This is posted as a resource for Redeemer Church and those seeking to learn more. Do not plagiarize.
1) What would make you truly happy in life? What would you need to have in your life, that you don’t have now, that would bring happiness, contentment, joy, to your life?
2) Are you sure that getting that thing, would bring the joy that you long for?
The longing for joy is a universal longing – that is what drives life – seeking to satisfying the restless discontented longings of our hearts;
Everyone longs for joy and happiness in life – perhaps some have given up hope of finding it, but nevertheless, everyone longs for it; everyone seeks it; but few, it seems, find it or keep it for very long.
And, many people answer that first question by playing the “if only…” game; also known as the “Grass is greener” game; perhaps you are intimately familar with this game – in which we look on the other side of a particular circumstance or situation in life, and on that other side is green pastures; or we look at the lives of others – or at least the visible parts of other’s lives – the carefully selected and cropped highlights of the lives of others, “if only my life was like that; i had that thing/relationship in my life…”
Comedy show: character gets home from a trip with his friend, and his roommates are there looking at his photos from the trip, and based upon the pictures they posted on social media, they think he had the time of his life; but the reality was that he was miserable – it was a terrible trip, it went the opposite of how he had hoped and he couldn’t wait to be home. and what he says in response to his friends, is, “everyone on the internet, they’re not having as great a time as you think they are.” Response of friend: “I guess people are just cropping out all the sadness.”
No one’s life is as enviable up close as it seems from a distance. The grass is greener game always disappoints. Because upon closer inspection, that greener grass on the others side of the fence still weeds in it. The “if only”, once attained, quickly reverts back to “only if..”
And, so, how do we find Joy in life?
CS Lewis: “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”
Don’t mean to deny that there aren’t times when our situation needs to change; certainly it’s not wrong to change/improve our life situation or that it’s not sometimes necessary to get out of harmful situations; but you can’t base your joy in the circumstances of life – you can’t make them the foundation of your joy or what your joy depends upon because they themselves change anyway – such that if you base your joy upon them, what happens when those circumstances change, and you lose those things which you’ve made the basis of your joy?
But see, even in the rare event that those circumstances don’t change – they still can’t give you the joy that your heart needs – because the Joy Paul talks about here isn’t the fruit of circumstances, but the fruit of the Spirit of God. And so, it has to be a deeper joy – a joy that depends on something that you cannot lose.
The Joy Paul is talking about here – is the joy that we all want and need. It is not the fruit of life being or turning out a certain way; neither is it merely the fruit of a certain personality type – you know the type, the bubbly, exuberant, always-smiley person; or the life-of-the-party outgoing funny person: if one of those describes you, we’re very glad for you and your always smiley presence in our lives, but no offense, we don’t want a world with all and only you.
If that’s not you, don’t put a false burden on yourself by thinking that you need to have a certain personality type, or be a carbon-copy of someone else. But, also, don’t let yourself off the hook.
Because if it’s not merely the fruit of a certain personality type such that some have it and some don’t – then those of us who are miserable can’t excuse our miserableness by saying, “Well, that’s just the way I am”.
The Joy Paul is talking about here is not the fruit of a certain personality type, or the fruit of the right life circumstances; no, it is the fruit of the Spirit:
It’s the fruit of being a child of God, knowing the love of God, being at peace with God, believing in the promises of God, being a new Creation in Christ, and having the Spirit of God in you – and knowing that however life turns out, in Christ we have the greatest treasure, and that no matter what happens in life, we live securely in his love for all eternity.
So, if Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit – then, just as we asked last week when we looked at “love”: is your life, characterized by Joy? To what degree is Joy evident in, or lacking from, your life?
Stott: “It is tragic to see a Christian gone sour.” Actually, the original quote says “minister”, but I think it’s equally relevant to all Christians.
Are you a sour Christian?
Christians have every reason to be anything but sour. Christians – of all people – shouldn’t be sour people – miserable, grumbling, unhappy, discontent, anxious, fearful. Rather, Christians have every reason to be joyful – every reason to have a joy that is not a weak and pale joy – a joy that’s on life-support – but a joy that is pulsating with life: in the words of the Apostle Peter, “an inexpressible and glorious Joy.”
“It is a sad commentary on the anemic state of our Christian faith that we have so many joyless Christians – believers who seem to think that the highest mark of Christian piety is a gloomy face and a doleful voice. If we are truly living and walking in the Spirit, our lives will radiate Christian joy – a joy so deep and genuine that nothing can ever take it away. And that joy will be our strength.”
And, you would think that Joy ought to be the easiest of the fruits in this list – because joy is the one that is most obviously not a “duty” or “obligation” – “be joyful!” – it’s like, “eat candy!” – “Ok, if I have to…”
Who doesn’t want to be joyful? Joy is a privilege not a burden: all that it prevents is only misery – all that it gives is genuine and deep delight – who wouldn’t want to be joyful? Who would consider it a burden or buck up against the requirement?
Joy seems like it ought to be the easiest of the fruits – but often when we try to exhibit joy in our lives, we find just the opposite to be true.
Because though Joy is a delight, it’s also a duty. Though it’s a privilege, its also something you have to work for and fight for – it doesn’t just happen, but just like all the fruit of the spirit you have to strive for it and be engaged in the conflict between the flesh and the spirit of God in you – if you want true joy to be present in your life.
- Elusiveness of Joy
- The Mystery of Joy
- The paths of Joy
elusive – difficult to catch; and just when you think you have it in your grasp, it slips through your fingers.
Those moments in life when you get even just a glimpse of joy – even if it’s a dim fleeting taste of joy – in those moments, you see how precious, wonderful, how joyful, joy is. And you want to push pause on the remote control of life – but you can’t, and all too often, in the next moment, as quickly as it came, it’s gone.
Lewis, lamenting the elusiveness of joy in life: “Can it be possible that joy flows through and, when the course is run it leaves no change, no mark on us to tell it’s passing… Joy flickers on the razor-edge of the present and then is gone.”
Joy is elusive.
John 2 – wedding that has run out of wine; and Jesus came on the scene and saved the day by turning water into wine.
Life is a dying party – a party where the joy is elusive, running out, dried up. And, Jesus didn’t come to suck joy out of the life; but to restore joy back into our experience.
Jesus wants you to have joy in your life:
John 10:10 – “I have come that they might have life, and might have it to the full.”
John 15:11 – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Don’t miss the significance of that: Jesus wants you to be joyful – to have the very Joy that Jesus himself has, which he came to give to you, which he wants to give to you, which he wants to be present and evident in your life.
Jesus did not come to make your life miserable – as I think many people assume; he came to free you from misery; Jesus did not come to suck all the joy out of life – as I think many people assume; he came to infuse joy back into life; he didn’t come to take away life as it’s meant to be, but to begin the renewal process of a life that had become more like death, and turn it back into what God intended it to be: life abundant. Life to the full. A life of Joy – a life in which Jesus’ very own joy is in us.
Without Christ, the Joy in this life runs out and dries up – it is elusive. And, the elusiveness of joy comes from misplaced joy – from attempting to find joy in, or get joy out of, the wrong things.
Biblical Joy – lasting joy – is “in the lord” – Nehemiah 8:10 “The Joy of the Lord is our strength”; Phil. 4 “rejoice in the lord”. But instead of finding joy in God – in who he is, what he has done for us in Christ, in the blessings he has poured out upon us in Christ; in knowing fellowship and peace with him, and in finding freedom in serving him and living for his glory – instead, we try to find joy in other things.
God, is the source of all good in the universe – he is the only reason there is any good thing in our world, in our lives – but he didn’t make those things good so that we could replace him with them, but rather so that we could be pointed to him through them. He is the source of joy – and as the source, he never runs out, he never runs dry.
But, in our sin, we have misplaced joy – we try to find joy from a shallow stream that will dry up instead of from the source. That is what sin and idolatry are: replacing God, the only true source of joy, with something else that doesn’t give joy; turning to something besides him to find life, something that doesn’t deliver life but only death.
Sin promises joy but doesn’t deliver on that promise; it uses the promise of joy to draw you in, and once it has you, it actually only delivers misery.
We try to find joy in other things – things of this creation, things that were intended to supplement true joy that is found in God, but never to replace it.
And what we end up with is a fleeting pleasure, that ends in misery, enslavement and death – a far cry from the joy that seemed so certainly to result, but became so evasive.
Lewis: “I doubt that anyone who has tasted joy would ever exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.”
The problem is that we have acquired our tastes to that which is not joy – “we’re far too easily pleased”. The problem isn’t that our desires are aimed to high, but far too low.
Augustine: “Thou, O God, made us for thyself, and Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in thee.”
2. The Mystery of Joy
Scripture often connects joy/rejoicing with suffering and trials. Scripture tells us to rejoice in all circumstances; to rejoice in our suffering and to rejoice even though we are suffering. How is that possible?
How is it that joy is the fruit of the Spirit – even though life is often so unjoyful?
-How do we understand Joy in light of the psalms, where Joy at times seems to be absent – and instead of joy is plenteous tears and profound sadness? In the Psalms you see an abundance of commands to rejoice in the lord, to praise the Lord with Joy – all mixed seemingly incompatibly with expressions of lament and descriptions of personal suffering and injustice and mistreatment. How do you reconcile those things?
-How do we understand joy in light of what scripture says about the reality of suffering and persecution – even in the people of God? That the fruit of the spirit is joy certainly doesn’t promise that life is always suffering-free for God’s people.
-How do we understand Joy in light of Jesus’ own life, where Joy at times seems to be absent – and instead of Joy is trial & hardship; mourning & grieving; suffering and personal anguish to the point of sweating blood, enduring betrayal, injustice, and the shame of the cross?
-How do we understand Joy our own experience , when we experience great tragedies? Or, sadness – or even severe or chronic depression?
All these things seem to be contradicting realities – a paradox – a mystery as to how to reconcile the realities of life and scripture with the command that “joy” be a necessary part of the Christian life.
How do we reconcile that tension?
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of the sadnesses of life – when suffering or tragedy show up unwelcome at your door; or seem to be all you can remember;
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of loneliness in life – loneliness that at times perhaps feels unbearable? Or in the midst of challenging relationships that sometimes feel more like a war-zone than a source of blessing – whether it be with a spouse; or a sibling that you need to share toys with or clean up after or endure their less attractive behaviors and traits.
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of mistreatment in life – when you have been sinned against and hurt at the hands of others – even those who should have shown you love and kindness?
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of the disappointments of life – when it hasn’t turned out how you’d hoped;
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of the anxieties of life – the weight of seemingly endless responsibilities, tests & homework & group projects that seem to keep you up later and later each day while that school-bus seems to be showing up earlier and earlier each day;
Maybe you struggle to find joy in the midst of the monotonies of life – changing diaper after diaper after diaper; enduring whiney complaint after whiney complaint; morning commutes and long days at the office.
Either, Joy is in conflict with those things and so necessarily absent in those times. Or, Joy is though challenged by those things, nevertheless somehow compatible with those things and something held on to in the midst of them – something sustaining us underneath the challenging circumstances of life.
Because the source of a Christian’s joy is not the circumstances or outcome of this life – but who we are, and what we have in Christ.
In Paul’s day/culture, “joy” was generally considered as primarily an emotion closely associated with pleasure – and that can’t coexist with Joy. Perhaps not too different from our culture’s view of Joy.
But, For Paul, “Joy” is different. Douglass Moo: For Paul, “Joy is a settled state of mind that arises from an inner sense of God’s love for us, produced by the Spirit, and which exists even in the face of difficulties and trials.”
Stott: “A Christian’s first love is his love for God, his chief joy is his joy in God, and his deepest peace is his peace with God.”
Last week, in fact, I quoted Romans 5:1-11; and the themes of Romans 5:1-11, are God’s love for us; the peace that we have with God; and because of those things, the ability to rejoice even in the midst of trials in life.
All that I’m saying here – does not mean that the circumstances or suffering of life aren’t important; aren’t painful; aren’t hard; don’t need to be changed; or that we have to smile through those painful circumstances and pretend that “life is great!”
But, it does mean:
Joy is not found in the circumstances of this life – but in the certainties of faith – the truths of who we are in Christ, and what we have in Christ.
Such that, tears and joy are compatible – joy is a deep bedrock of faith that lives underneath our tears and sustains us in tears; and enables the Christian’s tears to be real tears, but not to be shed in despair, but in the hope of God.
Christians grieve – really grieve – but (1 Thess 4) in their grieve they don’t despair – they don’t grieve as those without Hope – but their hope is what enables true grief, real grief, but a grief that doesn’t destroy joy because it doesn’t turn into despair.
Because no matter what is happening in life – Christians know that this life and its circumstances are not all there is; nor are they the most important or real things about us.
No – who we are in Christ, and what we have in Christ – that is the most important, lasting, significant, and precious things about us – that is what is the source of joy for us. 3 things:
Who we are in Christ:
You are a child of God – eternally beloved of your heavenly Father; always held by his loving hand and held eternally secure in his grip; always loved and embraced by him, never forsaken or abandoned by him; forgiven – no longer guilty or condemned before him but righteous and accepted; reconciled to God and at peace with God;
What God is doing in our trials:
He is working all things for the good of those who love him; he is disciplining us for our good with the love and gentleness and wisdom of a perfect Father; he is refining our faith and strengthening and building up our character; he is stripping out of us the love self and the love of this world, and imbedding into us a love for him, his kingdom, and his glory.
What is on the other side of our trials:
And, Christians remember that this life is not all there is. So, don’t be short-sighted.
Hope is very closely connected to joy, because the fulfillment of our joy is forward-pointing.
 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (ESV)
Faith is having the eyes to see what we have in promise, but not in fulll possession. And when we can set our eyes on that – and not the short-term temporary circumstances of this life – then we can have joy.
our eternal inheritance – a glory that far outweighs any suffering we experience in this life – which can sustain us, and enable us to have hope and joy in the midst of pain.
Vaughan Roberts: “In the midst of joy, the pain for Christians of living in a fallen world will continue. If anything, that pain is intensified by what we have already received in Christ. We are like the child who has been allowed to lick a spoon to get a taste of the delicious dessert that has just been prepared, but must then wait until the meal to get a full portion. We have already received a taste of the wonderful salvation in Christ and we long for more. And one day, the waiting will be over.”
One day, the waiting, the longing, the pain, will be over, and our reality will be that eternal glory that far outweighs any and all suffering in this life.
Lewis: “Our greatest earthly pleasure is only a small touch of what we will experience in heaven’s eternity. Joy – in its fullest sense – emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Here and now, our best “havings” are “wantings”// but Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”
One day, the waiting & wanting will be over.
If those things can’t give you joy in life, then nothing can – no change of circumstance, no worldly blessing; nothing!
3. The paths of Joy
Trust; thankfulness; humility.
Trusting God enables you to have Joy – it’s hard to have joy when you are filled with anxiety over all the uncertainties and what-if’s of life – when you are trying to control the world. There’s a reason anxiety and depression are so closely connected. But, trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness means trusting in him with whatever the outcome – enables us to rejoice in all circumstances.
ungratefulness/complaining, or envy/comparing kills joy. But thankfulness in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is the path to joy because it refuses to believe that joy is dependent upon circumstances or material possessions.
Materialism/greed kills joy – we talked a lot about how suffering, or lack is a challenge to joy, but plenty can be as much a challenge to joy as lack can.
we tend to think the real or only challenge to joy is when life is bad. But when life is good – that is just as much a challenge to joy, because remember, joy is in the Lord; when life strips you of those things you would otherwise make the basis for joy, you are almost driven towards God; but when life gives us material blessings, it’s in those times when we are more tempted to try to find our joy in something other than God; and it’s in those times when we are most susceptible to believing those things can give lasting joy.
what’s ultimately behind being easily-angered/irritated; easily-offended; a heart of bitterness: is pride, which assumes that I should always get my way and that fails to show patience towards others in their mistakes or shortcomings.
self-righteousness kills joy.
Bridges: “So the choice is ours. We can be joy-less Christians, or we can by joy-ful Christians. We can go through life bored, glum, and complaining, or we can rejoice in the Lord, in our names being written in heaven, in the hope of an eternal inheritance. To be joyless is to dishonor God and to deny His love and His control over our lives. It is practical atheism. To be joyful is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit within us and to say to a watching world, “Our God reigns.”