Yesterday morning in our worship gathering, we shared Jesus’ words from Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord; and again, I say rejoice!
Then in our breakout discussions, the groups read a quote from C. S. Lewis:
The very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.
So much of Christianity wants to define joy. Because we know that we are supposed to be joyful, we create forms and methods of “finding” and “keeping” joy. Because we unfortunately correlate joy with happiness, we think that having joy means laughing or smiling all the time. (This one is particularly dangerous, since we often laugh and smile about things that have nothing to do with joy and everything to do with humiliation, ridicule, and even bitterness.)
During the message, I really did not have the time to do a complete, biblical definition of the word joy. But on the blog, I have all the space in the world, so we can spend some time discussing this.
Let’s start with the words.
HEBREW EXPRESSIONS OF JOY
In Hebrew, the most common word translated as joy is SIMCHAH. The word was associated with the coronation of a king or celebration of a king’s victory.
There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise. [1 Kings 1:39-40, ESV]
Since it was connected to the monarchy, SIMCHAH appears in the Prophets as something taken away in judgment and returned at the coming of the Lord and the restoration of Israel. It is also something that Israel’s enemies experience in their own victories over Israel.
SIMCHAH actually derives from a verb, SAMACH, which appears 152 times in the TANACH. While SIMCHAH is something we experience as a feeling, it really derives from SAMACH, which is an action. In most of the appearances of the one, you will find the other (as seen above, where rejoicing is SAMACH and joy is SIMCHAH).
This tells us a lot about joy. First of all, it is not something that is experienced independently. You cannot have joy without rejoicing. When people tell you that they are “full of joy” but have no reason, BEWARE! They are selling kool-aid!
There is no joy without a reason. Joy comes from celebrating what God is doing. You cannot have joy that makes you celebrate. You celebrate because you have joy.
One of the most dangerous trends that have developed in the postmodern church is the idea (borrowed from the 19th century revivalists) that you can work people up into a desire for the Word of God, that people can be made to be excited about the church. This is backward in my opinion.
Rather than focusing on people and trying to get them excited about God, perhaps we should be focused on God and expecting him to do exciting things.
GREEK UNDERSTANDING OF JOY
In Greek, there are two dominate words translated as joy: chara and agalliasis.
Chara has a whole family of words associated with it but it comes from the verb chairo, which is always a state of action.
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. [2 Corinthians 6:8-10, ESV]
What should immediately stick out here is that joy has nothing to do with circumstances. It has everything to do with our focus. It is the relationship with Christ and with others who share his passion with Jesus that fuels Paul’s rejoicing here.
The other word, agalliasis, is not as common as chara but it still significant. It appears only five times, and in the old King James Version was translated as “gladness.” Like chara, it derives from a verb, agalliao.
Unlike chara, agalliasis is an outward expression of joy. It literally means “jumping a lot.” It is to chara what SAMACH is to SIMCHAH. It is the outward expression of the inward relationship.
It is this agalliasis that John the Baptist experienced in his mother’s womb at the pronouncement of Jesus’ conception (Luke 1:44) It is also the joy that was expressed in the early church as they shared one another’s meals (Acts 2:46). And, like SAMACH, it is expressed in the presence of our King (Jude 24).
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR US
The Church is meant to be a place of joy; but it is not a contrived joy. This is not something that we force ourselves into. The joy should be an expression of our connection – to God and one another. How can we look at these Biblical words and not see that?
Because we often view faith as work, because we think of others and our relationships with them in terms of what we get or what they get, we lose any hope of true joy.
Joy is the experience of the connection to God and others. It flows along those connections, and if those connections are tenuous or anchored on “what do I get?” then obviously there will be no joy. There might be happiness; there might be laughter; but joy will be hard to come by.