Friends in Christ,
Our Lenten series, “Finding Joy in Lent,” will end with tomorrow’s evening program. Going forward, we will continue the weekly Wednesday compline (It will resume the week after Easter, April 14th). What follows is a look at Joy through the lens of the Holy Spirit.
In the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists the Fruit of the Holy Spirit as "…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (5:22-23). "Fruit" in this instance, as in the case of a fruit-bearing tree, is the result of a “natural or intended action facilitated by labor.” According to Paul, we are “co-laborers” with God, receiving the labor (gift) from God and laboring (using it) according to God’s purpose and will (1 Corinthians 3:9). The Fruit of the Holy Spirit, then, is that which comes into being as we live in communion with and devotion to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God! The Fruit is a product or characteristic of a believer who has yielded to the Holy Spirit's work in his or her life. One of these character traits is joy.
In the New Testament, "joy" is the Greek word chara. Related to both charis ("grace" or "gift") and charos ("rejoice; express joy"), joy is the natural response to a gracious gift. Most often we experience joy through worldly events, a healed illness, a hard-earned accomplishment, the birth of a child, a re-union with an old friend. The elation we feel is wonderful, and the experiences can be memorable. These are genuine moments of happiness that with stay with us as a pleasant and coveted memory. But as great as that moment was, it pales in comparison with the joy God wants us to have—and it is different.
Joy—the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, originates with God, whether it be the arrival of the Messiah (Luke 1:14), the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:8), God's power over the sinful world (Luke 10:17), or God's salvation (Acts 13:52). God's grace is so strong that even the promise of His work can elicit joy (Hebrews 10:34; James 1:2-4). And one of the greatest sources of joy is seeing God's redeeming work in others (Acts 13:52; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; Philippians 2:2). True Joy comes from abiding in Christ's love; it flows from believers being united in mind, love, spirit, and purpose in Christ (Philippians 2:2). And that brings us to St. John’s teaching that complete Joy means to be united with the Father, Son, and other believers (1 John 1:1-4).
This is important to remember when circumstances are less than joyful (relate, anyone?) that we must, as St. James tells us, "Count it all as joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds" (James 1:2 and also 1 Peter 1:6). In trials, joy is not found in the immediate situation, but in the promise that God's Kingdom will be revealed through the situation. First Peter 1:7-9 emphasizes that current trials bring an assurance of faith, making the future joy even greater when Jesus returns. Similarly, James 1:3-4 says that trials will strengthen our character. We can rejoice knowing that trials point to a future gift.
Jesus tells us, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. What does this mean? The "Kingdom of God" is found in the witness and action of the believer living out the Gifts of the Spirit. Sometimes God displays His glory and power by healing (2 Kings 5:1-14). Sometimes He puts a believer in a position of power (Esther 8:1-2). And sometimes He blesses His children with material possessions (Job 42:10-17). The key is that it is God who blesses, and although we may appreciate the gift, we rejoice that He has chosen to pour out His love, sovereignty, and power on us. We rejoice in the Giver, not just in the gift.
John further tells us that true Joy is found only in Jesus (John 15:11). If we look for God's work and gifts in our lives, we will always have Joy. If we get caught up in temporary hardships and worldly desires, our joy will be fleeting and weak. The Fruit of Joy remains with us even in hardship because it is a labor of God and not a product of an earthly event.
May you be filled with Joy, forever!
Peace in Christ,