We all want to be happy. The more we try to be happy it seems the less we are happy. In this sermon the next in the series of sermons on the fruits of the spirit covers the fruit of joy. God expects us to learn all of the fruits of the spirit which includes Joy. God expects us to be happy.
[Gary Petty] Someone last week said, “Mr. Petty” – I’m paraphrasing – “Mr. Petty, you’ve given so many sermons lately on sin, and coming out of sin, and Sodom, and correction for sin. Can you just give us a little breathing room?” Well, the title of today’s sermon is – I took this from a title of a book I read recently – the title of the sermon is, Happiness Is a Serious Problem . It was actually written by Dennis Prager – a talk-show host – who wrote a book about happiness.
Benjamin Franklin was concluding a speech that he’d given once about the Constitution, and someone yelled out from the audience, “Aw, those words don’t have any meaning. Where’s all the happiness you say it guarantees us?” And Benjamin Franklin responded, “My friend, the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Now we all want to be happy. Do you ever notice, though, that the more you try to be happy, the less happy you are? It’s a strange thing – when you actually say, “I’m going to try to be happy. I’m going to do all the things that make me happy.” And when you’re out trying so hard to be happy – making everybody else do what you want them to do, so that you can be happy, controlling all situations so they turn out the way you want it so you can be happy – that you end up being unhappy.
One by one, we’ve been going through the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. We talked about this as character traits – character traits that God develops in us that make life worth living now – even though we live in an evil world – and this world is only going to get more difficult – but also these are the eternal character traits that make eternal life worth living. Let’s go to Galatians 5. It’s been a couple of weeks…we’ve taken a little hiatus here from the fruits of the Spirit, so let’s go look at the fruits of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
American King James Version×. Now remember, we started in verse 23, because in this series of sermons we’ve been going through these in a backward order – the way that Paul listed them here.
We started with self-control – verse 23. That involves a struggle, because it’s a struggle against our own corrupt human nature. It is having God help us learn to control our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions, and our habits so that we bring them into subjection to God’s laws and God’s ways.
Meekness – sometimes translated gentleness here – but the meekness…”the word in the Greek means the temper of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings as good.” A lot of people have trouble with this. In fact, we’re going to see, as we get into the trait we’re going to talk about today, that all these are traits we have to develop together. We have to work on all of these together. And remember, fruit isn’t developed in an hour. Part of our problem is, we want these fruits and it takes a lifetime of God cultivating with us and working with us so that this is who we become.
Faithfulness. He says, “Faithfulness is to remain committed and faithful to God your whole life.” He’s not just talking about faith, like “Okay, I trust God.” It is, “I trust God so much I’m faith ful . I continue in this faithfulness. I continue in my faith and that commitment.”
Goodness. We talked about how the word here just doesn’t mean being good, but it is an active goodness – an active goodness that is willing, also, to stand up against evil.
Kindness – sometimes translated in some translations as gentleness. Notice the character to treat others with respect and consideration and compassion.
Longsuffering – the ability to endure suffering for a long time for the good of God and others – the ability to suffer for a long time – to be wronged for a long time for the good of God and for others.
And peace. We talked about peace last time – about a month ago. The peace of God, produced by His Spirit is more than the absence of conflict or strife. It is an internal peace. In fact, the one thing we know from the Feast of Tabernacles – by going and keeping the Feast of Tabernacles – is you can never have absence of violence, or strife, or conflict, or war in this world until you change human beings internally first. Christ can come back and enforce that there will be no war, but you will still have violent conflict, because it comes from the inside. And we will never solve our conflicts with others until we solve the issue of peace internally first. We will simply go from conflict to conflict with no real resolution, except more broken relationships and hurt people and nothing will ever be fixed.
And then the next one in this list – as we go up the list – is joy , meaning happiness, gladness of heart. Now wait a minute. God expects you to learn – through His help and direction, He expects you to learn self-control. “Okay. Obedience. I get that.” He expects you to learn goodness. “Okay. I get that. I’ve got to be good and I have to be actively good. So okay, I get that.” He expects you to learn peace. “Well, that’s hard, but okay, I can sort of take that. The longsuffering part – like I said, ‘That’s the one that I really have trouble with. I want to suffer for thirty seconds. That’s it. After thirty seconds I expect praise.’”
”Wow! You suffered for thirty seconds!”
“But wait a minute. God expects me to be happy – as a fruit? Okay, He expects me not to murder. He expects me not to bow down before idols.” God, through the fruit of His Spirit, is going to be, “Okay, I’m going to keep the Sabbath – the fruit of God’s Spirit.” This is what is going to happen. “He expects me to have joy ? He expects me to be happy?” I mean, let’s face it. For many people, the thought of Christianity – and this is where we have a hard time, sometimes, with our young people – they think Christianity is just, “Wow! What a way to be un happy!” It’s like an entire system designed to make me unhappy.
We struggle with the idea that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. God wants to produce joy in your life as much as He wants to produce all those other fruits. In other words, God wants you to be happy. So happiness is a serious problem. It is also a spiritual problem. It’s a spiritual issue.
Now, there are three main problems we have – and we’ll talk about this a little later in the sermon – but there are three main problems we have – when it comes to this subject – that sabotages our ability to have joy – to have joy as the children of God.
One is a viewpoint that says, “God is a wrathful being that is just waiting for me to mess up and punish me.” I know people who go through their whole lives just waiting for God to punish them – waiting for God to make it mess up, waiting for God to take away any happiness they have.
And they blame God for every bad thing that happens. Now I understand how easy it is to blame God. When bad things happen, my first reaction is, “God, why did You allow that? You couldn’t have stopped that?” But if we’re not careful, we get into this mindset in which we look at God and we say, “God is just out to get me. God’s out to mess up my life. God’s just angry. And, you know, I sinned once, so I might as well sin over and over and over again, because it doesn’t matter, because God is going to get me now.”
The second strange viewpoint we get is that it’s about God’s way of life. It goes something like this. “I know what I want in my life, and God doesn’t care about my happiness. In fact, His way keeps me from what will make me happy.” I have sat and had that discussion over and over and over again with people. The discussion always goes – and I’ve literally had someone say this to me – “I know what God wants in my life” and then described a whole sinful life style. And I said, “What would make you believe that God wants you to do that when the Bible says, ‘No?’” And here was the answer: “God wants me to be happy, because He loves me. God loves me. He wants me to be happy. That’s what will make me happy, so that’s what God wants for me. And the Bible doesn’t matter. I know what God wants. I know it.” How are you going to argue with that? So there’s a false viewpoint that sees the God of life as bad. “God’s way of life keeps me from being happy.” We’ll talk in a minute…one of the reasons why is, we confuse fun with happiness. They are two different things. Fun is good, but, if you live life just trying to have fun all the time, you’ll be a very miserable person.
Then, three, you have a false viewpoint about yourself. “I’m a wretched person. I don’t deserve happiness, so therefore, I will not be happy.” I know people who will not allow themselves to ever be happy. “Because I’m so wretched, God would not want me to be happy.”
Now, I want you to remember something. We’ve been going through the fruits of God’s Spirit. Of all these fruits, people who are receptive to God…they look through these, and they say, “Okay, I need to be kind.” For some people, that’s difficult. “I have to learn to be kind. Okay, I’ll struggle to do that.” We put a lot of effort into having self-control. We put a lot of effort into being good and making our stands against evil – not willing to back down. We make all this effort. Well, you know, if we look through those fruits, and we say, “We’re supposed to dedicate our lives to God building that in us,” then understand something. You’re supposed to dedicate your life to God teaching you how to have joy! It’s one of the fruits! We don’t give too many sermons about how to have joy. Do you know why? It’s a whole lot better to…I’ve been hitting sin pretty hard the last few weeks…I like hitting sin. Now let’s all go be happy. How do we do that? It is a serious issue – this happiness, this joy that we’re supposed to have developed in our lives.
So I tell you what we’re going to do, because we’re going to look at what the Bible says about joy. And then we’re going to explain a little bit about why we don’t have it. But then I want to go in…and it’s a huge subject – I mean, I’m just scratching the surface here. I want to go through a few things you can do in your life to begin to experience more joy in the way that God says to.
Happiness is such a fleeting thing. Happiness isn’t something anybody experiences twenty-four hours a day. Happiness comes and goes. If that’s based on circumstances, or people, or fun, what can you do? I mean, I know people who can’t hold down a job, because they think happiness is fun. So they have to have fun all the time. So guess what? They can’t hold down a job. So they can’t eat, you know. They live in a hovel. They can’t take care of themselves, but they play video games all the time. This is what life is. It’s playing video games, because this fun equals happiness. No, it doesn’t. Eventually – if that’s an addiction that you’re into – it eventually destroys you and you are incredibly un happy.
Here’s what you really have to realize when we’re talking about joy – in the context of what we’re talking about. Since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it is based in a spiritual outlook on life. One of the reasons why you and I don’t experience enough joy is, we keep looking at things in a physical way. When we look at it with a spiritual outlook on life, it’s different.
Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 2. This is one of those passages I…there are certain passages in the Bible I find that, at least once or twice a year, I read. I haven’t read this one in a while. So let’s go to it. Solomon, of course…we’re looking at the diary of a man who did everything he could do to be happy. This man spared nothing in pursuing his own happiness. Ecclesiastes 2, verse 1, Solomon says:
Ecclesiastes 2:1 Ecclesiastes 2:1I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
American King James Version×– I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth – happiness, gladness. I’m going to be happy! I’m going to find out all the things that make me happy and I’m just going to do that. That’s all I’m going to do. Therefore enjoy pleasure.” And he spent years – decades – doing this. And his conclusion, after decades of spending his whole life doing nothing but making himself happy, he said, “This is the wind – vanity – it’s just wind. I get a moment, but then the moment’s gone and I have to fill something in for the next moment, and something for the next moment, but it all just goes away. I can’t keep it up.”
V-2 – I said of laughter, “Madness!” and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” He says, “I finally go to the place, ‘What good is it to be happy?’”
V-3 – I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold of folly till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. I made great works. I built myself houses and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all those who in Jerusalem before me. He had everything ! I also gathered for myself silver and gold, the special treasures of kings of the provinces. And I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. There was nothing he couldn’t have – Broadway entertainment every night! All the women he wanted, all the food he wanted, all the wine he wanted, all the jokes he wanted, all the fame he wanted, all the nice furniture he wanted, all the clothes he wanted, all the nice house he wanted. He built a huge palace. He says, verse 9:
V-9 – So I became great and excelled more than all those who were in Jerusalem before me. And my wisdom remained. Whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor. And this was my reward for my labor. He says, “I kept thinking, ‘This is happiness, and happiness, and happiness.’” Verse 11:
V-11 – And then I looked on all the works that my hands had done, and on the labor that I had toiled, and indeed, it was all just vanity and grasping the wind. There was no profit in it.
He had lots of fun, but, in the end, he had no happiness. Now fun is important in life, by the way. In fact, sometimes, I think, in the church we forget that. We can be a very sober group of people. And we forget to have fun. I’m a fun guy, so I love having fun. I mean I just love having fun. But I know there’s a difference between fun and happiness. I know that. So you have fun, but you know, after awhile, fun is grasping the wind. If you don’t believe that…I love riding roller coasters. You can ride a roller coaster so many times, then it’s not even fun anymore. Go ride your favorite roller coaster about six times in a row. I hate those things that spin around, because they just make me throw up. But the roller coasters I like, okay? You can ride a roller coaster long enough that it’s not even fun anymore. Oh, fun becomes the wind.
Happiness – this joy – that God wants us to have includes fun, but they’re not the same thing. Look at verse 26 of this same chapter. Solomon writes:
V-26 – For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight. But to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that He may give to him that is good before God. This is also vanity and grasping the wind. He says, “When you look at it, God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy – and joy – to man who is good in God’s sight.” For everybody else, life is just about getting. “I gotta get me some money. I gotta get me a job. I gotta get me some clothes. And I gotta get me a car. And I gotta get me a husand, or a wife. And I gotta get me some friends. And I gotta get me….” – it’s all about getting me something – “and then I’ll be happy. Someday I’ll reach a point I’ll stop and say, ‘I’ve arrived and I’m happy,’ but today I’ll have as much fun as I can.” There’s a point where you’re just grasping the wind.
So, when we look at this idea of joy, we’re looking at something that God says it takes His Spirit to help us to develop in us. It doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of choices . In fact, you can’t have joy in the way that Paul is talking about in Galatians, unless you’re also developing the other fruits. Think about it. If you don’t have peace, you’re not going to have joy. If you don’t have longsuffering, you’re not going to have joy. In fact, we think longsuffering and joy are opposites, right? If I’m suffering, I can never feel happy in suffering, because suffering is unpleasant. You feel sad. So, “If I have to suffer for a long time – if I have to suffer for the next two years, I’ll never be happy one moment of those two years.” That’s how we think. We went through longsuffering to show how we are changed by longsuffering, because we learn to suffer long for God’s purpose. We learn to suffer long for His goodness. We learn to suffer long for others. So they’re not opposites.
If you and I are going to experience true joy, here’s the hard part. You’re going to have to give up your explanations of that and let God teach you what joy is. He designed it. He actually knows what it is. That’s what we have to remember. God designed happiness. He designed it. Remember, these are fruits of God’s Spirit. God is a happy being! He likes to have fun! He made the skunk. (Chuckles) He’s happy. We think He doesn’t know how to make us happy, so we automatically – human nature automatically – reject God’s definition of happiness – automatically. We just do! We hate His definition of happiness deep inside, because what we want is what I want! And, “If I can get what I want, I’ll be happy.” And we sow the seeds of unhappiness. We sow those seeds. Those seeds eventually produce fruit. They simply do. Every decision produces fruit. And how many times do we reap unhappiness, sorrow, pain, because that’s what we sowed! Those are the seeds we planted. God says, “Okay, you have to tear up the crop and learn to plant different seeds. And then you’ll get different fruit.”
“Oh, no, no, no. I want to keep planting the same seeds, but get different fruit.” That’s what we think. “I can keep planting the same seeds and get different fruit.” And no, we can’t. That why, as I said before, we have to know the difference between joy and fun. We also have to know that, sometimes, circumstances in life make us feel bad. That’s why peace and longsuffering – especially those two – self-control, goodness, kindness – that’s all part of what we do. Sometimes, the only way you feel happiness is to be kind to the person who is mistreating you. Now that goes against everything human nature says! And there are times when that is true. That’s the only way you’ll ever be happy.
So, as we develop these fruits – in the development of these fruits – we will learn happiness. What we do is…this is very hard for us to accept. This is a hard concept. This is just as deep and as important as any subject in the scripture. But we don’t talk about joy because aaahhhh, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem that serious of an issue. It is! It’s one of the fruits of God’s Spirit. So let’s look at some principles to help you increase the joy in your life.
First of all, joy, as a fruit of the Spirit, keeps us from being emotionally controlled by circumstances and other people. And the reason why is because we trust in God’s greater purpose. Remember when we went through meekness as a fruit? Meekness, as a fruit, means that you actually trust in God’s goodness. The bottom line is, if you do not trust in God’s goodness, you will never be happy. It’s that simple. If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you won’t do what this Book says! If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you’ll find a way not to tithe. If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you’ll find a way to go out and compromise and be like the world and party. If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you’ll find a way to break the Sabbath. If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you’ll find a way to commit fornication and adultery. If you don’t trust in God’s goodness, you’ll find a way to cheat and steal. You will! And you will be unhappy. Joy – I’m going to repeat this – as a fruit of the Spirit, keeps us from being emotionally controlled by circumstances and other people because we trust in God’s greater purpose.
Do you know the easiest way to be unhappy? “This person is going to make me happy.” Oh, it’s true that people help us feel happy. They also make us feel sad. Right? When you’re with your best friend, you could feel happy. But your best friend can make you feel sad. Even in the best of marriages, you find happiness with that person and, sometimes, you find sadness with that person – or hurt with that person. If your happiness depends on everybody else making you happy, I promise you, you will be miserable . Never marry somebody whose total happiness is dependent on you, because they will make you miserable. “Make me happy. I said, ‘Make me happy!’ And if you don’t make me happy, you will pay!” You’ll be miserable.
If we think every circumstance will make us happy…. Circumstances change. My wife and I were talking this morning. I said, “You know, I think about how I’ve lived such a blessed life.” But you know, I can also look back and look at times when I’ve been without a job. I can look at times when I’ve been mistreated by people I trusted. I can look back at times where close friends and family members died. I can look back on friends who betrayed me. I can look back on times I had no money. But if I just centered on those things, I’d be a miserable person. But look at what God does over the long term and we live blessed lives.
When we see His purpose, then we will believe in the ultimate outcome for good, no matter what we’re going through, and therefore, you can find happiness. Understand that. When you see and believe in His purpose, then even in the difficult times, you can find happiness. Even in the midst of grief, you can find that place where there’s a calmness – where you’re not overwhelmed and destroyed. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel the grief, but you’re not destroyed by it. God doesn’t say that you’re going to feel happy every moment, but with this joy, we won’t be destroyed by those things. We will always come out of it. We will always be strengthened.
You know, I find it interesting, in Acts chapter 5…here are people who saw God’s greater purpose. They saw God’s greater purpose and then something bad happened to them. Jesus Christ had died and was resurrected, and the disciples went out – they’re apostles now – and they go out and they start preaching to everybody who Jesus Christ is. You talk about a powerful experience! You’re trained by Jesus Christ personally. You watch Him die. He’s resurrected. He comes and gives you a big hug. These are motivated people! Right? “We’re going to go tell everybody. Everybody’s going to listen. All of Israel is going to be converted and then Christ will come back!” That’s what they believed. Right? “They’ll be prepared now. He’s going to come back a second time and we’ve got to go get them prepared! This is going to be great! And we’re going to go out and we’re going to preach.” And they’re filled with joy and excitement. And they do. And the Sanhedrin has them arrested and thrown in prison. “Wait, wait, wait. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Let’s pick it up in verse 40. This is the Sanhedrin. They talked about what they should do. Gamaliel talked to them. And it says in verse 40:
Acts 5:40 Acts 5:40And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
American King James Version×– And they agreed – these leaders agreed with him – and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. That’s pretty sad. You know, when you’re beaten, it doesn’t feel good. Right? And you’re rejected by the very people you thought were going to repent! Verse 41:
V-41 – So they – now this is the apostles – departed from the presence of the council rejoicing! Wow! These people were either crazy or they’re driven by a greater purpose – one or the other. Why are they rejoicing? …rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name – the name of Jesus Christ. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. They saw a greater purpose. It didn’t say they liked what happened to them. It said that they went away, though, happy – sore, beaten, discouraged in some way, but happy! Yeah, they had conflicted emotions, but what was the prominent emotion? Joy. They said, “God’s got a big purpose here. And it’s going to be a lot harder than we thought. So I guess we’d better just go preach more.” And that’s what they did!
You know, when you are struggling with joy, there are two questions you need to ask yourself. Now there are a number of things, but just start with these two. One – and write this down – and next time you think life has no purpose or meaning, and “I can’t have any joy, and I don’t care, and let’s just forget it: Do you love God enough that you find happiness in obedience to Him as more important than temporary pleasures? Do you love – that’s the important word – do you love God enough?” What’s the first commandment in all the Bible? The most important thing Jesus Christ said – most important? Do you love God enough that you find happiness in obedience to Him as more important than temporary pleasures? And the second: Do you trust God enough to wait for His answers because you believe that He wants to create joy in your life? Do you trust God enough to wait for His answers because you believe that He wants to create joy in your life?
So many times, we will thwart God’s purpose because we won’t wait for Him. And we rush out and we do something, because we’re worried, or anxious, or angry, or we just don’t have the faith. And we’ll rush out and we’ll plant more seeds of unhappiness by what we do. Do you trust Him enough? Do you love Him enough to obey Him? And do you trust Him enough to wait for Him? And those questions are going to be asked of you – and they’re asked of me – many times in your life. I’ve been asked that question, and sometimes I answered well, and sometimes I failed miserably. So I understand these questions. I’ve been on both sides of the answers.
Our second point: Joy is a willingness to find contentment, even when things aren’t going the way you expected. In fact, in that book, Happiness Is a Serious Problem , Dennis Prager says that he thinks one of the great reasons people can’t have happiness in life is because of expectations. We have such unbelievable expectations that we have set ourselves up for failure, no matter what. We take this wonderful, beautiful woman, and we expect her to be this wife that nobody could be, and she’s smart, she’s intelligent, and she’s loving, and we say, “Ahh, I expected so much, you’re a failure,” when the truth is you should be living the good life. We do that with jobs. We do that with our children. We do that with our parents. We do it with God. When God doesn’t do what we expect , we believe God failed us. Instead of saying, “You know, my expectations may have been wrong. God, what are your expectations?” We don’t go asking Him, “Why?” Because His may be different than ours! “And I know what will make me happy. And if God expects something else, then He’s going to make me un happy. So His expectations must be the same as mine. Since God wants to make me happy, and I’ve defined what my happiness is, His expectations must be the same as mine, so He’s failed me!” It’s hard for us to come to grips with the fact that our expectations, many times, are nothing like what God’s expectations are. They’re not even on the same page! Then we judge God. “Boy, you failed me this time, didn’t You?” And then we’re unhappy.
Philippians, chapter 4 – we have read parts of Philippians 4, I think, in three of these sermons on the Fruits of the Spirit . Philippians 4 – this time we’re going to pick it up in verse 10. Paul says:
Philippians 4:10 Philippians 4:10But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again; wherein you were also careful, but you lacked opportunity.
American King James Version×– But I rejoiced…. It’s always interesting to go through the Bible and look up the word – not just joy , but rejoice or rejoiced . It’s amazing how many times you will find people rejoicing because of God. And it’s amazing how many times you find God ordering people to be happy. “Look people, just be happy.” “Well, that’s not what I expected. I didn’t expect the Feast of Tabernacles. I expected Christmas.” So He has to command us to rejoice at the Feast of Tabernacles. I’ve always thought that was one of the oddest things. But then, you know, really, it’s not. I’ve been, at times, at the Feast of Tabernacles and been in a bad attitude and had to be reminded, “You’re here to rejoice. If you’re not going to rejoice, go home. Let’s just go home. You’re making everybody else miserable, too.” Funny thing about unhappiness – it’s so contagious. It’s like a cold. You can spread unhappiness to everybody. He has to command us to be happy. Should that tell us that there is something wrong with us – when this ultimate Being of happiness – He know what happiness is – He designed it – because it’s who He is – and this Being of joy has to shake His head sometimes and say, “Look people, just be happy! Just do what I say and you’ll be happy.” But I rejoiced in the Lord – Paul says – greatly that now at last, your care for me has flourished again. Though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. He says, “I’m happy” – in this case, he says, “I’m rejoicing in God because you people care for me.” We all have needs. We all have desires. And Paul here was experiencing a great amount of happiness because that congregation in Philippi had shown a love and concern for him. He says, though – verse 11…now he tempers this with:
V-11 – Not that I speak in regard of need, for I have learned in whatever state I’m in, to be content. I know how to be abased. I know how to abound. Everywhere in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. See, this is the spiritual viewpoint. Sometimes, you’re hungry. And sometimes, you’re full. And you thank God for His purpose in your life. And sometimes, you’re having fun and sometimes you’re cleaning the toilet. Right? To have a good life, you have to do both . There are times you have fun, and there are times you clean the toilet. And you can be happy doing both. I didn’t say it was pleasant.
This contentment, by the way, isn’t complacency. You read through the life of Paul and there’s nothing complacent about that man. There was not one ounce…that man’s personality and character was of such…that man couldn’t have been complacent about anything. I bet you didn’t even want to play a game with Paul, because he was going to win. I mean, the man is not complacent about anything. He’s a driven man, but he’s a content man. A driven man who is not content is a miserable person to be around. You never want to work for a boss who is driven and never contented. He will drive you crazy. But you do want to work for a man who isn’t complacent, because he’ll help you be a better person. He’ll help you be a better employee. He’ll help you be successful, because he wants success.
Paul said, “I’ve learned to be content. Joy is a willingness to find contentment even when things aren’t going the way you expected. Sometimes we have to just go ask God what are His expectations, which leads us, really, into a sub-point here. Another way to be unhappy is compare yourself with other people. “Well, look what this person gets. Look how much money this person makes. Look at how nice their house is. Look at their car. Look at their clothes.” Boy, you want to be miserable? Live life that way. Be happy with what you have.
The third point: Joy comes from outwardly caring for others. Now, we have a hard time with that. We think that joy will come by fulfilling all of our needs and our desires. There is nothing wrong, inherently, with our desires and needs, unless it’s used for a sinful purpose. I mean, you want nice clothes. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’d like a nice car, or you’d like new furniture. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, you know, a lot of times in life, you can’t get those things. And so we have to understand that that’s not all that life is about. Some of the greatest joy comes, in life, simply by helping others. I mean, I can’t help, when I go through this, but think about Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Don’t care about what you wear, don’t care about what you’re going to eat.” Why? “Because your Father in heaven knows you need these things.” God’s not ignoring us. Now, a lot of times, we’re ignoring Him.
When was the last time you went and prayed to God and said, “You know, God, I’m in a dead-end job and this boss is trying to destroy me. Would you help me – get rid of my boss, or get a new job, or something – help me ?” When was the last time you went and asked God to help you at school? When was the last time you went and asked God to give you a mate? We have to believe God has our good at heart. We have to believe and trust in Him to wait. “Oh, God’s not concerned with my job. He’s not concerned about how miserable I am at my job.” Then why would He say that one of the fruits of the His Spirit is joy? Of course He is! Now His expectations may be different than yours. He might say, “You know what? You have a selfishness issue here, so you’re going to have to suffer a long time.” Or, “You have a self-control issue.” Or, “You have a meekness issue. You really don’t believe that I will do good for you. Therefore, you’re going to have to learn that I’m going to do good for you. And, unfortunately, I’m going to have to put you in a bad situation before you can learn it.” That’s sometimes true, too! But see, if you’re always looking for God’s greater purpose, it changes how you look at things. It changes how you respond to things. What is it that God is doing? And sometimes, people ask me, “What is God doing?” And do you know what my answer is? “I don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and find out. I’m not God.” – which is good for all of you. It’s good for the whole world! It’s good. We have to learn to wait on God. And we have to learn to give to others.
John 15 is very interesting. I want you to look at how Jesus Christ says this to His disciples – John 15. So this is for us, also, today. John 15, verse 8 – breaking, sort of, into the middle of a thought here, but he says in verse 8:
John 15:7 John 15:7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you.
American King James Version×– If you abide in Me – if you live in Me, Christ says – and My words – His teachings abide in you – you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit – this is verse 8 – so you will be My disciples. God is glorified by the fruit in your life. Now Paul tells us what the fruit should be. God is glorified by your joy that comes from a spiritual way of living. God is glorified by the joy and happiness in your life when it’s coming from the right reason – happening from the right reason. Now, in this same context, he says:
V-9 – As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. Now He’s talking about obedience here. Then notice verse 11:
V-11 – These things I have spoken to you – why? – that My joy – the joy of God’s Spirit that was working through the Word – that My joy – it’s the joy of the Father and of Christ – the fruit of the Spirit is the character of both of Them, because it’s the same Spirit. These things I have spoken to you that My joy – what? – may remain in you and that your joy may be full. He says, “I’m going to leave here, but I want you to be happy. I want you to feel joy ! I want you to be glad.” Verse 12 – this is the context in which He says verse 12. We read verse 12 a lot, but I want to look at the context.
V-12 – This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. This is My commandment , that you love one another as I have loved you.
One of the greatest ways of dealing with discouragement or disappointment or unhappiness is to go serve somebody else. It’s that simple. It’s a spiritual law. We say that – I can tell you that – but you can’t believe it until you go do it. When you go help somebody else, it helps you overcome your discouragement and your unhappiness and your despondency and your despair. It’s a law!
“Love each other as I have loved you.” That’s inside the church. Now, we’re supposed to do that to our neighbors, also, but it has to start here. It starts inside your family, and then it extends to the church. And that’s why we have to understand that joy comes from outwardly caring for other people.
The fourth point: Joy is destroyed when we always look at the negative. You know, if you always look for the negative, you will find it. If you always look for the negative, you will find it! (I forgot to change that clock. I panicked. It says it’s one o’clock.) I mean, if you feel that everyone is out to hurt you, guess what they’re going to do? They’re going to hurt you, because you will create those situations. I mean, they may not have even been trying to hurt you, but that’s how you will see it. See, if you think everybody’s out to do something to you, that’s what you’re going to see. We actually create situations by how we view them. If you believe that everyone around you is bad and mean, guess what? They’re going to appear bad and mean to you. You don’t ever see their good qualities. If you feel that God is unfair to you, you will never see His blessings. You will always feel that He’s unfair, because that’s how you’ll see the world. That’ll be your life view. If you decide to be thankful for what you have, you’ll be happy. If you decide to be un thankful for what you have, you’ll be unhappy. I can’t change that. Same law applies to me. If I sit around and gripe about something long enough, I’ll be just…my wife will say, “Get out of here. You’re just grumpy.” Right? Why am I grumpy? Well, I made myself grumpy. I sat around and griped long enough. Right? We decide!
Let’s go back to the three things we talked about at the beginning – the three false viewpoints. One is the false viewpoint of God. We believe that God is a wrathful Being, who is just waiting for you to mess up so He can punish you – that God doesn’t care about your happiness. He’s just waiting to get you. When Jesus gave His first sermon, He got up and He read from Isaiah. Well, let’s go to Isaiah – Isaiah 61 – and let’s look at the passage that He quoted, because He got up and He basically said, “ This is being fulfilled today.” He was telling them this was His job. If we can’t believe this, you will never experience joy. You have to believe this. This is why Jesus Christ came the first time and it’s going to be why He comes back the second time. Verse 1 of Isaiah 61:
Isaiah 61:1 Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
American King James Version×– The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me, because the LORD has appointed Me – or anointed Me – He has made Him the Messiah – to preach good tidings to the poor…. “No, no, no, He came to tell me that I could never have real fun in life. He came to tell me that I live this way of life, but I have to give up so much!” I have talked to people who grew up in the church – I grew up in the church – and some people say, “I gave up so much. I’m so glad I got out of the church. I gave up so much.” And I just laugh at them. When you’ve counseled as many people as I have and the messed up, unhappy, destroyed lives…what did you give up? “Well, I could have…” I knew a man once that had a wonderful life – great job, grew up in the church, great wife, great family – left the church, because he said, “I realized I didn’t have to keep the Sabbath and I didn’t get to play football when I was in high school.” And he became bitter over that. Wow! …to preach good tidings to the poor. He didn’t say He was always going to make it…we may stay poor in this life. We see a bigger purpose, right? We see where He’s taking us. We see that this world is decaying. It’s going to die! But we can have joy in it now. We can have happiness. …He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted. Will you let God heal you? A lot of people won’t. We don’t believe God will heal the brokenhearted. We have more faith He’ll heal a broken arm than we do that He’ll our hearts and minds. “God can heal a broken arm, but He can’t heal my heart and mind – not after my life’s been so miserable,” or “ my expectations have never been fulfilled.” … to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…. The joy of God doesn’t mean you don’t mourn. It means you’re comforted while you mourn. …to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness – the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And, if you are the tree of God – planted by God – what will you produce? Oh yeah, the fruits of the Spirit. He says, “I’ve come to plant you. I’ve come to make you a healthy tree.” “But if I do that, I’ll miss out on being happy.” It’s the opposite. It’s the great lie! Happiness is a serious problem.
That second point was a false viewpoint of God’s way of life – that we talked about earlier. “I know what I want in my life and God doesn’t care about my happiness. In fact, what He wants will keep me from being happy.” These types of people will, sometimes, obey God, but they always feel bad about it. “Oh yeah, well, huhh. I had to go to the Feast of Tabernacles, but boy, did I miss out on a great business deal!” “Yeah, I have to do what God says, but boy, am I missing out!” It’s interesting that God said something to ancient Israel before they went into the Promised Land. Now they’re about to receive the Promised Land – an area that was considered to be, at that time, the most perfect place on earth. God’s taking you there to be a people. Look at Deuteronomy, chapter 28. What did He tell those people? He’s telling them, in Deuteronomy 28, “Someday I’m going to punish you. I’m going to put you in this land, and I’m going to punish you, and here’s why – verse 47 of Deuteronomy 28:
Deuteronomy 28:47 Deuteronomy 28:47Because you served not the LORD your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things;
American King James Version×– Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything. And He will put a yoke of iron upon your neck until He has destroyed you. God told those people, “There will come a point that I’m going to destroy you because you would not serve Me in joy.” I’ve known people who have served God all their lives – or for long periods of time – and hated it the whole time – who felt they missed out on pepperoni, felt they missed out on so much. And God says, “Be joyful in what I give you! Find happiness in that! Find joy in that!” You know, the truth is, if you don’t love God’s way, but you do it because you feel like you have to, you eventually will stop doing it. You will eventually stop doing it. You’ll find a way to be dishonest, or you’ll find a way to cheat on your husband, or you’ll find a way to lie, or you’ll find a way to give up coming to Sabbath services, or you’ll find a way…fill in the blank. You’ll find a way. If you love His law, if you love God, you’ll find happiness in the doing.
That third bad viewpoint was the viewpoint about yourself that says, “I’m such a wretched person that I don’t deserve happiness.” Hebrews, chapter 12 – Hebrews 12. I find it very interesting here. It says…verse 1 of Hebrews, chapter 12:
Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version×– Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses – this is talking about all the examples that are given in chapter 11 – let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. What was the joy that was set before Him? He was going to be tortured and murdered. How can that be joyful? How could He find joy in that? He found joy in that because of you ! You know, a little earlier in this book, it says that He came to bring many sons to glory! He found joy in what He went through for us ! That relationship with us is so important He found happiness in His suffering because of a greater purpose! Now understand. If you and I could discover and have that purpose of God in us, we would find joy in our suffering. Longsuffering wouldn’t seem so long or so much suffering. We would find joy in the greater purpose in our relationship with God, our relationship with Christ, and our relationship with each other. That’s an incredible statement. So when you say, “I’m so wretched God could never love me. God doesn’t want me to be happy,” you are ignoring the joy that Jesus Christ went through so that you could come before God. When we come before God, God says, “Yeah, you are wretched, but let Me fix you. Let Me clean you up. Let Me teach you. Let Me love you.” That’s what God says! He doesn’t deny your wretchability – I don’t know if that’s a word, but…. He doesn’t deny when I go, “God, I’m wretched.” “Yeah, you are. But son, let Me fix this.” That’s His joy! He finds happiness in that. See, this tells us something about God. It tells us something about Christ. It tells us something about how we need to relate to Them.
And then the very last point: Joy is generated by doing good deeds. This is really hard for us to understand. Joy is generated by doing good – doing good. I talked about serving others a little bit ago. That’s an attitude of service. I’m talking about actually doing . This breaks down to every aspect of life. You walk up to the door at the convenience store, and you open the door, and you look, and there’s somebody behind you, and you let them walk in. Okay? You don’t say, “Are you a drug addict? Because, if you’re not, I won’t hold the door for you.” You just do good . You just do it! You do good to everybody you come in contact with. It’s just who you are. You don’t think about it. We have to get to the place we do good. There’s a happiness that comes from doing good, or simply being polite and kind. Oh yeah, now we’re into the other fruit called kindness . Remember? See how these all work together? Happiness comes from being kind. I mean, let’s face it. Have you ever met somebody that’s mean that’s happy? I’ve never met a mean person that’s happy. Happiness comes from being kind.
You know, it’s interesting – I won’t go there – but in Matthew 25 in the parable, there, of the talents, the man who left and came back – remember, the rich man goes away and comes back…he’s left his servants with different talents – the ones who worked with what he gave to them, He said, “Enter into my joy. Come be happy with me.” To the one person who refused to do with what God gave to him, he said to that man, “You’re a lazy, worthless servant, because you feared.” You and I, eventually, are motivated out of love towards God or fear. It’s amazing how – not everything in life, but – so much in life can be broken down into love towards God or fear. “Enter into My joy. Enter into My happiness.” God is happy! Jesus Christ is happy! Do they feel sadness at times? Sure! The Bible talks about grief, sadness, anger, feelings of betrayal. It’s amazing the emotions it describes – that God has. But in the midst of all that, He has joy. He’s never in despair. He mourns, but it never destroys Him. It’s amazing! You and I should be so, so thankful that that’s who He is or He would treat us differently. He would treat us differently.
Happiness is a serious problem. I guess we could say, “Joy is a nice idea, but let’s be realistic. I’ll never have joy in my life.” Yes, you will. The more we submit to God, and let Him live in us, we will find joy – bits and pieces at the beginning. Here’s the problem. You can’t keep applying the same solutions to the same problems. You end up with the same problems. You can’t keep planting the seeds of unhappiness. You might be planting fun. You might be planting selfishness. You might be planting all kinds of seeds that seem really good, but you will reap what you sow. So you dig them up and let God help us start planting happiness – joy. Now I think of David in Psalm 51, after his great sins that he committed, and he said, “Restore to me” – what? – “the joy of Your salvation.” It wasn’t just, “Restore to me salvation.” “Restore to me the happiness of knowing who You are! – of being in relationship with You and having Your purpose in my life! And I can get through this.” The joy of salvation.
We struggle, we struggle, and we forget it’s the joy of salvation. It’s the joy of our relationship with God and Christ. It’s our joy of our relationship with each other and with our family. But those things won’t work if we keep planting the wrong seeds. They will not.
Joy is just as serious as self-control, meekness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, longsuffering, peace, and agape . All the other lists? Happiness is just as important in that list. It is a serious issue. It is important. Because you know why? God wants to produce in your life these fruits right now. And, if we have these fruits, life is worth living now – even in its troubles, and even in its hardness, and even in the terrible things that happen sometimes. It’s worth living now because these fruits are being born in us. But there’s something else. When God develops these fruits in us, life is worth living forever !