First Mennonite Church
July 29, 2018
Flying the Banner of Joy
Text: 1Peter 1:3-9, Galatians 5:22a
We will continue with our series on the fruit of the Spirit according to Paul in Galatians chapter five, verse 22. As we noticed, love is first in the list of fruit of the Spirit. Today we will consider joy.
On a funny note about fruit of the Spirit: have you seen the car sticker that reads: “God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts”? There’s some truth in that quote. One can be a religious fanatic about minute things and yet, miss the essence of Christ’s presence in one’s life. On a more serious note, let me assure you that what I will share today I will do as a fellow pilgrim on this journey called the “life of faith.” You are not the only ones in need to be reminded of the importance of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. You are not the only ones in need to be reminded that joy is not only essential in Christian life, but the very essence of it. I need to be reminded as well.
It is well known to us that life is not always easy or free from difficulties. From a merely human perspective, life does not always allow us to be happy, much less to be joyful. There are emotionally and spiritually draining circumstances and phases in life. We all go through them. Life is full of demands. For those in school, there are deadlines to be met. There are tests to be taken. Not every teacher is considerate. For those who work for a boss, the same can be said. As we grow older, we become more aware of the effect of the passing of time on our bodies. When we see someone in the family or close circle of friends with signs of failing memory, we worry and we grieve. When we see those older than us or even younger than us depart this world, we are not only saddened by their absence but are also reminded of our own frailty.
Besides all the challenges of life’s natural process there are the spiritual ones. The life of faith in every context is challenging. While in some contexts these challenges can be in the form of outright opposition, in our case they are the more subtle. I believe the greatest challenge there is to our faith in our context is the spiritual complacency. Because our faith is not directly opposed, because we do not experience persecution, we often fail to develop a sense of spiritual fervency. Spiritual complacency, however, leads to apathy towards matters of faith and towards our service to God and others. Yet, because we still have some degree of desire for holiness, which is central to our identity as Christians, we might feel a sense of guilt when we realize how complacent we have become. And then we are not happy, much less joyful about our spiritual life. So what can we do to live out the fruit of God’s Spirit in us?
- Remember that we have been forgiven
There can be no greater joy than to know that we have been forgiven. This should be one major reason for us to rejoice. Now that we are aware of the superlative value of being right before God in light of our sinfulness and the consequences of it, we can rejoice in the Lord for his grace, for his forgiveness and salvation. Every day and in every situation we can rejoice in the fact that nothing in this life can compare to the joy of being able to have intimacy with God. Nothing can compare to the joy of being able to approach the mercy seat of God with confidence.
We should rejoice in the Lord, not only for the fact that we have been forgiven, but also that the blood of Christ is the fountain in which we are washed anew every time we come confessing our sins. “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” says John (1John 1:9).
At the beginning of a new day, we should rise up with a gratitude in our heart for God’s salvation. Remembering this at the beginning and ending of our day will cause us to rejoice and be joyful.
- Allow God’s Spirit to take over your life.
Our joy comes from God’s Spirit. It is redundant to say that because it is precisely what our text affirms: The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy. But how often not only the unbeliever is the one who tries to find joy and happiness away from God, but even we believers are tempted to believe it is possible. C. S. Lewis wrote:
A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now, God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirit were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
When God dwells in us through his Spirit, the fountain of joy is in us. When the Spirit of God is in us, the evidence is obvious.
There is a story about a headmaster of a boarding school in London. One of his students used to say that it seemed as if every night the headmaster went to heaven, because every morning when he came, he had a wonderful smile on his face. The young student could not think of any place other than heaven where one would get that kind of joy the headmaster had. One day the student decided to ask the headmaster about his source of joy. And his response is truly amazing. He said to the student, “Joy is the flag that is flown from the castle of your heart when the King is in residence.”
The King is residing in the castle of your heart, my dear brothers and sisters. Christ, the King, is dwelling inside you, through his Spirit. Raise high the banner of joy and tell the world the King is in residence.
Besides the spiritual foundation of our joy, let me share two other practical sources of joy. First, seek to be an active participant in the work of the Lord. In Romans 12, verse 10-13, we read: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. As it is with children, idleness leads to boredom and restlessness. But when we are actively participating in some kind of work in God’s kingdom, we find not only pleasure and satisfaction, but also joy in knowing that we are serving God and others. When we participate in church life, like leading congregational singing, providing the music, in leadership groups, Bible study, or any kind of church activity, we will surely find joy that God is blessing others through us. So I want to invite you to continue in the service you provide to our congregation. If you have not found something that interests you or makes best use of your gifts or talents, speak to me so we can brainstorm and pray about what to do. Being a small congregation, we can use all the help each of us can provide. There are many Christians, especially in large congregations, who do not do anything else other than attending the worship service. Often times, unless there is something exciting happening they are bored.
There was once a young boy who went to spend the week with his grandfather on the farm. While walking around, he noticed the chickens. The mother hen was happily scratching and teaching her young how to find worms. And looking at the hen and the chicks, the little lad said, “They ain’t got it.” Next he saw a colt in the field playing and kicking up its heel’s to which he exclaimed, “He ain’t got it.” After examining all of the animals on his grandfather’s farm and seeing that none of them had “it,” this boy finally found the old donkey in the barn. When he saw the donkey’s long, frowning face and the way that the donkey just stood there, he screamed for his grandfather to come quickly. “I found it, I found it,” the boy kept yelling. When his grandfather asked what he had found, he said, “Pawpaw, I found an animal that has the same kind of religion that you have.”
John Wesley once said that sour-faced religion is from the devil.
A second source of joy is found in the simple things in life. The greatest thief of joy is our busy lifestyle. We are constantly rushing from here to there and we barely have time to look at what surrounds us and even the things we do. We lose sight of the beauty around us, like:
- Watching the trees sway with the wind in the evening.
- Being grateful at the throbbing beat of the heart after a brisk jog.
- Enjoying the water while showering.
- Seeing your student has developed the skills you taught him or her.
- Giving or receiving a long hug or embrace.
- Smiling back at someone
- Holding a baby in the arms. Or the joy in discovering signs the baby is growing and developing.
The other day Jasmine and Madeleine babysat August and Aymie. Aymie preferred Josue and me to hold her. So, we took turns holding her. Every time it was my turn, Aymie was not happy that Josue had to leave her for a while. But she would call Josue by repeatedly opening and closing her little fingers. The following day Josue told me that despite Aymie’s inability to speak, she could call him and he understood what Aymie meant.
There are many simple things for which we can be joyful. But let us not forget that we as Christians have the greatest reason to rejoice and be glad. Christ, the King, is residing in the castle of our heart. Let us raise high the banner of joy. God rejoices over us and has given us his Spirit is the source of pure and fullness of joy. Let is raise the banner of joy! Amen.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 84.