Joy for the Journey
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
I received a text message from my friend Scott that blessed my heart. He told me about a recent trip he and his son Gabriel had taken to BI-LO, a grocery store. A lady was standing at the entrance with a sign that read, “Need help.” When the boy saw that sign he said to his dad, “Dad we GOTTA help her, she needs our help!”
While they were in BI-LO they bought a chicken dinner and a coke for the lady. When they came out, Gabriel took the food to the lady. When Gabriel came back to the car he said, “Daddy, my heart feels so happy.” Scott finished that text by saying, “As a preacher I wanted you to know, it ‘took.’”
I couldn’t help but think the outflow of Gabriel’s act of love was joy…or as he expressed it, “My heart feels happy.” Jesus said in John 15:11 as He spoke of the importance of abiding in Christ, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
The joy we are to pursue is the joy that is the product of Spirit-living and Spirit-walking.
Background on the Person of James
For us to understand what it means to bear the fruit of love, expressed through joy, we need to take a deeper look into joy. To do that, we will look at
James’ words found in his letter.
The book of James is an interesting book. It begins by saying, “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The author only identifies himself as a slave to the Lord Jesus Christ. The truth is, it is written by the half-brother of Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus had at least four brothers: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55-56).
James was not a believer in Jesus for most of his early life: “For neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5). In fact, it would appear that James might have thought his brother was insane! “And when His family heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mark 3:21 ESV).
Additionally, Jesus didn’t even entrust His own mother to His siblings when He was dying. Instead, He asked John to care for His mother (John 19:26-27).
It wasn’t until Jesus’ resurrection that James became a believer. 1 Corinthians 15:7 tells us that Jesus made a special appearance to James, probably playing a prominent role in James’ conversion. Subsequently, James became a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15). He wrote in the time period shortly after Stephen had been stoned and Saul was persecuting the church.
The Road to Joy
James tells us to do something that by nature runs cross-grain to our feelings! One could translate the original Greek of James 1:2 to say, “Consider your circumstances with calm delight when you fall into various, unavoidable methods of adversity.”
There are two thoughts being expressed in the Greek word “temptations”—the outward trials of life and the inward temptations of the soul.
Consider it all joy when you are persecuted or mistreated; when your car breaks down; when the assignment seems unfair and the professor won’t back down; when you are ridiculed for your faith; when you are beaten for your love for Jesus; when your money runs out and there’s still more month left; when your parents are ill and you have to care for them.
James observed this kind of joy first hand. Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:11-12 NASB).
Then later, when the apostles were dragged before the Sanhedrin, they took His advice. They were flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released (Acts 5:40-41). They went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. James would have had a front row seat to this since it took place in Jerusalem and he was a leader in the church at Jerusalem.
Consider it all joy when you are tempted inwardly? Yes. When you are tempted to quit the faith; when you are tempted to cheat on your tax return; when you are tempted to go to that website you know is wrong. But how are we to count temptation joy, when failure means that we have sinned?
I think the answer lies in this fact: The testing of our faith demonstrates two truths,
- We are alive spiritually and Satan is seeking our demise; and
- God is perfecting something in our lives.
The very thought of counting all these circumstances as joy runs cross-grain to our human nature! But listen to the words of wisdom from Warren Wiersbe. He writes, “Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to count it all joy! If we live only for the present and forget about the future, the trials will make us bitter, not better.”*
The Route to Joy
We cannot count trials and temptation as joyful if our evaluation is determined by the material and physical, because in that mode we are consumed by how we feel. But James 1:3 helps to put things in proper order, letting us know that the testing of our faith produces endurance. That helps!
We can’t count something which is painful as joyful unless we know something more than just what we feel. Let me illustrate it this way:
Imagine yourself walking down the sidewalk, and a friend comes running out of nowhere and tackles you and you land three feet off the sidewalk in the grass. In such a situation, surely you would be less than blessed. Right? But what if there had been a large object that was about to drop on your head? That changes things.
In a similar sense, James is saying that we can face our trials and temptations with joy because we know there is a Friend watching over us, and He controls the outcome. Often in the situation, things beyond our feelings are not readily apparent. But the Christian knows that, although unpleasant in the moment, the testing of one’s faith produces endurance.
Apart from God, our lives are like pieces of scrap metal, twisted and wrecked from the sin in our lives. But God, the Master Blacksmith, takes our lives and puts us in the fire and forms our lives. The forging work may be unpleasant, but knowing what is being done changes our perspective of what we are going through. We can rest knowing our Friend, the Master Blacksmith, is overseeing everything, and that these trials are producing endurance within us.
The Destination of Joy
James shows us a progression in this journey of joy. We can count our circumstances joyful when we know what God is doing, but what HE is doing is not just producing endurance. That is just a step in the overall journey.
James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (NASB).
No, endurance isn’t the final result, it’s a means to the destination. The destination is perfection or completeness—lacking nothing!
Picture your faith as a puzzle. What you begin with appears to be a scattered mess. However, little by little you begin to see how the separate pieces fit into the larger picture. As one piece after another joins together, that picture begins to form, but the puzzle isn’t complete until the last piece is nestled into place, finishing the masterpiece.
Jesus wants to do the same thing with your life…your faith. He doesn’t want to present a half-finished puzzle to His Father. He wants to present a completed puzzle, lacking nothing!
When the fruit of the Spirit, love, is being born in our lives, it produces the fruit of joy. I had the opportunity to watch this firsthand in my life. When I was a teenager, my mother contracted a rare blood disease. Over the course of the next 15 years, I watched as her health slowly deteriorated. For some people, it would have been an opportunity to blame God or question His goodness.
However, I watched my mother, and, through all her treatments and setbacks, she grew in her relationship with the Lord. Not everything was pleasant, but she remained joyful through it all. She personally showed me what the fruit of the Spirit looks like. Because of her love for God, she endured and stayed joyful through her various trials.
And, I must say, she showed the world what a “perfect person, lacking nothing,” looks like.
Jonathan Slagenweit pastors the Bible Methodist Church in Easley, SC. He and his wife Tonya have four boys.