The Young Adults at Southwest are continuing to journey through the fruits of the Spirit this summer, and I continue to be impressed with their observations of the text and the care with which they apply it. The temptation in dealing with a topic like joy, is to assume you know all there is to know about what joy is, and move past the text without much consideration.
But as we discovered, biblical joy runs deep, much deeper than surface emotions like happiness and pleasure.
First, we opened with a brief discussion of the distinctiveness of joy over against pleasure. Some observations were:
> Pleasure is temporary, while joy is enduring and steadfast and “everlasting”
> Pleasure seems to be an end – we seek “pleasure” for pleasure’s sake. But joy is a fruit of something else – biblically speaking, joy is a fruit of a deep experience of life with God and others. Joy is not sought for the sake of being joyful. Rather it is a blessing of living in relation to God and others.
> Pleasure requires that things turn out the way we want them to. Pleasure is rather “self-centered”. However, joy can be experienced in very “un-pleasurable” circumstances. For example, sometimes, our life with God requires great sacrifice of us (sometimes even death!). And while such sacrificial moments may not be very pleasurable, they can certainly be moments where we find great joy in doing the will of the Father!
The second exercise we engaged was the reading of some scriptures. We started with Isaiah 35:10…
10 And the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
and then Isaiah 65:17-19
17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
We had a lot of sharp observations about these two texts. One is that joy is a byproduct of redemption. Once a redeemed people, our joy is so complete and so overwhelming that it’s almost difficult to remember what once despaired us. “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Now, of course, this is dealing with the New Heavens and the New Earth – a similar picture to Revelation 21 where God will “wipe away every tear from their eye”. But the experience of that redemption now, can bear a similar fruit of joy in our lives. A joy that transcends pain, sorrow, grief, despair, injustice, oppression, and hurt. A foretaste of this joy, biblically speaking, is available to us even now!
Another observation is that joy is not just something we experience, but also something that God experiences. When God acts to save and redeem and deliver his creation, his people, it brings great joy to him as Creator and Sovereign. It’s what he loves to do. And focusing on this characteristic alone is enough to cultivate deep joy in our lives! God is not an angry God or a distant God. He is active in human history and his activity is salvation – and it brings Him joy!
We also dealt with this tough text, Luke 6:20-23;
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
In the opening weeks of our series on Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit, we discussed the nature of love. One of the aspects of biblical love requires that it is suffering love! A love that never suffers or isn’t willing to suffer is not Christ-like love. It is important for the church, wherever it is planted, to ask itself if it is bearing the fruit of love in the place of its planting! And a way to determine if the love we bear in the world is Christlike love, is to ask ourselves if it requires that we suffer. Now the counter-intuitive part! That suffering love brings us joy!
One thing that confuses me about current Christian engagement in the political scene is that they stomp their feet, turn up the volume, point fingers, name names, throw their enemies under the bus, when they perceive they are being “persecuted.” Without questioning whether “getting your way” in state politics is persecution (and this is certainly questionable), it is certainly not the biblical way to respond to such “persecution” (whether real or perceived) in any other way than with joy and rejoicing!
We will know we have the fruits of true love and true joy – Christ’s love and Christ’s joy – when we are willing to suffer unjustly to bear witness of Christ’s love, and we respond to the injustice with joy, for we have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name!” (Acts 5:41). As Peter says, “If you suffer unjustly, it is to this that you were called.” When this brings us joy, Christ’s joy will be complete in us, and our joy will be complete in him (John 15:11).