Joy: Identifying and living with the fruit of the Spirit
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We will begin by looking at the background to the well-known Fruit of the Spirit passage. We teach songs to Sunday school children, we can maybe list off the fruit – but let’s go back to the “root” of this scripture and use the analogy to really explore what it means to have the joy of the Lord growing in our lives, thanks to the Holy Spirit received in our Baptism.
Read Galatians 5:1.
We are free. We are not to submit to a yoke of slavery.
Read Galatians 5:16.
How are we to “walk” in our freedom?
Finally, we remind ourselves what the fruit of the Spirit are – read verses 22–24.
There is no law against these! We have different rules now in the freedom we have in Christ.
We are going to look at the different set of rules when it comes to some of these fruits and what it means in the Kingdom of God: today we will look at Joy.
What do you think of when you consider the meaning of “joy”?
Can we also have joy if we are not “happy”?
Whilst you may have considered Galatians many times before, I want us to separate out where these seemingly innocent and good gifts can actually be “faux”, or “imitation” fruit. How, if we are chasing after worldly happiness as some sort of pursuit of Christian joy – we will not be satisfied – we are chasing the wrong thing and looking in the wrong garden.
Thinking about Joy in the context of the fruit of the Spirit, had me first go to Philippians which is a book about Christian Joy. Joy grows in us through the Holy Spirit, as we have just examined.
We named one of our daughters after Paul’s letter to the Philippians, as she was born at a time God was teaching me about his joy: we called her Philippa Joy. Needless to say the lessons around joy, and understanding that, were not the circumstances one might expect to be “full of the joy of the Lord”.
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in such circumstances we would be hard pressed to find anything to be happy about. He was in prison, thanking God for the church at Philippi with joy, and all that he was doing through them.
Read Philippians 1:3,4,7,19–23.
Wow! If we are of the opinion that, to have Christian joy, we must have our circumstances all in order and the sun shining, we can take a look here and understand that the joy of the Lord is joy IN the Lord, and not in our practical circumstances.
Paul does, in chapter 2, give some direction on what will make his joy complete.
Read Philippians 2:1–11. A glorious passage and a reminder for how we need to conduct ourselves in our faith walk. Paul attaches his joy to this. He regards these responses to the Gospel very highly indeed.
As we have seen that, joy in the Lord does not depend on our circumstances – we can now come back to Galatians.
Perhaps one might consider the pursuit of “happiness” in all circumstances a cheap imposter of “the joy of the Lord” in all circumstances. Paul says to die is gain. I doubt we can be super “happy” about that, but it may help us to think about joy instead.
Could we consider the pursuit of happiness instead of the joy of the Lord to be one of the desires of the flesh?
Have you judged yourself during a time of trial, thinking that you “should be happy” because we are supposed to have Christian joy?
Have you had a situation where your very real deep grief was minimised by a well-meaning church member or friend advising you to be joyful in all circumstances?
Can you identify other times when you have received the message that it is even a sin to be sad or struggle with your circumstances?
Perhaps in our Christian circles as we go through suffering, or people around us do, we can turn the “fruit” of the Spirit into an obligation to find joy in all things.
To challenge this idea, let’s go back to basics. Where does the fruit come from? Do we produce it ourselves? We may think (or be told) that we don’t make the grade when we can’t find happiness during suffering.
If we go back to the analogy of joy being a “fruit”, we can draw some conclusions.
We do not grow the fruit ourselves. In Galatians 3:2, Paul asks the rhetorical question: Is it by works of the law or hearing by faith that we receive the Spirit? How then is it our responsibility to produce our own joy? Spoiler alert – it is not.
We may need to do some weeding though, and this is our final thought for today.
Do we have anything in our lives quenching the fruit?
Are we allowing earthly pursuits (desires of the flesh) to steal our joy?
Can the pursuit of happiness quench joy, the fruit of the Spirit?
How can we water and feed the true fruit?
We may also look for some other words on Joy as we explore what it means for us. If studying in a group, you can divide up the list and call out summaries from each reference, and note them down on a board or notepaper to save time:
Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 6:34; Romans 5:3–5; Proverbs 14:12; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 8:28 (happy endings); Romans 12:17,18; Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:12.
Optional activity: read Habakkuk 3:17,18.
Using this prayer as a model for your own. If need be, write your own griefs or losses into the prayer:
Though ______________ and ____________________ yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.