Redefining joy “because happiness is fleeting.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October 2018

Ask anyone what joy means and they’ll tell you what the dictionary usually tells you: It’s happiness. It’s pleasure. You feel really, really good.

Ask a Christian and they’ll give you the very same answer. That is, till you bring up the fruit of the Spirit. Then suddenly the definition of joy changes to contentment. To being okay with whatever befalls us in life. To gritting our teeth and buggering on. All the happiness gets sucked right out of the meaning.

What’s wrong with these people? What, have they never experienced joy before?

No, they have! The problem isn’t that they don’t know what joy is, nor what it feels like. The problem is they don’t understand fruit of the Spirit. Christians have some really odd, wrong ideas about what it’s like. So these odd ideas worm their way backwards into the definitions of the individual fruits, and distort what we mean by love or any of the emotions encouraged by the Spirit.

Emotions, y’see, come and go. We all know this. Joy fades; love fades; compassion fades; patience wears off. We don’t want ’em to, but they do. That’s why we strive to get ’em back. Which is good! We should want to continually love, be patient, have compassion, and experience joy.

The fact these things fade, should inform our definition of the Spirit’s fruit: Fruit can fade. Because it absolutely can. In fact you’ve seen it happen in various Christians. (Likely seen it in yourself.) We don’t just acquire the Spirit’s fruit, then have it forever. Jesus told us we have to stay in him:

John 15.1-8 KWL
1 “I’m the true grapevine. My Father’s the gardener.
2 He lifts off the ground my every branch which doesn’t bear fruit.
He prunes every branch which does, so it can bear even more fruit.
3 You’ve already been trimmed by the message I gave you.
4 Stay in me and I in you, like a branch which can’t bear fruit all by itself
when it doesn’t stay in the grapevine—you never produce when you don’t stay in me.
5 I’m the grapevine. You’re the branches.
Those who stay in me and I in them, produce a lot of fruit.
You can’t do anything apart from me.
6 When anyone won’t stay in me, they’re thrown out like a stray branch:
They wither, are gathered up, tossed into fire, and burned.
7 When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want something, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

The only way fruit’s gonna grow—or even continue to stay alive!—is when our branches are attached to the grapevine. We gotta stay plugged into Jesus, maintain our relationship with him, and work on this relationship religiously. If we take Jesus for granted or blow off the relationship, it stands to reason our fruit’s gonna wither.

But somehow popular Christian culture is under the delusion the Spirit’s fruit never fades. ’Cause if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it must be perfect, and last forever. Like wax fruit. But if you’ve ever accidentally taken a bite of wax fruit, it’s nasty. (Especially if people didn’t dust it. Yuck.) Wax fruit only looks good, and impresses people who aren’t paying real attention. Same as all the fake fruit Christians try to pass off as the real thing—which never spoils, never fades, never withers, but isn’t real.

You know, like the redefinitions of “joy” which generate fake plastic smiles instead of real happiness and pleasure.

Not all God’s gifts are permanent.

I’ve heard more than one preacher claim God’s gifts are lasting, if not permanent. When God gives us something it never, ever fades away. His gifts are eternal. His fruit is perpetual.

I really wish Christians would read our bibles. Some of God’s gifts last forever. Some of ’em really don’t. You know why Jesus teaches us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to ask for daily bread? Because it’s a gift of God which doesn’t last a second day.

In fact God’s bread is known for not lasting a second day. That’s what the Hebrews discovered when God introduced them to manna.

Exodus 16.15-31 KWL
15 Israel’s descendants saw, and told one another, “What’s this?” They didn’t know what it was.
Moses told them, “This is the bread the LORD gives you for food!
16 This is the LORD’s word of instruction: Any man who wants to eat it,
pick up a liter for each person’s soul who lives in your tent.” 17 Israel’s descendants did so.
Some picked up much; some little. 18 They measured with a liter jar.
Those with much kept no extra, and those with little weren’t short.
Everyone who wished to eat it, picked it up.
19 Moses told them, “Don’t save it till the morning!”
20 They didn’t listen to Moses, and people saved it till morning.
It got wormy and stank. Moses was furious with them.
21 Whoever wanted to eat it, picked it up morning by morning.
Once the sun was warm, it melted.

The manna God supernaturally provided had a really short expiration date. So short, most of us wouldn’t get it if we found it in the grocery store! Even if it was free: “You gotta eat it today?—and if you don’t, it gets wormy and stinky? Pass.” (We’re so spoiled.)

Why’d the LORD require the Hebrews to collect manna six days a week, instead of giving ’em magic manna that’d fill them for days or weeks or months? Because you know they’d eat the once-a-month manna, then stop following God for the rest of the month. That’s how humans are. What’s the very least effort we have to put in?—we’ll do that. Why do Christians want fruit we no longer have to grow day by day, and talk about the Spirit’s fruit as if that’s how it is? Because that’s what we covet. But that’s not how the Spirit’s fruit grows!

Yeah, the fruit in our lives is meant to be permanent. But how’s it become permanent? With constant refills from God. Like daily manna. Like God’s compassion, as Jeremiah described it:

Lamentations 3.22-23 KWL
22 The LORD’s love ensures we don’t come to an end.
His acts of compassion don’t stop; 23 new ones come in the mornings!
Your faithfulness, God, is vast.

“They are new every morning,” is how the KJV puts it. God doesn’t just act once and for all, like he did when Jesus freed us from sin. He acts over and over and over again. It feels continual because God’s regular about it.

And this is how joy works. We’re not gonna feel constant joy, all the time, nonstop, like a man with a morphine drip. But we’re gonna frequently feel joy, because frequently following God is gonna bring us joy. Watching God do his thing is gonna bring us joy. Embracing positivity is gonna lead to joy. Doing for others is gonna bring them joy, which’ll bring us joy. We’re gonna see a lot of joy in our lives. And it’s directly related to how often we seek God.

But when we don’t seek God, we’re not gonna see joy. Much like the Hebrews who decided to skip a day instead of collecting manna.

Fresh fruit, or wax fruit?

Yes, happiness is fleeting. Does this mean it’s wrong to pursue happiness?

Well when we find our happiness in the wrong things, like sick humor or evil joy, that’s not good. Or if we think joy comes from having the right possessions, or lots of ’em. Or if we imagine we’re happy because we’re pretending nothing’s wrong, or pretending we’re not actually sad.

But God wants us to have healthy, godly joy. Which doesn’t mean a mere sense of well-being: He wants us to be happy. He tells us to rejoice. He has to command it because sometimes we’re not rejoicing; life is rough. But when we’re following God, he gives us stuff to be happy about, stuff to take pleasure in, regardless of how rough life can be. He shines a lot of light into the world’s gloom.

So if you’re following God, and wanna be a fruitful Christian, grab hold of God’s joy when you see it. Don’t settle for fake joy, or be content with contentment. Yeah, happiness is fleeting; that’s why we gotta keep grabbing at it! That’s why God has to keep providing it. Which he does.

Woe to those Christians who think following God means they have to settle for dreariness and sadness, for this world will provide them plenty of that. But for you, let the LORD’s joy make you strong. Ne 8.10