Joy vs. Happiness
All Christians have the joy of the Lord - some just have stored it very… very…. incredibly… deep in their hearts. Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is known for its frequent mention of the word ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ – 16 times! In this series we will go through this book and discover how we can have and keep true joy.
To really understand the term ‘joy’, it is essential for us to understand that joy and happiness are not the same thing. Getting them confused can be dangerous.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that this idea of “happiness” is like a secular gospel. There’s an obsession with the idea of happiness; it’s become the ultimate goal in life for many. In a secular world, with all the purpose and guidance and salvation, that we find in God, fallen away; all that’s left to live for is your personal happiness and pleasure.
In this happiness obsessed word, many can’t keep up and feel left out and depressed. The use of anti-depressants has grown dramatically, along with the rise of this happiness obsession.
For a long time, we’ve viewed happiness as being achieved when all the right things are in place. It may look something like this:
Right job + right relationships + good health – problems and pain = happiness
Yet, many people experience that even with all of these things in place, they are very unhappy and they wonder what is wrong with them. And so, they decide that they must be in the wrong relationship or career, thinking: “I guess happiness will come when I reach my next goal…”
Another problem that arises with this view of happiness is; what happens when you lose something or someone? Have you then lost your happiness? Could you ever get it back?
And so, many move on from this shallow idea of happiness and with the help of Westernized Buddhism, recognize that indeed life includes suffering and we need to find ways to deal with disappointments, pain and loss in order to be happy.
Happiness then, becomes something that you create yourself. Your happiness cannot depend on others, you are in charge of your own pursuit of happiness and you need to go on a journey of self-discovery to find what brings you satisfaction and contentment.
Even though there is some truth to this – God created us all uniquely and we find meaning and fulfilment in different things – I think this way of living is still a dead-end road because you are running towards the wrong thing.
A side-effect of this way of living is that it makes us very selfish. Ultimately, everything and everyone around us then become means to achieve or maintain your happiness.
Happiness is a moving finish line
What we need to understand, is that happiness is a moving finish line. When happiness becomes the purpose you live for, you will find that you never arrive, because the grass is always greener on someone else’s Instagram.
Joy is not the same as happiness. And in order to understand joy, let’s dig into the book of Philippians.
The backstory to the letter
There are a couple of things we need to know about this book before we start digging in. First of all, Paul started this church on his second mission trip around what we now know as Turkey and Greece.
One night, Paul gets a vision of a Macedonian man, this is a province in northern Greece, “come over and help us”. Paul and his travel buddy Silas pack up their stuff the next day and go to the city of Philippi, the main city in that province. On the Sabbath they go to a place near the synagogue for local Jewish people, and meet Lydia who was a Greek that believed in God of the Jews, and they shared the Gospel with her. She becomes a believer and is baptized and this is the start of the first church in Europe.
It is clear in the letter to the Philippians that this church was very dear to Paul.
Philippians 1:3-6 (NLT)
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
During their time in Philippi, Paul and Silas also get arrested for their preaching and then locked up in prison. But in the prison, they sing praise to God while their hands and feet are in chains – and an earthquake opens all the prison doors. After this, they leave the city to go on preaching in another city.
So, this is the background story to the start of the church in Philippi. Now let’s move on to the direct context of the letter. At the time of the writing of this letter, the church in Philippi was suffering opposition and persecution. They weren’t free to believe what they wanted, nor free to tell others about it. But Paul’s message to them is one of joy.
Just look at these verses: Rejoice in the Lord, always. Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 3:1). Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
What is even more striking about the letter and its theme, is that Paul himself is writing this letter from prison.
Philippians 1: 7-8 (NLT)
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
So, the whole setting of this letter already shows that joy has nothing to do with the right circumstances. The letter is written by a man in prison to people suffering oppression, and the main theme is: JOY! Joy is something that is birthed deep inside of us and nothing or no one can ever take it away.
Happiness happens to you; joy happens in you
And so, we are going to take Paul’s advice in the book of Philippians and discover how we can have a lasting joy. A joy, not built on the shifting sand of ever changing circumstances, or the result of a journey of self-discovery – but built on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ.
When we explore the rest of the first chapter, we will discover three things that are essential for receiving and experiencing true joy.
1) Joy is a fruit of salvation
Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT)
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
Paul rejoices over the fact that his friends in Philippi are growing in their relationship with Christ. He is well aware that the health of this community depends on their openness to the Holy Spirit to produce the character of Jesus Christ in them.
You see, when you buy into the happiness gospel, you have to find meaning and find fulfilment in the things that make you happy. When you become a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; joy, meaning, purpose and fulfilment finds you. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you and awakens your spirit with a sense of meaning and purpose.
Happiness is something you achieve; joy is something you receive
You finally know what you are put on this earth for – to live for the glory of God.
And the more we let the Holy Spirit change us from the inside out through prayer, reading Scripture, worship and community with other Christians, the stronger that joy and that sense of purpose becomes. It will become the power that we live by.
2) Joy increases when you share it with others
Philippians 1:12-14 (NLT)
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
I love Paul is that type of guy that can always see the best in every situation. Chase me out of Jerusalem? That’s great, I’ll just tell the Greeks about Jesus then! Try to kill me? Praise God, I get to share in the suffering of Jesus. Actually kill me? Thank you so much, now I get to be with Jesus. Lock me up? Oh, fantastic, now I can share the Gospel with fellow prisoners – they cannot escape :-)
Paul’s greatest joy in life is the opportunity to share the Gospel with others. There is no stopping him. He realizes that wherever he is at, he is there for a reason. My prayer for this year is that we will be a church that just cannot shut up about Jesus. Amen? That we will be a people that is so filled with this sense of purpose and mission and a joy that is overflowing, that everyone around us will know it.
3) Joy is strengthened when you walk in purpose
Philippians 1:20-24 (NLT)
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
Joy and purpose are things that find you – the Holy Spirit births them in you when you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour – but you have to keep on walking in that joy and in that purpose. The Spirit sets you on a journey, not of self-discovery, but of Jesus-discovery. And when you continue to do so, He will fill your life with joy and meaning.
Paul suffered a lot during his life. He was arrested, beaten, imprisoned, stoned and shipwrecked multiple times. In these verses he reveals that sometimes dying wasn’t that bad an option for him. On the other side of death is heaven – that’s not bad! But he decides that it is better not to give up and continue to be on mission for Christ, because he has a deep sense of purpose.
Joy doesn’t replace happiness. It is something entirely different. Joy goes deeper and joy goes further. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being happy. I think that God genuinely cares about our happiness. We can and should enjoy the good things in life.
You know what? Jesus was actually criticized for enjoying life too much. They called Him a drunkard and a glutton because He loved spending time with people, eating and drinking.
But I don’t think we can ever really be happy, unless we have this true and lasting joy deep within us that is birthed by the Holy Spirit, that nothing or no one could ever take away.
Happiness is based on facts; joy is based on truth.
Happiness is based on facts; joy is based on truth - and the truth is a person: Jesus Christ. Knowing that we are loved by God, made righteous and holy, living for a purpose and sent out with a message and a mission of the Kingdom of God – this is where our joy is, forming the baseline for true happiness and fulfilment in life.
So instead of chasing after happiness – let joy find you today.