these things by our own nature. So they are called natural.

What makes something spiritual is that it is produced under the special influences of the Spirit of God, and has the character of the Spirit of God. So when we say Christian joy is spiritual, not natural, we mean that it is produced by the Spirit of God and is the kind of joy that God has.

Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . ” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says that the Christians “received the word in much affliction and with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 says that “the kingdom of God . . . is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus on several occasions said that he wanted to have his joy fulfilled in his disciples (John 15:11; 17:13).

So there is plenty of biblical evidence that Christian joy is not the mere product of the human spirit in response to pleasant circumstances. It is the product, or fruit, of God’s Spirit. And it is not just a human joy; it is the very joy of Christ fulfilled in us.

A Warning Against False Joy

One of the practical reasons that this is important to know is that it warns us against a false joy. There is a natural joy even in spiritual things which many mistake for a spiritual joy. For example, from the parable of the four soils Jesus gave this interpretation of the seed sown on rocky ground:

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20–21)

Here is a joy in the word of God that is not a spiritual joy and is no evidence that a true conversion has taken place. It is not the work of the indwelling Spirit of God. It does not have the character of Christ’s joy. It vanishes like the dew when the hot sun of affliction rises in the sky.

Why does this joy vanish so easily? Why is it superficial and flimsy? Evidently because it was not a joy in God but merely in some of the comforts that God might give. When the afflictions and the persecutions and the hard times come, and the comforts disappear, so does the joy. Because it was not the fruit of the Spirit; it was not the joy of Christ that delights in God no matter what the external circumstances are.

In response to our first question, then, What is Christian joy? —

  1. First, it is not an act of will-power, but a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart.
  2. Second, it is not superficial and flimsy, but deep and firm.
  3. Third, it is not natural, but spiritual.

Now in view of all this we turn to our second question:

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