I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
Joy. That is the subject of the text before us this morning. Joy is a simple little three-letter word. Itâ€™s used all over our world; have any of you washed clothes in Joy detergent? It is obviously a word we are very familiar with. Weâ€™ve all experienced it and spoken about it so it can be said that we are, to some degree, experts on the subject. But have you ever tried to define joy?
Obviously, it is an emotion but it is also a state. Furthermore, itâ€™s something we desire. In fact, it could be said that all of life is spent in its pursuit. On some level, everything we do is aimed toward finding or attaining joy. We speak of enjoying our job or how much we would enjoy owning this or that. We take joy in our accomplishments, our offspring, our possessions, etc. So joy, as a subject, is incredibly broad. Is it possible to boil it down to an essence and capture that essence in words?
In pursuit of a definition I began to wonder about how joy is attained, thinking that perhaps the process might help me articulate what joy really is. I found writings on the Internet dealing with this subject that I thought I would share with you.
The May-June 2002 issue of Natural Health magazine carried an article entitled 50 Ways to Find Joy. Some of their recommendations:
Â· Pat a pet.
Â· Buy something beautiful and admire it often.
Â· Add greenery to your life.
Â· Do the Twist.
Â· Start a tea party.
I also found a website belonging to Khai Joybringer, Goddess of Joy. It even had her email address. Imagine my surprise when I found out I could just send an email to the Goddess of Joy. Who knew?
Really, all my digging just confirmed something I knew all along: what our culture understands of joy is hopelessly shallow and ridiculous. In contrast to this, we have the words of Christ in John 15:11. The plain fact that Christ spoke these words makes me think that the subject of joy has an importance and dignity far beyond what we think of the subject.
We are then left wondering what joy means to God. Or, perhaps, what God would have joy mean to us. Is it possible that joy is supposed to drive us to God?
Let me ask a couple more questions based on our experiences with joy.
We obviously find joy in things, whether it is our car or our kids. But let me ask this: if joy is found in things, why does nothing (no thing) satisfy us finally? I find joy in Christie, in football, and reading books. But none of those things is perfectly joyful; none of those things would be ultimately satisfactory by themselves.
We also find joy in pleasant circumstances. The company of loved ones, swimming in a pool on a hot day, watching children play â€“ all of these things bring joy. But if joy is a matter of finding pleasant circumstances how do we explain those people who experience incredible joy in the most awful of circumstances. I think of Acts 5:40-41: â€œâ€¦and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.â€
It was questions like these that C.S. Lewis was wrestling with when he converted to Christianity. Lewis found himself perpetually in pursuit of joy yet always finding, at best, a fleeting and weak taste of what he desired. As soon as he thought heâ€™d grasped joy he found it slipping through his fingers. Looking back on the various pursuits of pleasure he undertook Lewis wrote â€œallâ€¦sensationsâ€¦soon confessed themselves inadequate.â€
Ironically, it was these failures to attain joy which suggested a solution to Lewis. What if nothing in this world could satisfy his desire precisely because the object of his desire was other-worldly? He found himself wondering what he was to make of this mysterious, intense, and recurrent desire that nothing in the world could satisfy? Did the desire have any real significance? Did anything actually exist that could satisfy this desire?
He wrote in The Pilgrims Regress â€œIt appeared to me . . . that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully givenâ€”nay, cannot even be imagined as givenâ€”in our presentâ€¦experience. This Desire was, in the soulâ€¦the chair in which only one could sit. And if nature makes nothing in vain, the One who can sit in this chair must exist.â€
â€œIn other words, Lewis reasoned from this intense desire, which nothing in the world could satisfy, to an object of desire that transcended the world. He gradually became convinced that this Supreme Object of human desire is God and heaven!â€ (Quote and Lewis data from â€œC.S. Lewis and the Riddle of Joyâ€ by Michael Gleghornâ€)
I think Lewis understood joy better than almost all others. From him we learn that joy isnâ€™t ultimately an emotion or an experience of pleasing circumstances but rather an expression of our innate desire for God. We chase around after joy, not realizing that the pursuit is fleeting at best precisely because it can only be satisfied when we are in right relation to God.
This conclusion is in beautiful harmony with Scripture.
Nehemiah 8:10 â€“ â€œâ€¦the joy of the Lord is your strengthâ€
Psalm 16:11 â€“ â€œâ€¦In your presences is the fullness of joyâ€¦â€
Psalm 43:4 â€“ â€œâ€¦Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joyâ€¦â€
Romans 14:17 â€“ â€œâ€¦for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.â€
Thus this text before us drives us in the same direction: we can have joy â€“ authentic, mature, complete, full joy â€“ in Christ.
I. Joy Is Available to Us
â€œThese things I have spoken to you so thatâ€¦â€
This might sound like an unnecessary point after such an extended introduction but it bears noting both because of our own desires and the prevalent foolishness of our age. Let me explain.
One, that truth should relieve us in the same way cool water relieves extreme thirst. This thing â€“ joy â€“ weâ€™ve been pursuing with all our might since we were old enough to have desires can be had, is even ready to be seized. The object of our search is readily attainable.
These things I have spokenâ€ most likely refers to Christ words just previous, the discourse on abiding in Him as a branch abides in a vine. He is thus making Himself, the source and object of joy, available to us!
Secondly, the popular foolishness of our world is that objective truth is unknowable, partially because words cannot communicate anything objectively. But Christ here is saying that His words are not only knowable but also sufficient to bring us to Ultimate Truth.
Furthermore, His words are readily accessible to us. We donâ€™t have to starve ourselves under a tree until enlightenment grabs us, head off on some pilgrimage to a foreign land, nor wait for some supernatural sensation to overtake us. We only need to take the Words of Scripture and read to find that which brings complete joy.
II. This Joy We Find is Rooted in Christâ€™s Joy
â€œâ€¦My joy may be in youâ€¦â€
What did Christ mean when He spoke of His joy? I think at least two realities composed Christâ€™s joy.
1. The Fatherâ€™s Love for Christ
Twice God the Father broke in to this world supernaturally to inform everyone that His Son was the supreme object of His affection. At Christâ€™s baptism and the Mount of Transfiguration Godâ€™s voice called Christ His â€œbeloved Sonâ€. At His baptism God declared to Christ that He was â€œwell pleasedâ€ in Christ. Perichoresis is the word the ancient Greek church fathers used to describe the active, flowing river of mutual love coursing amongst the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. We cannot comprehend the fullness of this love but we can know that this endless love is present and that Christ gloried in it.
2. Christâ€™s Obedience to the Father
Hebrews 2:12 â€“ â€œâ€¦fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.â€
The accomplishment of Godâ€™s prerogatives was such joy to Christ that it made the agony of the cross into an opportunity for joy.
Similar to Christ, we can find joy in the Fatherâ€™s love for us in Christ and His gracious decision to accomplish His kingdomâ€™s priorities through our lives.
III. This Joy is Complete
â€œâ€¦and that your joy may be made full.â€
Various translation end this verse with full, complete, or wholly mature. The idea is that joy is no longer fleeting for those in Christ. It is growing, it is advancing, it is developing but it is not something that we always have to go about grabbing after. The joy in a believerâ€™s life is always moving toward perfect realization.
C.S. Lewis said, â€œJoy is the serious business of Heaven.â€ God is serious about bringing us to Himself and thus into true joy. This joy isnâ€™t the carnal, self-focused pseudo-joy we find in other pursuits. He is teaching us to despise all other pleasures, all other joys as hollow imitators when compared to the pleasure of knowing Him.
Believers must look for this joy in our lives. It might not be as full as it should be but if we are believers then it is there. It must be cultivated; it must be given room to grow. We must seek abide in Christ and seek His holiness in our lives. A Puritan by the name of Thomas Watson said it well: â€œThe more holiness any man has, the more he shall enjoy him, in whose presence is fulness of joy, Ps. 16:11; and the more any man enjoys the presence of God with his spirit, the greater will be his heaven of joy in this world….Divine joy ebbs and flows as holiness ebbs and flows” (Works, vol. 4, 353).
If this joy isnâ€™t present in our lives then the wonder of its availability should compel us to trust in the One who offers it. Neighbor, you already spend all your energy seeking after joy. The only thing youâ€™ve found is hollow and fleeting satisfaction, frustration, and â€“ much worse â€“ greater sin. Your own conscience testifies as much to you. Turn to Christ for true Joy. It is both the greatest obligation and opportunity of your life.