This is the second piece of fruit in the series on the Fruit of the Spirit. For an overview see, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
So where is the word joy mentioned in the above Scripture reference? Obviously, the word isn’t there, nor is it hidden in the original language. But I have come to believe that the Biblical meaning of joy can be best captured in the word contentment. The Greek word for joy denotes a state of gladness, which could simply mean to be happy. Similar ideas are expressed in Scripture through words like rejoice or blessed. It is why the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are sometimes translated with the phrase, “Happy are those who …” They are all interchangeable ideas.
Yet one thing you begin to notice as you look at how these terms are utilized in the Bible is that they are often associated with what we might call unhappy circumstances:
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
And there are many more examples. The message of the writers of the New Testament seems to call for joy in spite of our circumstances, not because of our circumstances. To put it another way, joy seems to be tied to our internal spirit rather than our external conditions.
This is in contrast to the message our culture is broadcasting on a daily basis. Much of what is being marketed to us are products that promise to bring us happiness. Parents just want their children to be happy. Marriages split because one or both were no longer happy. Indeed, it is one of our inalienable rights to purse happiness, right up there with life and liberty. Regrettably, much of what we base our happiness on is tied to our external circumstances. Thus many today find themselves continually cycling through jobs, relationships, and gadgets in order to get another happiness fix. I recently heard a talk from a psychologist who stated that those who pursue happiness often end up depressed, because they can never fully attain what they are pursuing.
Happiness is a by-product of higher pursuits, not a pursuit in-and-of itself. Contentment (or for our purposes, joy), on the other had, can be a more permanent fixture in our life. The word content in Scripture actually means to have enough – to be joyful because you have all that you need. Contentment is also an inward focus, rather than an external circumstance. The person who is not content routinely blames everything on external circumstances. If only a better job were secured, more money were available, or a relational status were changed, then happiness could be achieved. This is not contentment.
The Apostle Paul learned the “secret” of being content in any and every circumstance. It mattered not if he were in a season of plenty or a season of want. His secret was this: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The circumstance, itself, did not matter. The secret of contentment was that contentment had nothing to do with how much he had outside of himself, but rather how secure he was with what was inside him. And as it turns out, when we learn the secret of contentment, we find ourselves in a place of joy.
Now that we have unpacked this idea of joy as being a mark of the Fruit of the Spirit, how would you evaluate the presence of joy in your life?
- Is the source of my contentment based more on my internal spirit than my external circumstances?
- What circumstances might be robbing you of your joy?
- In what ways have you learned to rejoice, despite some of the circumstances in your life?