Before plunging into the results of my study into these two words, joy and rejoicing, it might help to reveal my own misconceptions. Starting with “rejoicing” – my own little mind figured since it had a form of the word “joy” in it already and began with “re”, it must have something to do with having joy again – you know peat and repeat. Well, no. As for joy, for most of my life I thought joy required one to be bursting with exuberance. Granted I knew better before I began and in-depth study of the word, but not all that long before. What I learned is, it is important for me to set aside my preconceptions. While my habitual tendency to project what I think I know into what I’m exploring is likely to be a lifelong struggle, acknowledging this weakness may go a long way in thwarting it.
So what else have I learned? Let’s start with the basics. First, there is more than one Greek word translated into the English word for “rejoice”. The same goes for the word for “joy”. Not only that but the Greek texts often translate the same Greek word into other English words. In other words (sorry), the Greek word chairo is most often translated “rejoice” but it is also translated a number of other ways such as “be glad”, “joy”, and so forth, including “God Speed”. Granted, we only get the term “God Speed” in the King James, but I suspect any modern usage of this term stems from this source. Now you know where it comes from and, sort of, what it means. Most versions render it as a form of greeting as in “hail!”.
Now for the good news… I’m not going to bore you by picking through every little detail. I have other ways of putting you to sleep! What you should glean from the above is, first, it can be really easy to get bogged down looking at even the most innocent-looking word. Second, since all we are after is a basic understanding, we can skim over the “in-depth” study and reach for the low-hanging fruit. In fact, while I see our Heavenly Father as a very precise communicator, His deepest desire is for us to “get it”.
2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
WE tend to make God complicated. Everything I’ve learned to date suggests God wants to simplify our lives.
Galatians 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
So, about that joy and rejoicing… to rejoice is to be glad and joy is, well, gladness. What is gladness? It is an emotion, or rather a range of emotion. It ranges from a general feeling of well-being (or maybe a boost to one’s feeling of well-being for someone who is already having a great day) to overwhelming throes of ecstasy. This is the general sense of the word in most biblical usages. Both the Greek word for joy, chara, and rejoice, chairō, have slightly different meanings in some verses.
The word “chairō” (rejoice) is often used as a greeting. Chances are you’d miss it if you didn’t know better.
Matthew 26:49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
The word “hail” is the Greek “chairō”. For these instances, you might well spot this when you read this in most versions. (Side note: the NIV renders the word “greetings” in the above verse.)
For the most part the verb chairō is understood in the sense of being glad or rejoicing. For many instances when the word is used in scripture I get a sense of euphoria or something more than just a warm fuzzy.
The same can be said when I read verses with the noun, “joy”. So many times when this word is used, it is due to something happening, at least in the gospels and in the acts of the apostles. When we get to the epistles, something changes.
The epistles, the letters written by the apostles to the church, the body of believers, take on a different tone. Of course, this should be expected simply due to the overall focus of those works. The gospels and acts are event driven. They detail those things that happened. On the other hand, the epistles are more instructive. However there are other differences that should be taken into account.
The first difference is the epistles were written to specific groups. The Church Epistles, written by the Apostle Paul, were directed towards the body. While most were addressed to specific church groups, these are understood to be “circular letters”, meaning they were intended to be circulated from group to group, at the very least those in the immediate area. Now I cannot say what happened, even my own children have to admit I’m not that old, but if I lived during that time, I’d certainly want to have a copy before sending the letter off to our neighbors. Thus I suspect this happened more often than not. While this is pure speculation on my part, it seems quite reasonable to me.
In any case, they were intended to address those things first century Christians were facing as well as to instruct them concerning their new lives as born-again believers in Christ. Keep in mind, this was all new to all of them. These new Christians were either formerly Hebrews or, well, I’ll use the somewhat inaccurate term, pagans, if they believed in anything at all. Those times were rife with worshiping of all sorts of gods and goddesses. Acts (19:35) documents how the Ephesians worshiped a rock that dropped from the sky.
The second difference is like the first but specifically addresses the reality of a truly spiritual life. It was simply not available to be born again of God’s spirit before Pentecost in Acts 2.
Paul seems to be doing a lot of the rejoicing in his epistles, however there are several instances where he exhorts the reader to rejoice also.
Since the first usage of a word is often definitive, let’s take a look at how chara (joy) and chairō (rejoice) are first used. Surprisingly enough, both are first used in the very same verse!
Matthew 2:10 KJV When they saw the star, they rejoiced (chairō) with exceeding great joy (chara).
Isn’t that handy now? The verse refers to the wise men who saw Jesus’ star in the east and came looking for him. In the context:
Matthew 2:9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
My read on this is they were very, very happy. Verse 11 gives me my clue.
Matthew 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Now there is a lot to learn from this single verse but for now let’s focus on what they did. They worshipped him and gave him expensive gifts. Why?
Matthew 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
Well, there you go! The star told them the King of the Jews was born. It’s obvious there is much more to this than is revealed in these verses. The wise men were students of prophecy. Did they know this king was also the promised Messiah? Did they recognize him as the Son of God? I don’t know. They must of known this event was pretty important, otherwise, why go through all this trouble and shower him with valuable gifts?
Again, much of the joy and rejoicing found in the gospels and in Acts it directly results from events taking place at the time. As one begins reading the epistles, the letters to the church, the body of believers, the focus changes to a more internal perspective. The first verses in Romans is a good place to look.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Romans 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Both these verses should read “holy spirit” rather than “the Holy Ghost”, according to my interlinear version. The significance is the difference between The Giver, God, who is holy and who is spirit versus the gift of holy spirit we receive when we are born again.
The first verse tells us the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in holy spirit.
The second verse indicates Paul’s desire for “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of holy spirit.”
While neither of these verses promise “joy” directly, they certainly indicate we can and should expect some joy in our lives. Only in Galatians 5:22 are we specifically told we have “joy” as a fruit of the spirit. Thus I can only conclude while we can partake of this fruit as often as we wish, it is not meant to be the only source of joy in our lives.
Indeed, even a brief glance at other scriptures in the epistles indicate many sources of joy and many reasons to be joyful. It is evident to me much of this joy directly relates to the presence of holy spirit in our lives and our spiritual journey. In future articles I will expound on how we can “walk in the spirit” more and more each day.
This short study into the primary Greek words for joy and rejoice revealed these words describe an emotion generally meaning to “be glad” while giving us various examples of these concepts in action. As we venture from the gospels and the Acts into the epistles, the deeper, more spiritual aspect of these words become apparent. Even this cursory study indicates we can expect a great deal of joy in our lives as born-again believers with plenty of reasons to rejoice.
Feel free to leave a comment if you found this post helpful or if you need clarification.