New Testament Key Words: Joy

More Than Emotion

The word from the New Testament most commonly translated as “joy” in English is the Greek word chara. In that original language (as in Hebrew of the Old Testament) this word described more than an emotional state, but instead and entire disposition of thought. This can be quite different from our modern concept of “joy” which is linked with one’s personal feelings.

A Necessary Separation

This difference can be seen in separating the immediate and transitory causes for emotional reaction from the greater motivations for joy. The world is a shallow place, living in the moment to the very extreme with attitudes shaped by direct stimuli. If anyone doubts this thought, one must only ask what the purpose of sin is, and the answer is self-evident. However, Christians are called into a much deeper joy based upon the greatest of causes, redemption in Christ, and this joy overrides the transitory stimuli of the world.

This can be illustrated with James’ encouragement to “[c]onsider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (1:2, NASU). While at first glance, this seems an unusual request, for trials are seldom a cause for joy in any circumstance. However, with deeper understanding one perceives the truth that the cause for joy is not the trials, but instead their reason for being. When we are following Christ we will be persecuted, therefore the facing of such trials is evidence of our faithfulness. The difference between these two thoughts is whether our joy comes from the immediate or the eternal.

More Than A Feeling

It is important to note also that Christian joy as a disposition describes more than expressed feeling. One who is emotionally in a state of euphoria or happiness without end is not healthy. Christian joy does not describe continual euphoria, but instead a peace of the mind and of the soul that transcends the emotions of the moment.

Christian joy can be expressed in different ways, with smiles and with tears, but it is never meant to leave us like our feelings do. It is for that reason that the world cannot understand this joy and never will. It is rooted in something deeper than the physical, providing a courage, strength, and comfort to face any obstacle, even death.

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