We all hope our marriages are enjoyable and full of happiness. And that often is the case. But what about when challenges and struggles come along? How can we have joy in every circumstance?
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4
The Truth about Joy…from God’s Word
Joy, as with other emotions we have discussed thus far, has a more robust meaning in Scripture than it does in the world’s view. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition of joy is “a feeling of great happiness.” The next is “a source or cause of great happiness.” And a third definition is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
Notice that once again all of these definitions are based on a feeling. The biblical understanding certainly can include feelings, but goes well beyond that.
Joy, like love, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that we receive when we accept Jesus as Savior. We read in Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy ….” (bold mine)
The word joy is found 211 times in the New American Standard (NASB) translation of the Bible, the translation I use in my personal Bible study. It is widely considered the most literal translation. Another good translation–the one we quote most often on this website–is the New International Version (NIV). In it you will find the word joy 245 times. But whatever translation you use, you will see that joy is very important to God, since we find it so often in His Word.
The Hebrew word translated joy in the Old Testament comes from a single root and is found in three forms–“samah” (verb), “simhah” (noun), and “sameah” (adjective). There are a number of Greek words that are translated as joy in the New Testament. The Greek word most often translated joy is “chara.” This word means to extend favor toward someone. In Scripture it means what we experience and how we act because of the grace extended to us by God.
While these words can include the emotion and feeling of happiness, gladness, and well-being, this is not always the case in Scripture. Joy often is a product of some external situation, circumstance, or experience. But in the Bible this is not always so.
An example of when circumstances would not normally call for what the world means by joy is found in the book of James. We read in James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (bold mine) Here the joy comes from what the circumstances produce, not from the events themselves.
Another example of this comes from Jesus Himself. He teaches in Matthew 5:11-12: “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” (bold mine) The joy doesn’t come because we feel good when we are persecuted. It comes because we know God and choose to serve Him and please Him, whatever the circumstances.
Since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it comes from a right relationship with God. It is therefore not just a feeling we can create by our own efforts.
The Bible distinguishes joy from pleasure. The Greek word for pleasure is “hedone,” from which we derive the English word hedonism. This means the self-centered seeking of pleasure and good feelings. Paul used this term to describe godless people of the last days just before Jesus’ second coming. He described them in 2 Timothy 3:4 as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (bold mine)
Unfortunately, this “hedone” view of joy is what too many in our culture seek in a marriage relationship. God is certainly not against physical or emotional enjoyment and pleasure in our marriages. But it must be more than that.
God warns us that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking does not lead to true joy. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:1).
God created joy. And we see throughout Scripture that God Himself rejoices. What brings Him joy?
Psalm 104:31 tells us He rejoices in His creation: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” This means He finds joy in us as part of His creation. God says in Isaiah 65:18-19a: “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people.”
Luke 15 is the best biblical reference to what brings God joy. The Pharisees and scribes are criticizing Jesus for receiving and eating with “sinners.” Then Jesus tells three parables–the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The truth of each parable is found in Jesus’ words in Luke 15:7: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (bold mine)
The joy of God came to full fruition in Jesus Christ, for joy runs through the entire biblical account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It begins with joy at His birth in the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:10: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’” (bold mine)
Jesus spoke of the joy He had come to bring in John 15:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” He said in John 17:13: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (bold mine).
Later we see that even Jesus’ horrific death on the cross brought joy to Him and to us. We read in Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus endured the cross and found joy in it not because of its pain but because of the results it brought. The same must be true in our lives. The same must be true in our marriages.
Joy in Marriage
God intends marriage to be a source of joy. When we walk with the Lord, our marriage will bring us joy. Faithfulness to God and His Word enables us to have the joy in our marriages He intends. We read of this in Proverbs 5:18: “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
John the Baptist joins the joys of marriage and the joy that Jesus brings when he compares his own ministry to that of Christ’s. He said in John 3:28-30: “‘You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.’”
God intends joy and marriage to go together. The good news is that as we commit our lives to Christ they will. We may not always feel happy, but we can always have joy. That is because, as we have said, joy is more than a feeling. Your circumstances may or may not create happiness; your relationship with the Lord will create joy, regardless of your circumstances.
Joy in our daily lives is in direct proportion to our walk with the Lord. The closer our walk with Him, the greater our joy. We can rejoice because we are His. If we have committed our lives and our marriages to Him, we “have been bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). That price is found in 1 Peter 1:18-19: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
We cannot lose our salvation, but unconfessed sin in our lives will rob us and our marriages of joy. The good news is that repentance brings it back. David describes his life with unconfessed sin in Psalm 32:3-4: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” We can also read his prayer as he confesses his sin to the Lord in Psalm 51:7-9: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” (bold mine)
Because joy is more than a feeling, Paul can command us in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (bold mine)
Henry Nouwen was a Dutch priest, professor, and writer. He spent the last ten years of his life ministering to people with profound developmental disabilities. This led him to experience and write that joy is more than just a feeling. He wrote: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
This is the biblical concept of joy. This is the joy we find throughout Scripture where circumstances are bad, but joy is still present. For example, in 2 Corinthians 6:3-9, Paul writes a long list of the hardships he’s endured. He then concludes this section with these words in verse 10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (bold mine)
Paul writes about the joy of the Thessalonians despite their trials in 1 Thessalonians 1:6: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (bold mine). As believers, God gives us joy as one of the fruits of His Holy Spirit, no matter what our circumstances–even in “severe suffering.”
We have joy in our marriages not because of what we have or what we do. Those may lead to feelings of happiness. But we have joy because of who God is, because we are His, and because our marriage is His.
Happiness is like the feeling of taking a ride together down a country road with the top down in a convertible on a beautiful spring day. It’s a pleasure. But joy is found when my wife takes care of me and holds my hand in the hospital after the car wrecks, knowing she and the Lord will always be there for me. Joy is a wonderful blessing.
I can recall so many feelings of happiness over our 37 years of married life. Times like our wedding, our ministries together, the births of our children, and so many more. But there have also been many difficult circumstances where God has seen us through. My mother’s death, Sabra’s dad’s death, surgeries and hospitalizations–our own and of those we love, and my recent illness and job loss. These are the difficult seasons common to every marriage.
Yet even in those most challenging times of our marriage, as we held fast together to God and His promises and obeyed His Word, we rested in His joy. The promise of Nehemiah 8:10 proved absolutely true: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (bold mine).
So find your joy in the Lord. Find it as you follow and serve Him together. And see what a difference it makes in your marriage.
Questions for Discussion
♦ Read the post together. Discuss what God has taught you individually and in your marriage.
♦ What circumstances are you in right now? If they are difficult, are you experiencing joy?
◊ If so, discuss how God is making this possible. Stop and thank Him. Ask Him to help you to continue to do so. If not, ask God to help you to really understand and experience His joy through and in your circumstances.
◊ If your circumstances are good right now, thank and praise God together. Don’t take that for granted. Ask God to help you really understand joy as preparation for difficult times ahead that will almost certainly come.
♦ Discuss together the joy God brings to you through your marriage. Try to give specific ways this is so.
♦ Close your time with prayer. Thank God for your marriage. Thank Him for each other. Thank Him for the joy He brings in both smooth and difficult times. Ask Him to help you experience His joy in whatever comes your way. Ask Him to help you be a conduit of His joy to others, especially those you know who are going through hard times.
Next week we will study what God has to teach us about ANGER.
Until then may God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the MARRIAGE AND OUR EMOTIONS series:
Part 1: More Than a Feeling
Part 2: What Can You Trust?
Part 3: About Love
Part 4: About Fear
Part 6: About Anger
Part 7: About Peace
All Scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by AndyTriggerRaw via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.