Fruit of the Spirit – Joy
by Marion Van Driel
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
What could be more compelling than the promise of lasting joy? Isn’t that what everyone is looking for? We might wonder if it’s even possible. The first thing to note is that joy and happiness are not synonymous. True joy goes much deeper than happiness; it isn’t dependent on circumstance or blessing. Rather, joy results from taking delight in the One who blesses, as Tim Keller points out. It is dwelling on the beauty and character of the eternal God – to take pleasure in who He is. Jesus’ greatest joy was to give glory to the Father. In His Spirit, followers of Christ have the gift of glorifying the Father through joy.
The apostle Paul, in his letters, frequently mentions love, peace and joy together. These three characteristics of the Spirit’s fruit are like triplets, according to Christopher J.H. Wright in his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. Even more prevalent is the pairing of joy and peace – closely tied together – for if one is present, the other is not far off. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). He actually equates peace and joy with righteousness in kingdom pursuits. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Trust is a precursor to joy and peace; to trust, you must know in whom you are placing your confidence. You must know their nature. Joy and peace are also evidence of the Spirit’s power working in us, hope that spills over into the world.
Joy and sorrow mingled
Does all this reference to joy and peace mean that we will never encounter sorrow? Of course not; sorrow and grief are part of our broken world. No one is immune. Feelings of sorrow can still be accompanied by authentic joy; indeed, joy often grows deeper through times of sorrow and trial. Not a fleeting feeling, joy is based on the foundational assurance that God is God, and always will be. Mother Teresa, along with numerous other notable heroes of the faith, suffered continuous bouts of depression and doubt. Yet she spoke often of the importance of doing all things with joy, and of accepting her trials with joy.
Wright lists four things that bring him joy. Each one is also a means of cultivating joy:
1. Joy is having a family. We celebrate significant events together with those we love, with those whose reciprocal love compels them to share our joy. Even if we haven’t experienced this in our biological family, having a spiritual family allows us to see God’s grace and character reflected in our Christian brothers and sisters. It also frees us to be Christ to others. Paul points out to the Gentile Christians that they’ve been adopted into God’s family through His incredible grace! (Ephesians 2:13,19) That, of itself, is reason to rejoice!
2. Joy is having a feast. We celebrate momentous occasions – weddings, the birth of children, birthdays, anniversaries – with food and drink. Jesus taught his disciples to feast in a way that included the poor, needy and disabled (Luke 14:12-14).
3. Joy is having a faith. Sometimes our corporate or personal times of worship overwhelm us with joy. We get a glimpse of our mighty God. The gospel story is the good news that reveals His nature – His incredible love, grace and mercy – through the work of Christ. We are recipients of the most immeasurable gift, and the promise that our life with Him will go on forever! As we lean into Him, believing this gospel truth, we can be honest about our pain. We can lament, bringing all our suffering to God, able – like Habakkuk (3:17-18) and writers of the Psalms – to enter into joy and praise, knowing that God is with us in our suffering and He will never abandon us. Jesus told his disciples to expect persecution, and to rejoice in it.
4. Joy is having a future. We are exhilarated by the earth’s beauty as we breathe in the crisp, clean mountain air, marvel at the sparkling waters of a lake or the untamed ocean waves. And yet, sin has marred its original perfection; creation groans until Jesus returns to renew it. We bemoan the earth that our children and grandchildren will inherit. Creation has been decaying since sin entered the world. Still, already in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of a new creation filled with wonder, joy, satisfaction and safety (65:17-25). The One who created the heavens and the earth has reconciled not just us, but all of creation to Himself through the cross (Colossians 1:15-20) and will come down to live with His redeemed people in a new, and redeemed, creation (Rev 21:1-5). In the meantime, we follow, with joy, our mandate to care for the earth.
If joy is a characteristic of the Spirit’s fruit that should be abundantly evident in our lives, why is it so often missing? Why are we sometimes so miserable? Wright suggests that perhaps we simply forget. We get onto a path of self-pity. We don’t remind ourselves often enough about the amazing truth of the gospel. Wright says, “I am easily tempted to feel down and sorry for myself. Then I repent, remind myself of the gospel of God’s grace, and pray for the joy of the Spirit to bear fruit in my life and thinking.”
Another possibility, Wright suggests, is that we are suspicious of joy. We believe that life is serious. And it is. “But that doesn’t mean we should not have hearts that are filled with joy when our lives are filled with the Holy Spirit…God not only wants us to be joyful, but actually commands us to be!”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).