In this abbreviated excerpt J. I. Packer uses the apostle Paul's overflowing joy as a model for why and how every Christian should be joy-filled. See the source for the full and helpful content. - AC21DOJ

The Joy-Filled Christian
by J. I. Packer
(as found in God's Plans for You)


[The apostle] Paul in [his letter to the] Philippians [exemplifies and prescribes] Christian joy -- joy "in the Lord," joy that flows from one's relationship to Jesus Christ. ... Only Christians can understand this joy. "Rejoice in the Lord" means rejoice in being Christ's, in having Christ's Father as your Father, in being right with God the Father and an heir of his glory through Christ's mediation, in possessing salvation and eternal life as Christ's gift.

1 of 4: Being Aware

The first source of joy is the awareness that one is loved. Christians know themselves loved in a way that no one else does, for they know that God the Father so loved them as to give his only Son to die on the cross in shame and agony so that they might have eternal life.

The measure of love, human and divine, is how much it gives. By this standard the love of God is immeasurable, because both the greatness of the gift and the cost of giving it are beyond our power to grasp. All human parallels fall short; all comparisons are inadequate.

Humbled and awed, Christians should bask daily in the awareness of God's overwhelming, incomparable love.

2 of 4: Accepting

The second source of joy is the acceptance of one's situation as good. Christians can do this everywhere and always because they know that circumstances and experiences, pleasant and unpleasant alike, are planned out for them by their loving heavenly Father as part of their preparation for glory. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). God's purpose is that those whom he calls should be remade so that they become like their Savior, the incarnate Son Jesus Christ. Their good is the fulfilling of this divine purpose for them, and God works unceasingly in and through everything that happens so that it becomes in one way or another a means of bringing them closer to the goal.

It is a mistake to imagine that the good for which God works is our unbroken ease and comfort. God's goal is, rather, our sanctification and Christlikeness, the true holiness that is the highway to happiness. Constant ease and comfort, therefore, are not to be expected. Yet Christians may nonetheless derive constant contentment from their knowledge that God is making everything that happens to them a means of furthering and realizing their glorious destiny.

3 of 4: Possessing

Joy's third source is possession of something worth possessing. Here, too, the Christian is supremely well placed, as we see from Paul's further words about himself. In Philippians 3 we find him celebrating the incomparable worth of the saving relationship with Christ that he now possesses -- or rather that now possesses him. "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things" (Phil. 3:8). "I consider them [i.e., all the things I have lost] rubbish" (literally, dung -- worthless stuff that can be jettisoned cheerfully), "that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil. 3:8–9).

4 of 4: Giving

The fourth source of joy is to give something worth giving. This also is an element of Christian experience in a special and unique way. Christ sends believers into the world to be his witnesses. When they share their knowledge of Christ with others, they know they are giving people the one thing supremely worth giving and also desperately needed. Paul found joy in the privilege of being put in trust with the Gospel. So should Christians today rejoice in this task, even when for the moment the Good News is unappreciated, and those to whom one is trying to bring it are rude and offensive in rejecting it.


Paul not only testifies to joy in his own prison experience, but he commands his Philippian friends to practice joy as a constant discipline of life. "Rejoice in the Lord always," he writes, and repeats himself for emphasis.

Joy is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. But the habit of rejoicing in the Lord, as the appointed means whereby joy becomes a reality, is as much a matter of divine command and Christian duty as is the doing of any other things mentioned.

Paul can choose to rejoice in one aspect of a situation of which other aspects are calculated to depress. He rejoices that Christ is being preached and refuses to brood on the bad motives of the preachers or to indulge in self-pity because he is not able to do what they are doing (Phil. 1:15–18). This attitude, more than anything else, makes it clear that joy is a choice; one chooses to focus on facts that call forth joy. Such is the secret of "rejoicing in the Lord always," namely, to choose what you think about. It is as simple -- and as difficult! -- as that.

Can we really choose what we are going to think about? Paul has no doubt that thought-control is possible. He actually commands it. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8 RSV). Controlling and directing one's thoughts is a habit, and the more one practices it, the better one becomes at it.

Motivation, of course, helps, and Christians have a strong motivation -- a deep-rooted urge, instinctive to them as regenerate persons -- to center their thoughts on God's grace and glory at all times. As a person in love thinks loving thoughts of the beloved one spontaneously and constantly, so does the regenerate Christian think loving thoughts of God the Savior. And as it is common today for travelers to turn on their Walkman and let their attention be absorbed by the music, so it has always been common for Christians to let their thoughts be drawn up to God, magnet as he is to the regenerate mind, and to meditate -- that is, talk to themselves and to God silently or aloud -- concerning God's nature, works, and ways. Such meditation prompts praise and adoration and brings endless delight to the heart. Paul's instruction in what to think about simply gives focus and direction to this regenerate instinct, so as to ensure that our meditation will profit us as much as possible.

But what in particular are the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy things on which we are to center our thoughts? They are the doings of God and the fruit of those doings in human lives. They certainly include the fourfold awareness that we have discussed: first, that God loves me infinitely and eternally; second, that everything comes to me from God, at least with his permission and always under his protection, to further my eternal good; third, that my saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, which will eternally increase, is something supremely worth having; fourth, that the gospel message of salvation that I seek to pass on to others is something supremely worth giving. These thoughts will always prime the pump of joy in our hearts and produce a steady flow of joy, peace (see Philippians 4:7, 9), and delight. Try it and see!