Galatians 5:22-23 lists out the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." "Fruit" here means "the result of labor." The laborer is the Holy Spirit. So what Galatians 5:22-23 really describes is traits characteristic of a believer who has yielded to the Holy Spirit's work in his or her life. One of these character traits is joy.
In the New Testament, "joy" is the Greek word chara. Related to both charis ("grace" or "gift") and charos ("rejoice; express joy"), joy is the natural response to a gracious gift. In every instance in the Bible, that gift originates with God, whether it be the arrival of the Messiah (Luke 1:14), the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:8), God's power over the sinful world (Luke 10:17), or God's salvation (Acts 13:52). God's grace is so strong that even the promise of His work can elicit joy (Hebrews 10:34; James 1:2-4). And one of the greatest sources of joy is seeing God's redeeming work in others (Acts 13:52; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; Philippians 2:2).
The modern world does not encourage joy in God. Instead, we're taught to value possessions, power, and position. But true joy is not found in those things. John 15:1-11 says that joy comes from abiding in Christ's love. In Philippians 2:2, joy flows from believers being united in mind, love, spirit, and purpose. John says that complete joy means to be united with the Father, Jesus, and other believers (1 John 1:1-4).
That doesn't mean that all worldly events are without joy. A healed illness, a hard-earned accomplishment, and even a material item can bring joy—if God's hand in the situation is recognized. The "Kingdom of God" is the manifestation of the sovereignty and glory of God. Sometimes God displays His glory and power by healing (2 Kings 5:1-14). Sometimes He puts a believer in a position of power (Esther 8:1-2). And sometimes He blesses His children with material possessions (Job 42:10-17). The key is that it is God who blesses, and although we may appreciate the gift, we rejoice that He has chosen to pour out His love, sovereignty, and power on us. We rejoice in the Giver, not just in the gift.
This is important to remember when circumstances are less than joyful. James 1:2 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds" (see also 1 Peter 1:6). In trials, joy is not found in the immediate situation but in the promise that God's Kingdom will be revealed through the situation. First Peter 1:7-9 says that current trials bring an assurance of faith, making the future joy even greater when Jesus returns. Similarly, James 1:3-4 says that trials will strengthen our character. We can rejoice in that trials point to a future gift.
True joy is found only in Jesus (John 15:11). If we look for God's work and gifts in our lives, we will always have joy. If we get caught up in temporary hardships and worldly desires, our joy will be fleeting and weak. Even in hardship, our joy remains, because it depends on God and His promises: "And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 35:10).
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