The Good Medicine of Joy
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”- Proverbs 17:22
Even those who are not very familiar with the Bible are likely familiar with the first half of the proverb in today’s study, or they at least have some understanding of the truth it presents. After all, one can hardly listen to the news for a few weeks without hearing of some research demonstrating the dangers of stress on the body or a study providing evidence that cheerful people live longer than those who are perpetually grumpy or unhappy.
Such research only confirms what God’s people have known for centuries, that “a joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). There are salutary benefits for those who have joy in their lives. This proverb is not talking about frivolity, and it is not commending an attitude that rejoices because it ignores the difficult circumstances of life. Instead, as Matthew Henry comments, the proverb “means a heart rejoicing in God, and serving him with gladness, and then taking the comfort of outward enjoyments and particularly that of pleasant conversation.” The joy that is good for the soul and the body is the joy that we find first in the Lord and then in the simple pleasures that He has created for human beings. Ecclesiastes, for example, is filled with admonitions to take joy in the ordinary goodness of the created order—the satisfaction of a hearty piece of bread, the taste of a nice glass of wine (Eccl. 9:7). Over and over again, the book of Psalms exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord (Pss. 32:11; 53:6). We rejoice in the Lord and in the goodness of what He has made in order to bring Him glory, of course (1 Cor. 10:31), but today’s passage indicates that His glory is not all that results from the cheerful hearts of His people. Our joy glorifies God and it benefits us. By His grace, the Lord has ordained that what glorifies Him is what is good for us.
The opposite of a cheerful heart is a “crushed spirit” that “dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). Here, “bones” is used to represent the whole person. A cheerful heart brings tremendous benefits to all that we are, and a broken spirit brings harm to the whole person. The crushed spirit that dries up the bones is not the broken spirit of repentance (Ps. 51:17), for repentance restores us to the Lord and thereby is a means to life. Instead, the writer refers to the heart that cannot rejoice in the Lord, that has become so cynical that it cannot find joy in the simple things. May none of us possess such a heart.
A cheerful heart does not pretend that all is well, and it grieves at the appropriate time (Eccl. 7:2). A cheerful heart responds appropriately to a given situation, all the while possessing a deep and enduring peace that enables one to trust in the Lord and know that He is the source of true, eternal joy. A cheerful heart may not always show itself with a smile, but even when it is not in happy circumstances, it is confident that an eternal weight of glory is being prepared for us (2 Cor. 4:17).
Passages for Further Study
3 John 4