In the 1950s, Frank Lovejoy was a popular movie and television actor. Wonder how someone decided to join those two fruit-of-the-Spirit qualities into one name. And wonder if anyone has tried it with any of the others. Is anyone on the planet named Gentlenessgoodness? Faithfulnesshumility? Probably not.
No question but the first three qualities that make up this Christlikeness–love, joy, and peace–are the best-known and best-loved of the nine. I suspect ten times as many sermons have been preached on these three than all the remaining six combined.
Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the king is in residence.
I would have thought C. S. Lewis’ book “Surprised by Joy” dealt with his meeting Joy Davidman Gresham who became his wife. Instead, its subtitle gives it away: “The Shape of My Early Life.” The joy which took this Oxford professor of English literature so by surprise arrived when he put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had built up such an army of misconceptions regarding the Christian life that when it arrived, he found it to be nothing like anything he had anticipated. He was unprepared for the joy.
“Joy,” Lewis later wrote, “is the business of Heaven.”
If it is–and who can doubt that, based on so many revelations of Scripture–then, for a believer to experience joy is to have a “foretaste of glory divine,” as the hymn puts it.
In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Our Lord Jesus said, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).
Do you find it strange that the one described in prophecy as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) would devote so much attention to making sure His followers experienced joy in a full and permanent way?
Let’s look at the mentions of joy in John’s Gospel alone….
Speaking of the arrival of the Messiah, John the Baptist told his disciples, This joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:29-30).
The rest of the statements are from our Lord.
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full (15:11). Joy is related to the Word.
You too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you (16:22). Joy is related to the Lord’s presence.
Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full (16:24). Joy is related to prayer.
And finally, in His priestly prayer, Jesus said to the Father, But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves (17:13). Joy is the desire of the Savior for every believer. It’s standard equipment.
When a pastor decides to preach on joy–and when this preacher opts to write on it–he is stymied by several things: the scope of the subject, the vast number of scriptures dealing with it, and the almost limitless writings of others about joy. The problem is limiting the sermon or article to something manageable.
Good luck with that. To my knowledge, Scripture never attempts to define any of these 9 Christlike graces. We’re on our own here.
Years ago, I heard a college student say, “I feel like I’ve swallowed sunshine.” That says it for me as well as any theological understanding anyone has ever offered. You can be hurting and grieving, but the joy is still present. The sunshine still beams inside.
In what way does the Spirit produce joy?
Keep in mind–we’ll need to say this frequently–that we must not isolate any of these 9 qualities from the others. The Lord is not interested in producing disciple-specialists (one with great love and nothing more, one who specializes in joy but has no peace or self-control, etc.).
What that means is that at the same time the Holy Spirit is exhibiting joy in the life of a believer, we will also notice love, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, etc. All nine traits will bloom from the one tree.
It appears that, just as a tree takes all that nature sends its way–rain, drought, sunshine, storms, nutrients in the soil or the absence of certain nutrients–and processes them into the tree it becomes and the fruit it bears, the Holy Spirit does something similar in the life of believers.
The Lord takes “the testing of your faith” and produces endurance or longsuffering (James 1:2-4). What we used to call “patience” is a steadfastness and steadiness without which believers will drop by the wayside in the heat of the day or the stress of the battle.
The Lord’s greatness and grace combine in the lives of believers to produce humility. This in turn makes us teachable, flexible, and obedient.
What produces joy? Nothing is more responsible for a joyful spirit in the life of a believer than obedience to the commands and teachings of the Savior.
We must not get it backward and go for the joy first. I think of the line in the Declaration of Independence which names as inalienable rights of mankind “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” No doubt Jefferson meant well, but when one pursues happiness, he never finds it. Only as a byproduct of a life of faithfulness and service does that elusive quality show up.
So with joy.
Joy in the midst of suffering and trials is the strongest witness believers will ever have before a watching and skeptical world.
As the Lord prepared His disciples for the lifetime of harassment, opposition, and persecution which lay before them in Matthew 10, over and over He cautioned them not to let their fears take over.
—Do not become anxious about how or what you will speak (10:19).
—Do not fear (your critics), for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed (10:26).
—Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul (10:28).
—Do not fear (want and need); you are of more value than many sparrows (10:31).
—Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth (10:34). That is, do not be misguided and do not be disappointed in me.
Do not lose your joy. Do not let suffering steal it from you. Do not hand it over to your attackers or critics, and do not let the empty cupboard rob you of your joy.
That’s asking a lot.
He sure is.
That’s why joy absolutely has to be a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we will be up and down, hot and cold, rejoicing when things go our way, complaining when they don’t.
The Old Testament prophet understood:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines;
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food.
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls–
Yet, I will exult in the Lord.
I will rejoice in the God of My salvation.
The early apostles understood–
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the (other) prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
Finally, this benediction–
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).