Joy and happiness are the same thing, right?
According to “The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus” joy is happiness that is felt with “…success, good fortune, or a sense of well-being.” Synonyms are bliss, felicity, and gladness.
But the joy of the Spirit doesn’t really fall under that definition. It’s an underlying emotion. It’s not dependent on success or good fortune, but on our faith in God. When blessed with this specific fruit of the Spirit, joy is never-ending and has no limit.
When I was a child, canned mandarin oranges were one of my favorite snacks. My family didn’t get them too often; but when we did, I felt my parents’ love for me. The joy I felt wasn’t in the fact that mandarins are a Chinese symbol of good fortune, or that they’re a Christmas tradition for many people. It was simply because I enjoyed the soft juicy bite, the sweet watery flavor; and I knew that when my parents served it, they did it because they loved me.
Joy is felt when a person is secure in love. If we feel safe and cared for, then we may be able to feel the underlying feeling of God’s joy. And we should feel secure, because God does loves us. If we let Him, he’ll help us feel safe enough to witness this fruity gift of joy.
The fruit of the Spirit known in Greek as chara, or joy, can be compared to the mandarin orange. Do you know the difference between a mandarin and a tangerine? Many people wouldn’t be able to answer that question, and in the same way many people can’t tell the difference between happiness and joy. They think joy is happiness: when you’ve just had success in your work or school or relationship, you’re joyful.
But the Bible tells us about 7 different styles of joy, and none of them comes with a promotion at work.
Pure Joy can be felt in the midst of trials.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 (NIV)
We can feel joy during rough times in our life, because we know that God loves us. He loves us enough to work with us and mature us into more pleasurable fruit. If our faith were never tested, then it would not grow. Our faith would stay small and weak. We would never be able to blossom into the potential God has planned for us.
Glorious Joy can be felt with the foresight of your reward in Heaven.
“…and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people… Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure… So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him.” 1 Peter 1:4-9 (GNT)
Our pure joy will turn to glorious and inexpressible joy as we realize that God loves us so much: He is making us more precious than gold, and He is storing treasures up for us in Heaven. No matter what troubles we face here on earth, we have been promised to be richly rewarded in the end. God looks forward to the day He can call us home to receive the blessings which He is saving for us. He wants us to joyfully look forward to that day, too.
Enduring Joy can be felt when faith is made complete with Jesus Christ.
“We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and He is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. Think about Jesus. He patiently endured the angry insults that sinful people were shouting at him. Think about him so that you won’t get discouraged and stop trying.” Hebrews 12:2-3 (ERV)
It’s almost impossible to cling to joy when terrible things are happening. But as long as we don’t stop thinking about God’s love for us, it won’t be impossible to hold onto our spiritual gift of joy.
Remember, Jesus Christ asked His Father to let the cup of death pass from Him; He wasn’t happy with the course of actions His life was about to take. Even if you feel that you have no joy, if you keep your eyes on Jesus and remember what he did so that you could have everlasting life, your joy will endure the trials. It may not take the form of happiness or bliss; instead it will come in the form of peace and hope.
Peaceful Joy can be felt when you put your trust in God.
“I pray that the God who gives hope will fill you with much joy and peace as you trust in him. Then you will have more and more hope, and it will flow out of you by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (ERV)
As we keep our minds set on Christ, we will be able to trust in God. We will see God working in Jesus’ life, and in His followers’ lives, and we will begin to understand God’s love for us as we see Him working in our own lives. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Whoever puts his trust in God’s Son will not be lost but will have life that lasts forever.” (John 3:16, NLV) With trust comes hope, and with hope comes peaceful joy.
Glad Joy can be felt in deliverance.
“And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a crown of gold and with a robe of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced.
“The Jews had light [a dawn of new hope] and gladness and joy and honor.
“And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, the Jews had gladness and joy, a feast and a holiday. And many from among the peoples of the land [submitted themselves to Jewish rite and] became Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.” Esther 8:15-17 (AMPC)
God is a loving Father, and will always bring an end to your suffering. As 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “…God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” (GNT) In the escape that God provides us, glad joy can be felt. We can rejoice in the fact that God has protected us and strengthened us, and given the ability to endure the hardship.
Comforting Joy can be felt when we see others being encouraged in God’s Word.
“I always thank God when I am praying for you, dear Philemon, because I keep hearing of your love and trust in the Lord Jesus and in his people. And I pray that as you share your faith with others it will grip their lives too, as they see the wealth of good things in you that come from Christ Jesus. I myself have gained much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because your kindness has so often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” Philemon 8:4-7 (TLB)
As we grow in faith and our joy becomes more perfect in God’s sight, we will learn how to feel encouraged by the edification and uplifting of other Christians. Our joy will not simply be for ourselves anymore; we will take joy in seeing other people’s joy of the spirit, too.
Complete Joy can be felt in fellowship.
“I have much to write you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 1:12 (NIV)
Telling our stories to other Christians and listening to their own experiences, showing kindness and exchanging words of encouragement, and sharing God’s blessings with each other will give us a joy that is complete. When we are suffering, our Christian brothers and sisters can help us with our burdens; when we are joyful, they can boast with us in God’s blessings; when they are being tested, we can give them encouragement and remind them of God’s love for them. For as Galatians 6:2-5 says: “Help each other with your troubles. When you do this, you are obeying the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to do this, you are only fooling yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Just look at your own work to see if you have done anything to be proud of. You must each accept the responsibilities that are yours.” Galatians 2-5 (ERV)
“But you, dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up even stronger. Pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves safe in God’s love, as you wait for the Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life.
“Help those who have doubts. Rescue those who are living in danger of hell’s fire. There are others you should treat with mercy, but be very careful that their filthy lives don’t rub off on you.
“God is strong and can keep you from falling. He can bring you before his glory without any wrong in you and give you great joy.” Jude 1:20-24 (ERV)