June 11, 2009

Happiness vs. Joy

I am doing a bible study on Philippians. We just started it, still in Chapter 1. We spent a lot of time discussing the differences between happiness and joy.

happiness –noun
1. the quality or state of being happy.
2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

1. the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation: She felt the joy of seeing her son's success.
2. a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated: Her prose style is a pure joy.
3. the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
4. a state of happiness or felicity.

The dictionary definitions do not quite make the distinction needed when studying the biblical concept of joy, especially in a letter like the one Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. In this context, happiness is a state of mind brought about by present circumstances one finds pleasurable. When the circumstances change or weary you, the pleasure dims or disappears. Joy is the state brought about by the assurance one has because of faith in Jesus Christ. It is a confident assurance in God's love and His sovereign ability to work in your life, no matter the present set of circumstances you find yourself in. It is why Paul could express joy in a letter written while he was in prison (probably in Rome). Paul wasn't happy to be in prison, but he was joyful at the opportunity to share the Gospel with people he would not have come into contact if not imprisoned:

12Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,

13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,

14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

Philippians 1:12-14 (NASB)

What faith to have: to be incredibly joyful in the face of personal unhappiness. What strength of faith to feel that way, and live that way, in the name of Jesus.