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Holman Bible Dictionary

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The happy state that results from knowing and serving God. A number of Greek and Hebrew words are used in the Bible to convey the ideas of joy and rejoicing. We have the same situation in English with such nearly synonymous words as joy, happiness, pleasure, delight, gladness, merriment, felicity, and enjoyment. The words joy and rejoice are the words used most often to translate the Hebrew and Greek words into English. Joy is found over 150 times in the Bible. If such words as “joyous” and “joyful” are included, the number comes to over 200. The verb rejoice appears well over 200 times.

Joy is the fruit of a right relation with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts. The Bible distinguishes joy from pleasure. The Greek word for pleasure is the word from which we get our word hedonism , the philosophy of self-centered pleasure-seeking. Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4 ).

The Bible warns that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking does not lead to happiness and fulfillment. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 records the sad testimony of one who sought to build his life on pleasure-seeking. The search left him empty and disillusioned. Proverbs 14:13 offers insight into this way of life, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful.” Cares, riches, and pleasures rob people of the possibility of fruitful living ( Luke 8:14 ). Pleasure seeking often enslaves people in a vicious cycle of addiction (Titus 3:3 ). The self-indulgent person, according to 1 Timothy 5:6 , is dead while seeming still to be live.

Many people think that God is the great Kill-Joy. Nothing could be a bigger lie. God Himself knows joy, and He wants His people to know joy. Psalm 104:31 speaks of God Himself rejoicing in His creative works. Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.”

Luke 15:1 is the most famous biblical reference to God's joy. The Pharisees and scribes had criticized Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them. Then Jesus told three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the loving father. The explicit theme of each parable is joy over one sinner who repents.

The joy of God came to focus in human history in Jesus Christ. The note of joy and exultation runs through the entire biblical account of the coming of Christ (Luke 1:14 ,Luke 1:14,1:44; Matthew 2:10 ). The most familiar passage is the angel's announcement of “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10 ). Jesus spoke of His own joy and of the full joy He had come to bring to others (John 15:11; John 17:13 ). He illustrated the kingdom of heaven by telling of the joy of a man who found treasure (Matthew 13:44 ). Zacchaeus was in a tree when Jesus called him, but he quickly climbed down and received Jesus joyfully (Luke 19:6 ). He had found life's ultimate treasure in Christ.

As Jesus' death approached, He told His followers that soon they would be like a woman in labor, whose sorrow would be turned into joy (John 16:20-22 ). Later they understood, when the dark sorrow of the cross gave way to the joy of the resurrection (Luke 24:41 ). Viewed from this perspective, eventually they came to see that the cross itself was necessary for the joy to become real (Hebrews 12:2 ). Because of His victory and the promise of His abiding presence, the disciples could rejoice even after the Lord's ascension (Luke 24:52 ).

The Book of Acts tells how joy continued to characterize those who followed Jesus. After Philip preached in Samaria, the people believed and “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8 ). After the work of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia, “the diciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:52 ). Paul and Barnabas reported such conversions to other believers, “and they caused great joy unto all the brethren” (Acts 15:3 ). After the conversion of the Philippian jailer, he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:34 ).

Joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion as believers walk with the Lord. They can rejoice because they are in the Lord (Philippians 4:4 ). Joy is a fruit of a Spirit-led life (Galatians 5:22 ). Sin in a believer's life robs the person of joy (Psalm 51:8 ,Psalms 51:8,51:12 ).

When a person walks with the Lord, the person can continue to rejoice even when troubles come. Jesus spoke of those who could rejoice even when persecuted and killed (Matthew 5:12 ). Paul wrote of rejoicing in suffering because of the final fruit that would result (Romans 5:3-5 ). Both Peter and James also echoed the Lord's teachings about rejoicing in troubles (1 Peter 1:6-8; James 1:2 ).

Joy in the Lord enables people to enjoy all that God has given. They rejoice in family (Proverbs 5:18 ), food (1 Timothy 4:4-5 ), celebrations (Deuteronomy 16:13-15 ), fellowship (Philippians 4:1 ). They share with other believers the joys and sorrows of life: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15 ).

Robert J. Dean

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Joy'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​j/joy.html. 1991.
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