The Fruit of the Spirit (Part 3)

The Fruit of the Spirit (Part 3) John Guzzetta

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:23-25).

Someone might say, “what’s particularly Christian about joy? When I won my game of tennis last week, I was thrilled! When my son hit a homerun in last night’s baseball game, I cheered! When my wife smiled at me my heart lit up. I feel joy all the time!”

When we think of joy, we think of having all our wishes fulfilled. But no, that’s not what joy is. Yes, anyone can enjoy happy feelings. Joy is not defined as comfort, or happiness. It is not something that exists only in pleasant circumstances, it is not a sense of euphoria. It is not something one possesses when all his cravings are satisfied. Joy is not health, and it is not an emotion.

Pleasure and happiness are based on the feelings we have when we get what we like. The New Testament concept of joy is based on fellowship with God!

For example, in Habakkuk 3:17-18, God’s prophet had joy even though there was a famine in the land, and he was going hungry. He said, “though there be no fruit on the vines ... and the fields produce no food ... yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” In Acts 16:23-25, Paul and Silas sang praises to God, even though they were painfully fastened in the stocks of a dank Roman prison. In Hebrews 10:34, Christians managed to be joyful even though their possessions had been confiscated by persecutors. They “accepted joyfully” the seizure of their property, looking to their treasure in Heaven.

Clearly, joy is not a mere emotion. Joy is having purpose in our existence, in having all our questions answered about where we come from, who we are, and where we are going. Joy is knowing that our sins are washed away and that we are right with God. Joy is having been freed from the slavery of physical indulgence. Joy is a sense of purpose and fulfillment that worldly people cannot grasp, which we possess whether or not we wake up on the right side of the bed.

We can have joy and express it while suffering from the flu. We can have joy and express it while visiting a loved one in the hospital. We can have joy and express it while waiting for a broken-down car to be towed. We can have joy and express it while working a dead-end job. Joy is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God! Joy is something a Christian displays because of his relationship with God, without regard to his outside circumstances.

One author said, “Living joyfully despite persecution and affliction does not require one to deny the reality of suffering and pain. Yet people are capable of enduring an enormous amount of pain if they believe that this pain and suffering are not the final word” (Kenneson,  p. 63). In fact, in some ways, suffering intensifies joy, because it forces us to identify our blessings in God, and not be distracted with worldly things.

C.S. Lewis once said, “when we seek to indulge the flesh, we often say that our passions and desires are too strong. No, when we seek mere pleasure, our desires are not too strong, they are too weak! We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and money, when infinite true joy is offered to us. We are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in the backyard, because they don’t understand their parents want to take them to a vacation at the seashore. God has much better to give than this world can give. We are far too easily pleased.” When we develop the fruit of the Spirit which is joy, and we realize what a distant substitute mere pleasure has been—not to be rejected, but neither to be confused for the greater gifts of God. When we experience joy, physical happiness becomes just a foretaste of the glory to come.

Joy is impressive to unbelievers. Joy in tough situations is a magnet to unbelievers. Walter Knight said that “Joy is the flag we fly that announces the king is in residence today.” Let’s fly the flag and advertise the goodness of our Savior! The absence of joy, a grumpiness, a gloominess, an affected severity, is a turn-off. Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of America’s most famous Supreme Court Justices, who held his post for over 30 years, once explained his career choices by saying, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”

To have joy, first be converted to Christ and have your sins washed away. The assurance of salvation is the basis of all joy— “in this you greatly rejoice” (1 Peter 1:3-9). Abide in Christ and keep His commandments “that your joy may be made full” (John 15:10-11). Practice joy through worship (Philippians 4:4), giving thanks and praying in your own time, but assembling together with the saints to rejoice with singing and praise. Spend time with your brethren, who bring joy to our hearts through fellowship— “for you are our joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Meditate on the inheritance of an eternal Heaven— “leap for joy, for your reward is great” (Luke 6:22-23). Such joy motivates us and sustains our Christian walk—“fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).