The Church service was not halfway complete when an elderly man stood and bellowed: “Brethren, are you enjoying it, or are you only enduring it?” He was of a “shouting kind” of religion, as Herbert W. Armstrong later recalled. It seemed to this man, at least, that the congregation wasn’t too thrilled to be there!
Those bellicose remarks reminded Mr. Armstrong of a common misunderstanding found among believers and nonbelievers. Some religious types feel the need for shouting and emotion at church services. Others feel a Christian life requires them to relinquish all pleasure and turn to a life of penance. And nonbelievers simply pursue a lifestyle however they best see fit. To Mr. Armstrong, it was clear that mankind as a whole could not agree on how to have the abundant Christian life—one filled with godly joy.
“I have come,” said Jesus, “that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Our Savior came to bring us the abundant life. Yet man cannot seem to agree on what an abundant life entails.
There truly is a joyful, abundant life that God calls His firstfruits to be a part of today.
The Pursuit of ‘Happiness’
Modern society faces a perplexing question: Why, in a world of such great advancement, do we see so much unhappiness? All our luxuries and conveniences do not provide lasting joy. In my home country of Australia—the “lucky country”—1 in 16 citizens is experiencing depression. One in 7 has anxiety. And what of the youth, the inheritors of the modern age? Australian mental health and well-being support organization Beyond Blue estimates that 75 percent of mental health problems now occur before age 25! One in 40 children between ages 12 and 17 will attempt suicide.
The dilemma of increasing prosperity yet spiraling unhappiness leads some to believe that joy simply isn’t possible! “Our brain doesn’t know how to be happy, or even content,” wrote one psychiatrist for Psychology Today. “Happiness belongs in a different realm. This is the realm of abstract ideas and myths.”
How miserable an outlook! Is lasting happiness truly so elusive?
The author of the article is both close to, and a thousand miles away from, the truth!
Certainly, the happiness of the world is temporary! It is a flimsy facade of real lasting godly joy. Why? Because it is a product of what Mr. Armstrong called the “get” way of life.
Man is incomplete. There is a void in his life. A yearning. To fill that void, people seek to gain, to experience, to have—to get. The tendency is to fill our lives with what we want. But it is a pursuit of the wrong goal. These selfish pursuits fail to fill the void!
Our materialistic society has manufactured a new meaning for “joy.” The big house. The fast car. Riches. Fame. All too often people see these as the means to happiness. But when the “thing” is acquired, they awaken to find that it didn’t bring lasting happiness at all! The house gets run down. The car gets a scratch. All too soon, the sense of happiness fades and the void must be filled with the next “thing.”
Man is searching in the wrong place for happiness. Thus he is ever chasing, but never attaining, real lasting joy.
The Source of Joy
Mr. Armstrong noted the following in his article “This Is the Life! Real Abundant Living”: “A world-famous philosopher, editor and lecturer whom I knew and who … had no use for religion said that he did not desire to be repressed or to live a life of painful penance. ‘I desire,’ he said, ‘to be radiant, cheerful, friendly and to meet people with a smile.’ Apparently he assumed that such a happy life could not be a religious life” (Good News, August 1982).
Many people make the same assumption. Yet God gives us every opportunity to be truly happy—and shows us how to have it! In fact, God’s firstfruits—His called-out ones—should be filled with this kind of joy.
Notice the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. The second fruit, after love, is joy! This Greek word means cheerfulness or calm delight. This is the lasting joy man is sorely searching for!
But how to obtain it?
Ecclesiastes 2:26 states, “For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy ….” Notice the order: Wisdom and knowledge come first. We gain those through the Holy Spirit—a gift of God we must pray for daily (2 Corinthians 4:16). God says we cannot have joy without wisdom and knowledge, and we cannot have those without His Spirit. Joy comes from God’s Spirit and is available to those willing to allow God to work with them through that spiritual power. It cannot be obtained through any other means!
The world scorns the Holy Bible. Yet it is in learning and doing as God commands that we can have godly joy. We must learn and grow in wisdom and knowledge through prayer and Bible study as God intended—then comes the joy!
God offers a joy unlike the world experiences. It is real joy: the kind of joy that remains despite pain, suffering, test or trial—even when material goods are stripped away; the sort that carries you through tribulation.
Look at King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Though his life certainly had its share of trials, tests and strong correction, he was happy! A study of the Psalms reveals what David’s heart was like. The words praise, singing, song and psalm appear hundreds of times; rejoice is recorded 55 times; joy or joyful, 35 times; delight, 15 times; and happy another 7 times.
Christ is the perfect example of joy. “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). When Christ spoke these words, He was just hours away from being flayed alive and nailed to a stake, and He was talking to His Father about joy!
The apostles also came to possess this joy, despite all but one of them dying a martyr for the truth as Christ did!
The Apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Peter 4:12-14). Peter had the joy of the firstfruits! Rejoice in your trials, he told the Church members. We will be marrying Christ!
Isn’t that wonderful future something that should fill our lives with lasting joy? But knowing the truth isn’t enough. We must be like Peter and act on it!
It is one thing to obey, but another to obey with joy. Satan and the demons obey God. In Matthew 8, Christ commanded the demons to depart, and they did. So too did Satan at the end of his titanic battle with Christ in Matthew 4. Yet there was no joy in their obedience.
We too can obey, but we need more than “have to,” reluctant obedience. God desires cheerful obedience!
We have every reason to be happy in our obedience. We owe our very existence to the God who bestowed on us the blessing of this life, and the chance to be in His Family in the wonderful World Tomorrow! In His love God has given to us the very understanding of how to live a full and happy life. How tragic when we forget and turn to our own understanding of how to be happy.
John 13:16-17 state, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
notice! Christ didn’t say, “If you know these things, you will be happy!” Too many people think they can read and even understand the truth, and be happy. It doesn’t work that way. We must be doers!
Could God entrust His Kingdom to people who only obeyed when they had to? No—God needs people like Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong who, for more than a decade, kept the holy days without even knowing why—but did so because they longed to obey their Maker!
John 15:10 states, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” The Ferrar Fenton translates the word joy as “delight.” Keeping God’s commandments is a delight.
Satan is a master deceiver. In his world, God’s law is viewed as negative! The devil disdains the law of God. He delights in tearing down the Word of God! Thus in the world, lawlessness is promoted as freedom! Then when misery results, people convince themselves that it really isn’t their fault. The aforementioned psychologist wrote, “We should take comfort in the knowledge that unhappiness is not really the result of our moral shortcomings. It is the fault of our natural design. It is in our blueprint.” How satanic!
God’s delight can and should be full in us! God wants us to be happy! Even amid sore trial, we should have underlying joy! That isn’t to say we cannot grieve, or have sorrow and sadness. But God provides His firstfruits with a means of a deeper and lasting joy that shines on long past any clouds or unhappiness.
In his article “Experience Real Joy,” the late Ron Fraser wrote, “To the degree that we submit to, obey and apply God’s law in our lives, we shall receive, experience and produce the fruit of joy!” (Royal Vision, January-February 2010). He then quoted 1 John 5:3: “[T]his is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”
Satan promotes false Christianity—focused either on whipping up emotions of fleeting ecstasy or on suppressing all such passion like a dank, cloistered monastery. Both depart from the real abundant way of life!
God’s joy cannot be generated within ourselves. It is a gift from God. It is law-based. That law is not overbearing, depriving us of good things. It protects us from the sin of this world that produces only unhappiness and destruction.
A Vision of Joy
When we have vision like Peter, we can have God’s delight. It won’t matter what trials we face. We will count it all joy because we love God and keep His commandments, and because we see what is to come!
“Why then do you sometimes let depression or discouragement pull you down? Whatever your problems, difficulties or trials, they are only temporary. What really counts is what’s ahead—and what’s ahead surpasses by far all of your expectations!” (Good News, March 1979).
Isaiah 65:17-19 state, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.”
When God establishes His Kingdom on Earth, Jerusalem will be the home of the firstfruits. God calls His capital a joy! This is the future that should motivate us and fill our lives with happiness and excitement. The parable of Matthew 13:44 describes the Kingdom as a treasure hid in a field. And when the man finds it, “[he with] joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” He is motivated and acts with joy!
The coming Kingdom is one of pure joy (Matthew 25:21, 23). And in preparing for that Kingdom, the firstfruits should be the most joyous people of all! We are about to marry Christ! What bride isn’t beaming as she walks down the aisle to marry her husband? “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Our joy should be joy unspeakable!
Society is wracked with misery and unhappiness, depression, suicide. All are hallmarks of a world in dire need of lasting joy! God is calling out His people to a vitally important work—to help usher in a new and joy-filled world. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Jesus is calling upon His joyfully obedient and law-abiding firstfruits to help in this happy endeavor.