By: Barr Overcast, Assistant Pastor
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-23
These words are among the most well-known in all of Scripture. But what exactly qualifies something as a “fruit of the Spirit”? For whatever reason when I was reading the fruit of the Spirit passage recently it struck me afresh that these fruit are qualities that we share with God. They are given to us by God out of His own character. This thought has now prompted an exploration. This is the second in a series of nine blog posts in which I am exploring the ways that each of these attributes flows from God’s character.
I have learned more about the joy of God from my 23-month-old daughter than anyone else I’ve encountered in my 29 years of life. She has a talent for joy that I envy, (yes, I envy a little toddler), because she experiences and shares joy so naturally and freely. I’m sure that you could also learn a lot (perhaps more) about true joy from someone on the other end of life, someone whose joy is steady and constant, but that is not the lesson about joy that I have learned from my daughter. My daughter’s joy is not steady, it is not constant, and it is definitely not calm. Her joy is exuberant and loud. It’s the joy of someone who is overflowing with energy and doesn’t know what to do with that energy.
However, it’s not the exuberance of her joy that teaches me about God. The lesson that I have learned from her is that joy is supposed to be contagious. The moments that bring me the most joy as a parent are not when she is trying to be funny or playful, when her “goal” is to make her Dada laugh. The moments that bring me the most joy as a parent are the times when she is completely caught up in the joy of being alive so that she can no longer hold it in. In these moments her joy becomes contagious.
This same idea—that our joy ought to come from the joy of another—is expressed in Zephaniah 3:14-17.
"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
In these verses, we see not only that joy should be contagious but also that there is one place in particular where we “catch” it: God’s presence. The ultimate reason that we have to rejoice is nothing less than the presence of God. Twice in this text we are told that the Lord God is in our midst. And what is God doing in our midst? He is here to “rejoice over you with gladness.”
At this point, we are getting into the very essence of what it means to be human. The Bible begins by describing how God created a world that was full of joy, and how He placed the first man and woman in a garden filled with the delights of both creator and creation. God placed humanity in the midst of this creation with the desire that we would rule over this perfect world and experience the fullness of the joy that it has to offer. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes our God-given purpose of joy by saying that “The chief end [ultimate purpose] of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It is not inaccurate to say then that the purpose for which we were created is to experience joy in God’s presence. You were created to live in a world where God rejoicing over you with gladness and quieting you by his love are both regular parts of life.
The Loss of Joy
Sadly, the story of Scripture does not end with Genesis 2 and God’s joyful purpose for mankind. The Bible goes on to describe how humanity has destroyed this perfect, joy-filled world by our sin. While God’s desire for us is that we would live joy-filled lives in His perfect creation, our sin and rebellion against God cut us off from God and from the joy of worshipping Him. Ephesians 2:14 describes our state in terms of a “dividing wall of hostility” that exists between sinful man and God. Because of our sin, we cannot enter God’s joy-filled presence.
God Pursues Our Joy
But God’s pursuit of our joy does not end with our rebellion and sin. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has “taken away the judgments against you” and “cleared away your enemies.” By doing so, He has opened the door for us to enter back into the life of joy that God first intended for us to have—the joy of His own presence. Grace and forgiveness of sins are necessary for us to experience the eternal joy that flows from God’s presence, and grace is exactly what God offers us through the work of Jesus Christ as He pursues the restoration of our joy.
Now, what God has done on our behalf is certainly astounding, but the true mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection comes in the “Why?” Why on earth would Jesus endure the pain of the cross for rebellious sinners who had betrayed him and spit in his face? Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was all in pursuit of joy, that “for the joy that was set before him” Jesus accomplished everything necessary for us to be restored to the life of joy that God desires for us.
God’s joy and delight in us led Him to take such extreme measures to restore us to Himself. God bridges the divide between us and seeks out our redemption because He finds joy in our presence and our praise. Isaiah 62:5 compares God’s delight in us to the delight that a groom experiences in his bride. So think for a minute about what it looks like for a groom to delight in his bride. A groom delights in his bride by enjoying fully everything about her that gives him delight: her presence, her beauty, her words, her laughter. A groom delights in his bride because he is excited to enjoy these things for the rest of their lifetime together. A groom’s delight can be summed up as the delight of one who now has that which he has desired more than anything else. Slow down and read that last sentence again if you need to. God’s delight is the delight of one who now has that which he has desired more than anything else: you.
God delights in you. It’s an astounding fact, one that goes against all sense and reason. Jesus went to the cross because of the joy that he knew he would experience when we were restored to His presence. Right now, God delights over you. One day, when Christ returns, those who are in Christ will be restored to the perfect, joy-filled life that we were created for. Until then, we live in the promise of joy to come and the present joy of a Savior who rejoices over us with singing.
The fruit of the Spirit is joy.