Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Joy (Galatians 5:13-25 and John 16:16-24)

This is a message I preached at ACPC (Auckland Chinese Presbyterian Church) on Sunday. My wife Kris did wonder if it wasn't  a depressed persons reflection on Joy:). I am aware that when I post sermons they are in actual fact longer than normal blog entries so if you read the whole thing then... thank you.
I’m having trouble with Joy.

I find that my joy in life can be attacked and bought down by life's Chihuahua's: Mexican hunting dogs who yap and snap at the heals until they bring down their prey with exhaustion.

If I’m honest it’s partly, because I have an amazing shelving system for my books. They are in perfect order except for the ones piled on the floor because they don’t fit on the shelves. And I know where everything is... that is until I need a particular book... Like ‘The fruit of the Holy Spirit’ by Thomas Trask and Wayne Goodall then they simply manage to hide. Usually they reappear where I had absentmindedly misplaced them when I am starting the next fruitless search for the next book I really need.

I’m having trouble with Joy.

The first time I had scheduled to preach about joy there was an earthquake during the week in Christchurch. Peace was more appropriate.

The second time personal circumstances aspired against me, it was a week of interruptions. Patience seemed more appropriate.

This month Joy is appropriate, we are in the Easter season celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. In the passage we had read from John’s gospel. Jesus tells his disciples that there would a short time of sorry and pain for them and then their joy would be made complete as he was raised from the dead.

I’m having trouble with Joy.

Like many people I mix joy up with the idea of happiness. The emotion we feel when everything goes well. Happiness comes from happenstance, the way things are, whereas the idea of Joy comes from beyond that, the Greek word for ‘joy has the same root as the word ‘grace’ and Joy has it’s roots beyond circumstances in the eternal, in God’s grace and character. I fear we find ourselves substituting the elusive emotional well being for the deeper virtue that comes walking with God’s spirit.

I’m having trouble with Joy

If Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, does that mean that Christians should be upbeat all the time. It does not fit well with the spiritual journey we find in scripture particularly the almost manic swings of the Psalms.

I’m having trouble with Joy.

Maybe because sometimes I get made to feel like I’m failing at it. Sure sometimes worship feels like we are a gathering of the lemon sucking society. At the other end of the extreme I’ve been at various expressions of church where from the front we are extolled, cajoled brow beaten even to express joy in whatever is the flavour of the moment or the speciality of the house. And if we don’t live up to that then... perhaps they will say there is something wrong with our faith. But that sort of thing can feel so plastic.

I’m having trouble with Joy, and I don’t think I’m the only one. So here are some thoughts on Joy.

Firstly, Joy is a delight in life that runs deeper than pain or pleasure. It is not limited or tied to our external circumstances. In the Bible Joy is a gift from God .

It is important I think to realise that God is joyful, we often get hung up on a God who is wrathful or an angry God. We can see and the bible tells us that God is Love but perhaps we don’t see that equated with a joyful God.

Let me tease that out a bit.

God finds joy in right relationships. That’s why the trinity must be a joy filled community, they love and are loved so perfectly that it could be nothing else. It says in the wonderful parables of the lost being found in Luke 15 the punch line is that the whole of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents. In Hebrews 12:3 we see it was the joy that was set before him that enabled Jesus to endure the cross. I don’t think it was that he could finally go home and put his feet up, but rather that the kingdom of God had been established and you and I and all people could have our sins forgiven and come back into a right relationship with God and in that with each other. On the night before his death recorded in that wonderful metaphor of the vine and the branches, Jesus talked of his and our Joy being made complete in that we may abide in Jesus love just as he abides in the love of the Father.

Joy for us comes from experiencing the presence and the knowing and being known of God. It is why as a fruit of the Holy Spirit it develops as we walk with the Spirit. It comes from experiencing God’s grace. God salvation, God’s forgiveness, God’s provision, Gods, protection, God’s leading, God’s love, God’s making us whole. This last point by the way is why James tells us right at the beginning of his letter to suffering churches that we should consider it all Joy when face all kinds of trials because it leads us into maturity in Christ. We often have this wrong idea that such things are punishment judgment from an angry God. But they are in actual pedagogical; they are opportunities for learning and growth, from God who is described as a good parent who knows how to discipline his children. And even that biblical word we seem to view through the lens of punishment don’t we, where as in 1 Timothy Paul likens the Christian walk to the discipline of an Olympic athlete, trained for physical perfection, to run the race. There is joy in that sort of discipline as well as pain and sacrifice.

In the account of creation in genesis 1 we see the Joy God finds in creating and in creation. At the completion of each day God says ‘it is good’. God finds joy in what God has made. At the end of the sixth day God said it was very good. Know some have misread that to see the creation of human beings as the high point of creation, but it says God saw all he had made and was pleased, so much so that God took a day off to rest. Not because God was tired but to enjoy what he had done. Scripture tells us that we should enjoy what God has made. We can enjoy this world as around us. Food, drink, the beauty of nature they are there for us to enjoy and rejoice in and with, but to see them as a gift from God to be used in the right way. It’s interesting that the book of Amos comes at a time when Israel were finding themselves prosperous, at least a significant portion of the society were, and as a result of that religious festivals and rejoicing were at a high point. But Amos comes with a message from a God who finds joy in right relationships, that he hates the peoples rejoicing and giving thanks to God, because what God had given was not being shared with the poor. God finds joy in right relationships.

As a church we will find our Joy grow as we experience more e and more of the presence of God and his love and share that with each other and those around us.

I’ve been married for almost 24 years and I would say that I find joy in the love that I have with Kris more than I did at the beginning. I love Kris and I have learned to trust her love. We’ve had difficulties, I’m trying to grow up into the man Kris needs and deserves. But the joy we have and the love we share comes from building on and working on that relationship. I’m a bit thick and sometimes I have to be reminded that I love Kris I can take it for granted, circumstances can get in the way. I don’t always feel that feeling you feel when you feel the feeling you’ve never felt before. About five years ago we did an Alpha marriage course and found it revitalised our marriage. I realised that for the relationship to work I had to invest more time and energy into it. We started having regular dates together, doing romantic stuff. Talking more, learning how to communicate at a deeper level. That’s the same way Joy develops in walking with the spirit. We take time learning we are beloved, we take time letting others know they are beloved and we share that together and in that we find our joy growing.

But I don’t want to harp on about it but I’m still having trouble with Joy. I sense the church in the west is having trouble with Joy.

Now if you hear a splash here its because I’m going off the deep end OK.

IN the passage in Galatians that contains the list of Christian virtues we call the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Paul is contrasting that list of virtues that come from immersing ourselves in Gods Holy spirit with the work of the flesh. In typical Paul terms he points to the excesses and the worst of what those work of the flesh produce. However I wonder if our fruit trees are not producing much fruit and in particular joy because the church finds itself struggling with the two things Paul says we are not consistent with Walking in the Spirit.

We have bought into the whole western worldview and dream of what the good life means. It’s tied to a standard of living, we certainly don’t want to go down the road of drunkenness and sexual impropriety, but we’ve bought into the fact that our happiness and joy has a lot to do with our standard of living our prosperity, our comfort, material comfort. We may not say it but our dreams for our children are that they might get a good education, get a good job and get the good life. We want them to live in safe neighbourhoods and have nice families, yes we do hope they will have faith and be good Christian people... But I can’t help but hear Christian radical Shane Claiborne’s critique that it’s like we want what the world has but with Jesus sprinkles on top. And I can’t help say you can’t get joy from the sprinkles on top to sustain you. Sugar rushes only last so long.

We live in a time when we find the world disillusioned with that whole western dream, with the economic down turn its not obtainable, with climate change, it’s not sustainable, confronted with starvation and suffering in the world it’s not defensible. But boy is it still pervasive, boy is it still persuasive, boy is it still tempting. I fear we have swapped the enjoy of the lord for this western vision of happiness. We’ve forgotten Jesus definitions of what it is to be happy in the beatitudes, Blessed or happy are the poor, are those who know they need, who seek righteousness, justice, who make peace, who are willing to be persecuted for going the Jesus way. We need to rediscover the alternative vision that Jesus offers. That was the source of Joy that enabled him to face the cross.

Splash indeed right, I don’t want to bring you down to share my trouble with joy with you but my hope is that you may discover more and more the source of Joy

Let me finish with a quote from Creath Davis of the Christian Concern foundation in Dallas Texas. He says

“ from a Psychological perspective one cannot experience Joy while being preoccupied with ones own security, pleasure, or self interest. Freedom from inhibitions comes when one is caught up in something great enough to give meaning and purpose to all of life and to every relationship. God alone is the only adequate centre for human existence, and God alone can enable us to experience life with Joyous spontaneity and to relate to others with Love.”


  1. Grandma has nine family lessons on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. You’ll find them here: