Theme: The Fruit of the Spirit Is Joy
Leading Question: What is the difference between joy and happiness? Can a believer be unhappy and still be joyful?
Not only is joy the second trait listed under the fruit of the spirit, Paul directly commands Christians to rejoice, not just with the occasional burst of joy, but continuously. To the Philippian believers he exclaims: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
1. Joy, Happiness, Sorrow. The cornerstone of Jesus’ self-understanding was the song of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. Jesus saw himself as a servant called to be a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3, KJV). The entire chapter describes a life of pain and self denial. Is it significant that the Gospels rarely describe Jesus’ own experience in terms of joy and rejoicing? In the beatitudes Jesus commanded those who are persecuted to rejoice (Matt. 5:12); he declared that there was joy in heaven over the repentance of even one sinner (Luke 15:7, 10). But in the Gospels, He himself is recorded as rejoicing only once, and that was “in the Holy Spirit” when the 70 returned from their mission (Luke 10:21). In the light of Jesus’ own example, how are we to understand joy, especially as it relates to sorrow? What is the relationship of happiness and unhappiness to joy?
2. Celebrating the salvation of others. The three parables of the lost in Luke 15 put celebration and joy at the heart of the rescue mission for sinners. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6), exclaims the shepherd who found his lost sheep; “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost” (Luke 15:9), said the woman who had lost it. And when the lost boy came home, the story concludes with the exuberant exclamation of the father to the angry elder brother: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32). What makes “salvation” of the sinner such a joyful event for God?
3. Celebrating our own salvation. In 1 Peter 1:8-9, believers are said to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” at the salvation of their souls. In an increasingly secular world, how does one communicate such joy to a world that often seems quite happy with the status quo? Does this quote from C. S. Lewis suggest a possible line of thinking?
The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had – and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a “great man,” but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The “Gospels” come later, and were written, not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made. – the screwtape letters, XXIII.3
4. Joy in Obedience. “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil,” exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 119:162). Psalm 119 reverberates with “love” and “delight” for God’s law. But such enthusiasm over God’s law is not as prominent in the New Testament. John 15:10-11 links Jesus’ joy and the believer’s joy with the keeping of the commandments, but Romans 7 indicates that law all too easily can turn into an instrument of torture. Why this change in perspective from Old Testament to New? Is it possible for modern believers to rejoice in the law and obedience?
5. Enjoying the pleasures of sin. Hebrews 11:24-25 tells how Moses chose not to “enjoy” the pleasures of sin but to suffer the hard times with God’s people. How does one recognize the allurements of sin, but argue against them for the deeper joy of following God, often in sorrow and affliction?
6. Rejoicing when others are grieving. A practical problem for the Christian is how to relate the life of joy to a world torn by grief and pain. How does one “rejoice in the Lord always” in a way that does not irritate, indeed crush, those who are in deep trouble? After all, when his friend Lazarus died, Scripture records that Jesus wept (John 11:35). And Psalms 30:5 separates the weeping of the night from the joy that comes in the morning. Can that be instructive for us?