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01.29.11 Fruit of the Spirit—Joy, 1 Peter 1:3-9 Sermon Summary

by on January 30, 2012

One of greatest challenges to bearing the spiritual fruit of joy is the misconception that joy and happiness are the same thing.

Summary Points

  • The difference between happiness and joy
  • Joy in the Bible
  • A second hindrance to joy: advertising
  • Cultivating joy in our lives

Happiness and joy are not synonyms—they are not the same thing. The experience of most people confirms that happiness is (1) temporary. We can be happy one moment, and unhappy the next. This is because happiness is (2) circumstantial. We are happy when something is pleasant, when something gives us pleasure.

Happiness is thus a (3) a self-interested phenomenon. It takes a very mature person to be happy with others and their circumstances. For most of us, we are only happy when our own circumstances are pleasant. A final observation about happiness is that (4) the more we pursue it, the further from us it is. When we chase something temporary, circumstantial, and self-interested, we will never be satisfied.

Is this what God wants for us, when we bear the fruit of the Spirit which is joy? Is this endless cycle of dissatisfaction God’s desire and design? If you believe that joy and happiness are the same thing, then the answer is yes. But the Bible makes a very clear distinction between happiness and joy.

Consider: James urges us to be filled with joy when we endure trials of every kind (James 1:2). Hebrews says that Jesus suffered the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2). Acts reports that Peter and the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 5:41). And our passage says we can be filled with joy despite the suffering we endure. This joyful reality is clearly not happiness, which depends on an existence free of trials, crosses, and suffering.

When we experience this kind of biblical joy, it is usually spontaneous. It just occurs to us, without our trying to create it, that we are filled with joy. Biblical joy gives us a sense of satisfaction, of contentment, that things are actually “right” with the world.

In the Bible, people experience joy when they encounter the work of God in their midst. When Jesus healed the woman with a bent body, she stood straight and praised God (Luke 13:10-16). When he healed the Samaritan leper, he returned to Jesus praising God (Luke 17:11-19). Peter and John heal a lame man in Acts 3:1-10, and he jumps and praises God.

The Bible records joyous moments when someone comes to faith also. The Ethiopian Eunuch, upon his baptism, returns on his way home rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39). The Philippian Jailer believes and he and his whole household are baptized, rejoicing (Acts 16:22-34).

The reason people are filled with joy when God is at work in their midst is because God is joyful also. In Luke Jesus tells three parables about lost sheep, coins, and sons. And in each parable there is great rejoicing when that which is lost is found. That is God’s joy—finding lost things.

And so it is that when we participate in the work of God, whether restoring health or finding lost things, God’s joy becomes ours, and we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit which is joy. English mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote, “Real love always heals fear and neutralizes egotism, and so, as love grows up in us, we shall worry about ourselves less and less, and admire and delight in God and his other children more and more, and this is the secret of joy.” In other words, the fruit of joy builds on the fruit of love.

To contrast happiness and joy, then, we can say that

  • Happiness deals with pleasure; joy with purpose
  • Happiness depends on the present; joy leans into the future—the hope of God’s future for which we work
  • Happiness reflects the values of the world; joy the values of the kingdom
  • Happiness is concerned primarily with self; joy, as a further expression of love, concerns itself with others

In our culture, I believe advertising has an adverse effect on our ability to bear the fruit of joy. Advertising promises happiness (though too many of us believe it promises joy). As we’ve seen, happiness is temporary, circumstantial, self-interested, and ephemeral, which means that advertising works by manufacturing our desire for the latest, newest improved, bigger, and better products continuously, perpetuating our discontent and our dissatisfaction. In addition to this, in my life, advertising causes me anxiety and fear, as I wonder how I would survive without even the things I do have. At the end of the day, advertising makes me sorry to be me, and envious or suspicious of others—all of which robs me of joy.

So what can we do to collaborate with God’s Spirit in cultivating the fruit of joy in our lives? Worship is God’s foundational strategy. And by worship I’m referring to the gathering on Sunday morning, and the rest of our lives for which Sunday morning is a paradigm.

Worship reorients our desires to God. When we read the Bible, pray, sing, and receive the Lord’s Supper as a community, it attunes us to the values of God while also training us to accommodate one another in love. Just as God accommodates himself to us, so he calls us to the same discipline. We love one another by singing songs we don’t personally like, by serving each other in communion, and by bearing one another’s burdens in prayer and service. And joy follows loving actions.

Worship represents to us our true identity—our baptismal identity. In worship we remember that the divine and human are joined. As Christ was baptized into our humanity, so we are baptized into his divinity, and we, no less than he, are given the identity of “child of God.” As such, we can live by the power of the Spirit. We can love as Christ loved, and live in joy as Christ did.

Worship recasts our story as God’s story. Everyone experiences and thinks of life as a story, and naturally we think of ourselves as the main protagonist. But in fact we are part of God’s story. Worship teaches us God’s story, shows us how to pray God’s story, how to act our part in God’s story, and finally how to enjoy God’s story.

Worship reminds us of God’s deliverance in the past, as we rehearse God’s story throughout scripture but especially at the Lord’s Table. It is at the Lord’s Table that we “see” Christ, even though we don’t see him (as 1 Peter says). At the Table we “proclaim the Lord’s death (past) until he comes again (future)” (1 Corinthians 11:26). This “proclamation” is a present activity in worship, but it is also an exhortation to live in the present throughout our lives, suspended between remembrance of God’s past deliverance and hope for God’s final deliverance.

Finally, worship trains us to give thanks to God and to praise God, which is how we love God. And worship prepares us to serve others, which is how we love God by loving our neighbor. In all these ways, worship works to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, beginning with love and continuing with joy.

Thoughts for Reflection or Discussion

  • What effect has advertizing had on your life? Maybe your house is cluttered with things you really don’t need. Maybe you experience envy or dissatisfaction. Maybe you have contempt for those who have, or those who have not. Does advertizing move you closer or farther away from God’s vision of your life?
  • Have you been pursuing happiness instead of joy, pleasure instead of purpose? Are your decisions founded upon your self-interest or God’s desires? Given that joy follows love, and that love is self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, what can you to increase joy (and abandon the disappointing pursuit of happiness) in your life?
  • Did you realize all this is going on in worship? Maybe you’ve approached worship as part of your story, something that exists to serve you and bring you pleasure. What if in worship, God is drawing you into his story, and sending you out to live in his story? Would what change how you experience worship?
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