Practical Application of the Word of God
The short answer to the question that the title of this post asks is “no.” However, if we were to just leave the answer without an in-depth look at the differences between joy and happiness, then we would miss a deeper understanding of scripture, of context, and we would not have the discernment to know they are not the same thing when we hear people use them interchangeably.
I will admit up front that I inwardly scream when I hear people who should know better – the ekklesia – use the various forms of the word happy and the various forms of the word joy not only interchangeably, but as being equivalent to each other.
This is not simply a matter of being picky or critical or overanalytical. Instead, it is a matter of sound doctrine and scriptural accuracy.
Since I tend toward a “show, don’t tell” perspective, this chart easily demonstrates the differences between joy and happiness. We will discuss these differences in tangible terms, though, to show definitively that these words are not interchangeable and they cannot be substituted for each other.
How do I know the differences?
The first way is because God tells me how they are different. The very first place I would go is to Galatians 5:22-23, where the fruit of God’s spirit is listed.
Notice the second component in the fruit is not happiness, but joy. If happiness and joy are interchangeable and equal in meaning, then why wouldn’t Paul have used the word happiness?
I recently did a Bible study on the fruit of God’s spirit and as I was looking at the Greek words for each component listed and thinking about how these nine components make up godly character (God’s righteousness), it was easy to see a kind of grouping of the aspects of character in the way Paul listed these. It was also easy to see a direct correlation with the concretized Christianity Jesus Christ explains in Matthew 5, Matthew 6, and Matthew 7.
The first three components – love, joy, peace – are our character expressed as our constant inward state. In other words, they are who we are from the inside out and they are unchangeable.
The next three components – longsuffering, kindness, goodness – are our character that we express toward others. In other words, this is how we treat and behave toward everyone all the time, every time.
The last three components – faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – are our character that we express toward God. Again, this who we are and what we are.
Now, I’ll grant you that the last three components also have an aspect of expression toward other people as well, but when we think of terms especially of faithfulness and self-control, those are first an expression toward God.
Faithfulness says we put Him first all the time, every time, and nothing else in the universe gets that kind of loyalty, commitment and devotion.
Self-control says we accept God’s authority and we yield to His authority and obey Him, even when humanly we may want to do something else entirely. Self-control is, in fact, absolute surrender to God’s way and God’s word, no matter how intense the battle is to accomplish that surrender.
But let’s return to the differences between joy and happiness and why they are not interchangeable and they are not equal to each other.
Happiness is something you see and you feel. It comes and it goes. It is triggered as a temporary response to something pleasing in our environments.
It is not a permanent state of being. It can’t be.
Life is not always pleasing and for every spark of happiness we experience, there are as many or more times of unhappiness, of sorrow, of grief, and of mourning.
For some of us, happiness is an aberration because life doesn’t fall in the pleasant places for us like it seems to for others. This is a combination – the big picture of which we will not understand until Christ does the final transformation of our corruptible with God’s incorruptible – of DNA, of personality, of temperament, of nature and nurture, and, I’m fully convinced, of the particular customized journey to the kingdom that God and Jesus Christ have laid out for us so that we can fulfill our role in the family of God and in the purpose they created us for.
However, regardless of how little happiness we may experience, it does not mean we don’t have the same joy set before us that Jesus Christ did.
Notice Hebrews 12:2. The joy was ahead of Him, beyond this physical existence in which He suffered.
But it was a part of Christ’s internal state of being, even if everything was going to hell in a handbasket in His physical existence and He was weeping or greatly troubled or sweating so intensely that small capillaries were breaking and mingling blood with His sweat or He was asking why His Dad had forsaken Him.
Because joy is tied to hope and faith and belief. We have not seen the promises of God in terms of the realization of the completion of our spiritual phase of creation fulfilled. But we hope in those promises. We have faith in God, and, therefore, His promises. We believe God, even though we haven’t seen Him or the majority of His promises fulfilled.
And it is because of our hope, our faith, and our belief in God and His word, that we have the joy set before us as an internal state of being, even when it seems as though our lives are going to hell in a handbasket as well.
I finally understood this about a year ago and I cannot tell you the many tears of relief I cried when God gave me the ability to understand it and realize that I wasn’t off in some spiritual wilderness all by myself.
This understanding gave me peace of mind I had never had before in my life. It came after an adulthood of having a lot of people along the way imply or say that they weren’t sure I had God’s spirit because I wasn’t happy all the time and all rainbows, unicorns, and lollipops in my outlook on life, so therefore they concluded that I did not have joy.
And, therein, lies the result of the doctrinal error that equates joy and happiness and uses these two words interchangeably.
The reality is that most of the ekklesia – including those who are supposed to be teachers – don’t understand the difference so they make erroneous assumptions about whether all the components of the fruit of God’s spirit are being manifested in their spiritual brothers and sisters.
Those are God things and it’s very dangerous territory for any of us to be treading on with other people because only God knows the heart and the internal state of each of us. But the doctrinal error has led a lot of people into believing they can ascertain, in this area, something that is God’s domain only.
I hope this has helped explain the difference between joy and happiness and it has helped show the larger and more serious impact that doctrinal inaccuracy that may not seem like a big deal (it’s always a big deal!) can have on the entire body of Christ.