1. My friend Marvin Rickett tells the story of a little boy who was returning from church in a wagon pulled by a pair of mules. "Dad," he asked his father, "are those mules Christians?" His father responded, "Why, son, what makes you ask that?" And the boy answered, "Well, they must be - they have such long faces."

  2. If that's the way people think of us, it shouldn't be.

    1. The New Testament is a book of joy.

      1. It was written so that the joy of the Lord may be in its readers, and that their joy may be complete (Jn. 15:11; 1 Jn. 2:4).

      2. The story it tells begins with angel's announcement of "good news of a great joy that will be for all the people" (Lk. 2:10).

      3. It says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thes. 5:16-18).

    2. The church of Christ is a people of joy.

      1. From its earliest days, the church has been marked by "glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:46).

      2. The kingdom of God is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Citizens of it aim to "rejoice in the Lord...Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (Phil. 3:1; 4:4).

      3. As a third-century man was anticipating death, he wrote these last words to a friend: "It's a bad world, and incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are the masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians - and I am one of them." (Moody Bible Institute's Today In The Word, June 1988, p. 18)

  3. That kind of joy will make us both healthier and more effective. The question is how to make it a more obvious characteristic of our lives. What can we do to be a more joyful people?

    1. We could take up a study of the numerous uses of the joy words in the scriptures in order to understand the concept more clearly. That's a worthy exercise and we've tried it before.

    2. But we could also benefit greatly from considering the situations in which joy seems to have flourished. Here's what we would learn about how to be a more joyful people.

  4. Appreciate the meaning of gospel obedience.

    1. There are several indications that this is a leading cause for joy in the New Testament church.

      1. The Ethiopian treasurer, when he had been taught about Jesus, had confessed his faith in him as the Son of God, and had been baptized into him, "went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39).

      2. After the jailer at Philippi had heard the word of the Lord, had washed the wounds which he had inflicted, and had been baptized into Christ, "he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God" (Acts 16:34).

      3. And, when members of the church everywhere heard about such conversions, it "brought great joy to all the brothers" (Acts 15:3).

    2. Why did this bring such joy? And why did the rejoicing always come at the point it did in these accounts?

      1. It was because one was dead in his trespasses and sins had been loved by God and made alive.

      2. A person who had been lost - one for whom the Lord gave himself - had been brought back home.

      3. A slave of sin had become obedient from his heart to the gospel and had become a servant of righteousness.

    3. Jesus said that just as there is rejoicing when a shepherd finds one lost sheep, or when a woman recovers a coin she had lost, or when a father receives home a son who had been lost to the far country, God, his angels, and all of heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15). Surely those who share his heart but are yet in this world will do the same!

    4. I saw glimpses of this principle during our session at camp.

      1. When I found a softball which had been fouled off into the briars and brush, I couldn't wait to get down the hill and say, "I found that ball!"

      2. When Coyeatte's ring was missing and we thought we were going to have to go up to the field to search for it, I saw the relief on faces when I was told, "We found it! Everything's alright!"

      3. But when young men were baptized into Christ, I thought of what the Lord said about rejoicing in heaven, and of the rejoicing we've read about in Acts. Appreciating what that means will increase the tone of joy among us.

  5. Engage in genuine and grateful worship.

    1. More of a focus on the "thanksgiving" aspect of worship would especially bring with it a sense of joy.

      1. Psalm 100 shows what I mean....When we praise God by thanking him, joy will be present.

      2. The New Testament also connects giving thanks always and for everything to the melody of the heart that sings (Eph. 5:19, 20; Col. 3:16).

    2. Why is the intention to offer thanksgiving as a sacrifice so closely associated with joy? It means you have been thinking about - and are responding to - something wonderful which has already been done for you, something you have in common with those with whom you've assembled.

    3. When you sing praises, you are thanking God for who he is and what he has done for you. When you pray, you lay before his throne thanks for his blessings. The Lord's Supper is thanking him for the amazing grace which cost him his Son. Giving is thanking him for his good gifts. When you hear his word, you are thanking him by wanting to do his will. Could any part of this really happen without joy?

    4. We must think enough ahead of time to bring thanks to offer. We can't wear ourselves out Saturday, party way into the night, show up Sunday morning without having given a thought to what we want to thank the Lord for, and expect someone to fill us up with joy! Thankful worship sets a tone of joy among God's people.

  6. Be involved in faithful service.

    1. The epistle to the church at Philippi is the joy letter of the New Testament. Joy or rejoicing comes us fourteen times in its four chapters.
      1. You can't help but notice something in its beginning. I'm not sure if we can always tell which comes first, but joy and service are intertwined.

      2. Of Lydia, the first person there whose heart was opened to the gospel, it is said, "And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' and she prevailed upon us" (Acts 16:15).

      3. And of the jailer, the next one we know of who became a Christian, we read, "Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God" (Acts 16:34).

    1. Where there is eager, voluntary service there is joy. There is a work of faith and a labor of love that we call enthusiasm. It is contagious.

    2. You can see it in what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the churches of Macedonia: "For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Cor. 8:2).

    3. Wednesday night an announcement was made about "apples" Jill had placed on our "Blessing Tree" which named things that could be given to help supply the girls' camp session which is coming up. Thursday she called to ask if there were any left that she would need to pick up. I think she rejoiced when Johnnie told her they had all been taken. When people get involved in serving, joy grows.

  1. Endure hardship with grace.

    1. One of the surprising things about joy in the New Testament is how often it is found where the Lord's people are overcoming difficulties.

      1. When Peter and John were beaten for preaching Jesus as the Christ, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (Acts 5:41).

      2. The Hebrews joyfully accepted the plundering of their property because they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb. 10:34).

      3. It was when his readers were being grieved by various trials that Peter wrote, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).

    2. These people were not merely surviving hardship through grim determination. They were enduring gracefully, rejoicing in the midst of trying circumstances.

    3. How could they do it?

      1. One reason is that no matter what was happening they could say, "My sins are forgiven. I am a child of God and I have the hope of heaven. I have a Father who is able to set me before his presence with joy. I can do what I need to with the strength he gives me." That's what it means to "rejoice in hope" (Rom. 12:12).

      2. Another reason is that they could see these experiences as means of growth. James said, "Count it all joy, by brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Js. 1:3,4).

    4. The joy of enduring gracefully was beautifully stated by the prophet Habakkuk: "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places" (Hab. 3:17-19).

  2. Make a habit of walking by the Spirit.

    1. Someone wrote, "Joy is a habit of the heart, induced and sustained as an abiding quality of one's life through the discipline of rejoicing. Joy is not an accident of temperament or an unpredictable providence; joy is a matter of choice."

    2. But, according to Paul, it's not merely a choice between being happy or sad; it's a choice between living a life dominated by the flesh or a life ruled by the Spirit.

      1. One who decides to gratify the desires of the flesh can expect the works of the flesh to follow .... (Gal. 5:16, 19-21). Be honest. Do you see any joy in such a lifestyle?

      2. On the other hand, one can, if he will, walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25). If he does, the Spirit will see to it that fruit follows...(v. 22-23).

      3. Joy is one aspect of the fruit that belongs to a certain way of life. You can't have it in isolation from the other parts of that way of life.

    3. One writer observed, "Joy in Christ requires a commitment to working at the Christian lifestyle. Salvation comes as a gift but they joy of salvation demands disciplined action. Most Christians I know have just enough of the Gospel to make them miserable, but not enough to make them joyful. They know enough about the biblical message to keep them from doing the things which the world tempts them to do; but they do not have enough commitment to God to do those things through which they might experience the fullness of his joy." (Tony Campolo, Seven Deadly Sins, p. 21)

    4. Theodore Parker put it this way: "The joy of heaven will begin as soon as we attain the character of heaven, and do its duties."

  3. To be a more joyful people we can appreciate the meaning of gospel obedience, engage in thankful worship, be involved in loving service, endure hardship with grace, and make a habit of walking by the Spirit.

  4. But what we're really looking for beneath all of this is the joy of his salvation.

    1. Ogden Nash once wrote:

                        "There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball,
                        and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all."

    1. "None at all" won't work. David tried it once and ended up being convicted of a terrible wrong. Crushed by his guilt, he prayed, "Purge my with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice....Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit" (Ps. 51:8-9, 12).

    2. The gospel of Christ is the Lord's answer to that prayer!