Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Misery is a dangerous condition for a Christian to be in. It is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to use against God’s people. When you become Christian, you catch Satan’s attention big time. He paints a bull’s eye on your back and colours it in and will do whatever it takes to hit the target. Jesus, however, calls us to joy. It’s good to experience and be in touch with our other emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear, but neither one should be our prevailing condition. They can be good emotions such as being angry at evil, comforting others by weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and fear can be a good survival mechanism. Yet as sinners, we can also use these emotions and others inappropriately.
Experiencing each emotion is good, but we must come to terms with each one and not let either of them control us or come into its perpetual condition, disabling us from dealing with reality. Jesus experienced righteous anger when the people of Jerusalem were using the House of God as a house of trade (John 2:13-25). (Righteous anger is far different than full blown anger. The former is a strong reaction against something that opposes God’s will, and the latter is a strong reaction against something that opposes our will. As Jesus is holy, He only expresses holy anger, which is an anger far different than our anger tainted with sin.) Jesus expressed sadness when He heard John the Baptiser was beheaded and was so sad that He isolated Himself in a desolate place (Matthew 14:3-13a) and when He wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:28-35). Jesus expressed fear at Gethsemane when He prayed to God to remove the cup of His wrath from Him if it be possible, but not as He wills it, but as God wills it (Matthew 26:36-45); and He was also so stressed that He suffered a medical condition called hematidrosis, causing Him to sweat blood (Luke 22:44).
But what about joy? There is a significant difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on our circumstances; the joy of the Lord is to abide in His love. To understand joy, we must look at the joy of Jesus. The basis of Jesus’ joy is in John 15:8-11, “My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made in full.”
I believe the best way to explain the joy of the Lord is not to explain it theologically, but to illustrate it with an experience. When I was in Israel this past January, the entire group experienced a lot of joy. When we arrived at our hotel on the Dead Sea, one of our group leaders, Pastor John Rathje, mentioned how contagious joy is. He said he couldn’t help but experience joy when he heard us laughing and having a good time while we floated on the Dead Sea. I immediately knew what he was talking about. I didn’t float in the Dead Sea with them, but I sat on the beach and watched their joy. They had so much joy that I couldn’t help but smile, even though I wasn’t participating. As Christians, we were all of one mind and one Spirit. Because we abide in Christ in concord, He has joy in us, thus we experience His joy when we are in community with one another. Pastor John described the joy of the Lord as being content. No matter how bad a situation may appear to be to us, we can experience His joy in spite of this situation because we abide in His love. For example, even though I experience stress every finals week in college, the stress never becomes overwhelming because as I abide in God’s love, I look to Him to calm my spirit, and I am content. While everyone else is impatient as they’re waiting in line to get food, the Spirit reminds me how blessed I am to be able to purchase food without difficulty, and He makes me content. Hopefully you can see how amazing the joy of the Lord is, and I hope you’ve experienced it and know how to experience His joy.
Nehemiah 8:10 says the joy of the Lord is our strength. Jesus said in this world we will face tribulation, but He continues, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is always important to note these “buts” in Scripture. Any time “but” occurs, it negates everything that came before it. In effect, He’s saying, “You will face tribulation and all sorts of trouble in this world. But all that will come to null because I have overcome the world!” Jesus has victory over the world, and so by faith we, too, will overcome the world as the joy of the Lord is our strength.
I have found that whenever I’m facing deep troubles and worship God, I am filled with that inexpressible joy in the Holy Spirit and He thus gives me strength to overcome. Think of all the times the apostles faced terrible times and praised the Lord in spite of their tribulation. For example, Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail cell, having been arrested without cause and beaten without a trial, and sang praises to God at midnight (Acts 16:25). Then a miracle followed; an earthquake occurred and they were released from prison, and then their jailer was converted! An extreme example, perhaps, but is it not a miracle that when we are down in the dumps, we suddenly feel inexpressible joy when we worship God? The apostles even had joy that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of Christ (Acts 5:41). That’s an odd thing to have joy in, so why were they joyous? Perhaps they remembered Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). We should experience the same joy that we are considered worthy to suffer for Christ when others persecute us and bear false testimony about us, for we are suffering for proclaiming Christ.
Jesus also wants us to have joy in normal parts of our lives. Jesus described Himself as a bridegroom enjoying a wedding feast (Mark 2:18-20). Take joy in your marriage and other peoples’ marriages; take joy in playing with your pets, spending time with your friends and family, watching a movie, writing a poem, reading a book, playing a video game, whatever brings you joy in life. So long, of course, as that joy is not in sin.
The joy of the Lord is His joy in spite of our circumstances because we abide in His love. Instead of wallowing in our self-pity and fantasising about how things could be better, the joy of the Lord gives us strength to overcome by faith and to trust in His ability as Creator to care for us tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). One of the greatest ways to experience His joy is by praising Him, especially when it’s in community with one another, just like I experienced at the Dead Sea. Every night in Israel we all shared in the joy of the Lord when we took the time to sing praises unto Him.The Lord has blessed us with the weekly opportunity to experience His joy in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to rest in Him every Sabbath day. When you praise Him, the Spirit never fails to give you the joy of the Lord along with the strength to overcome your sufferings.
Stay tuned for next time when I talk about the next fruit of the Spirit: peace.