The Joy of the Lord: Joy As an Attribute of God

The Greek word chara is translated in the New Testament as joy, rejoicing, or happiness. Typically this word is used in connection with God’s people and their response to what he has done. As believers, we experience joy in God’s presence and in the salvation he gives us. But does God experience joy?

The Character of God

It is very easy to read the Old Testament and come away with the picture of God as an angry and spiteful deity. A God who is demanding and who ruthlessly punishes disobedience. Calling for the extermination of whole people groups. Killing people for minor infractions of his laws. Sometimes it seems like he just got up on the wrong side of the bed.

The New Testament would seem to soften the image of God as a God of love. But even it is filled with expressions of the wrath of God. However, when you look a little deeper you find in both testaments that God loves his creation, and especially his people. And it is clear that the expressions of wrath are really a reflection of his righteous nature.

God is righteous, and that is reflected in everything he does. God is also love, and that also is reflected in all that he does. But God’s righteousness and love are not two distinct parts of his nature. Instead, they are two aspects of a fully integrated nature. He is fully and completely both righteous and love.

Defining Joy

The Hebrew words śimḥâ and śāśôn, along with the Greek word chara are most often translated into English as joy. But they also are sometimes translated as gladness, delight or happiness.

In Nehemiah 8:12, in response to the reading of the Law, “all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great śimḥâ, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” In Psalm 51:12, David prays that God would “Restore to me the śāśôn of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” And, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul tells this church that “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the chara given by the Holy Spirit.

These, and many other passages, express the joy that we have in knowing God and his will for our lives. And, that the joy we have is not of ourselves, but that it comes from God. He is the source of our joy.

Joy As an Attribute of God

We should, first, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breath and depth and richness.

“The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard – God’s Joyous Being

Is joy a fundamental attribute of God. An attribute that is essential to his nature? Most would agree that attributes like his omnipotence, omniscience, aseity, and transcendence are basic to who God is. And moral attributes like love, goodness, righteousness, and mercy are also fundamental to God’s nature. But what about joy?

Wikipedia has a list of 28 attributes for God. And joy is not included. I have seen countless attribute lists for God over the years. And I cannot recall ever seeing joy on one of these lists. Yet on reflection it would seem like it would be an attribute of God. God is not a sour pussed deity looking for someone to smite. But he is joyous, taking delight in the work of his hands. The rejoicing in heaven when a lost one is saved is surely led by the God who created that one who has been found.

Joy In His Image Bearers

The first chapter of Genesis affirms that humanity was made in the image of God. At least of part of being made in God’s image would be that we reflect his moral attributes. We love, not because we are loving. But because God is love and we are made in his image. The same would be true of goodness, righteousness, mercy and other moral attributes, including joy.

That people can experience and live in joy is another indication that joy is a part of the nature of God. It is not something that we just inexplicably have. Rather, we can know joy because God is joy.

Entering Into God’s Joy

In Matthew 25:14-30 is found the parable of the talents. In this parable a man entrusts three servants with some money to invest for him while he is away. When he returns he calls each of the servants in to give an account of their stewardship. Two of the three have done well and are commended for their efforts.

In verses 21 & 23 the master says to the two, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” In these verses the word translated as happiness is chara, translated elsewhere as joy. These faithful servants are invited to share in the joy of their master.

This is one of the kingdom parables, describing what the kingdom of heaven is like. The master here represents God, with us as his servants. And his faithful servants will partake of God’s joy.

Living a Life of Joy

In Ephesians 5:12 Paul tells us to follow God’s example, walking in the way of love. And in 1 Peter 1:15-16 we are called to be holy because God is holy. As children of God we should seek to be like him as much as we can. And that would seem to include joy. In Philippians 4:4 Paul twice tells us to rejoice in the Lord. To have joy as God’s people.

All too often as Christians we seem to wear a frown, looking like we have just sucked on a lemon. And while there certainly may be times when that is appropriate, it should not be our default face. Rejoice in the Lord. Let God’s joy fill us and flow out to those we come into contact with. Let’s be a people of love, holiness, and joy.

Passages of Joy

Old Testament

  • Neh. 8:10 – Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
  • Psalm 16:11 – You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
  • Psalm 21:6 – Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
  • Psalm 51:12 – Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
  • Psalm 65:8 – The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.
  • Psalm 106:5 – that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.
  • Isaiah 58:14 – then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

New Testament

  • John 15:11 – I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
  • John 17:13 – “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
  • Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
  • 1 Thess. 1:6 – You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
  • Hebrews 12:2 – fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
  • Hebrews 12:22 – But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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9 months ago

The joy of the Lord is our strength

1 year ago

Thank you so much for your encouraging words each day.

Sherida L Smith
Sherida L Smith
1 year ago

Thank you for your input on how God is Joy therefore we have joy. Even in the situation that we are in now with covid 19 we can turn to our Lord God in joy and Thanksgiving

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