“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23)
It’s the third week of Advent, and the theme this week is joy. A passage that came to mind that has helped me understand how joy works is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I especially like how these fruit sound in The Message version.
- Love – “affection for others”
- Joy – “exuberance about life”
- Peace – “serenity”
- Patience – “a willingness to stick with things”
- Kindness – “a sense of compassion in the heart”
- Goodness – “a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people”
- Faithfulness – “We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments”
- Gentleness – “not needing to force our way in life”
- Self-control – “able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
In the context, Paul speaks of a conflict between the desires of flesh and the desires of Spirit. The look of the Spirit side of the conflict is very different from the other side. Genuine caring. Exuberance for life. A heart and mind truly at rest. The ability to graciously live well with what is. A basic orientation that seeks the good of others. The ability to see the image of God underneath any distortion of creation or of people—original virtue. The resolve to stay with what is good and right and holy no matter how challenging the journey becomes. The restraint to never force anyone or anything. And the power to always choose life for myself and for those I care about. I’d prefer to be on this side!
Conflicting Visions of Joy
Paul’s simple invitation sounds like this: Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:25)
The Spirit gives us life, so let’s watch for and follow where the Spirit leads. We’ll find the journey a joyful one. But I also find empty promises for where to find joy that arise from the other side of this conflict. Gluttony promises I’ll find joy if I eat enough or the just the right food. It promises that joy is something out there that I need to consume. But the joy God’s Spirit produces arises from within us—from that place of being at home with God.
In this Christmas season, many are telling me that I’ll be far more joyful if I can get the latest toy, or technology, or whatever other fad is being heavily advertised. But joy isn’t out there. Joy isn’t mainly something that requires my credit card number. Joy is a relational reality. It is a sharing in the joy of the most joyful Being in the universe—God. And God’s Spirit wants to cause that substantial joy to rise up within us until we’re full to overflowing.
I offer up for us a prayer: May we hear God’s invitation to come into his joyful presence and to welcome all the good that joy might produce in us. Amen!
- Where are you feeling joyful in this Advent season? Where are you not feeling very joyful? How might “God-with-you” make the difference?
- In what way are you tempted to believe that joy is still “out there” somewhere, needing to be purchased or acquired? How might you welcome God’s gift of joy that already here and now?
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