An Exploration of Galatians: Fruit of the Spirit Part 3
Galatians 5:22-23 - Joy is eternal, happiness is temporary. Seek JOY!
”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.“
Galatians 5:22-23 NASB1995
I love this photo of this child expressing delight in the Word of the Lord. I’ve used it before, but to me it just radiates JOY. This second fruit of the Spirit comes from the Greek word χαρά or chara. Since the Biblical usages from the lexicon all use the word joy to define joy, here is the definition from Strong’s: cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight:—gladness, ×greatly, (X be exceeding) joy(-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous). This one is also circular (pointing back to joy as a definition for joy) but has some other good definitions like cheerfulness, calm delight, and gladness.
Our culture is obsessed with “happiness” and, in fact, modern dictionaries often use happiness and joy interchangeably in their synonyms and definitions. Psychology publications and self-help guides list the many ways to “happiness”. Biblical commentaries will tell us that happiness is usually driven by circumstances, but joy comes from the Lord. People are generally discontented because they have been told that “happiness” comes from living at the right address or having the closet full of designer clothes or the mantle displaying many awards that are collecting dust.
Happiness comes from scoring first-class airline seats to Europe. Happiness comes from having others always solemnly acknowledge and respect your various insecurities and neuroses, or properly use your preferred pronouns. Happiness comes from having your team win a major championship, so you can spend a couple of hundred bucks that you don’t have on hats and shirts. Happiness comes from scoring those great Taylor Swift concert tickets. Happiness comes from winning a competition. Happiness comes from entering the gates of a major amusement park that you absolutely love to visit.
That happiness vanishes in an instant when you get to the airport, find out the flight was canceled, and have to sit in economy middle seats hours later to reach your destination. It disappears when your beloved team ends up the cellar during the next season or is always in the cellar (“wait until next year”). Happiness takes a hike when a boss tells you to pay more attention to your uncompleted tasks and less time daydreaming about your mental state (and he used the wrong pronouns, too, when he addressed you so now you’re really unhappy).
Happiness is not to be found if your financial circumstances dictate selling those clothes or moving to a less desirable place. Happiness deserts you when the Swift concert is delayed and then shortened and finally cancelled due to torrential rains. Folks aren’t very happy when their day at that amusement park is shared by thousands of other people, most of your time is spent standing in line, and the dollars are rushing from your credit card.
In thinking about happiness, I came up with my own list of attributes that might hope explain why this emotional state is always elusive:
Happiness is ephemeral and is often replaced in an instant by the worst emotional responses (anger, impatience, envy) and corresponding deeds of the flesh. I can recall having more drinks to drown our sorrow before going to the light rail to go home after the Rockies lost game 4 of the World Series in 2007. This was after we had a very unpleasant experience sitting in the middle of obnoxious Red Sox fans in both home games 3 and 4. The happiness of seeing this major event with my favorite team was quickly replaced by annoyance, anger, disappointment and other negative emotions. Oh, and my head was pounding when I had to go to work the next day. To this day, I have a negative perspective of the World Series. Our fanaticism for the Rockies has also faded almost entirely (we haven’t been to a game since 2019).
For many people, happiness is a bystander event: Other people and other things make you “happy”. The sports team fanaticism comes into play here or the long-desired attendance at a concert or a fervent following of types of movies (superhero, Star Wars, etc.). But you can also see people that cannot be happy unless their spouses or families are always happy. They often blame themselves if family members are unhappy.
Happiness is an “if only” dream state: A major, but highly improbable event could make you happy. If you buy that big new home, if you lose 50-100 pounds, if you win the Lottery, if you change your gender, if you move across the country, if you leave your spouse…The next result may make you even more unhappy.
Happiness is in the future: A planned future event causes you to be happy now. A planned vacation, participation in a competition, an anticipated raise at the end of the year, a get-together with long-lost friends…If the actual event doesn’t reach the levels of fulfillment and giddiness that you are anticipating, then what? I know that I have always loved the first day of a cruise. You explore the ship, put your belongings away, check out the bars and restaurants, and eagerly sail out for the next week or longer. But the cruise is over, almost in an instant, and there is that feeling of depressing letdown when you have to get up before the crack of dawn to disembark the ship, breakfast is rushed, and then you are sitting in the airport waiting to fly home (and probably planning the next trip in your mind). And think about this - most of us will reach a point in our lives where we can no longer look forward to anything but dying, because our time is being spent in hospitals and attending doctor appointments or just surviving in an assisted living situation.
Happiness is a cause: For some people, their happiness rests in promoting a cause. They spend endless hours sitting at information booths or participating in marches and protests or writing daily letters to their Congressman. The present state is bad; the radically changed future state, if their desires are met, will make them happy. The negative outcomes for many other people from their victory is not relevant (here I’m thinking of those who are convinced the Earth is dying from human causes - their solutions are frightening and drastic, but if they are fully implemented, Greta Thunberg may actually smile for the first time in her life. Most others will suffer). Unfortunately, for those committed to causes for happiness, reaching the desired state only makes them move the goalposts even further, because the perfection they seek is not to be found.
This should be our vow: I will be content and joyful NOW, not obsessed with “happiness”, regardless of circumstances, as I pray this to the Holy Spirit. The source of our joy is Jesus. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy the things of this world, but as believers we look beyond this world to the joy of being in His presence.
Here’s some great commentary from Enduring Word about joy:
The fruit of the Spirit is… joy: One of the greatest marketing strategies ever employed was to position the kingdom of Satan as the place where the fun is and the kingdom of God as the place of gloom and misery. But the fruit of the Spirit is joy.
We could say that this is joy of the Spirit, because it is a higher joy than just the thrill of an exciting experience or a wonderful set of circumstances. It is a joy that can abide and remain, even when circumstances seem terrible. Paul knew this joy personally; he could sing when manacled in a dark prison dungeon (Acts 16:25).
[William] Barclay on chara, the ancient Greek word used here for joy: “It is not the joy that comes from earthly things, still less from triumphing over someone else in competition. It is a joy whose foundation is God.”
“Believers are not dependent upon circumstances. Their joy comes not from what they have, but from what they are; not from where they are, but from whose they are; not from what they enjoy, but from that which was suffered for them by their Lord.” (Charles Spurgeon).
Charles Spurgeon nails it in this commentary: Our joy comes from what we are (redeemed children of God), not from what we enjoy or where we are. For most people, the minute the circumstances turn south, the “fun” is over and the happiness is long gone. Could you sing in a dark dungeon like Paul? Could you beam with joy like Stephen while being stoned by the Sanhedrin? Could you sing hymns of praise while hiding in the catacombs in Rome? Could you gladly worship the Lord when terrorists are burning down your church in Nigeria? Can you feel joy when you are in a major battle for your health? Can you feel joy when you are weighted down by concerns for the future of our country?
The enemy is the one who lures us with “fun”, which is a cheap substitute for happiness and can never compare to the lasting joy of our lives with Him.
I found additional great commentary in Precept Austin about spiritual joy (links go to Precept Austin or Biblia):
The Christian life is to be a life of joy. It is founded on faith in Jesus, whose life on earth began as "good news of great joy for all people" (Luke 2:10). The theme of joy is underscored by the 59 uses of joy and the 74 uses of rejoice in the New Testament (as noted above most are in the Gospels) always to signify a feeling of happiness that is based on spiritual realities.
Joy is God’s gift to believers. Paul speaks of more than just a mood. This is a deep confidence that was rooted in God’s sovereign control of the universe, His unchanging divine promises and eternal spiritual realities including the assurance of ultimate victory for those in Christ.
Joy is a part of God’s own nature and Spirit that He manifests in His children.
Joy is the inevitable overflow of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and of the believer’s knowing His continuing presence and having a sense of well being experienced by one who knows all is well between himself and the Lord (1Peter 1:8-note).
Joy not only does not come from favorable human circumstances but is sometimes greatest when those circumstances are the most painful and severe.
God’s joy is full, complete in every way. Nothing human or circumstantial can add to it or detract from it. But it is not fulfilled in a believer’s life except through reliance on and obedience to the Lord.
Although joy is a gift of God through His Spirit to those who belong to Christ, it is also commanded of them “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul commands (Phil 4:4-note cf Phil 3:1-note). Because joy comes as a fruit of the Spirit, the command is not for believers to manufacture or try to imitate joy but to delight in and cultivate the blessed seed of joy they already possess (Ro 14:17-note; Phil 4:4-note). The command is to gratefully accept and revel in this great blessing they already possess.
Things that can block joy are aptly described by Charles Spurgeon at the same Precept Austin Link:
Some people are too full of the joy of the world, the joy of getting on in business, the joy of a numerous family, the joy of health, the joy of wealth, the joy of human love, or the joy which comes of the pride of life.
These joys may be your idols, any you know the joy of the Lord will not stand side by side with an idolatrous delight in the things of this world. See to that. Dagon [an ancient Philistine deity] must fall if the ark of the Lord is present: the world must lose its charms if you are to joy in Christ Jesus.
Our joy is sadly diminished by our unbelief. If ye will not believe neither shall ye be established. Ignorance will do the same to a very large extent. Many a Christian has a thousand reasons for joy which he knows nothing of. Study the Word and ask for the teaching of the Spirit of God that you may understand it; so shall you discover wells of delight.
Joy is diminished, also, by walking at a distance from God. If you get away from the fire you will grow cold: the warmest place is right in front of it, and the warmest place for a believing heart is close to Christ in daily fellowship with him.
It may be that sin indulged is spoiling our joy. “This little hand of mine,” as Mr. Whitfield [a 19th century fictional character] once said, “can cover up the sun as far as my eyes are concerned.” You have only to lift a naughty, rebellious hand, and you can shut out the light of God himself: any known sin will do it.
Put aside the temporary joys of this world, study the Word, have daily fellowship and prayer with God, and repent of our sins and true joy can enter in! You are going to Heaven, believer, and what could be more joyful than that?
One more thought: When I think of joy, I also think of Tiny Tim, from “A Christmas Carol”. The sickly child sees only blessings and joy in his life that come from God. Ebenezer Scrooge shuns joy and is shown his bleak future in a neglected gravesite and the grief of the Cratchit family as they prepare to bury Tiny Tim (that fate is forestalled by the redeemed Scrooge). Choose to be a Tiny Tim! You don’t know how long you have and you don’t know what challenges await in your future, but you can be joyful! God bless us, everyone!
My next devotional examines the third fruit of the Spirit: Peace.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord: Help me to focus less and less on earthly happiness and more on the deep, rich joy of abiding in You. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible lexicon was accessed on 1/10/2024 to review the definitions of joy.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of Precept Austin, can be found Here.