“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
This verse seems to cause a lot of confusion in the Christian community. Unfortunately it has been used to further abuse those who are truly suffering by suggesting that sadness (or a lack of joy) is a sin or evidence of a lack of faith. But, if we we think logically about the word “joy”, we understand that this is not at all what this verse means.
What is the definition of joy? Does it mean happiness? Yes, most definitely. Does it mean gladness? Absolutely. Strong’s definition for the Greek word chara is “joy, gladness, a source of joy.”
You see, the question isn’t “What does the word joy mean?” Its definition is really quite simple. Rather, the question is: “What is the object and/or source of our joy?”
Consider carefully, can sin bring us joy? You bet. Can we derive joy from things, money, and people? Yes!
As you read these verses, notice that there is always an object, experience or person that is the source of joy (“chara”, Strong’s #5479):
- The voice of Jesus brings joy to those who believe that He is the Messiah:
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” John 3:29
- Healing is a source of joy for those who are healed:
“For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” Acts 8:7, 8
- Good news brings joy to those who hear:
“So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers” Acts 15:3, ESV
- Sometimes people are a source of joy and sometimes a source of pain and suffering:
“And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice (chairó, #5463), for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.” 2 Corinthians 2:3, ESV
- What we hope and boast in is a source of joy
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” I Thessalonians 2:19, ESV
- Discipline at first is not a source of joy, but later it is
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11, NASB
- The death of Jesus brought joy to some and sorrow to others
“Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (chairó, #5463). You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” John 16:19-20, ESV
- The birth of a child is a source of both sorrow and joy
“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice (chairó, #5463), and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:21-22
While it’s true that Solomon said “there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiates 3:12), the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes, teaches that this idyllic way of life is not entirely possible. In chapter 1, Solomon declares, “With much wisdom comes much sorrow.” (Ecc. 1:18), so even the gift that God gave to Solomon was not always a source of joy. Solomon knew that it would be best for everyone to experience perfect happiness, everyday, but he also acknowledged that the sinful acts of people prohibits this from happening.
“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter.” (Ecc. 4:1)
So, the real question we ought to be asking ourselves is not, “Do I have joy?”, but rather, “What is the real source of my joy?” Do I turn to people, drugs, vengeful thoughts, pride, money, or accomplishments to give me joy or do I turn to God and His holiness? We all have sources of joy and sources of sorrow.
Galatians 5:22 teaches us that the presence of the Spirit ought to bring us joy, not sorrow. We should not be like those who found joy in the death of Jesus. True followers of Christ experienced sorrow when He died, while those who hated him rejoiced.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in your life should be a source of joy if you are a true follower of Christ. However, we are interpreting Scripture incorrectly if we say that the presence of the Holy Spirit in this earthly life also removes all sorrow. This is a false teaching! For we know that even Jesus, himself, was a man of sorrows and He was filled perfectly with the Holy Spirit.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)
If the Holy Spirit lives in you, sin (whether it is your own sin or whether you have been a victim of a sinful act) should always bring you sorrow. Anything that is contrary to the holiness and perfection of God should bring us sorrow because God’s ways should be our source of joy. If the Holy Spirit experiences grief (a deep emotional pain and sadness) over sin, then shouldn’t we as well?
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, NIV)
Some of us have experienced and are experiencing more sorrow than others. Some of us have deep hurts and wounds that have become a part of our identity on this earth. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is not present in our life? No! In fact, that very sorrow you’re experiencing might actually be the result of abiding in the Spirit. Think about it. If the disciples were not close to Jesus, they would not have experienced sorrow when He died. The very fact that while we are still at home in this body and absent from the Lord is in itself sorrowful because in our hearts we long to be with God. At the same time, we can find a source of joy in the hope that we will someday be with Him.
“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. ” (2 Corinthians 5:4-8, NIV)
In a similar way, the more wisdom we obtain from God’s Word, the more we will feel the sorrow of personal sin and a greater understanding of the fallen state of our world. We will see more clearly all the evil done “under the sun” and it will grieve our hearts. But, at the same time, we can also derive joy from the hope that Jesus will return someday to make all things right.
We should never judge a brother or sister based on whether or not he or she is expressing sadness or joy. This is abusive and causes the person who is suffering to suffer even more. The only thing we can judge, in the midst of all the inevitable sorrows that we will face in this life, is where is our true source of joy? Have we sought after and longed for the Spirit of God above all other sources of joy and trappings of this world? And I contend that those believers who have experienced the greatest sorrows are also the ones who have tasted the Spirit’s joy the most; for they have been thrust into the arms of Jesus when all other comforts have been stripped away.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)