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Joy vs Happiness

By Curt Blattman

While many people assume that joy and happiness are similar there is a vast difference between the two. For the Christian happiness depends on circumstances while joy is a choice and depends on being obedient to Christ. I like how Meg Bucher puts it: “The difference between joy and happiness is substantial. We often assume that the fleeting feeling of happiness, giddy laughter and contentment in the comforts of life is akin to the joy we experience in Jesus. But joy supernaturally sustains our souls in seasons of heartache, injustice, and sorrow. Enduring the valleys of life is nearly impossible without the life-giving fuel of joy in Christ.”1

Happiness is a reaction to something great while joy is the product of someone great – Jesus. As a result, while happiness depends on external factors, the true source of all joy is Jesus. And when we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior we can constantly walk in the flow of joy and experience this wonderful gift. For joy is indeed a gift and a fruit of the Spirit for we read in (Galatians 5:22-23): “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

And the reason I know that joy is a choice is because of what we read in (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18): “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I love these verses for two reasons. First, they say that rejoicing always is the will of God and we know that obeying God’s will is a choice; we can either obey or disobey. And second, rejoicing always means we can have joy in the good times and the difficult times or else God wouldn’t say to rejoice always. I love what the website compassion.com shares about joy: “Although joy does feels better with a happy smile, joy can share space with other emotions — sadness, fear, anger … even unhappiness. Happiness can’t.”2

It is important to note that happiness is more a state of mind while joy is both emotionally and intellectually rooted in our faith in Christ. Joy is that settled confidence that Christ is in total control of the details of our lives and that He is going to work all things for good as we trust Him and let Him lead.

And to add emphasis to the command to “rejoice always” (since this is God’s will for us) we read one of the most encouraging verses in all of Scripture – (James 1:2) which reads: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Here we see that joy and trials can both co-exist in the economy of God. And that’s because we know as Christians that God always has our back. Mel Walker shares this thought beautifully when he says: “Biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction, because we know that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives.”3 

When we know in our hearts that God is working all things for good on our behalf and that He loves us no matter what, joy can well-up in our souls because it is God-centered unlike happiness which is often based on external people and events. Happiness, again is based on external events, while joy is based on knowing who we are in Christ.

It is so important to remember that a person pursues happiness but chooses joy. Joy is more of an attitude of the heart and spirit that brings us lasting comfort and peace even when we go through the storms of life. Just as having an attitude of thanksgiving and praise is a by-product of realizing how wonderful Jesus is, joy should become a part of our Christian countenance too.  And the more we fall in love and reverence Jesus, joy will become a shield to protect us when trials and tribulations come our way. Happiness is nice to experience but it is fleeting. Joy, on the other hand, is a fruit of the Spirit and so much more fulfilling to our souls.

1 Joy vs. Happiness – The Biblical Difference Explained (biblestudytools.com)

2 The Difference Between Joy and Happiness (compassion.com)

3 What is Joy in the Bible? Christian Meaning, Definition, and Importance (christianity.com)


Related

Why Trying to Be Happy Won’t Make Us Happy

by Greg Laurie on Mar 5, 2021

In 2002, Jack Whittaker won $315 million in a West Virginia lottery. Years later he told a reporter, “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up, too.”

His daughter and granddaughter died of drug overdoses, and he was robbed of $545,000 eight months after winning the lottery. “I just don’t like Jack Whittaker,” he went on to say. “I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I’ve become.”

There are a lot of things that money can buy, but there are also things that money cannot buy. As Zig Ziglar pointed out, “Money will buy you a bed, but not a good night’s sleep, a house, but not a home, a companion, but not a friend.”

Money isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t intrinsically evil as some would suggest. Maybe you’ve heard people say, “You know, the Bible says that money is the root of all evil.”

But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. Here’s what it does say: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV).

So money isn’t evil. If you love it, however, if you make it your goal, if you think that money will bring you happiness, then you’ll be in for a rude awakening one day. On the other hand, there are uses for money, and money can be a blessing in our lives. The Bible tells us that money is something we can use to touch other lives.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. . . . By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (1 Timothy 6:17–19 NLT).

So where do we find the meaning, purpose and happiness in life that we all want? How can we be truly happy people?

According to the Bible, if we seek to know God and discover His plan for our lives, we will find purpose as a result. We will find the meaning and happiness that we so desperately long for—not from seeking it but from seeking him. The Bible says, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15 NKJV).

C. S. Lewis wrote, “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”

According to the Bible, happiness and fulfillment are not things we should seek outright. Rather, happiness and fulfillment will come as a result of seeking something else. That something else, in fact, is someone else: God Himself.

We won’t be happy by trying to be happy. We won’t find fulfillment by trying everything this world has to offer. But we will find fulfillment when we commit our lives to the Lord and ask Him to reveal His purpose for us. When we align our wills with God’s will, we’ll discover life as it was meant to be lived.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “The strength and happiness of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way too.”

In the New Testament we find the account of some men from Greece who were looking for Jesus. They were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, and they were seeking answers, meaning, and purpose in life.

We’re not quite sure if they ever had a personal encounter with Jesus. John’s Gospel tells us they went to Philip, who then went to Andrew. Together Philip and Andrew approached Jesus, and He gave them His response.

In effect Jesus answered the essential question he could see in their hearts: What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Why do I exist? How can I be happy?

At this time in history, Greece basically was the cultural center of the world, the intellectual capital of Planet Earth. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle held court there. Greece was the fountainhead of philosophy, the matrix of mythology, the cradle of civilized society.

Not only was Greece an intellectual capital, but it also was a philosophical capital. In this open, free society, devoid of absolutes, the people were encouraged to live as they pleased. Immorality was pervasive, and justice was lacking.

These men who came to Jerusalem were searching for something more, and Jesus gave them what they were asking for.

His words for them, in effect, unlocked the secret to personal happiness and fulfillment: “Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24–25 NLT).

Jesus was saying, “Here it is: If you want to find your life, you need to lose it.”

This seems very difficult to understand. It seems unnatural and certainly impossible. But what Jesus was saying is this: If you want to live life to its fullest, you must be willing to lose your life. Then you will find it.

There are people today who essentially say, “I don’t want to live by anyone’s rules. I’m going to do what I want to do. I’ll do whatever makes me happy and brings me fulfillment, because all that matters is me. It’s all about me.” So they live their lives with that attitude.

But Jesus was saying that if you seek to live for yourself, then you never will find yourself. If a selfish, me-first attitude permeates every aspect of your life, then you’ll come up empty. And ultimately you’ll see the emptiness of life without God.

Learn more about Pastor Greg Laurie.

This article was originally published at WND.com.

What is a REAL Friend?

Coach Muller  November 28, 2019

 

A simple friend, when visiting, acts like a guest.

A real friend opens your refrigerator and helps himself.

 

A simple friend has never seen you cry.

A real friend has shoulders soggy from your tears.

 

A simple friend doesn’t know your parents’ first names.

A real friend has their phone numbers in his address book.

 

A simple friend brings a bottle of wine to your party.

A real friend comes early to help you cook and stays late to help you clean.

 

A simple friend hates it when you call after he has gone to bed.

A real friend asks you why you took so long to call.

 

A simple friend seeks to talk with you about your problems.

A real friend seeks to help you with your problems.

 

A simple friend wonders about your romantic history.

A real friend could blackmail you with it.

 

A simple friend thinks the friendship is over when you have an argument.

A real friend calls you after you had a fight.

 

A simple friend expects you to always be there for them.

A real friend expects to always be there for you!

What is a REAL Friend?


AUDIO When children become consumer products

By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, Op-Ed Contributors

By Rod Anderson, CP Cartoonist

This story has everything … Reproductive technology? Check! Same-sex union? Check! Autism? Check! Lawsuits? Check! The assumption that a child “product” of reproductive technology that someone paid for is “defective”? Check!

In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen a story in the last decade that more definitively proves what we often say around the Colson Center: Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims.

A recent Washington Post article tells of an Illinois woman who has struggled to raise two children, her now six- and seven-year old sons. Both have autism. But this story isn’t about her day-to-day life dealing with these challenges. It’s about why the boys are autistic in the first place.

Both of her sons were conceived by sperm donation, from the same nameless donor, “Donor H898.” This woman chose artificial insemination because her female partner, well, could not impregnate her. In other words, after having chosen a sterile union, she wished to have children. And this story goes on …

While researching ways to help her sons, the woman discovered they had at least a dozen siblings, also diagnosed with autism, also conceived via the same sperm donor. Some of these children, in fact, also suffer from additional neurological and cognitive disorders, including ADHD, epilepsy, and various mood disorders.

A genetic counselor explained the obvious. Such results with so many children were unlikely to be coincidental, and very likely to be the responsibility of that single sperm donor. Upon further investigation, the Illinois mom discovered that almost everything she was told about Donor H898 was a lie. He didn’t have a master’s degree as advertised by the sperm bank. He never even graduated from college. His supposed “clean bill of health” neglected to mention that he “had been diagnosed with ADHD and was schooled in an institution for those with learning and emotional difficulties.”

In other words, after choosing to conceive a child with someone she had never met, she was shocked to learn she didn’t have the whole picture about him.

After complaints to the sperm bank and government regulators came up empty, the woman filed a suit against the sperm bank, who chose to settle out of court for $250,000. In the meantime, the woman lost her job, her home, and her partner.

Oh, and sperm banks continue to sell Donor H898’s sperm.

In other words, an industry that treats children as a commodity to be ordered and attained by consumers who buy them, continues to treat children as a commodity to be ordered and attained by consumers who buy them.

Few bad ideas have left more victims in their wake than the ideas of the sexual revolution. From the beginning, the sexual revolution has peddled lies to women – about what will bring them freedom, equality, and happiness, while at the same time turning children into social experiments.

In fact, the foundational idea of the sexual revolution is this: Sex, marriage, and children can be separated from each other. The consequences of that idea have been devastating, especially for women and children. Once males were untethered from marriage, they were untethered from sexual responsibility. Women were promised the same “freedom,” but that never materialized.

Still, the kids have paid the highest price. The foundational lie of the sexual revolution is “The kids will be fine.” It’s a lie that’s taken various forms like, “kids need happy parents, not married ones” and “kids don’t need a mom and a dad, just loving parents,” as if men and women were fully interchangeable.

Well, as this poor mother in Illinois found out, the kids aren’t fine. They are part of a grand social experiment conducted since the 1960s: Take our most important and basic responsibility – caring for the next generation – and repudiate the very ideas and institutions that make such care possible. And then, see what happens.

Download MP3 Audio Here

Resources

The children of Donor H898, The Washington Post, September 14, 2019

“What Would You Say?” Video: Is Surrogacy Just Like Adoption?

“What Would You Say?” Video: Doesn’t Love Make a Family?

Originally posted at BreakPoint.

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. “BreakPoint®” and “The Colson Center for Christian Worldview®” are registered trademarks of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

 

The Risk of Happiness

An experiment with joy
DOUGLAS GROOTHUIS| JUNE 11, 2019

The Risk of Happiness

‘I don’t trust happiness,” said Mack (played by Robert Duvall) in Tender Merciesafter losing his young daughter. These four words rang sadly true, and they lodged in my soul. In 1983, when I was 27, it seemed right to me. I had not known the nadir of unhappiness. But my father had been killed in a plane crash in 1968. Since that grave loss, I thought that serious people, thinkers, ought not to risk happiness. It was, after all, a fallen world; optimists were deluded. Happy was usually silly and not the attitude of the brooding prophet, of which I was one.

To me, the frown was the crown of the Christian critic. Francis Schaeffer was seldom photographed while smiling. I don’t remember him smiling in any of the scenes of the film series, “How Shall We Then Live?” Woe to our modern, post-Christian culture! We serious people must beware of pointless mirth and witness chuckles. Yes, I knew who I was. A Christian sister in my college youth group said I was so “serious.” She liked to laugh, even giggle. I liked her, but that giggle! Somehow, we became friends.

By grace, I learned my calling soon after conversion: Teach, preach, and publish. Defend the faith. Exegete and challenge the culture in the mode of Os Guinness and Francis Schaeffer. Out-think the world for Christ! One must be serious to do this. Remember Kierkegaard, the great and melancholy Dane, whose book, The Sickness unto Death, helped lead me to Christ. But Os Guinness, as I knew from lecture tapes, had a seriousness and cheerfulness about him. When we met, I delightfully discerned this again. And C. S. Lewis wrote so much about joy. Hardly unserious, that Lewis.

“I don’t trust happiness,” I often intoned to myself as one dream died after another, as my wife went from chronically ill to terminal dementia. I wrote a lament about it, Walking Through Twilight. I was in good company: C. S. Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff who wrote laments for their own losses (a wife and a son, respectively). The latter wrote the foreword to my book. Yes, I tried to smelt every bit of meaning and love out of my suffering according to my Christian convictions.

I escaped into meaning as my life devolved into caregiving for a dying spouse—once brilliant, now not. I found meaning in my work, my aesthetic enjoyments, my mentoring, and my friendships. “A lot of people love you,” I have been told.

The pessimist assumes the worst, so he is not so disappointed. Assuming the worst is emotional insulation meant to provide protection from pain. I read Authentic Happiness, by noted social scientist Martin Seligman, over a decade ago. One fact stood out: Optimists tend to be less aware than pessimists of reality. I will take reality over happiness, I resolved. I have told my students, “I’d rather suffer for the truth than be happy with a lie.” The brooding prophet will not be deceived.

Now I wonder about this grim posture. I know, especially from Ecclesiastes, that life, even at its best, is hevel, “a vapor.” But this life “under the sun” also affords simple pleasures of work, family, eating, and drinking. And the vapor will one day give way to eternity.

My friend and author, Gail MacDonald, signs all of her letters with “Don’t postpone joy.” This, I take it, is the polar opposite of “I don’t trust happiness.” Gail is not a superficial, happy-clappy soul. She and her husband, Gordon, have been faithful partners in my laments over the years. They are seasoned saints whom I respect and love.

I distrust happiness still. Yet I know the beginning and the end of the great story. The new creation will know no sorrow, neither tears nor groans of longing and agony (Rev. 21–22). By grace, I am a citizen of heaven and will thrive on a new earth with all the redeemed. We will invent new games of happiness, new talks of hilarity, new festivals of celebration of our great God and King. I will converse with Blaise Pascal and Soren Kierkegaard, whose legendary melancholy will be no more. Francis Schaeffer will be beaming as well.

Happiness is ganging up on me. I am now married to a kind, gentle, loving, faithful, and beautiful woman, who loves me as much as I love her. We have a vision of ministry together. I am no longer obese. The 50 pounds I gained through sorrow have been lost. I don’t feel ashamed every time I put on clothes or look into the mirror, which shouldn’t be too often anyway.

Why not embrace happiness now and expect more—in this broken world, on this groaning orb? Every happy thought, every feeling of joy (unless sinful), is a strike against the fall and Satan and his devils. People say I look lighter, physically and emotionally. I am learning to welcome the pleasant as just as real as the unpleasant. No, it is more real! God made all things very good before the fall. Sin is a parasite on goodness, which is aboriginal in God and creation. Joy will find a way, even through the detours.

Why should I postpone joy? I find no duty before God or man to do so. God gives all good gifts, including every second of happiness. I accept it in the embrace of my new wife. My smiles need not fade so quickly. I need hide no reality to find the levity in God’s good world.

Call it an experiment in happiness, well worth the risk. But I am reluctant still. What if it is dashed, squashed? No matter. I accept and relish any godly happiness I meet. In that moment, it cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. He is author of many books, most recently Walking Through Twilight.

 

Original here

VIDEO Is It Right to Seek More Joy Than We Have Through Justification?

In the first message, I said that Christian Hedonism is a life devoted to experiencing Christ himself as our supreme treasure with as much satisfaction as possible in this life and the next. And I argued that such a life is essential — necessary — for the human heart to glorify Christ as he deserves. Because Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

The entire emphasis in that message was on vertical Christian Hedonism, not horizontal Christian Hedonism. That is, the focus was on the fact that experiencing joy in Christ is key to glorifying him (vertically) as we ought. The focus was not on the fact that experiencing joy in Christ is the key to loving people as we ought. I call that horizontal Christian Hedonism.

So, putting the two together, I would say that Christian Hedonism — a life devoted to maximizing our joy in Christ — is the key to glorifying God the way we should, and the key to loving people the way we should. Experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure is essential for true worship and for true virtue. If you cultivate a way of life that ignores or opposes the pursuit of joy in Christ as your supreme treasure, you will not worship him or love people as you ought.

Seven Decades of Joy

Now, the reason I bring up horizontal Christian Hedonism in this message is that it relates so closely to the topic that I was assigned, namely, “Reflections on the Fight for Joy Throughout Seven Decades.” ‭I don’t have time to talk about all seven decades. The third decade was the all-important decade of discovery. That’s the decade (my twenties) when the sprouts of Christian Hedonism sprang up in my mind and heart. And for the last fifty years, I have been trying to see and savor and show the supremacy of God in Christ. Everything I have written relates to this quest, more or less. ‬‬‬

So, instead of trying to walk you through the developments of all those years, what I think will be most helpful, and manageable, is to bring you into some clarifying discoveries about horizontal Christian Hedonism, and the way it relates to my fight for joy, and the way it relates to the gospel, and to gospel-centered preaching in our day.

Two Levels of Love

So, let’s begin by stating the relationship between the joy of vertical Christian Hedonism and the biblical command that we love each other and love our enemies. The way I usually describe it is like this: genuine love for people — Christ-exalting love for people — is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Or, sometimes, I get more precise and I say: Christ-exalting love for people is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.

“Experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure is essential for true worship.”

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The difference between those two definitions of horizontal love is that, while both of them are rooted in the new-birth miracle of experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure, one of them is stated more passively as the overflow of that joy that meets the needs of others, and the other is stated more actively as the effort to increase that joy by including others in it, which would also involve meeting their needs.

If that second definition of love is true, is biblical, namely, that love involves active effort to do the things that help people share my joy, so that my joy increases in their joy — if that is what love involves — then my fight for joy happens at two significantly different levels.

Vertical Foundation

The first level is the foundational experience of fighting for joy in Christ — the fight to see him as he really is, and savor the greatness and beauty and worth of Christ, so that I treasure Christ above all, so that there is, in fact, a joy in me that can now overflow, or be extended to others.

That’s the first level of the fight for joy. I call it an ongoing fight, because even though that foundational experience of seeing and savoring Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit — a miracle of new birth — nevertheless that experience is not static. It must be preserved. Sustained. Intensified decade after decade. It is a fight to the end. That preservation and intensification is the first level of the fight for joy.

Horizontal Expression

The second level of fighting for joy is the conscious effort (battle!) to do the practical acts of love which the Bible says will, in fact, increase our joy in Christ. Now at this point, things have gotten muddy in recent years.

There is, even in the gospel-centered movement — which I am happy to be a part of — significant confusion about how to respond to the hundreds of New Testament commandments that we should do certain things, and not do certain things, as we seek to increase our joy in Christ by loving people. Commandments like:

  • Outdo one another in showing honor.
  • Do not be slothful in zeal.
  • Be patient in tribulation.
  • Be constant in prayer.
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints.
  • Show hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Repay no one evil for evil.
  • Never avenge yourselves.
  • Put away falsehood.
  • Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
  • Let the thief no longer steal.
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths.
  • Put away all bitterness and wrath.
  • Be kind to one another.
  • Sexual immorality must not even be named among you.
  • Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.
  • Don’t get drunk with wine.
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord.

How do these commandments (from Romans and Ephesians, and hundreds more) relate to the gospel? How do they relate to love? How do they relate to joy? And commandments is what they are called, not suggestions or guidelines.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments [entolas]. (1 John 2:3)

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 3:24)

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)

Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God [entolōn]. (1 Corinthians 7:19)

Are We Asking the Wrong Question?

So mainly, what I want to do this message is take you into my struggle, my fight for joy, at this second level — the fight, or the effort, to increase my joy in Christ through doing the acts of obedience to God’s commandments, which the New Testament calls me to do.

And I can see some gospel-centered people cringing as they hear me describe the fight for increased joy in Christ as a fight for obedience to commandments. To them, the only proper strategy for fighting for joy is to send people back to rehearse the gospel — that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are loved, accepted, and forgiven, but that we should never say, “Pursue obedience to the apostolic commandments in order to find fullest joy in Christ.” That sounds too much like legalism — like you are earning something from God by your obedience.

So, is that even a right way to pose the question about how to fight for joy? Isn’t striving just the opposite of resting in the gospel so that love can be a fruit of the Spirit, not a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:22)? Isn’t that obvious, Piper, that you are posing the question all wrong? Isn’t it obvious that joy is a gift that precedes and enables acts of love, not the other way around, as if doing good deeds produced joy? If that were true, then how could those good deeds be a fruit of the Spirit? Isn’t it obvious that you’re setting this up all wrong?

No, it’s not obvious. As you will see. That’s where we are going.

Intensify Your God-Given Joy

So, there are two levels at which I fight for joy, and I want to talk mainly about the second one. But let me throw some light just briefly on the first level and establish it as something I’m not calling into question by the second one.

Blinded by the Darkness

The first level is the fight to preserve, sustain, and intensify the initial, God-given joy in Christ that comes with the new birth and with our first faith in the justifying work of Christ. Before we were born again, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5). Our experience of that deadness was that we were blind to the all-satisfying brightness and beauty of Christ in the gospel.

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Then the Spirit blew where he willed and a miracle happened in our souls (John 3:8). We were made alive (Ephesians 2:5). God opened the eyes of our hearts to see Christ for who he really is (Ephesians 1:17–18).

God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Made Alive in the Light

What we could not see as bright and beautiful and satisfying to our souls, we now see. This is the treasure that we have found and will not trade for anything (Matthew 13:44). That’s what Paul calls it in the next verse: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

“Christ-exalting love for people is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.”

This treasure — the all-satisfying greatness and beauty and worth of Christ — is now our heart’s satisfaction. This is the foundational joy that overflows in love to meet the needs of others, as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 8:1–2.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia [so, things start with an outpouring of God’s grace. This is the ultimate source of God-exalting human joy], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

There it is: abundance of joy, by grace, overflowing in generosity. The joy is not in the removal of poverty. It is not in the removal of affliction. It is in the God of grace seen in Jesus. Our sins are forgiven. Our guilt is removed. God is no longer against us, but one hundred percent for us.

Everything will work for our good. He will keep us for himself forever. Leap for joy! This is what the grace of God in Christ does — before we have kept any commandment, except receive Christ for who he is. In the midst of affliction and poverty they experienced an “abundance of joy.”

Joy Overflows

And that joy overflowed in generosity to the poor. This foundational joy in Christ severs the nerve of greed. It severs the nerve of fear. It severs the nerve of insecurity. It severs the nerve of pride that needs applause. It is a mighty power! And it is rightly described not as pulled up with a bucket of obedience, but as gushing up like a spring. It overflowed in a wealth of generosity. And so, I define love in this text as the overflow of joy that meets the needs of others. And it is rightly called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a work of the flesh.

That is the way I have most often spoken of horizontal Christian Hedonism and how joy in Christ relates to loving people. And I don’t take any of it back. And the fight for joy at this level is the fight to preserve and sustain and intensify that “abundance of joy” mainly by fixing our eyes on Jesus again and again in his word, and reminding ourselves of the greatness of our inheritance that he purchased with his blood, and praying that God would open our eyes to see the wonders of Christ and his work.

That foundational fight for joy in Christ is never-ending to the last conscious moment of life — “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). Next stop: heaven. No more fight.

Striving Against Sin — and for Joy

Now the question is, are we only going to revel in that constellation of glorious truths, and sing that song for the rest of our lives? Or are we going to revel in the whole counsel of God revealed in his infallible word, and be open to more glory? Are we going to stay on continual quest for all that the Bible has to reveal for our joy, or are we going to be content with the magnificence we have seen?

I don’t say that smugly. Discovering the joys of level one is like discovering an endless range of mountains in the Himalayas that you had never seen. And it really is endless. There are wonders and glories to be seen in the foundations of joy in the work of Christ that we will never exhaust. But my plea is that you not let your ever-so-proper ecstasy over the joys of this range of joy-awakening mountains keep you from seeing another range of joy-awakening mountains, from which you may see even greater wonders than the first range.

We don’t have a lot of time, but let me at least point you to the mountains I am referring to. This is the second level of our fight for joy: namely, the conscious effort — even striving — not to do sinful acts that grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), wound the conscience (1 Corinthians 8:12), displease God (1 Thessalonians 4:1), and diminish joy (Acts 20:35); but to do acts of love which in fact bring us more joy in Christ himself — indeed bring us safely home to glory.

Can I Obey My Way to Joy?

If it is true that the sinning of a Christian diminishes joy in Christ, and Christian acts of love increase joy in Christ, then the fight for joy is the fight to kill sin and pursue obedience to the commands of love. So the question is this: Does the New Testament teach that there is not only joy in Christ before and underneath obedience causing an overflow that we call love — joy as the rootproducing the fruit of love — but also that there is more joy in Christ himself in and after acts of love because we obeyed?

In other words, does the New Testament teach that we should approach acts of love motivated not just by joy in Christ that we already have because of the gospel, but also motivated by the expanded joy in Christ that we could have if we killed a particular sin, or did a particular act of love?

Enjoy the Narrow Path

Here’s my answer, and then we will look at texts from the New Testament. Yes, there is more joy in Christ in and after acts of love than we had experienced before that obedience. Yes, there is expanded joy in Christ himself that comes from killing sin in our lives (Romans 8:13), and from walking in obedience to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21Galatians 6:2).

And the reason for this is that when Christ shed the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20) he secured, at infinite cost, not only the forgiveness of our sins (Jeremiah 31:34), but also God’s writing of the law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). He secured infallibly for all the elect the new covenant promise “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

And he did this not by giving us his Spirit and removing all commandments from the New Testament and replacing them with the Holy Spirit. He did it by giving us hundreds of commandments that describe the narrow path of love that leads to life, and then giving us his Spirit so that we would love these commandments, and they would not be burdensome (1 John 5:3), but his yoke would be easy (Matthew 11:30), indeed, more joyful than if there were no commandments at all.

Approved Through Testing

Look with me at several texts that show us why it is that there is more joy in Christ in and through obedience than there was before. Start with Romans 5:2–5:

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

First, there is rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (verse 2). That is a gift from the very first breath of the Christian life. To be born again, to be justified is to have the hope of the glory of God. That joy is first and foundational.

Then Paul says we also rejoice in suffering in the Christian life. This is a subsequent joy. And the explanation of why we rejoice in suffering is all-important. There are three steps in Paul’s explanation.

  1. Because suffering produces patience — patient endurance (hupomenēn), endurance without bitterness or rebellion.
  2. This endurance through suffering with patience and without bitterness produces “character” (dokimē) — the quality of passing a test and being found true, approved, real.
  3. That sense of passing the test of suffering and being found real produces hope. It reinforces the hope of glory.

So where does the added joy in suffering come from? It comes from seeing the keeping power of Christ preserve and confirm that we are real. We lived through a test of our faith and we passed. In real, undeniable experience of pain, we went from patient endurance, to approvedness, to hope.

Happiness in Holiness

And this he says is why we are experiencing this added joy. This is a joy that comes from tasting — in real experience — the power of the blood-bought grace of God killing the sin of impatience and bitterness, and creating the obedience of patience and trust. This is a joy that is more than the joy of seeing Christ justify us. This is the added joy of seeing Christ sanctify us.

“God opened the eyes of our hearts to see Christ for who he really is.”

This is not only the joy of tasting the sweetness of the blood-bought sovereign imputation of Christ’s obedience, but also the joy of tasting the sweetness of the blood-bought sovereign creation of our obedience.

Christ intends to be enjoyed and thus magnified not only in his justifying work, but also in his sanctifying work. Not only by imputing his obedience, but by empowering ours. The imputation of his obedience is the foundation of our acceptance, and the empowering of our obedience is the confirmation of our acceptance — and oh, the sweetness of these repeated confirmations of his presence. This is more joy.

A New Dimension of Contentment

Or consider 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 where Paul argues in the same way with an even clearer focus on the centrality of Christ in the joy of our obedient sufferings. Christ said to Paul as he submitted to his thorn in the flesh:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Then Paul says, “therefore” — that is, because I can see your grace and your power in action in my life — “I will boast all the more gladly.” This is an added joy, an expanded joy — there was already joy in the grace and power of Christ to justify and forgive, but now there is more of Christ to see, moregrace, more power.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (episkēnoō ep eme).

Oh, how precious are such tastes of the power of Jesus touching us, tenting with us, living in us.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content [a new dimension of contentment, a new joy] with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Worthy to Suffer

Here’s a glimpse of this joy in the lives of Peter and the apostles. They were commanded in Acts 5 not to teach in the name of Jesus.

They responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For this obedience they were beaten and released. Then Acts 5:41 says,

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

This is a new joy — an added joy, an expanded joy in Christ. Who are we that Christ would set his favor on us as suitable objects of such a privilege — to be shamed for the name of Christ? To share with him in his sufferings. To know him in terrible and wonderful ways.

Give to Receive

One more illustration that does not relate to suffering. Jesus is quoted in Acts 20:35. Paul says to the Ephesian elders,

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed [makarion] to give than to receive.”

So, the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2 were so “blessed” — so joyful — in the grace of God that they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” Joy preceded and enabled giving. But now we learn that is not the whole story of motivation for generosity. Paul says, not only is there blessedness beforegiving that overflows, but there is more blessedness in and after giving. “It is more blessed to give.”

This is why I defined love in two ways from 2 Corinthians 8:2. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. And: Love is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.

Two Weaknesses in Gospel Preaching

What all of this shows is that there is a twofold weakness in some gospel preaching today.

1. Forgiveness Without Obedience

First, there is a preaching that almost never highlights the truth that Christ died not only to secure our forgiveness but to secure our sin-killing obedience to the commandments of the New Testament.

[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24).

The beauty and power of the cross of Christ is seen and enjoyed in the blood-bought experience of obedience to Christ’s commands. Experiencing this is a dimension of joy that can be had no other way. A Christian Hedonist won’t be satisfied without it.

2. Trust and Obey

Therefore, second, these preachers tend to shrink back from the apostolic intention of “the law of Christ” unfolded in hundreds of New Testament commands that define the path of love that leads to life (1 Corinthians 9:21Galatians 6:2). And instead of calling for obedience like the apostles do (1 Thessalonians 4:1), they only use the commandments to say, “You can’t do that. Christ did it for you. Trust in the imputation of his obedience. End of sermon. Celebrate grace.”

“Jesus secured, at infinite cost, not only the forgiveness of our sins, but also God’s writing of the law on our hearts.”

That’s a half-gospel based on a half-grace, offering a half-joy. By all means say, “You can’t obey these commands in your own strength. Christ obeyed them perfectly on your behalf. Trust in the imputation of that perfect obedience as the ground of your happy acceptance.” Yes!

And then look to the rest of what he purchased for you at the cost of his life. He purchased the Holy Spirit and gave him to you. He purchased the writing of the law on your heart so that you love his commandments. He purchased the sovereign promise, “I will . . . cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

This is the grand achievement of the blood of the new covenant. And the commandments of the New Testament are not given merely to expose our sin. They are given to show us the kind of life Christ died to create in his church. They are given to us so that by doing them by faith in Christ’s blood-bought power — gospel power! — we might have more joy as his power is perfected in our weakness — that we might have more joy in Christ himself.

Snapshot of the Fight

Let me close with a snapshot of what this second-level fight for joy looked like for me recently. A homeless couple was living in their car for weeks on the street outside our house. This situation caused me a deep struggle with how to be a Christian Hedonist — and how to fight for joy.

Do I struggle only for level-one joy — joy over my forgiveness and my acceptance with God, waiting for it to overflow within a spontaneous inclination to do more for this couple? Or do I look at the commandments to love my neighbor as I love myself, and to practice hospitality (the love of strangers), and do I then ponder the added joy that would come through practical, obedient helpfulness, and then make a specific effort to expand my joy by including them in it and seeing Christ’s sin-killing grace active in my obedience?

During those weeks, those two motives combined to move me to take the husband to connect them with Jericho Road for transitional housing, to help get their car fixed, to provide them with two nights in a hotel with special means over Christmas. To share the gospel with them and give them a Bible. But all to no avail. They turned down the housing and last week were there again in the bitter cold, fifty feet from our door living in their car.

It was six degrees outside. I had work to do. And this couple was probably touched with some measure of mental illness. At that point, my joy in Christ was not overflowing in some wise and caring next step. But I had the commandments, and I had a promise of greater joy through obedience (and I had a gracious wife).

I put on my coat and went and tapped on their window. “It’s really cold tonight. Would you want to come in and spend the night with us?” He talked it over with his wife, and turned and said, “No thanks.” I said, “There are places for you.” He said, “We’re still looking.” I said, “If you change your mind, knock on the door.”

As I came back into the house, there was sadness at these broken lives and this broken world. And there was a surge of joy. The crucified and risen Christ had conquered some of my selfishness and fear. His reality was near. He was precious. Joy went deeper. I hope you will join me in this fight for joy.

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