As followers of Christ our lives should bear some evidence of the transforming power of the Gospel. In essence, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23 should be evident in each of our lives.
I would like to spend a few moments sharing some thoughts regarding how our lives should be filled with joy. Of course, we must ask ourselves what is this joy of which Paul is speaking?
In this text, Paul used the Greek word “chara” which is not describing a joy that comes from earthly things, nor is it the emotion one feels when he or she has triumphed over another in competition. Actually, it is a joy that has its foundation in God.
Obviously, there are times when this joy is expressed by those types of emotions that we acquaint with happiness. However, it is not restricted to those mere emotions. As I stated earlier, it is founded in the person and character of the Almighty God.
We tend to associate joy with those times when things are going our way; or during times when we are not experiencing pain or frustration. While these may be joyous times, this is not the joy of which the Apostle speaks.
He is speaking of our confidence in God and His purposes regardless of the circumstances that we may face.
The Scriptures give us a clear picture of this joy in Acts 5:17-42. Some of the disciples are ordered by the Jewish leaders to remain silent regarding Jesus. Instead, they chose to boldly proclaim the Gospel, and as a result are imprisoned. Following the counsel of Gamaliel, the council is urged to simply flog these men and warn them to cease proclaiming Jesus.
After being flogged by the authorities, the Scriptures tell us, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (v. 41).
Can you imagine rejoicing over a beating? These followers of our Lord understood that no matter what they experienced they could be sure of the consistent and enduring love of their Lord and Savior.
Perhaps our struggle with this concept of joy is that it does not seem to match up with our understanding of happiness. While joy and happiness often go together, they are not the same thing. There are times in life when we will experience joy without the euphoria of being happy.
Many years ago, one of the students at our church had to deal with some difficult abuse from some of the members of his family as a result of his coming to Christ. Not only did he suffer some verbal abuse from his parents and siblings, but he was eventually kicked out of his home because of his new lifestyle.
He never complained about his circumstances. In fact, it wasn’t until several years later that I began to understand just how much opposition his relationship with Christ had caused between him and his family.
While spending time with him and his family at his wedding, one of his family members took me aside and shared with me his frustration how this Jesus that I had introduced into this young man’s life had caused their family nothing but grief. He even went so far as to say that “Jesus stole him from his family.”
As I listened to these words coming from someone whom I thought I knew, I was reminded of the words of Jesus, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).
While these are simply words of commitment to many of us, this young man had lived them out in ways that were and are difficult for most of us to comprehend.
I share this simply to help us think about what our Lord is able to do in our lives. As he frees our hearts from those things, and sometimes people, that may mean the most to us, He is able to help us fully devote our whole lives to Him.
This joy which the Spirit brings is independent of circumstances and the accolades or opinions of others. Rather it is firmly founded in the loving and trustworthy character of the One Who loves us without reservation.
No matter what life throws our way, we can say with confidence and an undivided heart, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” We are so blessed to be in a relationship with the One Who holds us in the palm of His hand and promises to never let us go (John 10:28-29). (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)