Fruits of the Spirit: Joy (1)

10 Apr

It has really been rewarding, reflecting on the fruits of the Spirit, in a concentrated way. I’ve found it valuable to consider not just my intellectual understanding of these things, but to appreciate personal growth, insights gained over the years, and the challenges that are very much part of my life.
Over at Fernando’s desk there has been an interesting discussion, in response to my suggestion that these things are not so individualist. Fernando has used the expression ‘garden of the Spirit’ and then suggested we think of the church or the faith community as an ‘orchard’ rather than as each tree producing all the fruits. Great image.
Now, what about joy?

The first thing I need to say is that I’ve found it hard to find the time to write this.
I feel like saying: ‘it’s been hard to find the time for joy’.
That’s an interesting thought. Is it necessary to find time for joy? Is joy something to be done?
Here we come directly to the idea that this is a ‘fruit’ or an outworking of the Spirit’s presence and activity. Again it’s the matter of ‘gift’ and ‘task’. There is a gift here, but it is also necessary to receive it.

Joy comes to us and we can receive it through the recognition of all the wonderful things around us. Joy is deeply related to gratitude, and if we are too busy doing things, or getting things, we will have little time for joy.
Its gift may be there, but we will not see it.

This fruit of the Spirit comes to us, perhaps slowly or perhaps in a sudden realization. We may be drawn out of ourselves, in ecstasy. Or we may simply and quietly affirm its presence, in warm and deep appreciation. This last week I have felt the latter, simply in enjoying being with or doing tasks with my wife, in the garden or walking the dogs. Joy comes to us, if we have ‘the ears to hear’.

I spent a little time reviewing some of the biblical teachings about joy. Doing a word search and word study can be a bit misleading, but not always.
Here I want to recognize some common themes, through a range of biblical references.

First, I note the biblical injunction to rejoice. Here are two of most well known: Rom 12.15: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep;’ and  Phil 4. 4: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

I wonder what it means in fact to tell someone to be joyful. Does it mean, ‘You ought to be joyful, so be joyful. Do it now!’ What would I do, to be joyful?  I suspect it means something more like: So take stock now, of all that is given to you, and enter into this joy. Allow yourself to be joyful.

Closely related are texts which encourage people to enjoy life. One favourite of mine is this text from Ecclesiastes 9. 7: ‘Go, eat your bread with gladness, and drink your wine with joy’ – or, ‘with a cheerful heart’.
Similarly, Nehemiah 8.10: ‘Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Here, there is the recognition of God’s provision, in the good things of life, as the basis for joy.

Then there are a number of texts which speak of joy as what God gives to people, in situations of rescue, liberation, or healing; and with these experiences there is often also the sense that the earth itself breaks forth in celebration. This is the ecstasy, the exuberance of praise. Psalm 96.12,   ‘let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy’, and Psalm 98. 8, ‘Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy’.

Then there are some crucial insights into the relationship between joy and ethical commitments, especially justice and peace. For example,  Proverbs  12.20: ‘Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil, but those who counsel peace have joy;’ and Proverbs 21.15, ‘When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.’

In the New Testament, these ideas are given a more personal and relational expression. It is Jesus, whose word brings joy and who intends that his followers may have a ‘complete’ joy: John 15. 11, ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’
The coming of the Spirit brings this promised joy into the immediate experience of the discipleship community. This occurs not only on the day of Pentecost, but on subsequent occasions, such as Acts 13. 52: ‘And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’

The Apostle Paul writes of the joy of the Spirit in a number of ways. First, his own joy is ‘complete’ in the knowledge that his readers live in the unity of love, having in them (collectively) the mind and way of Christ. Phil 2. 2: ‘make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.’ What Paul names for himself, in the Philippians text, he also sees in the believers at Thessalonica. They too will receive joy from the Spirit, in spite of sufferings.  (That is a theme in many texts, including in the letters of Peter). 1 Thes 1. 6: ‘And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit’. Finally, the writer to the Hebrews sees this spirit-given capacity for joy and hope, in the face of suffering, as itself reflecting the way of Jesus.  So, the faithful are urged to look to Jesus, as their guide to joy: Heb 12. 2, ‘looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.’

Joy, as the fruit of the Spirit, is deeply inter-related to hope and faith. It is grounded in gratitude for all that has been given to us,  and reaches out in hope for what will yet be offered, in the providence of God. Whether as ecstatic exuberance or as a quiet contentment, joy is a gift of the Spirit. It gives rise to peaceful, affirmative living. That is surely a great gift! What is truly surprising, is that those of us who have much, in the goods and riches of this world, know little of this joy, while amongst so many who are poor and oppressed, it is endemic.

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