The Joy of the Lord—Our Hope
By Peter Amsterdam
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While Jesus only specifically mentioned His joy twice in the Gospels,1 joy permeated the events of His life and His teaching. We also find mentions and examples of joy throughout the New and Old Testaments. There are seven Greek words used in the New Testament which refer to joy, gladness, and rejoicing. These words are used 72 times in the Gospels and 101 times in the rest of the New Testament.
We’re told that God’s kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and that if we serve Him in these things, we are acceptable to God.2 Joy is also listed right after love as a fruit of the Spirit.3 Clearly joy is important for a Christlike life, but what exactly is this joy that is spoken of here?
In the English language, for the most part, joy and happiness are considered synonyms. However, the Greek words used in the New Testament for joy and happiness aren’t as close in meaning to each other, and Greek words that express the concept of happiness weren’t used very often within the New Testament. One author explains:
One begins to suspect that for most of the Christian writers joy was more than a happy feeling, a pleasing mood or a sense of overflowing jubilation, although it might include these… Joy is fundamentally an attitude toward life that views and accepts the world with equanimity, a confident way of looking at life that is rooted deep in faith, in a keen awareness of and trust in the sovereign God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.4
As Christians we can have that settled state of mind, that confident way of looking at life, and the keen awareness of and trust in the sovereign God, all of which make up joy. What is the basis for that joy? It is rooted in our salvation—that our names are written in heaven.
When the seventy-two disciples returned after going two-by-two to towns that Jesus was about to visit, they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Jesus responded: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”5 We have joy, we rejoice, because we have the hope of an eternal inheritance.
We can have joy because we take the long-range view, knowing that whatever hardships or setbacks we experience in this life, we will live with God forever. We see an example of looking beyond the present trials of this life to what lies ahead in eternity in Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”6
We have joy because of the presence of God in our lives. When we read of the presence of God in the Incarnation—of Jesus, God’s Son, coming to be present on the earth—the whole event is filled with joy. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child (John the Baptist) leaped for joy in his mother’s womb7; the angel appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth proclaiming, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”8; and when the wise men saw the star, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”9 God’s presence brings joy to those who believe in Him.
God’s presence becomes part of our lives as we are filled with the Holy Spirit; the Spirit is also connected to joy. “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”10; “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”11
We are told to have joy in the Lord, and that believers rejoice. “The righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!”12; “The hope of the righteous brings joy.”13 Worshiping and praising the Lord evokes joy within us. “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”14
Our joy is based in our faith in what Scripture has taught us: that God is our Creator; that though humanity is alienated from Him due to our sins, He has made a way for us to be reconciled with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins; that through this reconciliation, we enter a relationship with Him, His Spirit dwells within us, and our relationship will last for eternity.
Our faith in God and deep trust in His promises of salvation, reconciliation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the ultimate fruit of salvation—eternity with God—help us have peace of mind and a confident outlook. Our beliefs generate hope, an expectation of good things to come, and cause us to live in joy and a living hope.15
Joy is a response to God in our lives—to His blessings, presence, promises; the relationship we have with Him; our being His children. It’s a response to who He is and His involvement in our lives, to His love. When we’re grateful for what God has done for us; when we’re focused on His goodness, love, and care, and are content with His blessings, then we have reason for joy. Being thankful for God’s blessings helps us live in joy, as we have a positive attitude toward life.
Because joy is a response to who God is and the blessings we have in Him, and not to our circumstances, joy can flourish even during times of pain and suffering. “We rejoice in our sufferings.”16 It’s not easy to rejoice in our sorrows. In fact, generally speaking, it’s not natural for us to be joyful and constantly rejoicing. Yet Scripture says “Rejoice always.”17
Many of us want to cultivate a joyful spirit, but it’s not something we can do through our own power. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and to cultivate it, we must raise our sails so that the breath of the Spirit will move us in the direction of joy. One way to raise our sails is by reading, absorbing, and living the teachings of Scripture. Speaking to His disciples right before His crucifixion, Jesus said: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”18
When the waves, winds, and storms of life assail us, we can find joy in knowing that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.”19 We find comfort and faith to endure the difficulties we face and to be victorious as we look to the promises of God’s Word.20 As we read the Bible, God’s Spirit uses Scripture to speak to our heart to comfort and guide us, thereby giving us faith and hope, which are stepping stones to joy. As we do our part by abiding in God’s Word, the Spirit moves within us to give us joy.
We cultivate joy by putting our trust in God. Being trustworthy is part of who God is; it’s part of His character. All throughout Scripture, we are exhorted to put our trust in Him. Trusting Him means putting our confidence in Him, knowing that He loves us and has our best interests at heart. “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”21
Trust leads to hope, and hope leads to joy. And we increase our joy when we develop thankfulness and gratitude for whatever situation we find ourselves in. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”22
Regardless of whether our circumstances are pleasant or unpleasant, we are to be thankful. This doesn’t mean that we need to be thankful for difficult circumstances, but rather that we give thanks in the midst of every circumstance, good or bad. Scripture teaches us to thank the Lord that He is working in our present circumstance for our good, knowing that He will not give us burdens which are too much for us to bear and that His grace is sufficient to enable us to bear it. As we thank and praise Him, we experience the joy that is our heritage in Christ and “the joy of the LORD is our strength.”23
As we’ve seen, Christian joy is connected to and is a result of our belief system. Joy is an outgrowth of our reading, believing, and acting on God’s Word; of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us; and of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Christian joy is living life within the conscious framework of God’s love and care for us, facing the ups and downs of our lives with deep faith that the Lord is always there, comforting and caring for us; and being glad, rejoicing, that we are always under His loving care.
As believers, we can rejoice and be filled with His joy—joy that our names are written in heaven, that we are filled with God’s Spirit, are in communion and fellowship with our Creator, and that in whatever hardships we may find ourselves, He is present with us. This doesn’t mean that we will always be happy, but no matter what our circumstances, we are able to stand on the solid rock of joy. We are a redeemed and blessed people who will dwell with God forever.
Originally published March 2017. Adapted and republished January 2022.
Read by Simon Peterson.
1 John 17:13; John 15:11. All scriptures are from the ESV.
2 Romans 14:17–18.
3 Galatians 5:22–23.
4 R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids, eds., in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, electronic edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 600–605.
5 Luke 10:17, 20.
6 Hebrews 12:2.
7 Luke 1:44.
8 Luke 2:10.
9 Matthew 2:10.
10 Acts 13:52.
11 Romans 15:13.
12 Psalm 68:3.
13 Proverbs 10:28.
14 Luke 24:52.
15 1 Peter 1:3–5.
16 Romans 5:3.
17 Philippians 4:4.
18 John 15:10–11.
19 Romans 8:28.
20 James 1:12.
21 Psalm 9:10.
22 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
23 Nehemiah 8:10.