Joy, Fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” —Galatians 5:22,23

THE Bible is a thought-provoking and reverential Book. Its message deals mainly with the time of mankind’s existence, an existence that has been almost entirely a period of suffering, sorrow, and death, except for the brief period of joy and tranquility in the Garden of Eden. That period of time in Eden, before the entrance of sin into the world, was joyous. This was so because all God’s higher order of creation were capable of experiencing joy. The various orders of angelic beings that existed before man was created were not sad, dismayed, depressed, or morose. These expressions were probably not in the vocabulary of God’s creatures at that time.

There are examples in the Scriptures of the joy that existed prior to man’s creation. God asked Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4) Of course Job had not been born yet. God continued speaking with Job, describing the great work of preparing the earth for human habitation and telling of the reactions of his angelic creatures (in Job 38:7), “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” These same events are described in the 8th chapter of Proverbs. There Jesus as the Logos in his prehuman existence is personified as wisdom, accomplishing the Heavenly Father’s will. Reference is made in this passage to the creation of this blessed One before the earth ever was. (Prob. 8:23) Also described is the work he did in assisting the Father and the joy that the Father had in him. “Then I was by Him, as one brought up with him [‘like a master workman’, RSV]: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men [or, ‘Adam,’ in his perfection, is a better translation, Rotherham].” (Prov. 8:30,31) We note the words “delight” and “rejoice” as descriptive of that time in Eden and the period prior to Eden.

There has always been great happiness in heaven. God’s creation was made a joyous creation. Joy may be defined as an emotion excited by the expectation or the experiencing of good. Sadness was never present in heaven in past times because it is the opposite of joy. Sadness may be defined as an emotion excited or caused by the expectation or the experiencing of that which is bad.

The attitude of joy should not be misdirected. It is synonymous with happiness, but it should never be happiness at the expense of others. There is a false and a true happiness. The wicked, as well as the good, can be happy. But the difference in the happiness of the two is that they rejoice in opposite events and things. The point can be illustrated by considering several scriptures. In Proverbs 6:16-19 there is given a list of things which the Lord hates: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” The wicked may be happy in doing these things, whereas the righteous would be sad in merely seeing such happenings. Since this present evil world is under the dominion of Satan, we are not surprised that today the wicked are happy in doing these abominable things, as confirmed by Malachi 3:15: “Now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”

We should not conclude from this scripture that the righteous could not be happy in this present evil world. There are many ways in which they can be happy. A few examples taken from the Book of Proverbs are:

“Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.”—Prov. 16:20

“He that keepeth the law, happy is he.”—Prov. 29:18

“He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”—Prov. 14:21

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.”—Prov. 3:13

All these ways in which the righteous can be happy may be summarized in the words of Jesus in the 13th chapter of John, spoken at the time when he washed the feet of his disciples. In impressing upon them the lesson of humility, he said: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:13-17) Note the sharp contrast to Malachi’s statement, “Now we call the proud happy.”

The lesson of humility is more important to our dispositions than we realize. The closer we come to attaining true humility, the more likely we are to be truly happy. A further requirement for true happiness is the recognition of the Heavenly Father as the Supreme Being of the universe. As Jesus said, “Neither [is] he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” The Devil refused to recognize this all-important fact of God’s supremacy, and as a consequence he caused sin and death to enter the world. Thus it happened that the joy which was everywhere in heaven and in earth became scarce in the earth. The earth became a place of sorrow, suffering, sighing, and dying, instead of being the joyous place God intended it to be. It became a place of weeping, as described in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night.” The night pictures the time of this present evil world, during which joy has been as difficult to find as have other fruits of the spirit—faith, humility, love, hope, peace. These fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) are scarce and can be developed by God’s people only with the help of his Holy Spirit. However, man was originally formed in the moral image of God, and we are glad that these elements of character have not been completely obliterated in mankind.

In considering our experiences in this present evil world, we need to keep in mind that as members of the Adamic family we were born in sin and have learned to accept grief and sorrow as a part of our lot. This was not so with Jesus. In his prehuman existence as the Logos he was daily the Father’s delight. God rejoiced in his wonderful Son, and the Logos, in turn, rejoiced in his glorious and loving Father.

Hence when Jesus came to earth, it meant entering into mankind’s experiences, and thus it was that he became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. 53:3) Isaiah’s prophecy was intended to highlight a contrast. In Isaiah 52:9,10 and Isaiah 53:1 Jesus is called “the Arm of the Lord.” Israel looked for a great, powerful, and mighty king who would come to redeem them. Instead, their king came unto them as a man of sorrows, healing the sick and taking on their infirmities and finally dying on the cross. He gave his life in order that Israel, and all the world, might live. Thus, in becoming man’s Redeemer, Jesus, who had never experienced grief in his prehuman existence, became acquainted with grief and the suffering of death.

Why was Jesus willing to do this? The answer involves joy, as we are told by the Apostle Paul, in Hebrews 12:2, when he urges us to look “unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Some may think that the joy set before Jesus was the divine nature. Yet Jesus was not thinking of a divine nature when, before he was to be crucified, he prayed to the Father, as recorded in John 17:5 (Revised Standard Version), “And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” Jesus sought to be with the Father in the glory of the Logos, and this would make him happy.

Included in the “joy set before him” was the knowledge of the great, great good that would come to so many of God’s creatures if he were faithful. Joy is the emotion excited by the expectation of good. We also rejoice in his faithfulness. Those who have been called to be the footstep followers of Jesus were to look to him as their example. This means that while they were to live in an environment of sickness, pain, and sorrow, they were to be joyful because of the prospects of the great good that will come to all.

The Scriptures make clear the necessity of suffering pain of body or mind for righteousness’ sake. There are many ways in which this is done. One way in which we suffer for righteousness’ sake is in feeling mental anguish because of all the unrighteousness around us. Such suffering is the direct result of our espousal of the cause of Christ and righteousness. Jesus suffered in this way, too, except that he was far more keenly aware of unrighteousness than we are. He could see where it was being hid, as in the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. We have had to learn about righteousness with great difficulty, fighting against our own imperfections and the tendency to be callous about unrighteousness, whereas Jesus was perfect from the beginning. We have never known perfection or the complete absence of aches, pains, infirmities, and imperfection in general. For us, normalcy has consisted of living in the presence of unrighteousness (wherein we may or may not recognize evidences of sin in ourselves and others) and living with pain and suffering because of the death penalty.

In our Christian life we must expect experiences of suffering. (Acts 14:22) But these experiences do not exist constantly. Neither did our Lord suffer continually. The mental picture that some have of him as a man of sorrows, constantly in grief, is incorrect. Some believe that Jesus never smiled. But Jesus plainly told us in Matthew 6:16: “Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Notice that a feigned sad countenance is the mark of a hypocrite. Furthermore, we should not allow our burdens to be reflected in a sorrowful countenance. Jesus clearly indicated on this occasion that the reverse was to be the case and we were to have an appearance devoid of any sign of internal burdens of fasting or of sober thought. “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”—Matt. 6:17,18

The erroneous idea concerning a sad countenance was carried forward into medieval times, when the Adversary suppressed truth and in its stead superstition and ignorance prevailed. Religious monks believed a sad countenance was a necessary form of piety. Thus, to counteract their disposition to be joyful on some occasions, they wore hairshirts which had coarse, prickly hairs irritating their flesh. This truly produced a sad countenance. This sadness was not a case of hypocrisy but, rather, stemmed from the erroneous belief in eternal torment that became dominant in the nominal Christian church. This doctrinal error took such hold upon nominal Christendom that sincere men believed in such self-affliction and physical pain as the only way to heaven. Their god was a god of eternal torment (Satan), even as Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that they were of their father the Devil. We are glad that our God and our Father is the loving and wise Author of the divine plan of the ages and, furthermore, that suffering, pain, sorrow, and grief are a part of a temporary experience, which is to be replaced by joy. We are glad that the Father through his Word makes it plain that it is good to be happy, even as an earthly father would tell his child in response to the child’s expression of happiness.

If joy is to be the predominating experience of the next age, as it most certainly will be, then it should be ours in this age. The hopes and prospects of the kingdom are a real joy to the Lord’s people. We are to rejoice in that hope. (Rom. 12:12) No matter how difficult the road ahead might be or how many trials must yet be experienced, our attitude must be the same as the Apostle Paul said of Jesus, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” The emphasis is on joy. We know that this joy permeated the life of our Lord Jesus, so that his appearance was radiant and joyful. With him a very typical expression of greeting was, “Be of good cheer.” We cannot imagine Jesus saying these words with a sad face. Furthermore, whenever Jesus said, “Be of good cheer,” he had something of cheer to offer, by word or deed. It was not an idle expression.

In Matthew 9:9-15 an incident is described wherein Matthew, the publican, was invited to follow Jesus. He then prepared a dinner for Jesus and his disciples and also invited his friends, perhaps as a farewell gesture.

The account says: “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

“Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” And these days did come. Now, however, we can be especially joyful because the Bridegroom has returned.

No one should suppose that on this occasion (or at the marriage at Cana of Galilee) Jesus merely graced the occasion by his presence, or that he sat with a sad countenance while others were happy. If this were so, Jesus would not have been criticized as he pointed out in Matthew 11:16-19: “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, and friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”

Jesus had many happy occasions. He had great compassion for the poor and afflicted and was very happy to bring them some joy. He was happy to lay down his life in service for mankind. It made him glad to know that sin and death would be vanquished through God’s kingdom, and he taught his disciples to pray for that kingdom.

All the joys that Jesus had—of service to men, of making others happy, of sacrifice to make possible the millennial blessings—could be summarized as the joy of knowing that he was doing the Father’s will. Possibly the most joyful experience he had on earth occurred at Jordan. After he was immersed by John the Baptist, the heavens were opened unto him, and a voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Hence, Jesus was joyful in his ministry because it was the Father’s will. Once, when Jesus was being urged to eat, he said, “My meat [food] is to do the will of Him that sent me.” (John 4:34) He did not say this because the food was distasteful. When a person eats good food, he eats it joyfully, because it has a good taste. The Father’s will for Jesus was as good-tasting food, which he ate joyfully.

If we have the joy of Jesus, we will be glad to suffer and to die with him. Peter described very well the attitude of all Jesus’ footstep followers in I Peter 3:14: “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.” Jesus was more emphatic in Luke 6:22,23: “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for In the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” The world cannot understand the source of our happiness, and no one can enter into “the joy of the Lord” if he has not been begotten of God’s Holy Spirit. Hence any and every experience leads to joy as we see God working in us and around us to accomplish his grand purpose.

The Lord’s disciples have learned these lessons well. The joy of their Lord has become their joy. This has permitted them to endure all kinds of experiences with rejoicing. When Paul and Silas were beaten, thrown into prison, and placed in stocks, they sang praises unto God. (Acts 16:19-25) Such experiences caused Paul to admonish the brethren: “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Rom. 12:14,15) On another occasion, in recalling his afflictions and distresses, Paul stated how he had been “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (II Cor. 6:4-10) Peter, too, in speaking of trials said, “Rejoice, Inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings,” and, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.” (I Pet. 4:13,14) And James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” (James 1:2) But soon the difficult and trying experiences are to end for the church, and for the world, too. Soon the night of sin will end, and joy will come for all in the morning, in God’s blessed kingdom.

The Bible could be a sad Book if we didn’t know of God’s plan. Instead, it is a most joyful Book. The Old Testament opens with the account of God’s great work of creation, to provide a happy home for all mankind. It closes with the prophecy of the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in his wings, to heal the world of all its misery and woe, after tragedy had struck to make the planet Earth a sad and miserable place. The New Testament begins with the birth of our Lord as man’s Savior and the angels’ “glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”; and it ends with a description of the realities of God’s wonderful kingdom, when there shall be “no more curse” and the earth is restored as a happy place again. Praise be to God, the Father, and to his Son, who will cause joy to last forevermore!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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