************ Sermon on Galatians 5:22b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 27, 2004
Deuteronomy 16:13-17; Philippians 4:4
"The Fruit of the Spirit is ... Joy"
Topic: JoyI have only one comment to make: if you can't grin in church, where can you be happy?
Title: Don't grin in church
There was a small child in church who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, tearing the hymnbooks apart, or rummaging through his mother's purse. He was just smiling. Suddenly his mother jerked him around, and in a stage whisper that everyone could hear, said, "Stop grinning. You are in church." With that she have him a slap on his hindside, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks she added, "That's better," and returned to her prayers.
We continue our study this morning of the fruit of the Spirit. One of those fruits is called joy. Says Paul, "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy."
I Weeds and Artificial Fruit
A When it comes to the fruit called joy there is a weed to be rooted out that prevents joy. There is also an artificial fruit to be on the watch for that can keep you satisfied enough that you don't pursue the real thing.
The weed to be rooted out is called self-pity. This weed loves to complain and gripe, to moan and groan about how bad things are, to make you feel sorry for yourself, to offer excuses. This weed sees everything that is bad and nothing that is good. This weed prefers to criticize rather than to praise. It prefers to see a glass as being half-empty rather than as being half-full.
Think of Elijah as he fled from Jezebel and her plans to end his life. God had done such great things in Elijah's life: at Elijah's command the Lord stopped the rain and the dew, He used ravens to feed him, He multiplied the oil and flour in the widow's home, He sent down fire and then rain when Elijah prayed for this. In spite of all this, Elijah fell into self-pity. Remember his complaint while he sat under a broom tree in the desert:
(1 Kings 19:4,10) "I have had enough, Lord ... Take my life ... (10) I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
Elijah faced real dangers as he fled from Jezebel, but we must note that he forgot a host of things. He forgot about Obadiah, a faithful servant of God near the king, who concealed a hundred prophets from the revenge of Jezebel. He forgot how the Israelites seized the prophets of Baal and killed them after the Lord sent down fire from heaven. He forgot the great things the Lord did through him. Elijah's self-pity robbed him of all joy in his service of the Lord and his ministry to God's people.
Some Christians are like Elijah. They concentrate so much time and attention and energies on those who attack the church and the Lord that they fail to see the onward march of God's Kingdom. Like Elijah they fall into self-pity, they become prophets of doom and gloom, and they are robbed of all joy.
Think too of Israel. The Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt. He saved them from bondage. He was preparing them to be for Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:6), a chosen people, a people belonging to God, that they may be a light to the Gentiles (1 Pt 2:9). Yet, time after time they fell into self-pity. They complained about their thirst even though God made water come from a rock. They complained about hunger even though God gave them manna and quail. They complained about the leadership of Moses and Aaron even though these two leaders were bringing them to the Promised Land. They complained about the hardships of the journey even though in Egypt they were slaves and their baby boys were being killed. They doubted they could conquer the Promised Land even though the Lord had dried the Red Sea and defeated the might of Egypt. Their self-pity robbed them too of all joy in their service of the Lord.
Some Christians are like Israel. They see only the hardships of life and fail to see any of life's blessings. Like Israel they fall into self-pity. They too are robbed of all joy in their service of the Lord.
To have joy, real joy, we must root out the weed called self-pity.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." To have joy, real joy, we must also make sure we don't settle for an artificial fruit. This artificial fruit can keep you satisfied enough that you don't pursue the real thing. For lack of a better name, I call the artificial fruit temporal or temporary joy.
While the Bible recognizes that sinners have fun, it insists that their pleasure or fun or joy is "for a short time" (Heb 11:25). What many people don't recognize is that saints frequently enjoy an artificial fruit which is of equally short duration. The experience may even be positive and wholesome and religious but Jesus still warns against it.
Think of the time Jesus sent out the seventy to witness, and they returned flushed with success and joy. "Lord," they said, "even the demons submit to us in your name" (Lk 10:17). Jesus confirmed their experience. But He went on, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20).
Jesus is reminding us here that our joy is not to be misplaced. We are to make sure we are filled with joy about the right things. We are to rejoice especially about matters of eternal and not temporal significance. For if our joy is limited to what happens on this earth, our joy is bound to take a tumble. This is not to suggest that we should not rejoice over earthly blessings; the point is, our joy must first rest on God rather than on what God may give us; we must rejoice first of all about the Giver rather than the gifts. We must never make the blessings more important to us than the One Who gives us those blessings.
II The Definition of Joy
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." Before we go any further we must make sure we properly define this spiritual fruit called joy. What is it? Joy or rejoicing is a Christian concept with Old Testament roots. It refers to an inward religious emotion which comes to outward expression in worship as we do such things as sing, pray, offer gifts, and give thanks.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." In our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy 16 we hear God's command concerning the Feast of Tabernacles. "Tabernacles" is not the best word; "lean-to" is a better word. I remember the time I went camping with the Cadets in Wisconsin. I watched the Cadets put up their little pup tents and was delighted that I could stay with someone in his camper. At the International Cadet Camporee I understand that Cadets don't have the benefit of tents. They have to make their own sleeping quarters with branches, ropes, and a plastic sheet. During the Feast of Tabernacles the people of Israel had to spend seven days in a lean-to and "be joyful" while they are at.
The Lord commanded the Feast of Tabernacles at the end of harvest. It was Israel's Thanksgiving Day. It was the time of the year when Israel was most aware of its wealth and most ready for a time of rest and leisure after the hard labor of harvesting. God commanded them to spend seven days of Thanksgiving living in a lean-to: no running water, no soft beds, no chairs and tables, no ovens, no toilets. They were to forsake whatever comforts they had, live in primitive conditions, and rejoice!
This tells us something about joy. Joy does not depend upon outward circumstances. It does not depend upon health, wealth, good-looks, intelligence, or things. Joy does not depend upon well-behaved kids, a handsome husband, a beautiful wife, and a new home. Joy does not depend upon a boat, bike, stereo, or computer.
C "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." When we look in the New Testament, we see there that joy is also expected and commanded. The Apostle Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). The command to "rejoice" is given to all of God's people. In fact, joy is one of the characteristics of the true believer's life. In other words, those who belong to Jesus are marked with joy; it is one way to distinguish us from unbelievers; it is one of our trademarks. We, who "live by the Spirit" and who "keep in step with the Spirit" and do not "gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Gal 5:16,25) are to be filled with a deep and abiding joy.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." The Apostle Paul also says we are to rejoice "always." The Apostle, of course, sets the believers a personal example here. When Paul, with Silas, first preached the Gospel in Philippi, he was stripped, beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison with his feet fastened in stocks. "About midnight," says Scripture, "Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16). Here we see an impressive victory of faith and joy over despair and self-pity.
The Apostle Paul rejoiced in the Lord at all times and under all circumstances. From this we learn again that no matter the time or the circumstances, God's people are to rejoice in the Lord.
Perhaps your life is filled with tragedy and hardship – and there is a lot of that, isn't there? I think of widows and widowers and others mourning the loss of loved ones. I think of parents agonizing over the wayward lives of their children. I think of members struggling to live Christianly without any encouragement or assistance from an unbelieving spouse. I think of those who have gone or are going through the heart-ache of divorce (either in their own lives or in the lives of loved ones). I think of those families with children disabled because of physical, emotional, or mental disorders. I think of those who find themselves struck with a debilitating disease. I think of those who fear death and resent the increasing disability that old age brings. I think of Johanna Jacobsma and Johanna Hofstee and Russ Webber (someone from Rotary). It is tough in such situations to feel any joy. In fact, joy is the last thing you feel.
In such circumstances does the Lord really expect you to "rejoice in the Lord"? Paul rejoiced in such circumstances and, yes, so should you.
The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Rather, look to Christ and what He has done for you and in you and to you. "Rejoice in the Lord always."
III The Source of Joy
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." How do we get joy? How does it become ours? As our text tells us, it is a gift – a fruit – of the Spirit. It has to come from God. It can't be manufactured, and bottled, and sold to the highest bidder. It is one of the gifts, one of the benefits, of God's grace. So, joy comes only when we have a relationship with God in Christ.
Joy is like a river. And a river, as you all know, has to have a source. Follow the St. John's River or Kaweah River to their source. You will find that they both start in the mountains. In the same way the source of joy lies in God. The psalmist says,
(Ps 46:4) There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.Thus we learn the source of joy is the presence of God. When it comes right down to it, the Spirit-filled believer has great joy because God is with her and dwells in her.
(Ps 16:11) You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
IV The Cultivation of Joy
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." We must be realistic and recognize that there are some sincere Christians who have little joy in their souls.
Joy is like a well containing sweet cold water. It is not enough to know the water is there or even to drill the well. If the well is to be useful, the water must be brought to the surface. Those who know Christ have found the source of joy, but some have not drawn from the well and therefore, their joy remains buried.
Topic: JoyIn the same way, we need to pursue joy. Or, as I said before, the fruit of the Spirit needs to be cultivated.
It is said that as Benjamin Franklin concluded a stirring speech on the guarantees of the Constitution, a heckler shouted, "Aw, them words don't mean nothin' at all. Where is all the happiness you say it guarantees us?" Franklin smiled and replied, "My friend, the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness; you have to catch it yourself."
When we started looking at the fruit of the Spirit we planted some seeds (HOLD UP PLANTS AND EXPLAIN DIFFERENCES). To grow peas we have to nourish and water and cultivate the seed. In the same way, we have to nourish and water and cultivate the seed of new life within us so that ours is joy, real joy.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." God's Jewish people worked at cultivating joy. One of the prominent characteristics of Jewish worship was great joy. In fact, they had such a reputation for joy that when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem they taunted the Jews by asking for and demanding songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion" (Ps 137:3).
Topic: JoyThe Jews made a deliberate effort at cultivating joy, especially in their worship.
Title: Hebrew Joy
Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship.
What was true for the Jews was true for the early church as well; the Book of Acts tells us about believers being filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy (Acts 8:8; 13:52; 14:17; 16:34). Again, a deliberate effort was made at cultivating joy.
C So, how do you go about cultivating joy? It starts with faith in God and Christ. It requires regular participation in the means of grace – worship, sacraments, prayer, Bible reading, the fellowship of the saints. It means rooting out the weeds of self-pity. And, it involves seeing the spiritual blessings that are yours from God and in Christ.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... joy." How I pray that this fruit is to be found in the lives of us all. How I pray that we all drink deeply from the well of living water so that joy blossoms in our life. How I pray that we all make every effort to cultivate this fruit.
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