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Some notes from the 2011 Bible conference
"True Joy"
January 8, 2011
First study: Joy seen in the Lord Jesus
Second study: Receiving the Lord's joy | Third study: Christian joy in daily life

First Bible study: Joy seen in the Lord Jesus
Second study: Receiving His joy | Third study: Joy in daily life        Top  

Before and at His incarnation    Read Proverbs 8:22, 30-31; Luke 2:10-15, 20

Everybody wants joy. Usually, though, we content ourselves with happiness. We feel happy when we get something we wanted, or when something good happens to us, or when we are with people we like. But later that feeling of happiness fades, and we have to find something else to make us happy.

Today we want to learn about the Bible's explanation of joy-- joy that will last. Since joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), we understand that God expects us to have joy in our lives, and it is available through Him.

The Lord Jesus was a Man of joy. He was also the Man of sorrows while on the earth (Isaiah 53:3), yet joy is His continuous characteristic, as we shall see.

What is joy? Happiness is related to happenings in our lives; but joy does not look at the circumstances. It is a settled reality of delight apart from the highs and lows of our experiences.

In Proverbs 8, the concept of Wisdom is personified. Based on the expressions of her eternal character, we can see that this chapter really talks about the Lord Himself, who reveals and is Himself God's wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). Wisdom in this chapter has a feminine character, perhaps suggesting the submissive place Christ took as a Man. He is God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5), yet He took a humble role.

This chapter shows mutual joy between the Father and the Son. This is an eternal relationship that we can never touch but can certainly appreciate. The idea that the Godhead has joy is a wonderful thrill! God is not a stern Deity to fear, but instead He has joy.

The Lord's joy before His incarnation was both present and future. He had joy in His relationship with the Father, and He also had joy to know that there would be an inhabited world in the future. This shows us that joy is settled in a relationship with God, and joy can also rest in what we know is to come. It's wonderful to know that the Lord's joy included us, His creatures. Psalm 16:3 also mentions His delight in the redeemed saints.

At His birth, God's purpose of joy is set in motion. The Son of God had been giving and receiving joy in eternity past, and then at His birth He is bringing joy to us. Joy had been implied at one time in God's relationship with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Sin interrupted that relationship, but it never interrupted the character of joy in the Godhead. The incarnation of Jesus did not interrupt the joy in the Godhead either. The Father still found all His delight in His Son.

Joy expands. It would not stay limited between Father and Son but expands into creation.

The angels who announced His birth brought good news of great joy! It was not merely news, or just news of joy, but good tidings and great joy. The angels had rejoiced at creation (Job 38:7), but now they could actually see their Creator for the first time (cp. 1 Timothy 3:16). We can imitate their appreciation at seeing Him, for we see Him too, by faith.

The word "joy" is not found in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. That's man's history. But right away in Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, we find "exceeding great joy" when the wise men come to see the Child Jesus (Matthew 2:10).

In life, death, and resurrection    Read Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 12:2; Acts 2:25-28

From Psalm 40 and its corresponding passage in Hebrews 10:5-7, we learn that the Lord's body was prepared for Him entirely for the purpose of doing God's will. Yet He was not just carrying out a task in some robotic or disinterested manner. It was fully His delight, as Psalm 40:8 indicates.

His delight is linked to the eternal purposes of God, for He was fulfilling all that had been written in "the scroll of the book" about Him.

Psalm 40:6 mentions His opened ears to emphasize His personal life. Hebrews 10:5 mentions His body, emphasizing His sacrifice. But Hebrews 10:7 leaves out the matter of delight, because His body would be an offering for sin.

In John 4:34, Jesus said His food was to do the will of His Father who sent Him. We all know the satisfaction of a good meal! For the Lord, He was consciously and perfectly pleasing the Father (John 8:28-29), and this was supremely satisfying to Him. Furthermore, everything He said and did brought joy to the Father.

The world connects joy or happiness with getting what I want, which is selfishness. But the Bible shows that joy is really connected with love. The Lord's joy has its existence in connection with His Father. Just as husband and wives have joy in pleasing their spouse, we have joy as Christians when doing what God desires.

God's law was within His heart (40:8), just as the Ten Commandments were carried within the ark of the covenant during the days of the tabernacle. Psalm 1:2 says God's law was His delight. Who else could delight in the law of the Lord? The Law condemns us. But the Lord Jesus found full delight in it-- not even just in the Ten Commandments, but the whole word of God. He found joy in meditating on and obeying the word and will of God.

Perhaps the thought of God's law within His heart also implies that He was Himself like a tablet upon which the law was written. This will be true in the future when God's people have His new covenant fulfilled and His law written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Yet the Lord already had God's law within Him. Christians should live with this character as well, as the epistle of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3).

The verses in Isaiah 50:4-5 mention His opened ears to hear the will and word of God, and then to speak it and do it.

Hebrews 12:2 speaks of the cross. He came for that purpose, but there was no joy in the cross; it was a place of suffering. The joy lay in what would come afterwards: the results of the travail of His soul, and the bride He would obtain (Isaiah 53:11; Exodus 21:5). He found treasure in a field and a pearl of great price, and He would bring many sons to glory (Matthew 13:44-46; Hebrews 2:10). After His suffering (not even necessarily the atoning sufferings from God), there is joy and a reward for overcoming, as the context of Hebrews indicates.

"The joy before Him" may also be that joy which was always in His mind: doing the will of the Father, which included the cross.

In Acts 2:25-28 (quoted from Psalm 16:8-11) we learn that the fulness of joy in God's presence is related specifically to Christ's resurrection. God Himself delighted in marking out His Son as the One who would be raised out from the dead.

Notice that there is absolutely no uncertainty in the Lord's expressions, "You will not leave My soul... nor will You allow.... You will make Me full of joy..." (Acts 2:27, 28). Joy and confidence in God go together.

The Lord's joy includes receiving the Spirit in order to give Him on Pentecost (Acts 2:33). He received the Spirit personally (e.g., John 1:32) and also officially, at the occasion seen in Acts 2.

Now Christ is seated at God's own right hand. God has answered above and beyond the need in dealing with sin. Moreover, joy has stamped every aspect of the Lord's person and every experience He has had.

Second Bible study: Receiving the Lord's joy
Study 1: The Lord's joy | Study 3: Joy in daily life        Top

Joy through salvation    Read Romans 5:1-2, 9-11

It is wonderful to know that the Lord Jesus had joy. Now we want to see that He came to give us joy as well. The three themes of this study show us some of the ways we receive His joy.

Christians have joy in our standing before God, because we are justified rather than condemned (v. 1). We also have joy in our state (our condition) before God, because we are reconciled (vv. 9-11). It is a present reality for us.

Romans starts out with no hope for the sinner; no one will be justified by our deeds in God's sight (Romans 3:20). But then it reveals that faith in Christ is the key, not our works. In this way we have peace with God. It depends all on God and not on ourselves-- what a cause for joy!

Joy begins at conversion-- and not only for us, but there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10).

There is joy in Romans 5:2 about our present access into God's presence and primarily in relation to our future hope, the glory of God.

We needed peace because we were enemies of God. Joy is the outflow of that peace. The gap between man and God was not just bridged but entirely removed; there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

We have said joy does not depend on our circumstances, which is true. But we do have joy in changed circumstances! There is no joy when we live in debt, even naturally speaking. Seeing that God has justified us and removed our debt of sin ("it is finished," John 19:30), we have joy.

If I do commit sin now, that will hinder my appreciation of this joy, for sin is foreign to the divine nature of which we are partakers (2 Peter 1:4).

Isaiah 26:3 shows that peace comes when our minds are resting on the Lord. Joy is the same way. It is available whether I feel it or not, because it is through Jesus Christ, not myself (Romans 5:1,11).

Another reason for joy is that we are justified by His blood, which is completely sufficient to take every sin away. His blood also removes us from all condemnation and even from the wrath to come (v. 9).

Then too, we are "saved by His life" (v. 10), not just from the penalty of sin but to live in the power of His present life. This is the aspect of enjoying salvation on a daily basis.

His death is emphasized as the remedy for all the distance between us and God (Romans 5:6,8,10).
 - We were weak, but Christ died.
 - We were sinners, but Christ died.
 - We were enemies, but Christ died.

Joy through our relationship with Him    Read John 15:11-15; 16:20-24; 17:11-19

Perhaps the first reference to joy in the Bible is in Exodus 18:8-9, when Moses' father-in-law rejoiced for all the Lord's goodness to Israel in delivering them from Egypt. Moses also described the hardships on the way, and that links with this next aspect of joy. Our ongoing relationship with the Lord provides a daily appreciation of joy.

In John 15:11-15, there is the personal joy of the Lord that He wants us to share. There is also an emphasis on hearing His words. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy might remain in you...." There is joy for us when we hear Him. He tells us what His Father has told Him.

We have joy as His companions, His friends. Our joy will not be full if we don't have Christ in it. At His resurrection, the disciples were glad "when they saw the Lord" (John 20:20).

Moreover, if we become friends of the world instead, this is tantamount to being at enmity with God (James 4:4).

In John 16:20-24, we find a permanence of joy in knowing the risen Lord. Our joy is linked to proximity to Christ, for the disciples had sorrow while He was away.

We are invited to ask and receive from God in order to have fulness of joy. When we ask and then receive exactly what we need, this brings joy! We ask the Father in the name of Jesus, which implies His authority over us and also that His name "carries weight" with the Father, so to say.

It is really the greatness of Christianity that we have a relationship with God. There is no distance, and there is no protocol for attaining it. The Father dearly loves us (16:27).

In John 17:11-19, the emphasis on joy comes in the context of the Lord leaving His followers in the world. He had preserved and guarded them while He was with them, but now He would go to His Father.

He provided this final discourse (John 13-16) so that His joy would remain with them. Yet He says the world would hate them! Despite being in a world that is against us, we can have the Lord's joy fulfilled within our souls. It does not depend on our circumstances or popularity, but on Him.

Through His Word    Read Nehemiah 8:9-12

In Nehemiah's day, there was weeping because the Law condemned the people's history and behavior. But the leaders of the people encouraged them to rejoice instead. This is the closing thought in that scene: They rejoiced because they understood the Word of God.

Having the Word of God is one thing, but understanding it brings joy. This shows us that learning what God wants us to know is one of the ways to bring joy to our hearts.

The joy of the Lord is our strength. Although their sorrow in repentance was understandable, God's people will only find their source of strength in the joy of the Lord. Sorrow about the past will only paralyze us if we don't return to the joy of the Lord.

Third Bible study: Christian joy in daily life
First study: The Lord's joy | Second study: Receiving His joy        Top

Joy in trials    Read 1 Peter 1:3-9

We have seen the desire and the promise of the Lord to give us His joy. This last study focuses on joy in the demands of daily life. When we drive a car, the tires wear down over time, and we eventually have to get new tires. But this is not how joy should be. We should not have to recharge our joy; it can remain a consistently fresh characteristic of our lives, for it is the joy of the Lord.

In this passage from 1 Peter 1, there are various trials expected. But they are in contrast to the many blessings and promises of verses 3-5. In Romans 5 the past and present aspects of salvation are mentioned; here we have the future aspect of salvation, when we shall be saved from even the presence of sin.

It's a matter of perspective: eternity compared to our trials. Our trials also have a purpose in view: to conform us, "if need be," to the Lord. Furthermore, there is an eternal inheritance in view for the believer. Having the right perspective follows the example of the Lord in Hebrews 12:2, as mentioned in the previous study.

The idea of heaviness or grief (v. 6) is not feeling sorry for ourselves, but an accurate realization of what we are going through. There can be grief in the midst of joy, yet joy does not melt away in the face of grief.

It's one thing for us to sit here in comfort and talk about trials. It's another thing to suffer the way Christian martyrs did and still do. Peter writes of suffering about 16 times in his letters. The Christians of that time lived under the emperor Nero, who was so bad that people named their dogs after him, not their children. Yet Peter also wrote of joy in his letters-- about 26 times. Joy overcomes in a trial.

The trial is not just a time of suffering. It's for the proving of our faith-- to test it and display its genuine character. In this way, our faith in God during trials will bring glory to Him now. Furthermore, the appearing of Jesus Christ (when He comes in power and glory as King of kings) is another point. That day will reveal how I handled the trials. Did I put them in perspective in relation to His appearing? That will add to His praise and honor then, too (v. 7).

Job and Daniel are good examples of enduring suffering. When we consider their trials and then the final chapters of their stories, we see that the end of their faith (v. 9) is honorable for God.

So we can ask ourselves, Was my joy full during a trial? Shouldn't it be? For what reason are Christians running around with grumpy faces? Maybe we are not conscious of the joy of the Lord. The enemy would like us to be grumpy because it is not a good testimony for Him.

There are various trials, as if they are "multi-colored." There are different aspects in all of our trials. Yet our trials are not unusual; God always provides a way to bear them; and we can rejoice to share fellowship with Christ's own sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Corinthians 10:13). Suffering is part of the believer's pathway.

Nevertheless, the life of faith still allows us to have inexpressible joy; and such joy brings a foretaste already now of the salvation that will be revealed in full later on (compare v. 9 with v. 5).

Joy in the fellowship and growth of other Christians   
Read Paul's example in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20; 3:6-10
Read John's example in 1 John 1:4; 2 John 4, 12; 3 John 3-4

Other Christians are another source of joy. Paul found encouragement in the Thessalonians, as well as in the Philippians, the Corinthians, and others. We are not on our own.

At the coming of the Lord, there will be joy to see those who came to Christ through our testimony as well as those who were helped by our service for the Lord. This result is a crown reserved for those who share in the growth of other believers. Yet we do not serve to get a crown ourselves but to have such a crown to place at the feet of Jesus.

There is value in continuance. The apostle John encouraged a sister when he knew that some of her children were walking with the Lord. Growth in our lives brings joy to others.

Paul had worked hard among the Thessalonians as both a nurse and a father. He did not bring them merely a few weeks of academic lectures; he labored to see Christ formed in them, and his life was bound up with their spiritual progress (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

Winning souls is one thing, and discipling new believers is another. Investing ourselves for the sake of others is a foreign way of thinking outside of this Christian perspective. But Paul intentionally pursued goals for growth in the lives of these Christians. A fine example of making a personal investment in the life of someone else is shown by the good Samaritan, who provided money for the traveler's care and promised more if it would be needed (Luke 10:35).

The man healed in Acts 3 showed both process and progress in his healing and response to God. This is how it should be for each of us.

John found joy just by spending time in fellowship with other believers (2 John 12). He could have written more, but he wanted to see this sister in the Lord. He says it will make "our" joy full-- his included, not just hers.

The desire to have joy in fellowship will affect how I talk with other Christians. Talking about sports or the weather is fine, but we should truly want to have fellowship by talking about the things of the Lord.

After being delivered from sorrows, the Lord is now the Man of joy (He is prophetically the "king" of Psalm 21:1). He is the first model of one who found delight in being with God's people, as mentioned in the first study (Proverbs 8:31; Psalm 16:3).

Joy at the end of a life lived for the Lord    Read Acts 20:18-24

In Acts 20, the apostle Paul could review a life of faithful service. He could look back at the years of doing what the Lord gave Him to do and have joy to know it was done. We will never do this in perfection, but we can be faithful to the opportunities the Lord gives.

Paul expresses a similar viewpoint in 2 Timothy 4:6 at the end of his life. He writes about being offered, or poured out-- a reference to the "drink offering," which was wine (a biblical symbol of joy) poured out over the burnt offering during certain feasts (Leviticus 23:13, 18).

In Acts 20:24, Paul desired to finish his race with joy. Later, in 2 Timothy 4:7, he could say, "I have finished the course." A crown of righteousness is added to his crown of rejoicing, and this is available for all those who love the Lord's appearing.

A long-distance race involves many laps. There may have been past moments in the race when we did not do well, when we stumbled or strayed during one of the laps. We cannot change that. But we can run this lap of the race with joy. This lap can be run for the Lord, and with His help we can desire to finish the rest of the course for His glory.

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