By Natalie Seale
“These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.”
– John 15:11
If we consider how many times the words “joy,” “joyful” and “rejoicing” appear on the pages of our Bibles – and I can tell you, it’s far too many to count! –we can start to understand just how important this second, sweet fruit of the Spirit really is.
It’s really easy to get caught up in finding the powerful, serious message of Christ’s lessons during his earthly ministry, and even easier to get sucked in to thinking that the story of His resurrection is as much about the sorrow of Good Friday as it is about the unadulterated joy of Easter Sunday. We are conditioned to focus on the negative and view these lessons from the perspective of failure and sin – i.e that we can’t live up to the example He has laid out for us. But this isn’t His heart for us at all. Time and again, God uses His Word to encourage us to rejoice. He wants us to live a life full of joy and promise.
The Gospel begins with the promise of joy. On the night Jesus was born, the angels appeared to the shepherds in the field and announced “good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) No one was to be excluded from sharing in the good news that a newborn king, our Saviour, had been born in Bethlehem. Even those who were shunned everywhere else – for shepherds, who travelled around, handling and sleeping outside with their sheep – were invited to kneel before him.
This is the first, important lesson about the joy that comes from God: it encompasses all. Where Jesus is concerned, everyone is invited to share in the good news, in the feasting, and the celebrations – from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11; Jeremiah 31:34).
Wherever and whoever you are, His joy is for you.
In Greek, the word for JOY is chara. This noun describes a feeling of innergladness, delight, or rejoicing. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart – and in turn, that cheerful heart leads to cheerful behaviour.
The fruit of the Spirit, as we now know, is what happens when the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer – that is, you or me. To have the Holy Spirit within us is to be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). The Scriptures are a testament to the generations of God’s people who have been commanded by the Lord to “rejoice” – even long before Jesus walked the earth.
Nehemiah was a man of God. He was a normal, humble guy who was picked up, shaken off, and used by the Lord for an amazing mission – the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the reuniting of the exiles. Nehemiah and the band of Israelites rebuilding the city’s walls faced opposition, yes, because outsiders feared that they were trying to take over. But they weren’t trying to take over – they were trying to take back their rightful inheritance from the Lord. Faced with opposition, frightened about what might happen, Nehemiah told the Israelites that the JOY of the Lord would be their strength (Nehemiah 8:10)
And here is another lesson about the second fruit of the Spirit: we can find joy in adversity. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, because joy might be the last thing we are feeling when we are facing struggles of our own. But our God knows, sees, and understands everything we are facing. He knows sorrow, heartache, sadness, and grief, and He calls us to rejoice anyway. God tells us that there is a time for every emotion (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus exemplified joy. He faced opposition from his enemies, and hey, even disbelief from his friends! He certainly had his fair share of adversity, and yet Jesus’ enemies actually accused him of being too joyful:
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!
A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
– Luke 7:34
Jesus’s enemies said that He spent too much time hanging around with disreputable people – prostitutes, tax collectors, and drunks – to be who he said he was. They had a preconceived idea about how they thought the Son of God would and should behave, and this Nazarene just didn’t fit. Yet, Jesus himself compared his time on earth to a bridegroom attending the wedding feast (Mark 2:18-20) – a time for joy and celebration that must, ultimately, come to a conclusion.
In the three parables of Luke 15 – the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son – joy and celebration is at the forefront of Jesus’ lessons. For each protagonist in turn, rejoicing is the automatic reaction when they are faced with the return of something that is of great value to them: a sheep, a coin, or even a son.
“Let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he is lost, and is found.”
- Luke 15:23-24
The joy at the return of the Prodigal Son certainly foreshadows the even greater joy at the resurrection of Christ – the Son of God, who was dead and rose again.
The lessons taught by Jesus on earth laid the foundations for the Early Church, which was characterised by gladness and the joy of the Lord (Acts 2:46; 13:52). In his letters to the various churches established after the death of Christ, Paul reminds the Philippi and the Thessalonians to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Paul certainly knew adversity – many of his letters were written from the deep darkness of a jail cell. However, his letters also serve to remind us that adversity, far from hindering our faith, can actually enhance our joy when we make it out of the other side.
Going back to the idea of joy as chara, we find another very closely associated Greek word – charis, which means “grace” or “a gift.” The two are linked because chara is the natural response to charis – in other words, we have joy because of God’s grace. We are choosing to live a life filled with the joy God promises when we choose to value His presence, promises, and plan for our lives.
Joy is important – second only to love among the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer (that is, you and me!) these fruits – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control –create character in the heart. The more we let the Holy Spirit into our lives and our hearts, the closer we draw to God – and that in itself gives us great joy.
God is love, and God is joy, too. The Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is founded on peace, righteousness and joy in the Spirit (Romans 14:17). So let us REJOICE as we know and remember the promises He has for us – now and forever.
Let us seek out the joy you have promised us in each and every day,whether our rejoicing be over something big or something small. Help us to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit you have given usthrough your son Jesus Christ, remembering that all our joy comes from you. Amen
Natalie is a Yorkshire lass who recently moved all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to live with her husband Quincy. She has a PhD in Renaissance history and until recently taught undergrads and post-grads at the University of Edinburgh. Her passion is for teaching, but in the process of applying for a visa she discovered a new love for writing devotionals and lettering by hand. Good coffee, old books, family time, warm jumpers and Texas sunsets are some of her favourite things. Her heart is to live a life full of the love and joy of God, and in doing so help others to achieve their potential.