We were made for joy. And joy is found in relationship. As Marcus Warner and Dr. Jim Wilder says (“Rare Leadership“), when we can be our authentic selves we live from joy. Conversely, when we’re trying to live up to other people’s expectations, or from our own wounded soul, we’re operating from our counterfeit self. This is living from fear or anxiety.
By the way, Dr. Wilder gives a fascinating presentation on the brain science behind joy here that you might find interesting. He explains it in laymen’s terms so it’s not not hard to follow.
Joy satisfies the two heart questions that haunts us in the deepest part of our soul: “Am I alone?” and “Do I matter?” God answers these deepest longings loud and clear with the incarnation of Christ!
Joy Comes To the World!
We all know this passage very well because we usually read it during Christmas, but try reading it this time with fresh eyes. Imagine the following scene taking place.
8-12 There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12 PHILLIPS)
What the angel was declaring is that this infinite invisible God was coming down to them.
Joy has come into the world!
Throughout all human history, God was often interpreted as angry, distant, and demanding—someone you had to appease to stay his wrath. Other than through periodic divine revelation, one could only speculate on what God was actually like. After all, to use C.S. Lewis’s analogy, it would be a bit like Hamlet trying to know Shakespeare.
This groping in the dark was the impetus of religion (Acts 17:22-28).
But now God Himself was coming to us to make Himself known (John 1:14; 18), and humankind was about to find out that God is love, which means that He is about other-centered, self-giving love demonstrated by Jesus’ life and teachings.
Jesus was the announcement of the end of religion (Acts 17:30-31).
The Good News!
The word “gospel” means “The good news that brings great joy.”
What is this great joy? As I shared last time, joy is not the same thing as happiness, which is circumstantially driven. You can be happy by yourself but joy requires relationship.
Joy is the feeling of pleasure or elation experienced when we’re with people who are very glad to be with us. We usually experience it when we’re with people we deeply love. Being in love is a profound form of joy.
We were wired this way because the ultimate source of joy and pleasure is found in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11), and God has pulled out all the stops to make sure we will always be with Him so our lives could be filled with joy.
Notice what the angels also declare on that glorious night:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV)
Unfortunately, a lot of modern translations make His “goodwill” sound conditional. But there is no condition in the original Greek. For you Greek geeks….
δοξα εν υψιστοις θεω και επι γης ειρηνη εν ανθρωποις ευδοκιας (Strongs)
“Glory to God in highest. And peace on earth among people good-will.” (Literal rendering)
When we strip away the inserted words added to the text for clarity (but often biased), it simply says that God has determined to arbitrarily make peace and demonstrate His desire for our highest good. He showed us this by sending His Son into the world to reconcile us to Himself (1 Cor.5:19 – notice that God is not the one who needs reconciling!)
He did this because He’s a good Father who wants His alienated kids back (Eph.1:4-7; Gal.4:4-6).
God has declared His intentions toward us. With the incarnation of Christ, and then by giving us His indwelling Spirit, He has determined we will never be alone again!
“for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] “(Heb.13:5b AMP)
Good-will is God’s kind of love
The word for “good-will” is εὐδοκία (eudokia), which means: favor, good pleasure, purpose, intention, desire to do good. This is very similar to the Greek word for God’s love which is ἀγάπη (agapē) and means: good will, favor, benevolence. Joy is found in this other-centered good-will because God is love.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NIV)
So when we talk about joy we’re really talking about the pleasure we derive from this other-centered, self-giving love experienced in relationship. This is why selfish people can be happy but they rarely experience true joy. But when we open our hearts and let go of our fear-based insecurities and distrust and begin to appreciate and even love others as they truly are in God’s estimation, relationships can be built from joy.
More on that next time…