If someone asked you, “On a scale of 1-10, how strong of a Christian are you?” how would you respond? More importantly, what would you use as a gauge to evaluate your spiritual fervor? I imagine many of us would immediately begin to talk about how often we attend worship services, how much we give in contribution, and where we stand on certain moral issues—as we should. And yet, should these points be the only matters by which we measure the caliber of our Christianity?
In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to the disciples in Philippi about a particular dilemma he faces: he doesn’t know whether to prefer life or death in his present situation. This quandary doesn’t arrive due to some macabre attitude that has overwhelmed him, but rather the opposite: due to the eternal gain he will experience in Jesus, Paul would rather be with his Lord which is “far better” (1:23). On the other hand, Paul feels that his earthly presence still has a ministering purpose for the brethren. At the forefront of Paul’s concern for their spiritual concern is their “progress and joy in faith” (1:25). Notice, Paul wants to continue his ministry among these brethren so that the joy they experience in Christ will grow and progress. Throughout the epistle he emphasizes joy as one of the central elements of the Christian life (Phil. 4:1, 4). Joy in Christ is the central message of the book of Philippians. Our Father wants children who are overflowing in substantive, daily joy; a family that finds pleasure, happiness, laughter, and contentment simply because they are in the presence of their God. Redemption, salvation, justification, and sanctification are all motivations for the joy-filled glorification of our Lord.
It also should not go unnoticed that a Christian’s growth and progress cannot be separated from his increasing joy. That is, as a Christian grows in knowledge and maturity he should equally grow in joy and gladness in Jesus. This brings us back to our initial question: how strong of a Christian are you? What if we answered that question with the gauge of our joy in Christ? What if we measured our strength in Christ by the amount of joy we experience in Him? Scripture testifies that the joy we experience in Christ is a substantive way in which we can test our strength and maturity as disciples.
We might also examine how preachers and elders view their ministry to the local congregation. How much joy is the church experiencing in Christ? How much of their joy is derived from materialism? Does a state of spiritual depression or spiritual elevation characterize the local community of believers? What can the leadership do to foster a spirit of substantive joy in worship, service, and daily Christian practice among their congregants?
One of the central answers to these questions resides within the quality and focus of teaching that is discovered in the local pulpit. Ministers and elders must make it a priority to constantly turn the eyes of the congregation on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2). When a church takes its eyes off of Jesus, the progressive root of depression creeps in. The leadership must not only display Christian joy in their own life, but also shepherd the church into a life that learns to value Jesus above all else. In this and this alone we discover the secret to true contentment and joy.
Some of those reading this article might feel quite depressed. You haven’t felt the stirring of Christian joy since your initial salvation. At that time, there was a week of overflowing happiness in this new found redemption. Yet, since that time, you haven’t felt anything like that. Occasionally, you have felt moments of happiness but they are always fleeting. Why is this happening and how can you change it?
If we are honest, we must admit that all Christians have experienced this same situation. At times, we have felt that we are trying to grasp the first remnants of joy that were experienced in our initial conversion. This vicious cycle is often perpetuated by the belief that our joy in Christ is simply emotive. The joy of the Christian is not simply a feeling, but a knowing; it is a state of mind that is driven and supported by our knowledge and relationship with Jesus. At times, there will be moments of untold, unspeakable elation; at other times, deep sorrow that is guarded by our hope in Christ. Christian joy doesn’t necessitate a constant smile on our face, but it does give us the greatest reason to have one. And, as we grow in our knowledge and appreciation of Christ, our joy will increase.
Along the way we must never lose sight of the value of prayer in our quest for consistent, Christian joy. We must pray that God will increase our joy; that He will open the eyes of our heart to witness the bounties of happiness we possess in Jesus. We must pray that God will help us to treasure Jesus more. And, in that prayer, we must remember that we serve a God of joy who wants His children to be filled with joy (Rom. 15:13). God wants you to be happy Christian!
So, as we examine our spiritual strength, we must not only evaluate the fervor with which we attend worship services (as important as that is) but the quality of the joy we experience in our Savior. In that, we discover an entirely new dimension of Christian growth; a dimension that not only encourages but motivates us to know Jesus more.