I have heard many times that Christians should always be happy. Christ will always rescue us from our troubles. We should just do what makes us happy, and Jesus will make sure that it works out for us. This is an errant belief! The Bible does not say any of this.
Happiness is an emotional response to what is happening to us. There are countless examples in the Bible where believers were in situations that would not produce happiness.
“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’ The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?’ But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’” (Acts 23:1-4 NAS)
When Paul was facing one of his many court cases, the high priest commanded that he be punched in the mouth. A punch in the face does not generally cause happiness. Paul’s reaction is that of anger. Without knowing that it was the high priest who ordered the punch, Paul snaps back at him, calling him a hypocrite. Even though he was calling it like he saw it, and he was correct, it was against the law to speak evil of the high priest, and the crowd let him know it.
“After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:23-25 NRSV).
Paul and Silas were given a good old-fashioned whipping and put into prison. The scripture says that it was a severe flogging. Then, not only were they put into prison, but they were locked up in maximum security with their feet locked in stocks. These things do not produce an emotion of happiness. However, their reaction was to pray and sing songs. They could have had a bad attitude, and said “Look what serving the Lord has caused!” However, they began to pray and to sing songs instead.
This reaction shows the joy of serving the Lord. Joy is not an emotional reaction. Joy is a gladness in the big picture that is not effected by circumstances.
“They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42 NAS).
So, the basic difference between Joy and Happiness is that happiness is a response to circumstances, and joy is a righteous attitude in spite of circumstances.
The word Joy, as used in the Bible, comes from a Greek word that means, “the blessedness the Lord enjoys.” Our joy comes from the heavenly nature of Christ reflected in our lives. We were not created for earth, but for heaven. If we were created for earth, then we should fill our lives with earthly things that will make us happy. However, since we were created for heaven, we should fill our lives with Jesus, resulting in a joyful life.
There are plenty of scriptures that assure us that even though we face tough, trying times here on earth, our destination is heaven, so we should live joyfully in spite of our circumstances:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:20-24, 32-33 ESV)
The Message states verse 33 this way:
“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33 MSG)
“I have great confidence in you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed.” (2 Cor. 7:4 NRSV)
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NRSV)
“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:13 NIV)
Finally, the reason for our joy is Christ. The Bible tells us that our belief in Jesus fills us with such a glorious joy that words cannot explain it.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Pet. 1:8 TNIV)