The powerful Spirit produces joy. We know this, because for the Thessalonian believers, they experienced joy, not only in favorable circumstances, but also when distressed: “having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NAS95). The joy did not appear naturally, but rather, supernaturally. From a worldly point of view, there was no cause for joy. But something else was going on in the minds and hearts of these believers. Their eyes were opened to a new estimation of things. The value of the word had become greater than present comforts. The promise of future reward more than compensated for the risk or experience of present loss. What was gained was now more precious that what was lost.
I see a lack of joy in my Christian experience. I also see it in the lives of other believers. We are not persecuted. We do not suffer greatly. We engage in our commitments, and we do our duties. We plod along, and we exhibit faithfulness; but not joyfulness.
Why is this? If I looked only at 1 Thes 1, I might conclude that all we need is a good dose of tribulation to bring out the joy. But that is not what that text is saying. It is not the tribulation that produces the joy, but the Holy Spirit. And so the question has to be asked, “What am I doing to stifle the production of joy by the Holy Spirit?” And so I have gone searching, and find some answers in the following passages in which both the concept of “joy” and “Spirit” occur together.
In Acts 13:52, the Gentiles who had just recently heard the gospel and realized that it was good news, not just for others, but also for people like them, were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Their excitement and wonder at being accepted and included in God’s gracious plan that brings forgiveness of sins changed their view of all things, producing joy. Life could never again be the same. So much of the world around me is hell-bound. God’s electing grace should be shockingly refreshing. This can be spoiled by a sense of entitlement, as though God, for some reason, owed me a spot on the bus.
Romans 14: 17 says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Specifically, Paul has just said that a brother for whom Christ has died is more important and more dear to him than eating or not eating. It appears that if one trades out the importance of people for personal liberties or luxuries, then he may very well forego “righteousness and peace and joy.” Joy is experienced as one lives in light of these three facts: God is working His plan; people are highly valuable; and we are preparing for and investing in a drastically better future. Again, I lose joy when the biggest plan in view is what’s for lunch, or who’s doing music, or what’s on TV.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NAS95) We see that the God of hope works in concert with the Spirit of power to produce “joy and peace in believing.” God is doing something strange and contrary to expectation. He is bringing together a people that unites old enemies. And the follower of Christ is challenged to continue in the acceptance of those who are not just like you, and who formerly may have been offensive or disgusting. You behave in this new way because you have been re-visioned, re-vised according to a new creation kind of existence, to which you are fastened by hope. And the joy that is mentioned seems to have in it a sense of adventure and a scent of anticipation. I lose the experience of joy when I focus upon the accomplishment of “old man” objectives as opposed to God’s heavenly purposes in His Son, in His church, and in His world.
In 2 Corinthians 7:13, Paul and Titus are rejoicing in the continuing faith of Corinthians Christians. Yes, life is hard – “conflicts without, fears within” (v.5) – but the fellowship, the comraderie of Christians who are on the same team and running the same race is sustaining, refreshing, and heart-lifting. As we see later in 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20, the fellowship with other believers is critical. If this “band of brothers” loses its sense of direction; if they begin to exist for no good purpose other than to endure – they will lose joy.
So, if it fits, make your own diagnosis. Why joylessness? What is at stake is more than a life lived in dullness and depression. Spiritual joy is linked also to peace and hope and love and fellowship. To be depleted in the area of joy is to be disabled in worship and witness and service.