Question: "What is the joy of the Lord?"
Answer: The joy of the Lord is the gladness of heart that comes from knowing God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was born, the angels announced “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). All who find Jesus know, with the shepherds of the nativity, the joy He brings. Even before His birth, Jesus had brought joy, as attested to in Mary’s song (Luke 1:47) and by John’s response to hearing Mary’s voice as he “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).
Jesus exemplified joy in His ministry. He was no glum ascetic; rather, His enemies accused Him of being too joyful on occasion (Luke 7:34). Jesus described Himself as a bridegroom enjoying a wedding feast (Mark 2:18–20); He “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21); He spoke of “my joy” (John 15:11) and promised to give His disciples a lifetime supply of it (John 16:24). Joy is reflected in many of Jesus’ parables, including the three stories in Luke 15, which mention “rejoicing in the presence of the angels” (Luke 15:10) and end with a joyful shepherd, a joyful woman, and a joyful father.
Nehemiah told the repentant Israelites that the joy of the Lord would be their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The early church was characterized by gladness and the joy of the Lord (Acts 2:46; 13:52), and “joy in the Holy Spirit” is a distinguishing mark of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). Those who are part of the kingdom share in the kingdom’s delight.
Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). In fact, it is our Christian duty to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). In Christ, the believer is “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
Because of its supernatural origin, the joy of the Lord—our gladness of heart—is present even through the trials of life. We know we are children of God, and no one can snatch us away from Him (John 10:28–29). We are heirs to “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade,” and no one can steal it from us (1 Peter 1:4; Matthew 6:20). We see the Author and Finisher of our faith, and, let the enemy rage ever so much, we know who wins in the end (Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 2).
Faith is the victory that overcomes the world, and the joy of the Lord is our strength. Adverse circumstances, instead of hindering our faith, can actually enhance our joy. Paul and Silas knew adversity as they sat with their feet in the stocks in a Philippian jail cell. Their legal rights had been violated. They had been arrested without cause and beaten without a trial. At midnight, since they couldn’t sleep, they sang—loudly—the praises of the Lord they were serving (Acts 16:25). A miracle soon followed (verse 26).
The apostles in Jerusalem were arrested—twice—and ordered not to preach in Jesus’ name. The second time they faced the court, they were beaten. Unfazed, they returned home “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” and ready to preach some more (Acts 5:41). Of course, the apostles were only following the example of our Lord, who had “for the joy set before him . . . endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
The joy of the Lord may be inexplicable to the one who does not possess it. But, for the believer in Christ, the joy of the Lord comes as naturally as grapes on a vine. As we abide in Christ, the True Vine, we, the branches, are full of His strength and vitality, and the fruit we produce, including joy, is His doing (John 15:5).