Galatians 5:22 (Joy)

Sermon preached on May 21, 2000 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2000. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

As I was preparing for this sermon I was thinking about the best way to introduce it. I thought of singing that chorus, "I've got the joy, joy, joy, down in my heart." But I wasn't sure how joyful that would sound. I also thought of one time I visited a charismatic church and there was an older gentleman up front who was jumping and dancing all over the stage. He said it was his birthday and he was happy. I still remember that. Yet I thought that if I did that it wouldn't quite come across the same way.

But this morning I do want to talk about joy. It's the second fruit of the Spirit that is listed here. Paul writes,

"But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace…”

The great lesson we learn from this is that

your life is to be characterized by joy.

If you have the Spirit in you, one of the characteristics that you will inevitably display is joy. Just like love, joy is to be at the center of the Christian life. We are taught this over and over again in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians and said,

"Be joyful always;"

Writing from prison to the Philippians, Paul said, (Philippians 4:4)

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"

One of the commentators I read said that the command to 'rejoice' or 'be joyful' occurs 72 times in the New Testament. Seventy two times we Christians are told to be joyful. Joy is to be one of our defining characteristics. We see this in Romans 14:17 as well. In that section the apostle Paul deals with the weak and the strong, with eating of meat, of observing certain days as special and so on. In it all Paul urges them to act in love toward one another. Then he writes,

"For the kingdom of God
is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace
and joy in the Holy Spirit."

The kingdom of God is about joy.

In his book, "
Foundations of the Christian Faith" , James Montgomery Boice has a chapter entitled, "The Marks of the Church". Do you know what he lists as the first characteristic? A joyous people. It's amazing. I never would have thought of putting it first. Boice bases this in Jesus prayer in John 17. He points out that there we see that the church should be,

"characterized by six things: joy (v. 13), holiness (vv. 14-16), truth (v. 17), mission (v. 18), unity (vv. 21-23) and love (v. 26)."

Boice continues,

"It is interesting that the characteristic mentioned first by Jesus is joy. Many of us would not naturally mention it, let alone put it first. We would point to love or holiness or true doctrine. But Jesus said,

'I am coming to you now,
but I say these things
while I am still in the world,
so that they may have
the full measure of my joy within them.'

That most of us do not think of joy as a primary characteristic of the church probably indicates how little we regard it and how far we have moved from the spirit of the early church. The early church was a joyous assembly."

Joy is to be one of our defining characteristics.

But are we joyful?

Do we obey these commands? Do we exhibit the characteristics of the heavenly life of Christ like we should? I think the church today falls far short. Boice asks,

"Is the church today joyful? Are Christians? … in most churches, if one were to observe them impartially week after week, I wonder if joy would be visible. We think of joy as something that should characterize the church ideally and will doubtless characterize it in that day when we are gathered together around the throne of grace to sing God's glory. But here? Here it is often the case that there are sour looks, griping, long faces and other manifestations of an inner misery."

Wow. That's quite an indictment. Yet I think he's correct. We Christians do not exhibit joy like we should.

To help us exhibit this fruit of the Spirit more, let's look at what joy is, where it comes from, and how we can cultivate it more in our lives.

What is joy?

It's important that we understand exactly what it is and that we not confuse it with pleasure or earthly happiness.

The first thing I want you to understand about this joy that is a fruit of the Spirit is that

it is not dependent upon earthly circumstances.

James Montgomery Boice writes,

"Joy is the virtue that corresponds in the Christian life to happiness in the world. On the surface they seem to be related. But happiness is dependent on circumstances—when fortunate circumstances are removed, happiness is removed with them…”

Now let me give you an example of this. I love NBA basketball. When my team scores with 3 seconds left to go ahead by one point—I'm ecstatic. It's like at that moment nothing could be better. They came through and someone made a clutch shot. I'm on top of the world. But those of you who know basketball know that three seconds is a long time. Sometimes it's enough time for the other team to score. They call a time out. They advance the ball to half court. They inbound the ball and then just before the buzzer sounds a guy gets the shot off. The clock expires and everyone is watching the ball as it arcs through the air. It goes "whoosh" through the hoop and the other team wins. My heart sinks, my hopes are dashed—the other team is victorious. My happiness is gone.

That's what earthly happiness is like. It's dependent upon circumstances. The joy that comes from the Holy Spirit is related to circumstances, but not to earthly circumstances. It's related to the facts of our salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the fundamental difference between happiness and the joy of the Holy Spirit. The joy that comes from the Holy Spirit is not dependent upon earthly circumstances.
Boice continues,

"happiness is dependent on circumstances—when fortunate circumstances are removed, happiness is removed with them—while joy is not. Joy is based on the knowledge of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. Ö Because of our knowledge of God's acts on our behalf, Christians can be joyful even in the midst of physical suffering, imprisonment or other calamities."

We see this in Acts 5:41. The apostles had been arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They were warned not to teach any more in the name of Jesus and they were flogged and then released. We read,

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin,
because they had been counted worthy
of suffering disgrace for the Name."

They rejoiced even though they were suffering persecution. Their joy was not dependent upon earthly circumstances. A Christian can be joyful and content in any circumstances. That's why Paul told us in Thessalonians to

'rejoice always'.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians from his prison cell. (Philippians 4:11f)

"I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do everything
through him who gives me strength."

Paul was able to be content in prison, he was able to rejoice in prison because he knew certain things. We Christians need to take these same things, these same spiritual realities to heart.

The reason we can rejoice always, the reason we are to always have joy in all circumstances is because

we have something that is so great, so wonderful, that it is the absolute best thing we could ever have.

We have Christ and in Him we have salvation. In Him we have life, life to the full.

Remember what the angel said to the shepherds of Bethlehem after Jesus was born? He said, (Luke 2:10-11)

"Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord."

That's the reason for our joy- Christ and the salvation that we have in Him. This joy transcends everything else. Remember what Jesus said about the kingdom of heaven? In Matthew 13:44-45 He said,

"The kingdom of heaven
is like treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it, he hid it again,
and then in his joy went and sold all he had
and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven
is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When he found one of great value,
he went away and sold everything he had
and bought it."

The kingdom of heaven is like the pearl of great price. If you have it you have everything. If you don't have it, you have nothing. What we have is so great that it transcends everything else. Peter summarized it in 1 Peter 1:3-6. He wrote,

"Praise be to the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy
he has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish,
spoil or fade —kept in heaven for you,
who through faith are shielded by God's power
until the coming of the salvation
that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice,
though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief
in all kinds of trials."

They rejoiced even though they were going through great difficulties. They rejoiced because they knew they were saved, they knew what God was doing for them.

Now let's expand on Peter's summary. Let's look at some New Testament verses that should cause us to rejoice. I want you to realize that these are just a small sample. We have so much in Christ that if we realized it, we truly would rejoice always.

First of all, consider our
adoption. We have been brought into God's family. In 1 John 3:1 we read,

"How great is the love
the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!"

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. (Hebrews 2:11-12) We are children of the King! We are joint-heirs with Christ! As Paul writes in Romans 8:17,

"Now if we are children,
then we are heirs —heirs of God
and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings
in order that we may also share in his glory."

Second, think about our sins being forgiven. They are all washed away. When Jesus instituted the Lord's supper, he took the cup and said, (Matthew 26:27f)

"Drink from it, all of you.
This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many
for the forgiveness of sins."

Think about our justification. It's a legal term that refers to our standing before God. As Paul said in Romans 8:1f,

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus
the law of the Spirit of life set me free
from the law of sin and death.
For what the law was powerless to do
in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,
God did by sending his own Son
in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
And so he condemned sin in sinful man,
in order that the righteous requirements of the law
might be fully met in us,
who do not live according to the sinful nature
but according to the Spirit."

Who can bring any charge against us? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)

Think of the Spirit in us. In 2 Corinthians 1:21 –22 we read,

"Now it is God who makes both us and you
stand firm in Christ.
He anointed us,
set his seal of ownership on us,
and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit,
guaranteeing what is to come."

We are owned by God. Can anyone separate you from His love? I am thrilled by the end of Romans 8 where Paul emphatically declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Or think about
God's providence. What about all the bad things that happen to you? They're part of God's wonderful plan. Romans 8:28 tells us that

"we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose."

Now I could go on and on. But I hope that I've said enough to show you that the salvation that you have in Christ is so great that one could hardly desire more. I think that the only thing more that we could desire is to have Christ come now. But He will come in His time. In the meantime, He has placed you here to show His love, His joy to others. He has done that so that He would be glorified and that others would come to know Him through you.

What do we need to do to cultivate the joy that the Spirit gives?

The first thing I would suggest is that

we need to focus on Christ.

Grudem writes,

"Fullness of joy is found in knowing God and delighting in the excellence of his character."

Christians, focus on God and delight in the excellence of His character. Delight in what He has done for you and what He will do for you. Herman Ridderbos defines our joy as,

"delight in God because of the salvation in Christ."

That's very simple but it's also very profound. We have joy because of the salvation we have in Christ, because we have now been brought close to God. He is our delight. We read about this in Psalm 16:11, (KJV) where David speaks of being brought close to God. He writes,

"in thy presence is fulness of joy;
at thy right hand
there are pleasures for evermore."

Martin Luther writes on the joy that comes from the Spirit:

"This is the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride, that is to say, sweet cogitations of Christ, wholesome exhortations, pleasant songs or psalms, praises and thanksgiving, whereby the godly do instruct, stir up and refresh one another."

We cultivate joy by focusing on Christ.


we cultivate joy by mediating on what Christ has done for us.

One of the ways is to mediate on the promises of God. In John 17:13, Jesus prayed to the Father with these words,

"I am coming to you now,
but I say these things
while I am still in the world,
so that they may have the full measure
of my joy within them."

He said certain things so that we would have joy. What were the things He was saying? If you look at the verses preceding you'll see that He spoke about how He had protected them and how He had kept them safe and how Scripture could be relied on. He said, (verses 11-12)

"Holy Father, protect them
by the power of your name
—the name you gave me
—so that they may be one as we are one.
While I was with them,
I protected them and kept them safe
by that name you gave me.
None has been lost
except the one doomed to destruction
so that Scripture would be fulfilled."

If you look at what Jesus said after that, you'll see that He spoke about His disciples being with Him in glory. He said, (verse 24)

"Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory,
the glory you have given me
because you loved me
before the creation of the world."

God's truth, the promises we find in His word, the promise of God's protecting, the promise of future glory for us: these things should give us joy.


we cultivate this joy by giving ourselves to God and His work.

This joy is related to obedience. Boice writes on Daily Discipleship- speaking about Jesus call to deny ourselves and follow Him,

"When we give up trying to run our own life or when we give up what seems so precious and so utterly indispensable to us, it is then (and only then) that we suddenly find the true joy of being a Christian and enter into a life so freed from obsession that we can hardly understand how it could have had such a hold on us."

"This is the primary difference between a joyless and a joyful Christian, a defeated and a victorious one. Death and resurrection! Joyless Christians may have died and risen with Christ in some abstract sense, so they can in the same sense be termed new creatures in Christ. But they have certainly never know it in practice. Joyful Christians have found satisfaction in whatever God gives them and are truly satisfied. They have said no to anything that might keep them from the richness of God's own blessing and presence and have risen to new life."

Lastly, for those of you who aren't Christians,

you too can have this joy.

Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it to the full. In Him is true joy. Go to Him to find real joy. The world promises joy. Sin promises joy. But it's all counterfeit. Ultimately it brings misery. Only in Christ is true joy. Go to Him today.