Before we can pursue joy, we must understand what joy is. What does a joyful person look like? How do you distinguish a joyful person from a happy person, a giddy person, or a foolish person? You can be happy your team won, you can be giddy about a great opportunity, and you can act happy yet be under the influence of drugs. So what makes joy—Christian joy—different from these things?
Christian joy is something that is unaffected by circumstances. It is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. Joy is deep. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope. In Paul’s message in Philippians, we can begin to understand some of the characteristics of Christian joy.
I. IT IS A SHARED JOY.
Let’s read Philippians 1:3-5, 7, 8. In the words following the salutation, Paul tells the Philippians that he has been praying for them. But he doesn’t just pray—he prays with joy, and his joy comes “because of your partnership in the gospel.” Paul’s joy is a shared joy. This partnership is more than just spending time together. There is a unity, a purpose that is held in common.
Think about a great experience you’ve had. Perhaps it was the birth of a child. Maybe it was a great honor paid to you or a life-changing insight. Whatever the experience, I would venture to say that your joy was made complete as you shared it with others. A shared joy is a deeper joy.
II. IT IS A CONFIDENTJOY.
Now let’s read Philippians 1:6. Here Paul shares one of the greatest reasons we have for joy. This is a very significant verse. Paul is noted for his deep theology couched in simple words. Notice that Paul affirms at least three things in this simple passage.
First, it was God who began the work of salvation. In other words, God is responsible for our salvation. The Bible tells us that even faith is something that God creates in us. Our salvation is based not on our goodness, but on His grace. It is not anchored in how obedient we are; our salvation is based in the work that God has done.
These words are difficult to comprehend. We live in a world where we hear that what we do is what counts. Webelieve that we are masters of our own destiny. The people of Philippi believed this too.
Second, God continues the work of salvation. We are told that He “began” the work. Salvation is a process. We do not become perfect believers at the moment of our conversion. At first we are spiritual infants, and we need time to grow. Christians stumble. Christians make mistakes. We are people “in the process” of salvation.
Third, God will finish what He started. This is an important truth. It is the basis of our confidence, our peace, and our joy. God will finish what He has started in us.
III. IT IS AN INCREASING JOY.
n Philippians 1:9-11, Paul prays that the believers will continue to grow. They are sure of their destiny, but they should also be progressing in the faith. The Christian life is not static; it is growing. We experience joy as we see ourselves becoming more and more like Christ. But is the experience of joy unusual? Perhaps it is not the experience of most Christians.
Many of us begin our Christian life in a rainbow of joy, which gradually dissipates. By the time we have been believers for a few years, we are often just “going through the motions.” Our faith has become lifeless. That’s why Paul’s prayer is so significant for us. He prays that our love may abound more and more. But he is not just asking that we feel more strongly about each other; he wants us to grow in our love for the Father. This is a love that is not mere emotion. It is based on our knowledge and depth of insight.
The Christian life is like that. We miss out if we stop progressing. The initial stages of faith are enjoyable, but they are nothing compared with what God will introduce us to as we continue to travel with Him. We must “stay the course.”
We have noted some of the characteristics of Christian joy. It is a shared joy. It is not something that is isolated and individual; it is a joy we share with millions around the world, and it makes us part of a tremendous movement for God.
It is also a joy that is anchored in God’s work and promise. We are confident of our salvation, not because of our goodness but because of His. Telling others that you are going to heaven is not arrogance (unless you think you are going there because you are better than most people); it is a confident declaration based on God’s promise.
The Christian’s joy is an adventure that involves active growth in our lives. As we grow in faith, we overcome old prejudices, and past hurts give way to the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Our desires focus less on earth and more on heaven. Our behavior reflects Christ. And we find it easier to trust God in the tough times.
Christian joy deepens as the years go by. It starts when we receive God’s gift of salvation. It begins when we stop running from God and instead run to Him. It starts when we stop trying to earn His favor and instead rest in His grace.
Have you begun this joyful journey? I know you are a part of the church. I know you have had some meaningful experiences here. But that’s not the question. The question is: Do you belong to Jesus? Joy comes from a relationship. Joy comes when we know that whatever happens, we are held in the arms of the Father. Joy comes when we love Him more than anything the world has to offer. And once in a while, joy overflows when we see a bit of Christ’s reflection when we look in the mirror.
General Conference Ministerial Association