What are the differences between happiness and joy and blessedness? Are the differences all that strong?
The noun chara (pronounced khah-rah and used 59 times in the NT) means “joy, rejoicing, happiness, gladness” (Zondervan’s Interlinear). BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it says the noun means “the experience of gladness”; “a state of joyfulness”; “a person or thing that causes joy, joy.” It is the noun that appears in Gal. 5:22.
The verb is chairō (pronounced khy-roh and used 74 times) means “to be in a state of happiness and well-being, rejoice, be glad (BDAG). It is also a standard greeting in the NT: “a formalized greeting, wishing you well.” Examples: “Welcome, good day, hail (to you), I am glad to see you” (BDAG). It is often translated “Greetings!” It can be used in the imperative (command): “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).
Now what about happiness, joy, and blessedness?
In English happiness is related to the Middle English (1300-1475) word happenen, from hap. It is easily seen that happen comes from those two words too. It means “chance” or “luck” or “fortune.”
The Greek word makarios (pronounced mah-kah-ree-ohss and used 50 times) is roughly equivalent. For regular people, it pertains to being “fortunate or happy because of circumstances, fortunate, happy” (BDAG). Paul felt fortunate to speak at his trial before King Agrippa (Acts 26:2). And a widow who remains unmarried is happier than if she got married (1 Cor. 7:40). However, when makarios is used of transcendent beings, like God, it is better to say “blessed.” For humans who follow God, the range is also positive. It pertains to being “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG). In the Sermon on the Mount, followers of Jesus are blessed, so that section is called the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-11). But some translators have “happy.” A quick look at the NIV translations of the fifty usages, it always has “blessed.”
In comparison, chara always seems to be in a Christian context and goes a little deeper. But honestly, it is hard to say that chara is so qualitatively superior that makarios is shallow and chara is divine.
When God infuses a person’s life, makarios and chara both words are elevated. Joy and blessedness (and happiness) are closely related in meaning, in a Christian context. Let’s not see them as so distinct that we build entire sermons on the nuanced differences. Both words, reflecting our experience in our souls, can be deep gifts from God.
Now let’s apply the word “joy.”
When we go through trials, James says we are supposed to count it pure joy (Jas. 1:2), I believe we need to experience joy in trials together.
We have not seen Jesus in the flesh, but we love him, and “even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). We are in this together. And the results of our love for the Lord adds those two modifiers to joy: inexpressible and glorious. Joy is a wonderful gift or fruit.
Finally, John wrote his first epistle to make his joy complete (1 John 1:4). Joy is transferrable even by writing a letter.
How does this post about joy help me grow in the Lord?
For fruit to grow, it has to be attached to a source. They don’t grow in isolation. An apple left on a table will rot. Apple seeds must be planted and watered and tended. Joy must have its source in God, not your own emotions you were born with or not your positive brain chemicals like endorphin and dopamine. Joy ultimately comes from God. Get your joy from your relationship with him. Even when you go through trials you can have joy. It comes from the Holy Spirit.
Have you asked your Father in heaven to give you joy today, by the power of the Spirit?
Written by James Malcolm
At that link, look for BDAG and Mounce.