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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Joy

June 10, 2012
Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit Is Joy
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23


Maybe some of you have seen the old commercial of a young couple preparing for dinner guests.  The young bride has the table set perfectly.  All the fine china, crystal, and silverware are in place.  Guests arrive at the door – her in-laws.  The mother-in-law walks past her daughter-in-law and heads straight to the table.  She picks up a plate and looks in it, saying, “I can see myself!”  Do you remember seeing that commercial for JOY dish-washing detergent?

Is joy being able to see yourself in a plate?  We have the wrong idea of joy, don’t we?  Joy is not a dish-washing detergent.  It is not a candy bar.  Neither is it a pasted-on smiley face.  That insipid smiling face is superficial, signifying only an external emotion.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence says that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Those words penned in 1776 have become almost a mantra for Americans.  Boy!  Do we pursue happiness!  We chase it and chase it and chase it.  What is so interesting is that we never find happiness by pursuing it.

Listen to these words of Scripture from Ecclesiastes 2:1-17, words ascribed to King Solomon as he addressed a kind of experiment.  I will read from the paraphrase known as The Message.

 I said to myself, “Let’s go for it—experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.

What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane!
My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it?
With the help of a bottle of wine
and all the wisdom I could muster,
I tried my level best
to penetrate the absurdity of life.
I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do
during the years we spend on this earth.

Oh, I did great things: built houses,
planted vineyards,
designed gardens and parks
and planted a variety of fruit trees in them,
made pools of water
to irrigate the groves of trees.
I bought slaves, male and female,
who had children, giving me even more slaves;
then I acquired large herds and flocks,
larger than any before me in Jerusalem.
I piled up silver and gold,
loot from kings and kingdoms.
I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song,
and—most exquisite of all pleasures—
voluptuous maidens for my bed.

9-10 Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work!

11 Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.

12-14 And then I took a hard look at what’s smart and what’s stupid. What’s left to do after you’ve been king? That’s a hard act to follow. You just do what you can, and that’s it. But I did see that it’s better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. Even so, though the smart ones see where they’re going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they’re all the same in the end. One fate for all—and that’s it.

15-16 When I realized that my fate’s the same as the fool’s, I had to ask myself, “So why bother being wise?” It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke. The smart and the stupid both disappear out of sight. In a day or two they’re both forgotten. Yes, both the smart and the stupid die, and that’s it.

17 I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind.

You may pursue happiness, but you will never find it.  Solomon tried to grab all the gusto.  His motto was “You only go around once.”  We chase and chase and chase happiness, but happiness is not joy.  Joy, as the Bible describes it, is very different, much deeper, more satisfying, and far more profound.

The Greek language helps us here.  The Greek word for joy is chara, defined as joy or gladness, sometimes delight.  It is used sixty times in the New Testament.  The verb form of chara, charan, translated as rejoice, is used seventy-two times in the New Testament.  Closely related is the word charas, which means grace.  How can we cultivate grace and joy in our lives?  Think of this:  grace produces joy.  David writes in Psalm 16:11, “You will show me the path of life.  In your presence is fullness of joy.  At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Joy is all about a relationship with God, a relationship with grace.  The connection between grace and joy is one that would seem to be self-evident.  Our joy is directly proportional to our ability to receive the grace of God.  If we cannot receive God’s grace, if we somehow believe that we have to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, that we have to do everything by ourselves, we will never find joy.

Billy Sunday, a baseball player and evangelist, said that when Christians do not have joy in their lives, something is wrong.  If you have no joy, a leak exists in your Christianity somewhere.  Those people who have little joy in their hearts, even those who profess Christ, have never learned to accept grace.  Joy is based on the grace that we receive in forgiveness.  The guilt of sin is a major reason why so many people lack joy.  They have never been able to accept the grace of God, the forgiveness of God.

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 are helpful here.  There, we see that each one begins with the word makarios, closely connected to the word joy. Makarios is translated as blessed.  Using that definition allows the Beatitudes to reveal something about the major source of biblical joy.  Blessed, defined as possessing the favor of God, is a state of being marked by the fullness, the grace, of God in our lives.  In the Beatitudes, those who are blessed are the ones ordinarily considered the down-and-out by the world around us.  Jesus, in teaching his disciples, says, “Look at the people who are blessed.  They are the ones who have received grace.”

Makarios is different from the word happy though in some translations, it is translated as happy.  The root meaning of happy denotes luck, happenstance.  But Makarios is to be blessed, to have Christ in our hearts, and to know that we live independent of the world.  Our satisfaction comes from God, not from favorable circumstances.

Paul illustrates this point in his own life when he addresses his struggle with sin as a war inside of him, as a conflict.  He says that he is unable to do the things he wants to do, the good he wants to do.  Instead, he does the evil he does not want to do.

I talked with a man one time who said, “I feel as if I have two dogs fighting inside of me, one a big, black, mean dog and the other a small white dog that is so loving.”

When I asked him which one was going to win, he said, “The one I feed the most.”

How do we feed this attitude?  We feed it with grace.

So Paul says, “Who will deliver me from this body that is taking me to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:24-25).  Grace saves us from all our sins.

Psalm 32 focuses on the grace of forgiveness.  David begins by using the same word used in the Beatitudes:  blessed.

1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

David describes what his life was like before he received forgiveness.

3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me.  My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

And then David remembered to confess his sins.

5 I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said I will confess my transgression to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 51:4 also contains a correlation between forgiveness and joy.  David confessed, “Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight.”  He prays that God would wash him so he could be whiter than snow, that God would cleanse him from his iniquity.  He adds in Verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

Those who are in Christ can enjoy the grace of forgiveness.  That is so important if we are going to experience joy.

What are the characteristics of a joyful life?  Last night, I read the entire letter to the Philippians, sometimes called Paul’s joyful letter.  I want to point out some verses you might want to consider.  Paul writes about the role of joy in the Christian life of prayer in Chapter 1, Verse 4 of Philippians.  Verse 18 says that he rejoices that Christ is proclaimed even by people who seem to be insincere.  He can experience joy as long as Christ is proclaimed.  Verse 25 says that he has found joy in his faith.  That connection between faith and joy is important.  Without faith in God and Christ, we cannot experience abiding joy.  Why?  Faith allows us to face our anxieties, fears, worries, and doubts.  Faith leads to joy.  Paul also writes about the role that joy plays in Christian fellowship in Philippians 2.  He tells us that joy binds us together.  If you have felt that joy in worship here this morning through the singing of these great songs, it is because we share together the joy of Christ.

Paul addresses characteristics that will kill joy within the fellowship.  He urges us to be on guard against grumbling, conceit, and complaining in Chapter 2, Verses 14-18.  Then he points out in Verses 28-29 that we experience joy and Christian hospitality in welcoming others into the fellowship of Christ.  One line of the benediction we use every Sunday morning says that we are serving in joy.   Christian service is a source of joy.  Among our greatest joys are those that arise when we are not self-absorbed, but when we are actively giving of ourselves to a creative task outside of our self-concern, when we are helping other people.

Nathan has described that while on the mission trip to Costa Rico, the team members had the longest sustained joy when they were involved in service, when they were serving others.

Nehemiah could say to those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with a trough in one hand and a sword in the other, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  The joy of the Lord keeps us working, keeps us active.

For me, the greatest joy of all for a Christian servant is welcoming others into the kingdom of Christ, leading someone to accept Jesus.  Paul talked about this source of joy in his own life.  He adds that witnessing those people develop into the Christian men and women God intends them to be gives him joy.  A part of our joy as a church is serving by leading others to accept Christ and to grow in the grace of God.  When we teach children about real joy, we ought to use the acronym J–O–Y, which will help them to remember Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.  Christian service puts things in their proper order, lines them up according to their priority.  Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

There is joy in suffering.  Look with me at Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…

What?  We are to rejoice in our sufferings?  How can that be?  We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope.  Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.

Now let’s return to Philippians, called Paul’s joyful letter.  Remember that Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison, facing a death sentence.  Chapter 4 may actually be his greatest treatise on joy.  Verse 1 speaks of those who are his joy and crown:  “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I read that verse last night and could not help but think about my grandchildren.  Boy, do they bring me joy!”

One of our young grandsons was visiting with us yesterday.  He wanted to help me work outside in the yard, which, of course, involved sliding on the sliding board and swinging in a swing – all very important jobs.  We worked together for a long time, and it was sheer joy.

In Verses 4-7, Paul says that we can have joy in any circumstance:

Rejoice in the Lord always!  Let me say it again just in case you missed it.  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul continues in Verses 11-13 to say that contentment and joy go hand in hand.  You cannot feel jealous and envious if you are going to be joyful.  You have to be content.  Paul says he has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation and says that his joy finds strength in Christ.  His deduction mirrors Nehemiah’s conclusion:  “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Finally, in Verse 19, Paul talks about God’s provision.  Finding joy in the provision of God is a source of contentment:  “19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

At a point in our lives when Clare and I had four little boys, our finances were pretty tight. I was working as a youth minister at a church in Winston-Salem, and Christmas was approaching.  I suggested to Clare that we not give each other a Christmas gift that year.  She agreed, but I could tell that suggestion did not suit her.  Clare, like every woman I know, likes to be surprised.  So I bought her a laundry basket for Christmas.  What a guy!  I added some supplies I knew she would need – maybe even a bottle of Joy dish-washing detergent, I do not remember.  Down in the basket, I hid a few special surprises.  Of course, she enjoyed finding those treats.

Clare handed me what looked like a necktie box and probably was at one time.  She had cross-stitched me a bookmark for my Bible.  When in the world she found time to cross-stitch with four little boys, I have no idea.  Her gift was a quote from Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  The bookmark is a treasure, but that promise is an even greater treasure.  That promise is a source of joy.

From that great Christian theologian who sits on the back row came a reflection written after Erik’s death.  Clare wrote it originally for our children and our daughters-in-law.  She quoted Isaiah 51:11-12:  “So the ransomed of the Lord shall return.  They will come to Zion with singing; with everlasting joy on their heads.  They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  She then followed with these words:

Following the death of our son, Erik, I went through a period of deep sadness.  I experienced a grief that welled up from somewhere way down inside, from a place that I didn’t even know existed.  Tears came freely, sometimes unnoticed, often unchecked.  As time passed, I became aware that a companion emotion was emerging.  Springing up from the same place the grief originated was also a companion feeling of joy, just as deep as the grief, equally sudden and unbidden.  My watchword, my rallying cry, became the popular directive, party on.  I adopted the phrase and began to use it when I spoke with friends and family, when I wrote notes and e-mails, and as a parting wish for them as I said goodbye.   Isaiah tells us that when the children of Israel return from exile they will reenter Jerusalem with gladness.  They will be overtaken by joy.  I can’t think of a single reason not to take that as gospel truth.  We’re free to cease running away.  We can allow ourselves to be caught, apprehended by joy.  And if we are caught, we might as well surrender.  That’s my personal plan and it’s my prayer for you, that you will be apprehended by joy and, if you are, party on, party on until we reach the kingdom or until the kingdom comes to us.

Joy is connected to eternal life.  In John 16:20, Jesus tells his disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  Psalm 30:5 offers the same sentiment:  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come.  After the baby is born, she forgets the anguish.  Her joy that a child has been born into the world overpowers that pain.  The same can happen for you.  “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away” (John 16:22).  It’s a promise from Jesus.  Despite all the sham and drudgery of this world, there will be a time of great joy, a time when Christ Jesus is with us again.

One a hot day in Alabama a woman was down on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor of her home.  Two young men doing door-to-door evangelism came by selling Bibles.  The two walked through the yard full of dogs and children and up on the porch.  They knocked on the door and noticed a hole in the screen plugged with a piece of cotton.  This young woman got up off her hands and knees, wiped the perspiration from her brow, and pulled the hair out of her face.

One of the young men said, “We’ve come to tell you how you might have eternal life.”

She replied, “No thanks, I’ve had enough of this life.  I couldn’t take this for eternity.”

Eternal life is not just more and more life.  Eternal life is abundant life, which means life that is qualitatively different.  It is life filled with joy.  The good news is that you do not have to wait until you die.  Eternal life begins the moment we accept Christ.  It is life with an eternal quality that begins the very moment we ask Jesus into our hearts.

The time will come when we go to heaven.  Jesus will speak words of assurance to us, words that he spoke in a parable.  “Well done, good and faithful servant!  Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23).  There’s every reason in the world for Christians to live their lives in joy, every reason in the world.  It is a gift of grace that comes to us in only one way, through Christ Jesus.

So, I ask you, have you made Jesus Christ the Lord of your life?  Do you have the joy in your heart that comes from knowing Christ?  If you’ve never made that decision, could I invite you to do so today?

Kirk H. Neely                        
© June 2012

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