“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” – John 15:11
Joy, that’s something you don’t see a lot of in our world today. And that’s understandable. The circumstances of life can be very confining. We walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We may feel shackled with no way out; no hope. At times our plight is due to nothing we have done. And at times, we are suffering the consequences of our sinful choices. Natural disasters, threat of war, injustices, the economy, terrorism, illness and disease, politics, family and relational breakdowns topped off with the ever-advancing changes in our bodies due to aging, can all make joy a very distant thought. But what if I told you there was a way to live above life’s circumstances? What if I told you there was a way to transcend and overcome the hardships of life? What if I told you there was a way to actually have joy in the midst of such circumstances? It’s true; God offers joy to help us live above the circumstances in life.
In the Old Testament it states that God is the source of joy:
- Ecclesiastes 2:26 – For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
- Psalm 4:7 – You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
- Psalm 16:11 – You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
- Psalm 32:11 – Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
We also see that joy comes from taking in God’s word (Neh. 8:10-12). Jesus is the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:1-2, 14). The continued revelation of God’s joy comes through Jesus. He came to bring God’s joy and it is in Him that we can find fullness of joy.
The night before Jesus went to the cross in the middle of His teaching on the Holy Spirit, Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full“ (John 15:11). Jesus wants us to be joy full; full of joy; His joy. Joy is linked closely to the fruit of the Spirit which is love (Gal. 5:22). What Jesus was teaching His disciples was that when the Spirit came He would produce joy in them. There is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). It is the Spirit that brings Jesus’ joy to us.
What is joy? And in particular, what is Jesus’ joy? The Bible says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The best way to begin to define joy and Jesus’ joy is to look at Jesus and what produced joy or rejoicing in Him and what He said would produce joy in others. Let’s pray and come into His presence. Let’s take a walk by His side in the gospels and discover the fullness of His joy.
When we walk with Jesus through the gospels and in parts of the New Testament we see a number of things associated with His joy. Jesus’ joy is related to the following things:
First, the arrival of Jesus brings joy. When Jesus entered the world His incarnation brought great joy to the world:
- Matthew 2:10-11 – 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
- Luke 1:14 – 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
- Luke 2:10-11 – 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
When Jesus was miraculously conceived and in the womb of Mary, His presence in her womb brought joy to John the Baptist who was in the womb of his mother Elizabeth:
- Luke 1:44 – 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
There’s something about the presence of Jesus that brings joy. When He comes and we realize His presence it means we can rests in Him, it means Someone is there who will take care of our sin problem and circumstantial difficulties (e.g. Mat. 11:28-30). When Jesus comes it leads to joy. Have you recognized the presence of Jesus and welcomed Him with joy?
Second, introducing others to Jesus brings joy. When Jesus is shared with others through the preaching of the word it leads to great works of God and great joy for those who are experiencing the great work of God:
- John 4:34-38 – 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
- Acts 8:4-8 – 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
Seeing and experiencing the work of Jesus in lives causes a great eruption of joy in those who see it happen and experience it firsthand. That’s because we realize God is real and that He is taking a loving interest in us. Physical and demonic problems are no match for the Lord and that is a source of great joy for us. Have you experienced the joy of Jesus work in you?
Third, personal salvation and being used by God brings joy. Personal salvation brings great joy because when a person is saved from their sin it is like a treasure found, burden lifted, and a harvest come in:
- Matthew 13:44 – “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Jesus took great joy in leaving His throne and coming to purchase the souls of the lost. Jesus came looking for lost sheep which were of the greatest value to Him. When he found them he rejoiced:
- Luke 15:5-10 – 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus lived to save the lost.
Mary experienced great joy as she sang to the Lord of His salvation:
- Luke 1:47 - And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Mary experienced the joy that comes from the removal of sin in her life through salvation.
Jesus told His disciples that successful work for Him was good and a cause of joy but an even greater source of joy was salvation:
- Luke 10:20 – 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Have you experienced the joy of personal salvation?
Fourth, faithful enduring service to the Lord brings joy. When you realize all that Jesus has done to work your salvation, serving Him is a privilege. When we faithfully serve the Lord the work he does through us is a source of joy, but the greatest joy comes when our Master tells us well done:
- Matthew 25:21 – His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
- Matthew 25:23 – His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
- Luke 10:17 – Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”
Are you serving the Lord and experiencing His joy? When you see Him will He say to you well done and will you enter the joy of your Lord?
Fifth, Jesus’ words bring fullness of joy. Jesus rejoices when we receive His words. He spoke His word to bring us joy:
- Luke 10:21 – In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
- John 15:11 – “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
- John 17:13 – But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
There’s something about the words of Jesus that bring us joy. When Jesus speaks and we listen it is like the fulfillment of what Jeremiah spoke of when he said:
- Jeremiah 15:16 – Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.
Have you, are you taking in the word of Jesus? If you want His joy, take in His word.
Sixth, persecution for Jesus’ sake brings joy. Blessing and joy await those who go through persecution for the sake of Jesus:
- Matthew 5:11-12 – “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
- Luke 6:22-23 – Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Being persecuted for Jesus’ sake is not some sadistic or masochistic source of pleasure, it is merely an opportunity to follow in the steps of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:21). Persecution is also a means of making deposits in our heavenly bank account. Are you known as a follower of Jesus? Are you making a difference for Him in this fallen world? Have you been or are you being persecuted for Jesus’ sake? If you are, rejoice, great is your reward in heaven.
Seventh, birthing God’s plan brings joy. Jesus is our model in this truth. He birthed the plan of salvation. It was a painful birth but once attained, it led to great joy. And the prospect of this plan drove Jesus to endure the pain:
- John 16:20-22 – Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (cf. also Jn. 14:28)
- Hebrews 12:1-2 – Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Joy comes when we first think of what God will do and then actually see it come to pass. Vision for God’s work brings joy and the fulfillment of those plans brings joy. Are you involved in ministry? Is it painful? Look beyond the pain to the joyful conclusion of the work God has called you to and it will lead to joy.
Eighth, asking in Jesus’ name brings joy. When we pray in Jesus’ name and ask in His name it will ultimately lead to joy:
- John 16:24 – Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, according to His will, we are assured and promised God will answer (1 Jn. 5:14-15). Do you pray in Jesus’ name? That doesn’t mean Jesus’ name is a magical phrase that gets us anything we want. It means we pray in accord with the nature of Jesus whose name we are asking in. if you do that it will lead to great joy.
Ninth, Jesus’ miraculous works bring joy. When Jesus works in our lives it leads to great joy:
- Luke 13:17 – And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
- Luke 19:37 – Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen,
Are you thankful and rejoicing for the works Jesus has done and is doing in your life?
Tenth, fulfilled prophecy brings joy. Like Abraham, when we see the fulfillment of prophecy it leads to great joy because it assures us of God’s faithfulness:
- John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
Another example of joy related to the fulfillment of prophecy happened in the Old Testament when God’s people returned from their captivity:
- Isaiah 51:11 - So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
We were once captive to sin. Salvation brings liberation from sin. That should bring us joy.
Eleventh, Jesus’ resurrection brings joy. When One who was dead is then raised from the dead, it brings great joy. Jesus’ resurrection, the eternal message of hope leads to joy:
- Matthew 28:8-9 – So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
- Luke 24:41 – But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?”
The resurrection of Jesus tells us His redemptive work was totally sufficient. It tells us not even death can keep us down. And it tells us there is always hope in the Lord. That is reason for great joy.
Twelfth, Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit brings joy. The Holy Spirit is who works Jesus’ joy in us and the prospect of His coming and work in us should give us great joy:
- Luke 24:49-53 – 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” 50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Joy is the work of the Spirit in us:
- Romans 14:17 – for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Galatians 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
Have you experienced the joy of the Spirit in your life? Jesus offers that to you. Ask and receive by faith.
Later in the New Testament the apostle John said he was inspired to write, “so that your joy may be full” (1 Jn. 1:4). Peter spoke of the joy of Jesus as “joy inexpressible” stating:
- 1 Peter 1:3-9 – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
Joy is a wonderful provision of the Lord and we will be greatly enriched and edified in our walk with Him as we study about it in Philippians.
When we put all of this together a definition of joy could be stated to have three components as follows:
Joy is a work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life giving a sense of relief from the burden of sin through salvation in Christ.
Joy is a comforting sense of security based on the reality of God’s divine providence in life; God is sovereign and in control.
Joy is a sense of satisfaction that comes from serving the Lord and seeing His plans succeed.
We can therefore give a summary definition of joy as:
Joy is not a mere feeling, it is the presence of Jesus within assuring, guiding, and empowering through life.
It should be noted that we are not saved by joy. In Jesus’ parable of the Sower he says that there are people who hear His word and “immediately receive it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Mat. 13:20-21; cf. also Lk. 8:13; and John 5:35). Joy may be an indicator of one following the Lord but it does not save us. From Jesus’ teaching here we can also conclude that joy can be a shallow emotional feeling that is very transient and superficial. The joy we are talking about, Jesus’ joy, is enduring. Beware of false and shallow imitations of Jesus’ joy.
Reasons for Joy
Reasons for joy in Jesus:
- Deliverance – Isaiah 61:1 and Like 4:18-19 and Jesus said Hd fulfilled these promises in verse 21
- Salvation – from “God’s Greatest Gift Meets Man’s Most Desperate Need”:
“Of course, He was not just any king. He was a king with a holy mission. He was a king who was born to die. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me?” Jesus was, and is, our Savior King. Because, the “frightening truth” is that we are all in desperate need of salvation. As author Charles Sell put it, ‘If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. . . .'”
“In spite of the foolish notion often portrayed by some, no nation, no culture, no individual is “basically good.” This world is filled with evil, and at one time or another, we’ve all had a hand in it. As the prophet Isaiah puts it, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah wasn’t merely painting a picture of sinful humanity. The above Scripture was a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Ultimately, the world doesn’t have a poverty problem, or a crime problem, or a sexual problem, or a terrorism problem, or even (and of course) a climate problem. The world has a sin problem, and Jesus is the answer.
The most quoted portion of the Bible, John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Emphasis mine.) Less well known is the verse immediately following. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
The Red Cross offers “Operation Save-A-Life.” Those wanting us to donate blood or organs do so by imploring us to “Give the gift of life.” With Christmas, God gave “the gift of life” as it has never before been given. How many dying individuals would say no to a lifesaving medical procedure made possible through the efforts or generosity of another? Yet how many reject the amazing gift of everlasting life that God offers through Jesus?
There’s no escaping this all important eternal truth: we are all in dire need of a Savior. Your life can be filled with treasures and pleasures, but if you ignore Jesus and His message, you will regret it for eternity. Your life can be riddled with poverty, sickness, and strife, yet if you repent and believe in Christ, the magnificent riches of eternal life await you. And whether rich or poor, sick or well, imprisoned or free, in good times or bad, we all need the gift that was given on that first Christmas. Merry Christmas!”
3. Life – John 3:16; 10:10; 20:31; Romans 6:23 and 8:1-2. Apart from Jesus we are dead and no religious performance, ritual, or ceremony can change that. Only giving up our efforts and trusting in Jesus’ redemptive cross work and validating resurrection by grace through faith can.
- Quality of Life (Eternal) – Through Jesus we can know God – John 17:3-4.
For that we can and should be joyful.
Jail Cell Joy and Paul at Philippi
One of the greatest examples of the presence of Jesus’ joy is the apostle Paul. And one of the greatest evidences of the joy Paul had is his letter to the Philippians. The account of Paul’s ministry to the Philippians begins during his second missionary journey in Acts 16. In this chapter we see the Holy Spirit directing Paul. He is forbidden to go into Asia and Bithynia (16:6-7). The Bible says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). We see here that the stops of a good man are also ordered by the Lord too. God has a plan. When we pray sometimes He says “No,” or closes a door. When He does what He does He does it to direct us toward his best and to carry out his divine plans. We need to trust Him whether He says yes or no.
When we look at Paul as an example of Jesus’ joy we see a man who is joyful during the most intense difficulties. Happiness is superficial. Joy is substantial. Happiness depends on happenings. Joy depends on Jesus.
The Lord did have a plan and gave Paul a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Heeding the heaven sent vision Paul “immediately” went to this area concluding the Lord was calling him to preach the gospel there. The reference to “we” in Acts 16:11 would include Luke (the author of Acts), Silas (15:40), and Timothy (16:1-5).
Philippi was the “foremost city of that part of Macedonia,” a colony of Rome. One commentator states:
Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12). After the Battle of Philippi in 42 b.c. some Roman soldiers were ordered by Anthony to live there. Then in 30 b.c. Octavian forced some people in Italy to give up their homes and settle in Philippi and elsewhere. These Philippian residents were given special privileges including the “Italic right.” This meant that the colonists, in return for their displacement, were treated as if their land were part of Italian soil. So the residents were citizens of Rome, their “mother city,” and enjoyed the full rights of Roman citizenship, including exemption from taxes. So Paul’s words (Phil. 1:27) “conduct yourselves” (lit., “live as citizens”) and “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20) had special meaning to the Christians at Philippi.
Once in Philippi Paul may have been looking for the man he saw in the vision or simply looking for how the Lord would use him. On the Sabbath Paul went to the riverside where customary prayers were offered and it was there that he met Lydia a business woman from Thyatira. It states that, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). She and her household were baptized and she then insisted that Paul and those with him should stay in her house. This kind act of faith in action was evidence of her genuine conversion. This was also the beginning of the church in Philippi.
We gain some insight into Philippi itself by what happened next. As Paul and the group prayed a demon possessed slave girl started to follow and “annoy” Paul. She was involved in divination or fortune telling. She did this for many days until finally Paul, “turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.” (16:16-18). This indicates that there was an occult presence in Philippi. There was spiritual warfare going on.
We also learn that this possessed slave girl was being used by her masters to make money. When they “saw that their hope of profit was gone” because the slave girl freed from demonic possession no longer divined for them, they attacked Paul and Silas (16:19). They took Paul and Silas and brought them before the local magistrates in the marketplace with their complaint. Then it states the magistrates and a multitude of people tore off Paul and Silas’ clothes, beat them with rods and threw them in the inner part of the local Philippian prison and put their feet in stocks (16:20-24).
Right about now Paul must have been wondering where that man was he had seen in his heaven sent vision. He might have been tempted to question whether he had followed God’s leading correctly or if he had, why he was meeting with such opposition. Opposed, stripped of his clothes, beaten sore and restrained in painful stocks, Paul and Silas could have been depressed or down about their circumstances. But it seems just the opposite was true. That night in prison, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them’ (16:25). C.H. Spurgeon once said, “Any fool can sing in the day. It’s easier to sing when we read the notes by daylight. But the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by. Songs in the night come only from God. They are not in the power of men.”
Here we see up front and personal the sustaining joy that Paul will so often mention in his letter to the Philippians. This would not be the last time Paul was put in prison. To appreciate the pains of prison you need to understand that prisons in Paul’s day were not like they are today. Today prisoners get three square meals a day, heat and air conditioning, television, and activities. Today prisoners can even get an education and have access to numerous activities to occupy their time. Paul had none of that. He was often chained to a guard and had little to no privacy. Prison for Paul was usually too cold or too hot. Meals were meager, space hard and uncomfortable. And being thrown in prison was not the only hardship Paul experienced in his life of ministry. Read what Paul comments of his experiences from other portions of scripture:
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
- 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 – 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
At one point in his life the Lord through prophets was telling Paul that more imprisonment and persecution lay ahead of him. Even though he knew this full well, he was able to say:
- Acts 20:24 – But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
“None of these things move me,” he was able to say. There was a settledness to Paul, a stability, an assurance, a confidence, a trust in the Lord that kept him on course and his head above water (sometimes literally!). What was the source of Paul’s steadfastness and resolve, of his perseverance under extreme pressures? I believe the secret to Paul’s steadfastness is bound up in the words, “so that I may finish my race with joy.” For Paul joy, the joy of the Lord, and living in it, transcended everything else. That is what we will see in his epistle to the Philippians.
As Paul and Silas prayed and sang in the Philippian jail there was a great earthquake that shook the foundation of the prison resulting in all the prison doors coming open (16:26). It must have been quite a quake to break open the metal prison doors. When the prison keeper woke up and saw the doors open, knowing that if the prisoners escaped he would be executed by the Romans, drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul, not rattled by the quake, still able to think on his feet, shouted to the jailer to spare himself. None of them took the opportunity to flee. Seeing this, the jailer fell down before Paul and Silas (16:27-29). Maybe this jailor was the man Paul saw in the Macedonian vision.
The jailer recognized there was something supernatural going on and asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This question implies that though he had been asleep he had at some point heard the gospel message of Paul and Silas and his circumstances shook him enough to turn him to the Lord. They told the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:30-31). Paul and Silas spoke God’s word to him and his family. The jailer and his family were baptized. And the jailer showed Christian compassion to Paul and Silas by caring for their wounds. They brought Paul and into their house, fed them and all celebrated joyfully what God had done (16:32-34).
In the morning the magistrates sent word to release Paul and Silas. But Paul, who was unjustly imprisoned and abused publicly, even though they were Roman citizens no less, required the magistrates to humbly come and release them. The magistrates pleaded for them to go quietly which indicated the victory to Paul. He left the jail, went to Lydia’s house and after seeing the brethren there, departed on the next leg of his journey (16:35-40).
In the daily devotional Extreme Devotion from Voice of the Martyrs, there is an entry with a story very similar to that of Paul and Silas in prison. The story is found on day 78 in the devotional under the heading “Extreme Instruments – A communist Prison: A Christian Pastor.” The verse for that day is from Psalm 95:1,” Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” The story goes as follows:
Why is it that so many Christians sing only once a week? Why only once? If it is right to sing, sing every day. If it is wrong to sing, don’t’ sing on Sunday.”
The pastor had spent several horrifying years in prison at the hands of the Communist authorities. He was jailed for his belief in Christs, and though he remembered the tortures there, he did not focus on them much. Instead he spoke of the times of joy in the presence of the Lord. He and his fellow Christian prisoners formed a community of praise – in the middle of prison.
“When we were in prison we sang almost every day because Christ was alive in us. The Communists were very nice to us. They knew we liked to praise God with musical instruments, so they gave every Christian in prison a musical instrument. However, they did not give us violins or mandolins – these were too expensive. Instead, they put chains on our hands and feet. They chained us to add to our grief. Yet we discovered that chains are splendid musical instruments! When we clanged them together in rhythm, we could sing, ‘This is the day (clink, clank), this is the day (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank).’” What a joyful noise unto the Lord!
At the end of this story for the day the following comment was made:
To those who have yet to experience it, persecution seems to focus entirely on loss. The loss of freedom. The loss of hope. Even losing one’s life. However, those who have suffered for their faith in Christ overlook what’s missing and focus on new discoveries. They relish what little freedoms they have instead of regretting what they lack. In this story, communist captors robbed believers of most of life’s freedoms and dignity. However, these stout believers focused on what remained – their joy in the Lord. If it is good to sing to the Lord when you have everything – it is good to sing to him when you have lost it all, too. What will you do today to make sure you do not lose your Christian joy?
That’s the kind of Jesus’ joy we need and need to be known by as Christians. That kind of joy is sustaining in all circumstances. Do you have that joy? Have you ever had that? If you had it did you lose it? The devotional above ends with a vital question, “What will you do today to make sure you do not lose your Christian joy?”