10 Key Bible Verses on Joy

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

God’s Gift to the Believer

Joy is the gift of God to those who trust in Christ. Be encouraged by these verses and commentary adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

Nehemiah 8:10

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

As the people rejoiced in God and delighted in his presence, he would show himself strong to help them and defend them. “Joy” was a keynote because God had saved Israel, in both the remote and the recent past, and this story of salvation would have been told again in the reading of the Book of the Law.

John 15:10–11

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Obedience is not to be equated with drudgery; it is all about joy. The Old Testament prophets envisioned a period of great end-time rejoicing (e.g., Isa. 25:9Isa. 35:10Isa. 51:3Isa. 61:10Isa. 66:10Zeph. 3:14–17Zech. 9:9). God threatened judgment if his people would not serve him “with joyfulness and gladness of heart” (Deut. 28:47–48). Just as Jesus had great joy in obeying his Father even in the midst of opposition, so Christians will have joy in obedience.

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Here there is a clear affirmation that the human yearning to be near to God and to know the pleasure of his welcome forever, beyond the death of the body, finds its answer in the covenant. Peter cites Psalm 16:8–11 in his Pentecost speech (Acts 2:25–28), applying the verses to the resurrection of Jesus; Paul used Psalm 16:10 in his similar speech (Acts 13:35). If the apostles meant that David’s words were a straight prediction of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is difficult to know what function the psalm could have played in ancient Israel: the congregation would have scratched their heads in puzzlement every time they sang it. This puzzlement goes away if the psalm is seen as cultivating the hope of everlasting glory for the faithful, with the resurrection of Jesus (the holy one par excellence) as the first step in bringing this hope to fruition (cf. Rom. 8:231 Cor. 15:23).

A master metaphor of the Bible: the covenant provides a “path” by which one walks to life in all its fullness (Prov. 5:6Prov. 6:23Prov. 10:17Prov. 12:28Prov. 15:24Matt. 7:14); this is what the Lord makes known to his followers. To enjoy God’s presence, or his face, is the fruition of the covenant (cf. Ex. 33:14–15Num. 6:24–26). The word pleasures is related to “pleasant places” (Ps. 16:6); the pleasure that he has begun in this life will continue into its fullness in the world to come.

Luke 1:14–15

And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Though the specific content of Zechariah’s prayer is not given, it most likely would have included at least two petitions: Zechariah would have been interceding on behalf of Israel as a nation, and he apparently also raised a second petition, for a child, as indicated by Luke 1:13b (cf. Gen. 25:21Gen. 30:221 Sam. 1:10–17). Zechariah must have prayed for a child hundreds of times over many years, and now at last the answer has come. Joy and gladness come to Zechariah and Elizabeth both because their childlessness has ended (cf. Luke 1:25) and because of (“for,” Luke 1:15) what God will do through their son.

Galatians 5:22–23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

The Spirit fights against sin not merely in defense but also in attack by producing in Christians the positive attributes of godly character, all of which are evident in Jesus in the Gospels. Love appears first because it is the greatest quality (1 Cor. 13:1–132 Pet. 1:5–7) in that it most clearly reflects the character of God. Joy comes in at a close second, for in rejoicing in God’s salvation Christians show that their affections are rightly placed in God’s will and his purpose (see John 15:11; 16:24Rom. 15:131 Pet. 1:8Jude 24; etc.). 

Against such things there is no law, and therefore those who manifest them are fulfilling the law—more than those who insist on Jewish ceremonies, and likewise more than those who follow the works of the flesh surveyed in Galatians 5:19–21.

James 1:2–3

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Trials are “tests” that challenge faith (James 1:2–5). When trials occur, one should count it all joy—not meaning mere worldly, temporal happiness, but rather spiritual, enduring, “complete joy” in the Lord who is sovereign over all things, including trials.

Testing of your faith defines the meaning of a trial for the Christian: as Jesus was “tested” in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–13), so believers are tested. The Greek dokimion (“testing”) denotes a positive test intended to make one’s faith “genuine” (cf. 1 Pet. 1:7). The result is steadfastness, a life of faithful endurance amid troubles and afflictions.

Habakkuk 3:17–18

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Anticipating great destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk has radically changed—he began by informing God how to run his world, and ended by trusting that God knows best and will bring about justice. Verse 17 contains a frequently quoted list of material disasters in which all crops and livestock are lost, and as a result it is unclear how there will be food to eat. Yet even amid suffering and loss, Habakkuk has learned that he can trust God, and with that trust comes great joy, not in circumstances but in God himself: “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Yahweh has become Habakkuk’s strength (see Ps. 18:32, 39).

John 16:24

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

While Jesus was on earth the disciples had not prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus. But now he was saying that they should do so. Regarding the meaning of praying “in Jesus’ name,” see notes on John 1:12–13John 14:13. “Ask, and you will receive” reminds believers that frequent answers to prayer will give Jesus’ followers great joy as they see God actively at work in the world in answer to their prayers.

Hebrews 12:1–2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Through his atoning work, Christ’s perfection leads to the perfection of his people (which will be realized fully on the last day). The cross of Christ represents the greatest suffering in history, for Jesus not only suffered physically but also experienced God’s just wrath in taking upon himself the sin of the world. Still, the promise of future reward and joy gave Jesus strength to suffer. Crucifixion, performed naked and in public, and inflicting prolonged pain on the victim, was intended to cause shame as well as death (cf. Heb. 12:6). 

1 Peter 1:8–9

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter realizes that joy is mingled with grief as Christians in Asia Minor suffer various trials. These sufferings are God’s will for his people, so that their faith might be purified and shown to be genuine. Such faith has a great reward, for at the revelation (that is, the return) of Jesus Christ, honor and praise will belong both to Christians and to Christ.

Joy is not reserved only for the future when Jesus will be clearly seen at his revelation (1 Peter 1:7). Even now, his followers love him, believe in him, and rejoice with an inexpressible joy. The end result is eternal salvation—the completion of God’s saving work.

All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

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