We have been saying that all true change does not come from conforming to an outward set of rules, but comes from an inward transformation. What we are trying to do with this quick survey of the fruit of the Spirit is not to give steps to take to act like a person who has the fruit, but look at what it takes to become a person who is transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Today, we examine the fruit of Joy, and we will be looking at a number of different texts today, but we will begin with the simple command of Phil. 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Don’t pass by the simplicity of that verse – Paul is making a pretty hefty command for us.
First off, Paul is commanding our hearts, which almost never works. “Joy” is simply a reaction to something great, beautiful or delightful. A couple weeks ago the Evans family took a trip to Disneyland and they posted a video of how Hannah, their four year old reacted when she found out. Take a look. You see, Hannah’s joy (which is very evident) is simply a reaction to the glorious wonder that Disneyland is to a four year old – Paul and Sara didn’t just say “Be really excited, Hannah.” She is reacting – but here, Paul is commanding. Commanding joy is kind of like commanding someone to be hungry – you can’t just force yourself to be hungry. You can act like your hungry and eat food, but you can’t just in an instant will yourself to be hungry, and in the same way you can act like you’re joyful by smiling and pretending, but you can’t will yourself to have joy.
Secondly, Paul isn’t just commanding us to be joyful, but to be joyful always, at every moment, in every situation, no matter what the circumstances. Paul even tells us that he can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). That seems nearly impossible. So, let’s take a look first at what joy is and what it is not, and then let’s talk about how to become a joyful person.
What Joy Isn’t
Now, we all probably have some sort of idea of what “joy” may mean. You may use the word “happiness” or “feeling good” to describe it – but remember, we are talking about real, Spirit-empowered Joy – we don’t want any counterfeits here, so let’s sift out what fake joy looks like. First, If Paul is claiming that we are to be “always” rejoicing, then that simply means that whatever “joy” is, it can’t be something that can be lost by a change of circumstances or diminish. So let’s think of some common examples of what we might confuse real joy for
- Getting what I want – new gadgets, toys, trips, money, comforts
- These can most easily be taken away from us, so they can’t be it.
- Sensual pleasure – if it feels good, it has to be right, it could be sexual, substance, Netflix binging, gluttony, etc.
- No high lasts long enough, so that can’t be it
- Success in life – finish school, make the sports team, get a high paying job
- But circumstances could change, economies change, injuries happen, so that can’t be it.
- Meaningful relationships – friends, marriage, children
- Time, distance and death will one day take all of those away from us, so that can’t be it.
Joy that can be robbed from us, or gets dull and boring is not the Joy that Paul is talking about here – we are looking for a Joy that burns white hot under life’s worst downpours and no amount of time causes it to fade. Remember, if joy is simply a reaction to something, then if we aren’t experiencing that kind of joy, then the problem is that we are beholding the wrong object.
What Joy Is
So what is the object that Paul is thinking we are to behold here that gives us an invincible kind of joy? Well, he tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The simplicity of that can easily pass us by. Paul is saying that the object we are to behold is the Lord; we rejoice in the Lord. So, if Paul is claiming that we are to always rejoice in the Lord, he is claiming that God is far more beautiful, desirable, glorious and awesome than anything else in this world. Psalms 16:11 tells us, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If you can think of a joy that better than “full” or “forever”, then let me know. In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore. That is the kind of joy we are looking for that will never diminish or let us down (full) and will always be present no matter what (forevermore). You and I are made in the image of God, that means that we were made to worship God – and the apex of worship is rejoicing in something. If you love something, you naturally praise it. The reason we are to “rejoice in the Lord” is because that is synonymous with “glorifying God in all things” (1 Cor. 10:31). In other words, finding Joy in God is the very thing you were made for, and it is where you deepest Joy will be found.
But, we must make a clear distinction here: is God the source of our joy because of what He does for us, or who He is to us? Is God the source of our joy because of what He gives us, or who He is to us? You see how radically different those two things are, don’t you? One of them says that God is the butler that brings us what we really enjoy, and the other says that God is what we enjoy! Many Christians will vow that they love God with all their heart, but what they really love is the comfortable life that they think God has given them – they love God because He keeps their family safe, their bodies healthy and their jobs secure. Or maybe they love God because He keeps them out of Hell, and gives them Heaven. Do you know what is going to make Heaven great? It won’t be because your favorite food will always be prepared and all of your favorite activities will be available and all of your friend and families will be – maybe that will be in Heaven – but Paul explains something different. He says that now we see God dimly, like through a foggy glass, but when we arrive in Heaven the glass will be removed and we will see Him fully (1 Cor. 13:12) – Heaven will be so good because we will see God, flawlessly! Heaven is not a place for people who just don’t want to go to Hell; it is a place for people who love God and ache to be with Him. You know that anyone who marries someone else for their money is in a hollow, fake relationship – why would that be any different with God? Tim Keller says, “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.”
When I was in high school, my family was broken in many ways and I so desperately wanted a happy family. A friend invited me to church and I saw all of these happy people, with happy families, laughing and loving each other. The equation seemed simple to me: go to church, become a Christian, and God gives you a happy family. Easy. So I became a Christian, and prayed and evangelized to my family relentlessly, and miraculously, they all came to know Christ and there was a season of everything I hoped for – more family time, and attending church together, and less arguing and fights. But season’s fade, and my family’s “faith” slowly drifted, sputtered and stalled completely before I started college.
I felt betrayed and utterly confused – why would God do that? Why would He take away the one thing I wanted more than anything? I wasn’t asking for something wicked or sinful, why would He deny me of it? And one night, at a particularly dark time for me, I opened God’s Word desperate to find some sort of light in this blackness. And like a shaft of light shooting out, Psalm 73 spoke to me, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (23-26). As I read that, something burned inside of me and I thought I want to know God that way. I wanted to be able to lose everything, my heart and flesh, but still hold on to Christ as my treasure. And I heard God whisper to me, Marc, if you only had Me, and nothing else, would that be enough for you? I broke into sobs and tears because I knew that the answer was no – I had been using God as a means to an end, and I repented of my idolatry.
Our Joy comes from knowing and having a relationship with God – the fountainhead of all joy. It comes from seeing Him as He really is, everyday; this is how we “rejoice always in the Lord.” Good times or bad times, God is always present, so we always can rejoice.
How do you become Joyful?
So how do you do it? Maybe you can follow the logic of the passage and it intellectually makes sense, but how do you make it happen? You can’t just wag your finger at your heart and say, “Now, now heart, put your joy in God.” It just doesn’t work that way, so what do you do?
- Remember, it is a fruit of the Spirit, not of your willpower. So pray to the Father and ask that by the power of the Spirit He would give you real joy in Him.
- Examine your heart and ask yourself, “Is there anything in my life that rivals my affections and love for the Lord? Is there anything that is functionally more important to my happiness and peace than knowing God?” Are there any ways where you are treating God more like a butler than the gift itself? Repent of them, and ask for the Lord to take their place in your heart’s desires.
- Preach the Gospel to yourself
- “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17
- When I can’t seem to find God that desirable or beautiful, I need only look to the Gospel and remind myself: that though I deserved judgment, the Lord has taken away the judgments against me by nailing them to Jesus on the cross, and now not only is He with me, but He is rejoicing over me! The mighty, infinite, terrifying God who crushes rocks with His voice and appears in fiery pillars and will one day return and rip the sky open; He delights in me, loves me and fights for me, and one day He will return and bring me home to be with Him in perfect joy, forevermore. If you are having a hard time rejoicing in God, remember that He is rejoicing in you. If that doesn’t make your heartbeat quicken, then you probably do not know Him; that is the most stunning truth in the entire universe.
- Omnivorous Gratefulness
- An omnivore, unlike carnivores who only eat meat and herbivores who only eat plants, eat everything. For us to experience Joy consistently, we must become omnivorously grateful. Here is what I mean by that: be aware of everything you encounter as a gift from God, given so that you may enjoy God more. Everything that you receive from God is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted – you don’t deserve any of it. The only thing you deserve is Hell, so anything you get that isn’t Hell is a free gift of grace.
- Think of it this way, have you ever wondered how you can obey the command of 1 Cor. 10:31? “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” How do you eat and drink to the glory of God. Let’s think about tomorrow morning: you sit down for breakfast – do you deserve to have breakfast? No, you don’t, but God gives it to you anyway – how good is He? Or think about this: God didn’t have to make food taste good; food could have all tasted like oatmeal. God didn’t have to give you taste buds, or a nose to smell anything. God didn’t have to create a world where toast and eggs and juice all have color in them. He didn’t have to create a world where eating a piece of toast makes the next sip of juice you take taste even more refreshing. Why would He do all of that? Because He rejoices over you; He delights in your Joy. So when you sit at the breakfast table you have symphony of praise to sing before God. But here is the catch – if you enjoying breakfast tomorrow, or anything else you do, does not end in thankfulness to God, you will never be able to enjoy it as much. You’ll take it for granted, and the magic and wonder of toast and eggs will become just the boring monotony of your morning routine. Our joy will always be maximized when God is at the center of all things – this is the way that God designed the entire universe to work. And when you pray, repent, preach the Gospel to yourself and become omnivorously grateful: you will have joy, deep, lasting, durable joy in Christ.