In recent weeks, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have been doing a study on the book of Acts. This week, I’ve been looking at Acts 8. The previous chapter focused on the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Acts 8 begins with persecution spreading and many believers, both men and women, being dragged off to prison. The result was the dispersion of many of the believers from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria – which was God’s plan to begin with (see Acts 1:8). God used this difficult situation to begin spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.
As I was reading Acts 8:4-8, which talks about Philip going to the city of Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the crowds gathered to hear his message, verse 8 stood out to me. “So there was much joy in that city.”
Facing severe persecution, being forced to leave my home and flee to a city of strangers that I really had nothing in common with doesn’t sound to me like the ideal soil for producing joy. But when God is in control, even the most difficult circumstances can be fertile soil for the growth of biblical joy.
The Greek word translated joy in Acts 8:8 is chara, which refers to “an inner gladness; a deep seated pleasure. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart. It is a cheerful heart that leads to cheerful behavior. Joy is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances but is God’s gift to believers. Joy is a part of God’s very essence and as discussed below His Spirit manifests this supernatural joy in His children. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.” (from http://www.preceptaustin.org, Greek Word Studies)
Alfred Plummer, pastor and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary during the late 1800’s, wrote that joy is “the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life…and which raises us above pain and sorrow and remorse.”
Donald Campbell, former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, has defined joy as “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ. It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”
Jesus taught that abiding in Him is the secret to being filled with joy. Pastor John Piper explains what it means to abide in Jesus. He said, “active abiding is the act of receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ… It is trusting in Jesus, remaining in fellowship with Jesus, connecting to Jesus so that all that God is for us in him is flowing like a life-giving sap into our lives.”
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:5, 11 ESV
Even in the midst of suffering and weariness, abiding in Jesus is a key to walking in joy. And as Swiss theological Karl Barth has said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”