Joy is probably the fruit of the Spirit that is the most difficult for me. I have wrinkles in between my eyebrows from furrowing my eyebrows so much. I’m often thoughtful but very often fail to be thankful. I’m often more naturally jaundiced than jubilant.
But, I just taught on Philippians and it is the letter of joy. It refers to joy some 15 times. Philippians is the letter of joy that was written from jail.
As I was studying Philippians and Acts 16 that recounts the founding of the church of Philippi here is the main point that stuck out to me:
The joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity and adversity.
And that’s what I want took at.
Joy is a command so it must not be just a disposition. Joy is not just a personality thing. It’s a Christian thing.
Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit—fruit that grows and results from the Spirit. Guess what’s listed first?… Actually, it’s love. But, second is joy. I think Paul is making a point in the way he lists the fruit.
But, we should see here that the fruits of the Spirit are supernatural. That means they are not natural. It’s like some grapes I had the other day. They looked like they were from the Promised Land. They were unnaturally large and good tasting. To be honest, they weren’t strictly natural. They had some outside assistance. They were modified.
Or, think of massive muscly guys. They’re not natural. They’re using steroids. We, brothers and sisters, essentially need spiritual steroids. We can’t be what God wants us to be on our own.
I was talking to my daughter about her God-given gifts recently. Her middle name is joy, and she is especially joyful. And I said that’s like her “superpower.” But, as I’ve thought of it, I was both right and wrong in what I said. Right because the fruits of the Spirit—like joy—really are like superpowers; we don’t have them naturally by ourselves, they’re not common, and it is a type of power. Wrong because it’s really not “her’s,” it’s the Spirit working in and through her, that’s why it’s supernatural. That’s why the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit have the “of the Spirit” part.
My last name is O’Brien. It’s spelled “O’…” for a reason. The “O’” stands for “of Brian” or “decedent of Brian.” I think when we talk about biblical joy we should call it “joyo’”—joy of the Spirit. That’s where the joy came from. That’s joy’s origin story.
As Christians maybe we should say, “I loveo’ you.” I’m, of course, mainly joking. But, I do believe we’d be wise to remember joy’s origin story. Joyo’ is a superpower that can be used in the most unexpected circumstances.
It’s important for us to note that Jesus and Paul both command joy. We are not only called to duty, we are also called—commanded to—delight.
That should bring up a question for us. What is joy?…
I was talking to one of my daughters about this topic and she asked a good question. She said, “What is joy?” That’s a really important question because definitions are important. Without definitions, we can misunderstand one another and talk past one another.
“Joy” is never defined for us in the Bible. The word itself means delight. But, here’s what I think is a good definition from my reading of Philippians and of the New Testament: happiness in Jesus. Or, happiness not in mainly physical realities or circumstances but in spiritual realities and circumstances.
When joy is understood this way, which I think it should be after considering the way Paul uses it in Philippians, I can see why joy is often hard for me…
If joy is primarily happiness in Jesus and spiritual realities as I believe it is, what does it mean if I’m not joyful?…
It means I’m not caring about Jesus or spiritual realities. I’m focusing on earthly realities. I’m looking horizontally for happiness when it can only always been found when I look vertically to God.
That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be happy about the horizontal, only that our happiness cannot be found in this earth if it’s to last. Jesus said we can take heart because He has overcome the world, He doesn’t say we can take heart in the world…
Brothers and sisters, we need to work at being happy in Jesus, that’s how we can be joyful. That’s how Paul could sing in a damp stinky prison. Not because of his circumstances. He could sing because before he was a prisoner, he was a slave of Christ. That’s where his allegiance lay.
As we said, “joy” is referred to some 15 times in Philippians, but “Christ” is mentioned 18 in chapter 1. When we have joy in Jesus, we can have joy even in jail.
The joy of Jesus builds the church and brings the most unlikely converts in. It brought Paul himself in. And in Acts 16 we see it brought other unlikely converts in too.
The joy of Jesus, however, not only builds the church it also sustains the church. It sustains the church even through the challenges of different converts from different cultures coming together.
The joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity because Jesus delivers and delights all sorts of people! Jailers and Jews, slaves and the snobby, the rich and rulers, the demon-possessed and the depressed. No one is past God’s reaching Grace.
God can build His Church with all sorts of people no matter the societal problems and He can provide life-transforming joy in the midst of it. Part of the American churches problem may not mainly be the problems of society, but that we act like it’s such a problem. We’re so baffled by it.
Unless the world delights in Jesus, they’re going to be hoodwinked by the devil. Yet, Jesus builds His church with problem people. He helps them, He makes them whole, He gives them transforming joy; happiness that is rooted not in circumstances, but in Him.
Jesus says something surprising in Luke 6. He says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you” (6:22). Then He says something else really surprising, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy.” Why?! Why is Jesus telling us to leap for joy about something so terrible?
Jesus says, because “your reward is great in heaven.”
So, something super negative happens and we can still rejoice.
Jesus tells His disciples that they have power over the enemy and that the spirits are subject to them in Luke 10, but that is not what they are to rejoice in. They are to rejoice that their “names are written in heaven” (v. 20).
So, something super positive happens and we’re not to rejoice mainly in that.
That’s not all Jesus says about joy, though. He says the Kingdom of God is like a person joyfully selling all they have to buy a field. Why would a person joyfully give up everything? Only when they get something better thereby.
When we have joy in Jesus, we have untouchable joy. Even in the midst of great adversity.
Paul’s joy did not at all depend on circumstances. Paul had joy even in jail.
Brothers and sisters, the joy of Jesus builds and sustains through diversity and adversity.
*Photo by Jan Gottweiss