The fruit of the Spirit is not only love, but also joy. The Spirit of Christ in us as Christians wants to work with us in developing joy in our hearts. And I know that not only does the Lord want us to have joy, but so do you. Because joy is like being happy, it’s good feelings of contentment and satisfaction and delight. It’s like when you’re riding home from work in your car on Friday and you just got a raise at work and the sun is shining just how you like it, and you’ve got a five day weekend ahead of you, and you’re drumming your fingers on the steering wheel, singing along with the radio, just in a good mood, it’s like that. We all want more of that. Or am I mistaken? Would any of us rather be miserable and depressed, full of gloom and despair? I didn’t think so. Everybody wants joy.
But I suspect many of you are like me and I’m not always joyful. Do you ever wake up grumpy? Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other times I just let her sleep… try to get out of bed without disturbing her… No, I’m just kidding, my wife is not grumpy. I’m sorry honey, I just had see if anybody was listening. Sometimes I’m grumpy. You probably don’t experience joy all the time either. And for some of us here the experience of joy may be a very rare occasion. And for some of us our more joyful moments are only mildly joyful.
If the Lord wants us to be joyful and we want to be too, then…
How come we’re not always joyful, and maybe not to a great degree when we are?
Is it because the Lord doesn’t want us to have too much joy here on this earth?
That He wants us to have a little more than the average person in the world but not too much more? No. I really think the Lord is okay with, even wants us, to have a whole lot of joy in this life even before we’re taken to glory.
I Peter 1:8, describing Christians as the Lord intends them to be, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory“. That sounds like a lot of joy to me; greatly rejoicing with joy inexpressible and full of glory. That’s what the Lord wants us to have.
Isaiah 9 is an awesome passage that is quoted and alluded to multiple times in the NT as talking about Jesus. In it, it describes the resultant joy we can have through Jesus and the salvation He brings. Isaiah 9:3, “You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” The harvest and the dividing of the spoil after a victory in war were times of greatest joy in the ancient world. It was a celebration when they harvested the crops they had labored for and stressed about and hoped for and prayed for, for months. These crops meant life for their family for another year. Can you imagine the joy of dividing the spoil after a victory in battle? It wasn’t just the riches that you were gaining. But all your fears of being killed in the battle or taken captive and your family and homeland being taken by the enemy, were now all gone. Your enemy was gone. You and your family were safe and able to prosper. These were times of greatest joy in the ancient world. Jesus produces that kind of joy in people, and wants to produce it in us.
Does He just want us to have great joy on occasion?
Maybe the day we’re baptized and on Christmas and Easter and on our two weeks of vacation? Or how often? Well, listen to these exhortations from the apostle Paul. I Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will is that you have joy always; everyday throughout each day. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
So I think the Lord wants us to have lots of joy all the time, like the other dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit. He wants us to have lots of love all the time, lots of peace and patience and kindness, and all of the rest all the time. And it’s the same with joy.
So why don’t we, if that’s what the Lord wants?
Is it because our circumstances need to change?
Well, that’s what we often think we need in order to have joy. I need to get out of debt. Or I need to lose 20 pounds. Or I need to get my career secured or attain that promotion I’ve been after. Or I need to find some good friends like those I had where I used to live. Or I need to get my braces off. Or I need to find a good husband or wife, or change the one I’ve got. Or I need to be cured of this health problem. Or if I get a good number of likes on my facebook post. I need this or that circumstance, and then I could have joy.
But I find throughout the NT that the joy the Lord wants us to experience on a daily basis is a joy that has nothing to do with our earthly circumstances.
In I Peter 1:8, it speaks of greatly rejoicing with joy inexpressible and full of glory. And just before that in the text, it describes Christians as the Lord intends them to be; it says, “you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, since necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” The Lord wants us to discover a joy we don’t lose when our circumstances are distressing and trying.
In II Corinthians 6 Paul gives a description of his ministry and the ministry of his companions who traveled with him, and in verse 4 he speaks of how they serve “in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger…” And if you drop down to verse 10 he says that they are regarded “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing“. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing. It’s possible for a depressed person, when interacting with people, to crack jokes and laugh and appear to be happy, while actually being very sad inside. Solomon observed that and he said, Proverbs 14:13, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain…” But Paul was the opposite of that. He may have been crying or moaning because of a beating he’d taken or because he was uncomfortable in a prison cell, and yet in his heart there was still great joy.
Do you remember the occasion in Philippi (recorded in Acts 16), when Paul and Silas had really upset some people by their preaching, and casting a spirit of divination out of a slave girl? And do you remember how the town authorities ordered that they be beaten with rods; and after they were beaten with many blows, they were taken to prison and their feet were fastened in the stocks? And then in that prison in the stocks, welts all over their bodies, hurting for sure, do you remember what they were doing? Complaining? No. Cursing? No. Throwing a pity party? No. It says they were sitting in those stocks singing praises to God!
The same Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11, from another prison, thanking the Philippians for the financial support and help they sent him. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
I want to read to you a true story about a man named Robert. It’s a powerful picture that’s good for me to be reminded of.
“His hands were twisted and his feet were useless. He couldn’t bathe himself. He couldn’t feed himself. He couldn’t brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his underwear. Strips of Velcro held his shirts together. His speech dragged on like a worn out audio-cassette. He had cerebral palsy.
That disease kept him from driving a car, riding a bike, or going for a walk. But it didn’t keep him from graduating from high school or from attending Abilene Christian University (from which he graduated with a degree in Latin). Having cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from teaching at St. Louis junior college or from venturing overseas on five mission trips. And Robert’s disease didn’t prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal. He stationed himself daily in a park, where he would distribut brochures about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife.
Robert spoke at an assembly once. Men carried him in his wheelchair onto the platform. They laid a Bible in his lap. His stiff fingers forced open the pages. People in the audience wiped away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and said, ‘I have everything I need for joy.”'”
You see, it’s not a change in our circumstances that we need.
Paul said in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” There’s a secret to joy and contentment that doesn’t depend on circumstances.
A writing from a third century man named Cyprian has been discovered in which he wrote these words to his friend, Donatus: “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians,—and I am one of them.”
What’s the great secret?
Do we need Prozac or Celexa or Zoloft or something? I understand there may be some special cases where there’s a medical condition and some pills or something might be needed. But I’m talking for us in general. For most of us, it’s not a change in our circumstances, nor pills that we need.
Is it ignoring the negative aspects of life?
Pascal, the great 17th century French philosopher and physicist, said, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” Is that the secret? Is that how we do it? When it comes to death and evil and ignorance and the futility of things and problems, we just put our fingers in our ears, and say, “Nananananana…” Or do we distract ourselves with television and games and yard work and hobbies and our career, just keep ourselves busy so we don’t think about the negative realities of our existence? It might help some people a little. But no matter how hard we try to prevent it, those realities still come back to mind regularly. That’s not at all the secret to joy Paul, and many early Christians, discovered. I mean thinking about death just brought a smile to Paul’s face. Philippians 1, “21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of them, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith“. Paul didn’t ignore the evil and sin and problems in the world and the futility of how most people live. He wrote a lot about that stuff in his letters. He didn’t ignore reality.
So again, what’s the secret? Well, it’s at least twofold.
First Part of the Secret
The first part of it we sing often. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” John 15, “9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
To have the joy of Jesus we have to keep His commandments. We have to so trust that we do things His way in life and not ours. And that means we’re not on the fence. We’re not one way around one another and another way around the fellas at the job. We’re not drunk as a stunk Friday, but here on Sunday. We’re not one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God. In the Bible, part time obedience is disobedience. We’re not going to have this joy if we’re on the fence. James 1:6 talks about a man who has some faith but he doesn’t so trust the Lord that he’s consistently obedient even when it’s inconvenient. He’s like a surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. When the “wind” of the people he’s around and his circumstances nudge him toward obedience (when it’s easy to go that way), he’s obedient. But when the wind shifts, when the people he’s around and his circumstances put pressure on him toward disobedience, he goes that way. He’s back and forth. James 1:7 says that man ought not to expect that He will receive anything from the Lord.
C.S. Lewis in his writing, “The Weight of Glory” observes this kind of foolishness. He wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” When we’re trying to get moments of joy out of sin, we’re refusing the joy inexpressible and full of glory and inextinguishable by life’s circumstances. What’s the secret of joy? Well, it’s first and foremost that we quit making mud pies in the slum; we just trust and obey.
Second Part of the Secret
As we trust and obey, we need to realize some things. I mean we need to understand some things and think about them, and believe them; like so believe them that we feel them.
When Paul in his letters commands Christians to rejoice, “rejoice always, again I say rejoice,” when he commands joy, he’s not saying, “You’re not feeling good right now? Cut it out! Feel good right now! Concentrate on your bad feelings and force them into good feelings.” I think Paul knew that we don’t have some happy switch that we can just flip on whenever we want. The exhortation to Christians to rejoice I think is really a hidden exhortation to remind ourselves of some things that are true and think about them and believe them and feel what we believe. I want to share with you a few verses that speak of being joyful, and notice in all these verses the connection between joy and words like knowing, believing, hope, looking at, seeing, which are all related words. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not” (Heb 11:1). Faith is seeing the reality of things that you can’t see with your eyeballs, and it’s having assurance of things you don’t have yet, but that are coming your way in the future.
- Romans 5, “1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult [that means we take great joy and satisfaction] in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.“
- Romans 12:12, “rejoicing in hope…“
- Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We need to be believing and expecting some things.
- And I love II Corinthians 4:16-18. After talking about a lot of the difficulties and hardships of his ministry, Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart [we are not discouraged despite all the terrible stuff that continually happens to us], but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
We need to be seeing the things which are not seen, but that are just as real as the things which are seen. Do you realize that the Lord Jesus Christ really did die on your behalf, and you are forgiven of all your sin? Does it register when we sing, “My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! – My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more”? Do you realize that the Almighty God of heaven and earth thinks about you all the time, and He loves you more than you love your kids (or whoever else is dear to you if you don’t have kids)? And when you pray, He listens and responds? I’ve had more joy over the last couple years because I’ve been praying more and noticing a lot of things that I’ve prayed for happening and it’s been reassuring to me that God hears and responds to me. That is so awesome! The One who made the stars and the mountains and the seas… the King of heaven and earth, not only takes notice of the unworthy likes of me, but He loves me, He’s moved by my requests. It doesn’t matter what happens to me in this world, as long as I know that; I’ve got something to be joyful about.
Do you realize that we’re not just going to heaven to sit on a cloud and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, holy,” all day long every day? Yes, I think we go to be with the Lord in heaven when we die. But do you realize, does it register, that God has in mind a whole new creation? Right now He’s making those who trust and obey Him into His likeness. And then soon He’s going to make us new bodies, better ones. And then He’s going to make a new heavens and a new earth, and He’s going to give it all to us. We will live in a new world and we won’t die… ever. And the things we do and accomplish there, we’re not going to lose to death or rust or decay or thieves or anything else.
If we could see what God is up to, if we could see the things which are not seen, if we could understand and realize the reality of God’s promises, it would be hard not to be joyful.
Then if you want to be additionally joyful…
If you want joy upon joy, what I see in scripture, especially in the book of Philippians, is you want to strive with the help of God’s Spirit to become less and less selfish, more and more loving. Try to come to see more and more of God’s glory and greatness and love and promises, so you grow in your love for God and your love for people.
Paul wrote Philippians from prison; His earthly circumstances were not very pleasant for him. But he’d become at that point a very unselfish man. And through the book of Philippians Paul speaks of a number of things that just give more joy. He talks about how he takes joy in the fact that because of his imprisonment and what he’d gone through for the cause of Christ, other Christians in the area were inspired by him and more courageous to speak the word of God without fear. And also because of his imprisonment all the guards had heard the gospel and the gospel was spreading throughout the army. And he speaks of the great joy he has over the faithfulness and good deeds of the Philippians. When you know that God is going to take good care of you and so you’re not worried about yourself, and your focus and concern is more about the honor and glory of the Lord and about other people, then you’re not so bothered when things aren’t how you’d like them to be. You’re not so bothered by your earthly problems, and you can take joy at every “God honoring” and “people benefiting” thing that you see. You could take joy perhaps in your sickness, because your faithful behavior in your sickness has inspired someone else to remain faithful. You could take joy maybe in being poor because your good attitude and thankfulness and generosity has helped others to be content and generous with what they have. You can take joy in worshiping God. You can take joy in serving and giving and being a blessing to people. It can become a new hobby for you that you don’t have to worry about wasting too much time and money on; the more the better.
Do you want real joy? The God who made you said you’re not going to find it in money and possessions. You’re not going to find it in self-indulgence. You’re not going to find it in retirement or travel or golf… They might give a moment of shallow joy, here and there. But real joy is found in trusting and obeying Jesus, and thinking about His promises and believing them. And you grow in joy as you grow in faith and unselfish love.