Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
When was the last time we sang, "Joy to the World" in June? As we make our way through the Fruit of the Spirit as St. Paul lists them in Galatians 5, can you guess that the second fruit of the Spirit is 'Joy'?
Paul writes to the Galatians listing the Fruit of the Spirit as follows: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Galatians 5:22).
Last Sunday we examined the fruit of "Love." We said that it's first on the list for a reason. It's the place you begin to "walk by the Spirit." It's the soil in which all that follows grows. Where the love of God is bearing its fruit of forgiveness and new life through faith in Jesus Christ, then the rest is sure to follow. St. Paul says, if we strive to produce these fruit of the Spirit "but have not love," it's all wrong. Without love, "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Apart from love, "I am nothing and I gain nothing." (1 Cor. 13:1)
The 'love' that we're talking about is the love of God in Jesus Christ, that "agape" self-sacrificing, unconditional love. This is what defines "walking by the Spirit." That is, we deliberately, intentionally, direct and devote ourselves to loving our neighbor as an act of love to our God. This is no 'love in general,' but specific and concrete. It's carried out in our 'family love,' and our 'friend love,' and our 'romantic love.'
I don't know if you intentionally, deliberately devoted yourself to 'walk by the Spirit' this past week or not. I hope you did. That's the way you take Sunday into the rest of the week. And why we come back here again on Sunday. Maybe your walk by the Spirit went no further than the parking lot. Or maybe you were deliberate and intentional. But in trying really hard to love, you discovered just how hard it is and you realized just how scrawny and pathetic or non-existent the fruit turned out to be. And so we come here to be loved with the love of God in Jesus Christ so that we may be refreshed and energized to go and love with the same. We come here to be forgiven for not trying or trying and failing. We come here to get a fresh start.
And as strange as it sounds, that is how the Fruit of the Spirit grows in us. Not by progressive advancements that we like to measure and chart and compare against the progress of others. But real growth comes by confession and repentance and the increasing awareness that we are totally dependant upon the Holy Spirit, and that when the occasional ripe, sweet, juicy fruit of the Spirit falls from us, it's all because of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
I've been looking closely at these few verses from Galatians 5 preparing for this series. One of the things that caused me to have to stop and work out was the way Paul introduces his list of these fruit. Paul writes, "But the fruit of the Spirit is…" and then he lists nine things. At first, I thought that was just Paul using bad grammar. "Is" is singular, but Paul lists nine fruit. That's plural. Shouldn't it be, "the fruit of the Spirit ARE"? I thought that this must be one of those 'bad translations' from the Greek to the English and that I was the first one to discover what all the scholars missed. But I read the Greek and sure enough, it's the 'to be' verb in the present, singular. "Is."
What that means is, this list of fruit is all one fruit. As much as I'd like to say that here's the list and you should strive to produce as many of these as possible and I think if you can produce five out of nine of them you're doing swell, that's not what's written here.
One way to understand what is written here is to picture these fruit of the Spirit as a diamond. A diamond has many different facets to it and as you turn it, each facet makes the diamond sparkle in a unique way. But the whole diamond is 'love' and all that follows are the facets of 'love.' And the more perfect and complete each facet is, the more precious and complete our love is. And it's all the work of the Holy Spirit.
So this morning, we turn our attention to the facet of love called "joy." Frankly I'm a bit surprised that 'joy' comes next on the list. I would have expected that some of the much more practical facets such as 'patience,' 'kindness,' 'gentleness,' and 'self-control' would have come next. But as Paul directs the Galatians to "walk by the Spirit," it's 'joy' that precedes these things.
The more you think about it the more it makes sense. (Not that the Holy Spirit is bound to what makes sense.) There's a problem with love that is not accompanied by joy. How many times have we deliberately, intentionally set out to love someone, but gave the clear impressing that by golly, we're not a bit happy about it? We have our ways of letting it be known that although I'm sacrificing, denying myself for you, it really gives me no joy.
In fact, I wonder how often we do things for others with a spirit of sorrow or regret when we should do them in a spirit of joy and delight? And I wonder how often we find joy and delight in things that should cause us sorrow and regret? We do get these things mixed up pretty easily.
It's the work of the Holy Spirit to straighten this out in us. The Spirit works to produce in us sorrow and regret when we should feel sorrow and regret, and joy and delight when we should feel joy and delight. That's the work of the Holy Spirit in us. That's called 'conversion.' We come into this world with faulty wiring due to our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit rewires us so that we act and respond as are meant to.
So, when we do the works of the flesh such as "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these" apart from the Spirit, we find joy in these things. But the Spirit works in us to produce grief and sorrow in us. And so when we see others and our society seeking joy and delight in these things, we can't share in their joy. In fact, it causes us sorrow and regret.
But certainly, sorrow and regret are not the ultimate goal of the Spirit. These are not listed among the fruit of the Spirit. These are a means to an end. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret." (2 Cor. 7:10) Out of the grief we feel for the sin that we do, the Spirit leads us to the full forgiveness and complete redemption that Jesus Christ has won for us by His suffering and death, which produces in us the joy of our salvation. The Spirit is not afraid to bring us to tears that He may also wipe away our tears and turn our sorrow into joy, a joy that is rooted and grown in the love of God through Jesus Christ.
This morning we were presented with David as a wonderful example of just this kind of conversion that the Holy Spirit works in us repeatedly. Through His prophet Nathan, the Holy Spirit turned David from a search for joy in the works of the flesh to a search for joy in the Spirit. In a wonderful way, Nathan showed David that he was finding joy in what he should find sorrow in. And David confessed, "I have sinned against the Lord." And David's pastor responded without delay, "The Lord has put away your sin." (2 Sam.12:12-13).
And David's heart was rewired so that now he sought joy where true joy is to be found. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew in me a right spirit. Cast me not away from your presence and take not the Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the JOY of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit." (Ps.51:10-12).
In the same way, from the opposite direction but the same idea, when we sorrow in the things in which we should rejoice, the Holy Spirit works in us to convert us.
No one is saying that this conversion is easy or painless. It is not easy to lay down your life for a neighbor and be joyful about it. It is quite painful to sacrifice ourselves for someone else's good. And then if those whom we intentionally set out to love like this are unappreciative or take advantage of our love, it's only natural that we would be resentful and angry.
So, it's a completely unnatural thing to love JOYFULLY. When it happens, its clearly not the natural fruit of our sinful nature but the supernatural fruit of the Spirit at work in us.
When Paul and Silas were in Philippi they were arrested and thrown into prison for preaching about the love of God in Jesus Christ. But rather than being resentful or bitter, St. Luke reports that they were "praying and singing hymns to God" from their prison cell. (Acts 16:25). Their joy was not rooted in the appreciation or recognition of those whom they loved, it was rooted in the love of Jesus Christ for them. It is from his prison cell that St. Paul writes to the Philippians telling them to "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice." (Phil.4:4).
James writes to the Church saying, "Count it all joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you meet trials of various kinds." (James 1:2).
Jesus preaches to the crowds gathered around Him saying, "Blessed are you when other revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. REJOICE AND BE GLAD!" (Matthew 5:11-12).
An anonymous, 3rd century AD man who was anticipating death wrote this note to a friend, "It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a JOY that is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians–and I am one of them."
The "JOY" which is the fruit of the Spirit is not based on our successes or failures or the response of those whom we are called to love, but upon the accomplished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins and is. "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. And no one will take your joy from you." (John 16:20,22). "REJOICE that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20). "REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:2)
So, this JOY that is the fruit of the Spirit is really a defiant "nevertheless" to the trials and troubles we face. When we REJOICE in our sufferings, in our sorrows, in our regrets, even in our sins, we proclaim to ourselves and to others that our God reigns!
"Joy to the world. The Lord is come! The Savior reigns! Repeat the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy."