Throughout my upbringing in church, I heard many sermons dedicated to Joy, and large portions of those sermons dedicated to attempting to define Joy in terms of its biblical use. Specifically, everyone seems to want to pin down some unique difference between Joy and Happiness.
I believe there is a deep longing buried in our humanity that desires a deeper, more lasting feeling than the temporal high of happiness which comes and goes and is often noticed in its absence rather than its presence.
Here is my attempt at that delineation:
Happiness is a state of being that we pursue. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” states the Declaration of Independence, “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Happiness, or the pursuit of that often-fleeting feeling, is woven into the very fabric of our cultural consciousness.
Frederick Buechner notes of it: “Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to-a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”
Joy, as I see it, according to our use of the word, is not a state of being that one achieves, but rather, a gift that one receives. “Do not be afraid;” Proclaims the Angelic messenger to the shepherds in Luke 2, “For see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:”
Scripture’s use of Joy in the gospels and our use of it in modern English are not too far apart from one another. Both communicate Joy as an emotion of deep feeling, and one conveyed from one person to another.
We speak of what gives us joy or of expressing oneself joyfully. To put it simply: Joy is a gift shared. It is not kept to oneself.
Paul includes Joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. The tree does not eat of the fruit it bears, but others enjoy the fruit it produces. In much the same way, our joy is not made complete until it is shared with another.
Paul wasn’t the first to use this imagery. In fact, it was Jesus in John’s gospel to first mention joy as fruit on a vine. During the last supper with his disciples, he tells them these parting words:
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
– John 15:8-11
Jesus already knew what it often takes a lifetime to learn: that Joy and Love are inseparably intertwined and that Joy cannot be made complete until it is shared with someone else.
Kelsey Lewis is the Pastor for Youth and Families at First Baptist Church of Decatur. When she’s not doing ministry, you can find her tweeting about her beloved pup, Karl Bark.