by Jerry Gentry
"The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first, saith the LORD" (Jer. 33:11).
True joy is something many people never experience in life. Oh yes, we have all laughed and cried, rejoiced and wept. Our hearts have lamented in anguish, and later exulted in rapture. But genuine joy goes much further and plows much deeper than mere happiness of the heart. Joy brings to our heart what resurrection life gives to our corruptible body. Joy is a spiritual experience that transcends the mundane world around us. Though we have not yet experienced ultimate bodily resurrection life, we can still find abundant joy, within our present corruptible body, if we are willing to yield to and receive the source of all "joy unspeakable."
To that end, the Psalmist declares: "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11). All paths of life lead to "the joy of the LORD [which] is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). When Moses lived in his own substantial strength, he killed an Egyptian, then soon fled before his enemies into the backside of the Sinai desert. When we live in our own strength, we also soon fall in an empty desert of unfulfillment and defeat. We must learn to say, as Moses later learned, that: "The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" (Exod. 15:2). Why is "The LORD. . . my strength," for each of us? Simply because it is His promise, given for the asking, if we will trust His Word: "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24), "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us" (1John 5:14).
Where "the LORD" is present, in His strength, there follows a "song." Yes, Moses taught the children of Israel to sing for the victory. Of Moses and the Israelites "which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand" (Exod. 32:11), the Bible says: "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously" (Exod. 15:1). Once He is praised, "he is become my salvation," and "joy unspeakable" rightly follows for all who trust.
Unspeakable as genuine joy may be, without it, our souls wither. Where joy has faded, things on the earth are simply not right. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Ps. 51:12), King David prayed in heartfelt repentance. Though his salvation was secure, his joy was dissipated in the face of heinous personal crimes against God. So he prayed for restoration of "joy unspeakable." He looked to God alone, who "restoreth my soul" (Ps. 23:3).
Without "joy unspeakable," our spirits fade. Without "fulness of joy", our lives merely exist, no matter how many mountains we climb, no matter how many battles we win, no matter how many oceans we sail, or how many other challenges we face and conquer. The most unsatisfying triumph is conquest without joy. An empty victory, if at all, follows a quest without joy. A success without "joy unspeakable" is like a tree with a rotten root. It falls flat in the face of the first wind and storm.
Of later times, the prophet Joel tells us: "The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men" (Joel 1:12).
We like to do a certain thing, because it is fun. That is not joy. We champion a cause and get self satisfaction from the result. Still, we have not yet experienced joy. We run races, win crowns, receive gold medals, build houses, raise skyscrapers and fly shuttles to the moon. All these give us satisfaction of accomplishment, and a certain sense of fulfillment, but remain as empty achievements without "joy unspeakable" (1Pet. 1:8), which rises above them all. Joy is a quality so elusive that it fades in the face of a bad spirit, dissolves when we compromise right standards, even scatters in the presence of a murmuring tongue or critical words.
"Joy unspeakable" is just such an elusive quality that few have found it. Yet Jesus spoke of such joy as a presently attainable reality: "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). It is encouraging to know that "my [Christ's] joy" becomes "your joy" and my joy when we receive it. But how?
"And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (John 17:13).
This joy is further detailed in the words of the apostle Paul:
"Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Phil. 2:2). Joy thrives in likemindedness and unity, dissolves under dispute and adversarial conflict.
A critical, antagonistic spirit kills genuine joy like a volcanic lava flow scorches and burns everything in its path. Joy thrives in unity, dissolves and dissipates amidst controversy and argumentation. Joy flourishes among the various kindred fruits of the spirit, just as it withers and dies amidst worldliness and works of the flesh. The Bible says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal 5:22-23). There is no legislation against joy, second only to love, amid nine fruitful sisters.
"Joy unspeakable" is a great mystery, but we can understand it to the degree that we yield to the source of joy, and receive joy freely as an unmerited gift. Joy is about giving and yielding, more about surrendering than winning. Joy must be constantly shared with others, or it will soon fade away from our presence. Joy teaches us to "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Rom 12:10). Joy finds ways to "give in," especially when others are weak. Joy preserves relationships in every way possible and restores the fallen. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).
Happiness is an inward feeling, whereas joy is experienced amidst out flowing service to others. "Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved" (Phil. 4:1).
The apostle Paul refers to other Christians, his spiritual children, as "my joy and crown." His own past service to their lives, and their likewise faithful response in serving others, was his "joy and crown." Knowing that they continued "stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1Cor. 15:58), brought "joy unspeakable" to the apostle Paul, who knew in his heart the service he had selflessly rendered. He yearned with joy to see Timothy, his child in the faith: "Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy" (2Tim. 1:4). Toward his beloved Philemon, he ached: "Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord" (Phlm. 20). And later to the Philippians, he confesses: "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Phil. 2:17).
He needed no accolades, but only to know of their faithfulness, as confirmed by the apostle John: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (3John 4).
Can you too experience this same "joy unspeakable," as the apostles Paul and John experienced? Such joy will elude you until you find and yield to the perfect will of God in your life. As long as you resist, as long as you settle for less, as long you refuse yieldedness, you will never experience fullness of joy. As long as you devise your own way, you will not find the only way that leads to joy. As long as you travel a course less than God's perfect way, called the "strait. . . gate, and narrow. . . way, which leadeth unto life" (Matt. 7:14), "joy unspeakable" will elude you. Even if you feel happy at times, joy will still be absent. Even if you maintain good cheer, joy still awaits the chance to blossom in your heart. Even when you find pleasure through righteous acts, "joy unspeakable" cannot materialize, until you surrender to the source of all joy, and His will in your life, as the apostle Paul teaches:
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
The apostle Paul found personal joy clearly through sacrificial service:
"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil. 3:8).
There is little or no joy where there is little or no yieldedness. It is only through surrendered sacrificial service to others that genuine joy emerges. In our materialistic world of selfish hedonism, even now "there is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone" (Isa. 24:11). As we approach the new millennium, material prosperity thrives and stock market values soar. Yet, "gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease" (Isa. 16:10). There is little self sacrifice, little of the philosophy that we should "in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3). Therefore, there is little joy experienced today.
If you do not experience joy, then you are out of God's perfect will for your life. The yielded believer learns to "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1Pet. 4:13). The secular equivalent of this verse is: "No pain; No gain!" We might relate that to the Christian life this way: "No suffering; No joy!"
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2), the apostle James exhorts. "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (v. 3). "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (v. 4). We must remember that "his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Ps. 30:5).
A great time of joy is coming soon:
"Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (Isa. 51:11).
"For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody" (v. 3).
Joy is about giving and receiving. Joy is about hearing and speaking. Joy is about mourning and shouting, weeping and dancing, suffering and rejoicing, as among the Macedonians: "How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" (2Cor. 8:2).
Joy is the knowledge of our salvation, in a personalized, yielded sense. Joy grows out of involvement. It is about caring and expressing sincerity; it is about affection and charity and genuineness and trust and honesty. It is about doing unto others. At times, joy suffers for righteousness sake and persecution for our personal stand for truth. Joy is central to a genuine Christian walk.
When love is kind, joy is magnified. When peace is made, joy is exhalted. When suffering is long, joy flourishes. When rudeness and meanness give way to gentleness and kindness, joy is revived. When goodness thrives, joy blossoms. When meekness inherits the earth, joy rules sovereign. And when the faithful sing to God, "the voice of joy and praise" (Ps. 42:4) rise together. "Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:18).
Joy is like an high octane additive that keeps an engine running smoothly without knocking. Joy keeps our love fires from exploding out of control. Joy tempers our talk while it encourages our walk. Joy is both bread from heaven and salt of the earth. It nourishes us. It preserves us. It focuses us on that high road leading to the kingdom. When discouragement pulls us down, joy lifts us high. When we are despised, joy is our friend. When rejection makes us lonely, joy brings us close. When we are reviled, joy brings comfort. When we are cast down, joy revives our spirits. When we are pesecuted for righteousness sake, "the joy of the LORD is. . . our strength" (Neh. 8:10).
And when death at last darkens our door, and our last breath expires into eternity, we can say with the prophets and apostle: "I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:18), "for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2), "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2Cor. 5:8).
"Joy unspeakable" is a mystery which "we see through a glass, darkly" (1Cor. 13:12). Praise the LORD of Hosts for "joy unspeakable," as confirmed by Jesus Himself to the faithful servant, in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verse 23: "His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."