Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Joyfulness

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Are you a joyful person?  Is your heart filled with grateful and overflowing joy as you contemplate your rescue from the destruction of sin, your blessedness of knowing God through Christ, and your hope of eternal bliss?  Paul tells us that joy is a fruit that is inspired by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).   It is a joyfulness that comes to one in Christ.

Can we sing the songs and hymns that exalt the joyfulness of knowing God and serving Him?  Do you sing the following song with meaning and triumph?

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

There is joy, joy
Joy in serving Jesus
Joy that throbs within my heart
Every moment, every hour
As I draw upon His power
There is joy, joy
Joy that never shall depart

We often speak of being happy, which means being “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing,” and “characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy.”[i][i]  This is indeed an experience we can all relate to and desire, but the Biblical word that is nearest to it is joy and rejoice.  The New Testament noun most fully indentified with “rejoice” is chairo, meaning “to rejoice, be glad.”  The noun is chara, meaning “joy, delight.”[ii][ii] Barclay says, “In the New Testament the verb chairein which means to rejoice occurs seventy-two times, and the word chara which means joy occurs sixty times.  The New Testament is the book of joy.”[iii][iii]

In the Old Testament we learn that knowing God Himself brings joy.  The psalmist can refer to “God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4).  David said, “You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence” (21:6).  The same writer said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (16:11).  And in Psalm 34:21 we read, “For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name.”  Joy is focused on God and our relationship with Him.

Joy is also related to God’s Word in the Old Testament scriptures.  David wrote, “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8a).  The writer of Psalm 119 said, “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14).  He continued, “I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111).  “I rejoice in Your word, as one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).  Jeremiah testified, “Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).  Do we have such joy as we read and listen to the inspired Word of God?  Do we have deep pleasure and fulfillment when the truths of Scripture fill our heart?

Joy and rejoicing permeates the New Testament writings.  It is found from Matthew to Revelation.  It was the very atmosphere that the people of God breathed.  Barclay describes it in this way:

There is the joy of the gospel.  There is the joy of new discovery.  It may be said that the gospel story begins and ends in joy.  It was tidings of great joy that the angels brought to the shepherds (Luke 2:10), and the wise men rejoiced when they saw the star which told them of the birth of the king (Matthew 2:10.  So in the beginning there is joy.  On the Resurrection morning the women returned from the tomb and from their encounter with the Risen Lord in fear and great joy (Matthew 28:8).  The disciples could scarcely believe the good news for very joy (Luke 24:41).  When Jesus came into the midst of them the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:20).  And at the very end, as Luke tells the story, after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24:52).  The gospel story begins, continues and ends with joy.[iv][iv]

Notice some of the sources of joy in the New Testament.  In the upper room shortly before His arrest and death, Jesus spoke to His disciples and said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11; cf. 1 John 1:4).  This “fullness” of joy comes from our reception of Christ’s life-giving words!  In that same context, the Lord said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (16:24).  Joy comes through answered prayer.  Jesus promised the gathered disciples that He would rise and they would see Him.  In light of this, the Lord said, “Therefore you too have grief now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22).  This is joy in the resurrected Christ!  When the Lord prayed to His Heavenly Father, He said, “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (17:13).  Again, fullness of joy comes through the life-giving words of the Lord.  Do we know experientially this “fullness” of joy?

The joy of the Christian comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.  As we noted earlier, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). This was demonstrated in the experience of the new converts to Christ in Antioch of Pisidia: “The disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).  Paul states it well: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).  Paul tells new converts that they had “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6; cf. Luke 8:13).  The apostle prayed that the Roman believers would be filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

When a person comes to Christ for His salvation from sin, we can understand that he would be joyful because he now has a saving, living relationship with God through Christ.  After all, if one has been burdened by the guilt of sin and finally this burden is removed, there should be a sense of overwhelming you!  When Philip preached the good news of Christ in Samaria, “there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:8).  When the Ethiopian man was forgiven through Christ, he “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39).  The early Christians in Jerusalem “were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).[v][v]

Amazingly, the early believers experienced the height of joy even in the midst of suffering and persecution!  Jesus had said that it would be like this: “Blessed [happy] are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.  Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22-23; cf. Matthew 5:10-12).  After the apostles were beaten by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, “they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).  The “rejoicing” here is the Greek imperfect tense, meaning “continual joy”!  Peter has an entire section of his first letter devoted to suffering for Jesus (1 Peter 4:12-19).  He shows a direct connection between this suffering and joy: “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (v. 13).  When we know Jesus and follow His way, we will have the joy of the Lord in our heart!  The way of Christ is a transformed way for it brings spiritual joy in the midst of suffering, rejection, pain, and loss.

When we experience trials and difficulties, there may be a heaviness but at the same time we can have the calm assurance that we belong to God.  Sorrow and joy can coexist.  In light of the lostness of his fellow-Jews, Paul admitted, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Romans 9:1).  But he also could write, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).   He said that he was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Finally, joy is closely related to our view of other believers, providing they are walking in love and obedience.  There are many references to this in the New Testament writings.  Paul writes, “The report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you. . .” (Romans 16:19).  He also penned these words: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all” (Philippians 1:4).  “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (4:1).

Again, notice these delightful sentiments: “Who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).  John said, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).  See also: 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:4; Philemon 7; Hebrews 13:17; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 4, 12; 3 John 3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 7:7; Philippians 1:25-26; 2:2, 29.[vi][vi]  We probably all long for the experience of profound joy in fellow-believers who are walking in love and truth!

Joy is expressed outwardly and this brings glory to God.  “Joy is proof to the world that God can fully satisfy the human heart.”[vii][vii] It is integral to our life in Christ: “Joy is not luxury or a mere accessory in the Christian life.  It is the sign that we are really living in God’s wonderful love, and that love satisfies us.”[viii][viii]  Rejoicing brings various benefits, including: (1) Joy is our strength. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). (2) Joy is our health. “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). (3) Joy brings a cheerful face. “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).  It has been said, “A joyful spirit is a fountain of health in those who have it, and with those who share it.”[ix][ix]

We will have great joy when Christ our Lord returns for us at the resurrection.  Jude wrote, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (v. 24).  Peter likewise spoke of the coming of the Lord and our response: “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).  Even awaiting Christ’s return and glory brings joy: “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, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).[x][x]

The kind of joy [is not] a response to external stimuli.  If Peter can find a reason for joy in the most intense suffering, joy can’t be something that rises and falls with our moods.  This kind of joy is not a sensual emotion at all.  It is the deep gladness that comes from within, and it’s prompted partly by the knowledge that God has accepted us in Christ and partly by the delight and satisfaction we find in him.[xi][xi]

It is no wonder that Jesus told His disciples, “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  After the labors of life, after the trials of our earthly journey, after the persecutions and sufferings, after painful earthly deprivations and crushed dreams, we can look forward to a coming overwhelming joy!  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting!” (Psalm 126:5).


[i][i] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[iii][iii] William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1962), p. 76.

[iv][iv] William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit, p. 79.

[v][v] “It was a happy Church. . . . Gladness was there.  A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.  The joy of the Christian is not necessarily a boisterous thing; but deep in the heart of the Christian man there is the joy that no man taketh from us” (William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955], pp. 26-27.).

[vi][vi] See Richards, Expository Dictionary, pp. 361-362.

[vii][vii] The Power for True Success, p. 120.

[viii][viii] Andrew Murray, found in The Power for True Success, p. 120.

[ix][ix] The Power for True Success, p. 121.

[x][x] “Authentic joy is not the sense of delight we sometimes feel when life deals us favorable circumstances.  Real joy may be profound even when our circumstances are most difficult to bear” (MacArthur, The Quest for Character, p. 85).

[xi][xi] MacArthur, The Quest for Character, p. 86.

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:


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