“And so we are writing these things that our joy may be in full measure” – 1 John 1:4
This article is the second of a series examining the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.
As Christians, we understand it is vital for us to be practicing the fruits of the spirit. Nevertheless, as various events in life affect us, we may not always find it possible to maintain the fruit of the spirit of joy.
We will therefore examine the following aspects of joy.
- What is Joy?
- Role of the Holy Spirit
- Common factors affecting our Joy
- Special factors affecting the Joy of Jehovah’s Witnesses (past and present)
- Examples set before us
- How to increase our Joy
- Finding Joy amidst problems
- Assisting others to have Joy
- The Good that comes from Joy
- Our Primary Reason for Joy
- A Joyful Future ahead
What is Joy?
Under inspiration the writer of Proverbs 14:13 stated “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain; and grief is what rejoicing ends up in “. Laughter can be a result of joy, but this scripture indicates that laughter can disguise inner pain. Joy cannot do that. A dictionary defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. It is therefore an inner quality that we feel within us, not necessarily what we display. This is despite the fact that joy within often expresses itself externally as well. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 indicates this when it says that the Thessalonians “accepted the word [of the Good News] under much tribulation with joy of holy spirit”. It is therefore true to say that “Joy is a state of happiness or gladness that remains whether the conditions around us are pleasant or not”.
As we know from the record in Acts 5:41, even when the apostles were flogged for speaking about the Christ, they “went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name”. Obviously, the disciples did not enjoy the flogging they received. However, they surely were joyful of the fact that they had remained faithful to such an outstanding degree that the Sanhedrin had made them a target of persecution as Jesus foretold. (Matthew 10:17-20)
Role of the Holy Spirit
Being a fruitage of the spirit, having joy also requires the requesting of Holy Spirit in prayer to Our Father via our saviour Jesus Christ. Without Holy Spirit it would be difficult to successfully cultivate it and obtain as much joy as is humanly possible. When we put into practice the new personality, which involves all the fruits of the spirit, then we can benefit in many ways as our fine actions and attitudes will bear good results. (Ephesians 4:22-24) While this may not necessarily be with those immediately around us, it will certainly benefit our standing in the minds of those who are spiritually minded. As a result, we may often receive reciprocal pleasant treatment. This would likely lead to the outcome that our joy is increased. In addition, we can be assured Jesus Christ and Jehovah will appreciate our earnest efforts. (Luke 6:38, Luke 14:12-14)
Common Factors affecting our Joy
What can affect our joy in serving God? There can be many factors.
- It may be poor health affecting us or affecting our loved ones.
- It could be grief at the loss of loved ones, which inevitably affects all of us in this system of things.
- We may suffer injustice, perhaps at work, at home, from those we viewed as fellow Christian associates or friends or in life in general.
- Unemployment or job security worries can affect us as we care about our responsibilities to our loved one(s).
- Problems can arise in our personal relationships, both within the family and in the wider circle of our friends and acquaintances.
- Another factor affecting our joy could be that family members or our former friends or acquaintances are shunning us. This could be because of being misguided by others as to how to act in relationship with fellow Christians who may no longer continue to accept certain beliefs that we may previously have shared in common with them because of our conscience and more accurate knowledge of the scriptures.
- Disappointed expectations may arise regarding the nearness of the end of wickedness due to trusting in man’s predictions.
- Any number of other causes of worry and sorrow can also gradually cause us to lose our joy.
Most likely, nearly all or perhaps all of these factors have affected us personally at one time or another. Perhaps even now you may be suffering from one or more of these problems as these are common issues affecting people’s joy.
Special Factors affecting the Joy of Jehovah’s Witnesses (past and present)
Nevertheless, for those who are or have been Jehovah’s Witnesses there are some additional relevant causes affecting joy omitted from the above list. These factors need special consideration. They will likely have arisen from disappointed expectations.
What disappointed expectations might they be?
- Disappointment could have arisen because of having put one’s trust in earthling men’s predictions such as “Stay Alive till 75”, because 1975 will be the year for Armageddon. Even now, we may hear from the platform or in Web broadcasts the phrases “Armageddon is imminent” or “we are in the last days of the last days” with little or no explanation or scriptural basis. Yet, most if not all of us, have in the past at least, put trust in these declarations despite the advice of Psalm 146:3.[i] As we grow older, and experience the problems brought by the common factors mentioned above we also then experience the truth of Proverbs 13:12, which reminds us “Expectation postponed is making the heart sick”.
- Some older witnesses may remember (from Watchtower Study articles and the “Proclaimers” book) the proclamation “Millions now living will never die” given as the subject of a Talk in March 1918 and subsequently a booklet in 1920 (referring to 1925). Yet, there are likely only a few million people left alive in the whole world who were even born by 1925 let alone by 1918.[ii]
- Joy can also be lost when one comes to the realisation that the congregation that one thought was a far safer environment for bringing up children in than the world in general, is in reality not as safe as we believed.[iii]
- Another way joy can be lost is if one is expected to completely shun a close relative who may have been disfellowshipped due to not accepting all the teachings of the Organization without question. The Beroeans questioned what the Apostle Paul taught, and they were “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so”. The Apostle Paul praised their fine enquiring attitude calling them “noble-minded”. The Beroeans found they could accept the Apostle Paul’s inspired teachings because all Paul’s words were provable from the scriptures (Acts 17:11). [iv]
- Joy is lost when one has feelings of worthlessness. Many Witnesses and ex-Witnesses suffer and struggle with feelings of worthlessness. There appear to be many contributory factors, perhaps dietary deficiencies, lack of sleep, stress, and issues with self-confidence. Many of these factors may be caused by or exacerbated by the pressures, expectations and restrictions put upon Witnesses. This results in an environment in which it is often difficult to find real joy, contrary to expectations.
In the light of these factors and issues that can affect any of us, we first need to understand what genuine joy is. Then we can begin to perceive how others have perhaps remained joyful, despite being affected by these very same issues. This will help us to understand what we can do to maintain our joy and even add to it.
Examples set before us
Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us that Jesus was prepared to endure a painful death on a torture stake because of the joy that was set before him. What was that joy? The joy set before him was the opportunity to be part of God’s arrangement to restore peace to the earth and humankind. In doing this God’s arrangement would bring joy to those resurrected or living on under that arrangement. Part of that joy will be for Jesus to have the wonderful privilege and ability to restore all those sleeping in death. In addition, he will be able to cure those with health issues. During his short ministry on earth, he showed that this would be possible in the future by means of his miracles. Surely, would we not also be joyful if we were to be given the ability and authority to do this as Jesus has.
1 Chronicles 29:9 is part of the record of the preparations by King David for the building of Jehovah’s Temple in Jerusalem that would be carried out by his son Solomon. The record says: “and the people gave way to rejoicing over their making voluntary offerings, for it was with a complete heart that they made voluntary offerings to Jehovah; and even David the king himself rejoiced with great joy.”
As we know, David knew he would not to be permitted to build the temple, yet he found joy in preparing for it. He also found joy in the actions of others. The key point was that the Israelites gave with a whole heart and hence experienced joy as a result. Feelings of coercion, or not feeling whole-heartedly behind something reduces or eliminates our joy. How can we address this problem? One way is to endeavour to be whole-hearted, by examining our motives and desires and making adjustments as required. The alternative is to cease to participate in whatever we cannot feel whole-hearted about and find a replacement goal or cause into which we can channel all our mental and physical energy.
How to increase our Joy
Learning from Jesus
Jesus understood both the problems his disciples faced. He also understood the problems they would face in the future after his death. Even while Jesus faced arrest and execution, as always, he thought first of others rather than thinking of himself. It was during the last evening with his disciples where we take up the Bible record in John 16:22-24, which states: “YOU also, therefore, are now, indeed, having grief; but I shall see YOU again and YOUR hearts will rejoice, and YOUR joy no one will take from YOU. And in that day YOU will ask me no question at all. Most truly I say to YOU, If YOU ask the Father for anything he will give it to YOU in my name. Until this present time YOU have not asked a single thing in my name. Ask and YOU will receive, that YOUR joy may be made full.”
The important point we can learn from this passage of scripture is that Jesus was thinking of others at this time, rather than himself. He also encouraged them to turn to his Father and their Father, our Father, to request help by the Holy Spirit.
Just as Jesus experienced, when we put others first, our own problems are usually put in the background. We are also sometimes able to put our problems in a better context, as there are often others in a worse situation who manage to remain joyful. Furthermore, we get joy from seeing the results of helping others who appreciate our help.
Just a little earlier during his last evening on earth Jesus had spoken to the apostles as follows: “My Father is glorified in this, that YOU keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples. Just as the Father has loved me and I have loved YOU, remain in my love. If YOU observe my commandments, YOU will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love. “These things I have spoken to YOU, that my joy may be in YOU and YOUR joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that YOU love one another just as I have loved YOU.” (John 15:8-12).
Here Jesus was linking the practice of showing love, as this would assist the disciples in gaining and keeping their joy.
Importance of Holy Spirit
We mentioned above that Jesus encouraged us to ask for Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul also highlighted the benefits of doing so when writing to the congregation in Rome. Linking joy, peace, faith and the Holy Spirit, in Romans 15:13 he wrote “May the God who gives hope fill YOU with all joy and peace by YOUR believing, that YOU may abound in hope with power of Holy Spirit.”.
The importance of our own attitude
A key point to remember in increasing our joy is that our personal attitude matters. If we have a positive attitude, we can still have joy and increase in our joy despite adversity.
The first century Macedonian Christians were a fine example of joy despite adversity as shown in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. Part of this scripture reminds us that, “during a great test under affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty made the riches of their generosity abound”. They found joy in helping others despite having serious adversity affecting themselves.
As we read and meditate on God’s word our joy increases as there is always something new to learn. Reading and meditating helps us to comprehend in fuller measure wonderful Bible truths.
Do we not get great joy when we share these things with others? What about the certainty that the resurrection will occur? Or, the love shown by Jesus in giving his life as a ransom? It reminds us of one of Jesus’ parables as recorded in Matthew 13:44. The account reads, “The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and for the joy he has he goes and sells what things he has and buys that field.”
It is also important to be realistic in our expectations not only of others, but also ourselves.
Keeping in mind the following scriptural principles will help us greatly in achieving this goal and will increase our joy as a result.
- Avoid covetousness. Material things, while necessary, cannot bring us life. (Luke 12:15)
- Exercise modesty, keeping our focus on the important things in life. (Micah 6:8)
- Allow time in our busy schedule for taking in spiritual knowledge. (Ephesians 5:15, 16)
- Be reasonable in expectations of both yourself and others as well. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Finding Joy amidst problems
Despite our best efforts, no doubt there have been occasions when it may have been difficult to be joyful. That is why the Apostle Paul’s words in Colossians are so encouraging. The passage in Colossians shows how others can help us and how we can help ourselves. Certainly, having as much accurate knowledge as possible about God’s will enable us to have a solid hope for the future. It helps give us confidence that God is pleased with our efforts to do what is right. By focusing on these things and our hope for the future then we can still be joyful under these adverse conditions. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9-12, “That is also why we, from the day we heard [of it], have not ceased praying for YOU and asking that YOU may be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing [him] as YOU go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God, being made powerful with all power to the extent of his glorious might so as to endure fully and be long-suffering with joy, thanking the Father who rendered YOU suitable for YOUR participation in the inheritance of the holy ones in the light.”
These verses highlight that by displaying the Godly qualities of long suffering and joy and being filled with accurate knowledge, we show that we are suitable for the unequalled privilege of participating in the inheritance of the holy ones. This is most assuredly something to be joyful about.
Another practical example of joy is recorded in John 16:21, which states, “A woman, when she is giving birth, has grief, because her hour has arrived; but when she has brought forth the young child, she remembers the tribulation no more because of the joy that a man has been born into the world.” Likely, all parents can relate to this. All the pain, troubles and worries are forgotten when they have the joy at receiving a new life into the world. A life with which they can instantly bond and show love for. As the child grows, it brings further joy and happiness as it takes its first steps, speaks its first words and much, much more. With care, these events of joy continue even when the child becomes an adult.
Assisting others to have Joy
Acts 16:16-34 contains an interesting account about Paul and Silas during their stay in Philippi. They were put in prison after curing a servant girl of demon possession, which greatly upset her owners. During the night while they were singing and praising God, a great earthquake occurred which broke their bonds and opened the door of the jail. The refusal of Paul and Silas to flee when the earthquake broke open the jail led to the jailer and his family being joyful. The jailer became joyful because he would not be punished (likely by death) for losing a prisoner. However, there was also something else, which added to his joy. Additionally, as Acts 16:33 records “He [the jailer] brought them into his house and set a table before them, [Paul and Silas] and he rejoiced greatly with all his household now that he had believed in God.” Yes, Paul and Silas had both assisted in giving causes of joy to others, by thinking of the effects of their actions, by thinking of others welfare ahead of their own. They also discerned the receptive heart of the jailer and shared the good news about the Christ with him.
When we give a gift to someone and they show appreciation for it are we not happy? In the same way, knowing we have brought joy to others, can in turn, bring joy to us too.
It is good to be reminded that our actions, even though they may seem insignificant to us, can bring joy to others. Do we feel sorry when we realise we have upset someone? No doubt we do. We also do our best to show we are sorry by apologising or otherwise trying to make up for our transgression. This would help others be joyful as they would realise you did not intentionally upset them. In doing so, you would also be bringing joy to ones you did not directly upset.
Bringing joy to non-associates
The account in Luke 15:10 enlightens us as to who they are when it says, “Thus, I tell YOU, joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner that repents.”
Of course, to this we can add Jehovah and Christ Jesus. We are surely all familiar with the words of Proverbs 27:11 where we are reminded, “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” Is it not a privilege to be able to bring joy to our Creator as we strive to please him?
Clearly, our actions towards others can have effects far beyond our family and associates, the right and good actions bringing joy to all.
The Good that comes from Joy
Benefits for ourselves
What benefits can being joyful bring us?
A proverb states, “A heart that is joyful does good as a curer, but a spirit that is stricken makes the bones dry” (Proverbs 17:22). Indeed, there are health benefits to be obtained. Laughter is associated with joy and it has been medically proven that laughter is indeed one of the best medicines.
Some physical and mental benefits of joy and laughter include:
- It fortifies your immune system.
- It gives your body a workout like boost.
- It can increase blood flow to the heart.
- It banishes stress.
- It can clear your mind.
- It can kill pain.
- It makes you more creative.
- It burns calories.
- It slashes your blood pressure.
- It can help with depression.
- It combats memory loss.
All these benefits have good effects elsewhere in the body as well.
Benefits for others
We also should not underestimate the effect of showing kindness and giving encouragement to others has on those who get to know about this or observe you doing so.
The Apostle Paul gained much joy in seeing the kindness and Christian actions of Philemon towards his fellow brothers. While in prison in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon. In Philemon 1:4-6 it says in part, “I (Paul) always thank my God when I make mention of you in my prayers, as I keep hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the holy ones; in order that the sharing of your faith may go into action”. These fine actions on the part of Philemon had really encouraged the Apostle Paul. He went on to write in Philemon 1:7, “For I got much joy and comfort over your love, because the tender affections of the holy ones have been refreshed through you, brother”.
Yes, the loving actions of others towards their fellow brothers and sisters had brought encouragement and joy to the Apostle Paul in prison in Rome.
Likewise, today, our joy in doing what is right can have a beneficial effect on those who observe that joy.
Our primary reason for Joy
We have discussed many ways in which we can gain joy and assist others to gain joy likewise. However, surely the primary reason for us to have joy is that just over 2,000 years ago an important world changing event occurred. We take up the account of this important event in Luke 2:10-11, “But the angel said to them: “Have no fear, for, look! I am declaring to YOU good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to YOU today a Savior, who is Christ [the] Lord, in David’s city”.
Yes, the joy that was to be had then and still is to be had today, is the knowledge that Jehovah had given his son Jesus as a ransom and hence saviour for all humankind.
In his short ministry on earth, he gave upbuilding glimpses of what the future would hold by means of his miracles.
- Jesus brought relief to the oppressed. (Luke 4:18-19)
- Jesus healed the sick. (Matthew 8:13-17)
- Jesus expelled the demons from people. (Acts 10:38)
- Jesus resurrected loved ones. (John 11:1-44)
Whether we benefit from that provision is up to all humankind on an individual basis. However, it is possible for us all to benefit. (Romans 14:10-12)
A Joyful Future ahead
At this point, it is good to examine Jesus words given in the Sermon on the Mount. Therein he mentioned many things that can bring happiness and therefore joy not only now, but also would do so in the future.
Matthew 5:3-13 says “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. … Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth. Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled. Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy. Happy are the pure in heart, since they will see God … Rejoice and leap for joy, since YOUR reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to YOU”.
To examine these verses properly requires an article in itself, but in summary, how can we benefit and gain joy?
This entire portion of scripture is discussing how someone taking certain actions or having certain attitudes, all of which are pleasing to God and Christ, will bring that individual person joy now, but more importantly everlasting joy in the future.
Romans 14:17 confirms this when it says, “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but [means] righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.”
The Apostle Peter concurred with this. When talking about the Christ some years later, he wrote in 1 Peter 1:8-9 “Though YOU never saw him, YOU love him. Though YOU are not looking upon him at present, yet YOU exercise faith in him and are greatly rejoicing with an unspeakable and glorified joy, as YOU receive the end of YOUR faith, the salvation of YOUR souls”.
Those late first century Christians had joy from the hope they had gained. Yes, once again we see how our actions in exercising faith and looking forward to the hope put before us can bring joy. What about the joy Christ gives us in being able to have the opportunity to look forward to everlasting life? Are we not reminded in Matthew 5:5 that such “meek” one’s “will inherit the earth” and Romans 6:23 reminds us that, “the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord”.
John 15:10 also reminds us of Jesus words, “If YOU observe my commandments, YOU will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love”.
Jesus made it clear that obeying his commandments would result in us continuing to be in his love, something we all desire. That is why he taught what the way he did. The account continues, “Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11)”
What were those commandments that we should obey? This question is answered in John 15:12, the following verse. It tells us “This is my commandment, that YOU love one another just as I have loved YOU”. These verses indicate joy comes from showing love to others as per Jesus command and knowing that in doing so we keep ourselves in Christ’s love.
In conclusion, we live in stressful times, with many of the causes of stress outside our control. The main way we can obtain and retain joy now, and the only way for the future, is to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit from Jehovah. We also need to show full appreciation for Jesus sacrifice on our behalf. We can only be successful in these endeavours if we use the indispensable and indisputable tool he has provided, his word the Bible.
We can then personally experience the fulfilment of Psalm 64:10 which says: “and the righteous one will rejoice in Jehovah and will indeed take refuge in him; And all the upright in heart will boast.”
As in the first century, for us today it can also prove to be as Acts 13:52 records “And the disciples continued to be filled with joy and holy spirit.”
Yes, indeed “Let your joy be made full”!
[i] E.g. See Watchtower 1980 March 15th, p.17. “With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting – in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. … Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were many other statements published and given in assembly discourses that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a strong probability than a mere possibility.”
[ii] This was the message given by former President of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, J.F.Rutherford, regarding 1925 between 1918 and 1925. See the booklet ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’. Those born in 1918 would now be 100 years old. In the U.K. the number of 100 years old plus in 2016 according to census data was around 14,910. Multiplying proportionally would give 1,500,000 worldwide, based on 7 billion as the total world population and 70 million UK population. This also assumes that 3rd World and war-torn countries would have the same proportion of the population which is unlikely. https://www.ons.gov.uk/file?uri=/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/ageing/bulletins/estimatesoftheveryoldincludingcentenarians/2002to2016/9396206b.xlsx
[iii] The misapplication of the scriptural requirement for two witnesses before taking action, which along with refusal to report allegations of criminal actions to the appropriate authorities in relation to child abuse, has led to a cover up of some terrible situations within the Organization. The refusal to report to authorities on the basis that this might bring reproach on Jehovah’s name is now evidently having the opposite effect to that intended. See https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/636f01a5-50db-4b59-a35e-a24ae07fb0ad/case-study-29.-july-2015.-sydney.aspx Original Court Transcripts available for Days 147-153 & 155 available in pdf and word format.
[iv] The pressure to shun goes not only against our common sense but also against basic human rights. There is a distinct lack of scriptural and historical support for the inhuman stance of shunning, particularly of family members.