Calvary Road Baptist Church


John 15.11 

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, published in 1996, defines the word “happy” as lucky; fortunate; favored by circumstances. “Happy” is also defined as having, showing, or causing a feeling of great pleasure and joy, contentment, etc.[1] In other words, a person is “happy” depending upon his situation, depending upon what happens.

In my library, I also have an American dictionary of the English language facsimile copy that was initially published in 1828. Noah Webster’s First Edition Of An American Dictionary Of The English Language defines the word “happy,” which is almost identical to the contemporary dictionary I first cited.[2]

What do the definitions of these two dictionaries, published more than a century and a half apart from each other, show us? Recognize that no dictionary decides what the meaning of any word is. A dictionary’s function is to show the reader what the range of meanings of words was when the dictionary was compiled and published. What decides the definition of a word, or rather the range of meanings associated with a word, is how the word is used by those who speak the language.

Getting back to the definition of “happy” from these two dictionaries, the first thing we learn is that the word “happy” meant in 1996 almost the same thing that the word “happy” meant in 1828, at least among English speakers in the United States of America. I guess that the range of meanings associated with the word “happy” has not changed in any significant way from 1996 to 2020, at least not in the United States.

Thus, for just about the entire history of our country, native English speakers in the USA have used the word “happy” to describe good feelings associated with pleasant circumstances. Add to that the almost unanimous sentiment that people in our culture want to be “happy.” The valid question to ask, of course, is whether or not happiness is all it’s cracked up to be? After all, if one is “happy” due to favorable circumstances, what happens when the circumstances become unfavorable?

Before we proceed any farther, allow me to anticipate a possible objection from anyone who might bring up Proverbs 3.13, which declares, 

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.” 

It is important to note about this verse that the Hebrew word translated “happy” in Proverbs 3.13 is also found in Job 5.17 and is equivalent to the Greek makarios used by the Lord in Matthew 5.3-12, referring to those who are persecuted and who mourn as blessed because of their future happiness.[3] Therefore, the word “happy” is here an English translation of a Hebrew word that does not figure in our consideration of the idea of “happy” in our language and culture.

Let me spin a yarn that deals with the concept of “happy” in our language and culture. A rather shy guy meets a girl and finally works up the courage to strike up a conversation with her. Only the conversation does not turn out so well because when he tells her that he is interested in her, she tells him she is not interested in him. Ouch!

This pattern of interest and painful rejection continues until, finally, the shy guy’s infrequent expressions of interest are met with interest. Or the guy is so proud that his ego cannot take such rejection, and he cannot bring himself to initiate such risky conversations with women. If the shy guy would ask me what to do, I would tell him. But for now, I am describing the shy guy whose interest is met with interest.

Over time, the relationship develops until the shy guy works up the courage to ask the woman to marry him. Should one of his buddies ask, “Why do you want to marry her?” The shy guy would likely respond, “Because I love her.” But if pressed just a little bit, most guys in that situation would admit that the reason they love the woman they have asked to marry them is because “She makes me happy.”

That is all well and good, but what happens to the relationship when comes the time that circumstances are no longer favorable? Such times usually occur in marriage. What happens when she no longer makes the guy happy? Since happiness depends upon circumstances, any and every alteration of circumstances runs the risk of happiness evaporating.

Some guys become unhappy when they discover their wives can’t have children. Some guys become unhappy when their wives develop some form of cancer or a chronic ailment. Other guys become unhappy when their wives’ appearance changes dramatically. And then there are the wives who completely give up on even attempting to make their husbands happy because the guy has failed to measure up to her expectations.

Of course, happiness in marriage is only one of many scenarios. There is also happiness related to one’s personal appearance and fitness, happiness related to one’s career achievements, happiness related to one’s success as a parent, happiness related to one’s finances, or happiness related to one’s social status or community attainments. In these and other areas of life, happiness, one’s sense of well-being, arises from beneficial circumstances.

Recognize, however, that most circumstances are beyond your control. What happens when circumstances beyond your control change because they will change? Change is the only constant. What happens to the happily married guy whose wife leaves him? What happens to the happy mom or dad whose child betrays in one way or another, with the wide assortment of betrayals being anything from marrying someone who is not approved to embracing a different religion? What happens to the happy entrepreneur who experiences failure in business? I could go on and on.

I have been around the sun seventy times. Those many circuits add up to opportunities to learn a few things and to grow in wisdom, so long as you are paying attention and your Bible is open. One of the things I have learned, though I make no claim to have learned this perfectly, is that you are foolish if you are banking on happiness as any measure of success or blessing. Why so? Because happiness depends upon circumstances beyond your control. Happiness depends upon what happens.

You will be far better served, in this life and the next, if you concern yourself with that which results in joy rather than reaching for the elusive brass ring of happiness on the Merry-go-round of life. Many things can be said about joy, from the joy experienced by Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, Acts 16, to the joy that gushed forth in the apostle’s letter to the Philippians, written from Roman imprisonment.

It is possible to be filled with joy despite the loss of your spouse because of death or divorce. It is possible to be filled with joy despite the loss of your child, be that loss from betrayal or a tragic automobile accident. It is possible to be filled with joy despite the loss of your health, whether that loss of health is due to advancing age or the onset of a debilitating disease. It is possible to be filled with joy despite financial ruin, whether the ruin is from an unexpected layoff or a catastrophic business reversal.

How is joy possible in the life of someone experiencing such adverse circumstances? Joy is possible, in part, because joy does not depend upon what happens. Turn in your Bible to John 15.11. As you are making your way to that verse, let me remind you of the context. The Lord Jesus Christ and His eleven remaining apostles have departed the Upper Room and are walking toward Gethsemane’s Garden. The Lord Jesus Christ knows that His men are about to face appalling circumstances. There is no way those men can be happy. The circumstances, you see, will be far too adverse.

Speaking of appalling circumstances, tomorrow morning, the Savior will be crucified. He will die on a cruel Roman cross, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.[4] His body will be placed in a rich man’s tomb.[5] And His beloved followers will agonize for three days and three nights. Of course, great relief and happiness will result from His glorious resurrection.

But our Lord is not preparing His men for the happiness resulting from His resurrection. He is preparing them for a lifetime of service, leading to their martyrdom (for all but one of them). Until they die at the hands of their tormentors, these men will be met with the fiercest persecution ever faced by the servants of God. Their circumstances will rarely be conducive to happiness. But they can always experience joy.[6]

That is why the Lord Jesus Christ gives no thought here to happiness because in this world, His people face tribulation.[7] Indeed, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” Second Timothy 3.12. So they will face what lies ahead of them. The Lord speaks to his men of that which cannot be taken away from them by adverse circumstances. He speaks to them of joy.

I invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” 

Allow me to ask five questions for your consideration: 


“These things have I spoken unto you.” 

Assuming that our Lord is referring to His most recent discourse, “these things” are related to His comments about the allegory of the husbandman, the true vine, the branches, and the fruit, in verses 1-8, as well as His comments about love in verses 9-10. In verses 1-8, if you remember, He describes a mental picture using something every one of that day could relate to, to provide a rough sketch of the relationships existing between God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, believers in Christ, and the fruit produced by that interrelationship.

In verses 9-10, He elevates the level of those relationships from an agricultural semblance of those relationships using the concept of abiding to an abstract description of those relationships in terms of loving. Verse 9: 

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” 

He states the Father’s love for Him, His love for His disciples, and encourages them to continue in His love. Verse 10: 

“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.” 

Here presenting a hypothetical scenario, the Lord asserts that if His disciples keep His commandments, they will abide in His love, replicating the pattern of His obedience to the Father’s commandments and His abiding in the Father’s love.

Thus, in two ways so far, the Lord Jesus Christ describes the interrelationships that exist between the First and Second Persons of the Godhead and between the Lord and His disciples. He initially does this using first the mental imagery of things related to a grapevine, and then using the abstract but still very real connection of those relationships to love. Here in our text, verse 11, however, the Savior continues His explanation to His men, connecting those relationships described as abiding and as loving to joy. 


Joy is an exciting notion that is somewhat different from happiness, though the two ideas overlap. Suppose happiness depends on what happens (you are happy when things go your way and unhappy when things do not go your way). In that case, joy is also related to circumstances but takes into account those circumstances that cannot be seen except with the eye of faith. Joy is a concept that is common in both the Old and New Testaments.

Let me read portions of some Old Testament verses and then some from the New Testament: 

From these passages, we can draw several conclusions: First, joy can ebb and flow. The experience of experienced Christians confirms this. Second, paradoxically, joy can coexist with sadness and suffering. Again, experience confirms this. Third, joy is given to the believer by God, by the Lord Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, joy is commanded amid temptations. Fifth, the child of God can experience joy apart from what God does, and because of who God is, delighting in the reality of a relationship with Him. Sixth, compliance with God’s will by a believer directly contributes to the joy experienced by that person’s pastor. Your life contributes to my joy.

Having rehearsed what things the Lord was talking about when He said 

“These things have I spoken unto you,” 

Let me remind you of what is meant by this term we are about to consider, translated “joy.” The Greek term is pronounced chara and is very similar in meaning to our English word joy; if by joy, you refer to the experience of gladness. 

Third, WHAT IS MEANT BY THE STATEMENT “that my joy might remain in you”? 

There is an association between love and joy, particularly when you are referring to being loved and experiencing joy as a direct consequence of being loved. Imagine, then, the implications of what our Lord said in John 15.9: 

“As the Father hath loved me.” 

You will recollect that the Father’s love for His Son is love that is eternal, uninterrupted, and perfect. Thus, for all eternity, the Son of God has been aware of and has thoroughly experienced the fullness of His Father’s love for Him. How do you think His Father’s love for the Son of God affected Him? I would suggest that this word “joy” is the very best single word description for the Savior’s unparalleled delight at being the Object of His Father’s great love.

One of the marvelous benefits of being a Christian, of knowing Christ as your Savior, and of loving God because He first loved us, is this blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ that is described as 

“that my joy might remain in you.” 

This might have been subsequently understood by those men, after the resurrection and their reception of the Holy Spirit, in several ways:[8] On one hand, it could be that as Christ knows joy from being loved by His heavenly Father, so those men (and later, Christians like you and me) know joy as we grasp the Father’s love for us as God’s children, as well as Christ’s love for us as one of the redeemed, one of Christ’s own. On the other hand, it could also be that joy, this experience of gladness, is communicated to the Christian by the Savior as a gracious blessing that we experience even though we do not fully understand it. Thirdly, it might also be that Christ’s joy is imparted to the believer by both means. Before moving on to the final phrase of this verse, this word translated “might remain” is the word the Savior has been using in this chapter, previously translated “abide.”

Thus, there is a correlation between this idea of abiding in Christ and Christ’s joy given to us remaining in us. May I also remind you again that just as happiness is not a legitimate pursuit, neither is joy a legitimate pursuit as an end in itself? By that, I mean that no one should seek after joy just as no one should strive to be happy. The great delight to the soul of joy is rather the byproduct of abiding in Christ, relishing in God’s love, delight in knowing and serving the Savior. Joy is not a proper goal to seek after. That said, David did seek the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation once he had lost it through sin by repenting of his sin, Psalm 51.12: 

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” 

Fourth Question, WHAT IS MEANT BY THE PHRASE “and that your joy might be full”? 

It is reasonable to understand that the eleven remaining apostles who walked toward the Garden of Gethsemane with the Lord so long ago were not happy men. Neither were they experiencing joy. Minutes before their Master told them He was leaving and they could not follow Him. He also told them one of their number was a traitor.

Granted, the Lord did bolster their faith, did renew His commitment that they would eventually be with Him, did promise them “another Comforter,” and did pointedly state to them, “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice.”[9] Coupled with His encouragement for them to abide in Him, He established a good foundation for their joy to blossom and flourish, especially when they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Whose fruit includes joy.

This anticipated fullness of joy would come to be their experience and delight. But note that joy would not come to them by seeking joy or deciding to be joyful. Their fullness of joy will result from continuing in His love, John 15.9, and keeping His commandments, John 15.10. Thus, joy in their lives would be, just as joy in any Christian’s life will be, the consequence of obedience to the will of God as you understand it and continuing in the love of Christ. Such joy is impossible when there is known disobedience and a rebellious spirit. 


That person is faking it. Joy, the kind of joy the Spirit of God imparts, the kind of joy our Lord spoke about in this verse, comes only from God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and then only comes with obedience and abiding in Christ.

Allow me to illustrate with a recollection once told by my very good friend, the late Pastor Jim Johnston. This event occurred some forty years ago during his pastorate of what is now the Faith Baptist Church, Imperial, California. He visited the home of an extremely successful businessman in Imperial County. A conversation ensued in the living room of the man’s home. During the course of the conversation with this lost man, Pastor Johnston responded to the man’s claim of happiness by gently but firmly disagreeing with him. He indicated that while he did not want to offend the man he was visiting, he felt he would be remiss for not pointing out to the man that, despite his claim, he was not happy.

Of course, the successful businessman was taken aback by the pastor’s reaction to his claim. He proceeded to defend his claim that he was happy by pointing out that he had wonderful children, a stunningly beautiful wife who loved him and was enjoying the best year of his already successful career in business. So why wouldn’t he be happy? Those of you who remember my good friend will be able to picture the smile he had on his face. He was almost always smiling, despite the many physical issues he faced, the pain he endured, and the burdens he bore.

The smile on his face was not a smile of happiness, but the countenance of a man experiencing great joy. As he smiled, he humbly clarified to the wealthy businessman that he had no desire to argue with him but that he was mistaken in his insistence that he was a happy person. After his statement, my friend continued to look at the man, whose expression changed from surprise and protest to sadness. After a few seconds, the man’s eyes filled with tears as he admitted to Pastor Johnston that his correction of him was accurate.

Despite his wonderful family, his lovely wife, and his great business success, he had been contemplating suicide for weeks. He had reached the pinnacle of personal and professional success, was as happy as he could have imagined being, and was overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness and futility as he recognized the meaninglessness of his existence. The man consented to allow my friend to set before him the claims of Christ found in the Bible. As he did so, God dealt with the man about his sins and the futility of his existence without Christ, his approach to living without meaning. Soon the man trusted Christ as his Savior, the burden of his guilt was lifted, and he was filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Happiness feels good, for a while. The problem with happiness is that it depends upon good circumstances, even happiness produced by endorphins. And since the circumstances of this life are, in the main, beyond your control, you have no guarantee of happiness. Even if you live out your life as a happy man or woman, how happy will you be when you die and go to Hell?


[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 825.

[2] Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s First Edition Of An American Dictionary Of The English Language, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation For American Christian Education, 1967)

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book Of Proverbs Chapters 1-15, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), page 257.

[4] 1 Peter 3.18

[5] Isaiah 53.9; Matthew 27.57-60

[6] Acts 20.23-24; Romans 5.1-5; James 1.9; 1 Peter 4.12-13

[7] John 16.33

[8] John 20.22

[9] John 14.28

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