That your joy may be full
The night was dark and the stone floor cold as the shackled prisoners were thrown into the deepest, darkest part of the prison and their bare feet locked in stocks. They were bruised and bleeding from the vicious beating they had just received; gradually the two men’s eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings of the inner prison.
Paul and Silas were in the Macedonian city of Philippi, preaching the gospel, when a demon-possessed girl began following them, crying out and causing a disturbance wherever they went. Finally Paul rebuked the evil spirit, saying: “‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:18, 19).
There was no trial; just a frenzied mob, lies, and corrupt officials. Motivated by greed and jealousy, masters of this rescued slave girl turned their wrath onto the two missionaries who had freed her from a life of demon possession and servitude.
As they lay on the cold stone floor, bruised and bleeding, were Paul and Silas complaining about their terrible circumstances and clearly unfair treatment? No! Their hearts were filled with joy as they prayed and sang hymns to God (see Acts 16:25).
This is not the first time we see Christ’s followers rejoicing in trial. In Acts 5, Peter and other apostles boldly proclaim their testimony before the Jewish council, consisting of the high priest “with all the elders of the children of Israel” (verse 21). The disciples’ testimony cut the leaders to the heart and they were furious. Had it not been for the intervention of the respected teacher Gamaliel, the disciples no doubt would have been killed right then. Instead, they were beaten and “commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (verse 40).
What was their reaction? “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (verses 41, 42).
The apostle James articulates this joy in the first chapter of his epistle: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
NO PATIENCE OR JOY
Patience and joy were two things lacking among the disciples that fateful Friday when their Lord was crucified. They were crushed in body and soul, and the world seemed dark indeed, as they had forgotten the words of Jesus spoken to them just days before:
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Mark 10:33, 34).
After the Resurrection, joy dawned slowly for Christ’s apostles. When the women came from the tomb with the amazing news that Christ had risen, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). It wasn’t until they saw Him with their own eyes did they allow joy to fill their hearts.
Jesus gently reminded the disciples of His earlier instruction, saying, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (verse 44).
And then He gave them an incredible Bible study, opening their understanding, “that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (verse 45), assuring them of their mission to preach in His name “to all nations” (verse 47) and of the promise of “power from on high” (verse 49).
Their hearts “burned within” (see verse 32) them and continued throbbing with joy 40 days later when, following Christ’s ascension, “they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy ” (verse 52).
THE SECRET OF JOY
The Bible teaches us the secret of true joy. It is not found in feelings or circumstances, which change from day to day, moment to moment. The psalmist reveals where the only real and lasting joy is found:
“I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. . . . You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:7-11).
It is in Christ’s presence where true joy is found. But how do we practice His presence today, when He is physically no longer walking the earth? It is through His words, as recorded in the Bible, and by communion with Him in prayer.
After instructing the disciples the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told them, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Decades later the beloved apostle John emphasized the importance of Scripture when he wrote the pastoral epistle of 1 John, giving witness “concerning the Word of Life . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:1-4).
As we think of the many trials and sorrows that so many have recently experienced, it might seem there is not much to be joyful about. But as we look to the risen Christ, drinking in every precious word, building our hope and purpose upon His promises, we, too, will experience the joy, which the apostle Peter affirms:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away. . . . In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).