FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8 am service, 2006-07-16

Text: Galatians 5:22,23

One of the greatest pursuits of man is his pursuit of joy or happiness. It is one of the most sought after objects in the world. Composers write songs and poems about it (eg. Beethoven's famous 'Ode to Joy'). Philosphers seek to determine what constitutes the kind of life that brings real happiness to humans. Governments attempt to lead their nations toward achieving happiness. (e.g. it is enshrined in our own national pledge 'so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation'). Not too long ago, the king of Bhutan coined a new term 'Gross National Happiness' (GNH) to measure his own kingdom's progress.

Interestingly, while everyone pursues joy or happiness, all have different ideas about what real happiness is. Ayn Rand, a Russian-born American novelist said, 'Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.' But Mahatma Gandhi concluded that 'Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.' Jacques Rousseau (18th century French political philosopher) defined happiness as having 'a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.' But according to the comedian George Burns, happiness is 'having a large, loving, caring close-knit family in another city.' And Albert Schweitzer believed that 'Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.' Since early last Monday the Italians may have their own definition of happiness, and it has something to do with a ball and a cup. And perhaps you may have your own idea or definition of what constitutes happiness.

One problem that all this presents to us is that what brings happiness to man can sometimes be things that are utterly evil, painful and even destructive. Four years ago, a British family doctor by the name of Harold Shipman was sentenced to 15 life imprisonments for killing at least 215 patients over 23 years. Most of the victims were elderly women who were given lethal injections by Dr Shipman. The court inquiry of this worst serial killer in Brittain's history revealed that there was no other motive behind his horrific acts than the fact that he enjoyed watching people die! It is said that he was addicted to killing. 

And the pursuit of happiness is actually the cause behind most kinds of addiction. What often makes people addicted to something is the thrilling sensation, the desirable pleasure or happiness it gives. But that kind of happiness ultimately leads people into terrible bondage and grief. This is all the direct outcome of man's sinful nature. Ever since sin entered the world at the beginning, man's desires have become so distorted and perverted by sin, that the things which he enjoys doing the most are often sinful or tainted with sin. 'O what fun it is to taste forbidden fruit! How thrilling it is to put one's life at great risk and even to defy death. What delight there is in fooling others with some skilful deceit. What joy it is to scare somebody out of his wits. What exhilaration one feels when one's heart is lifted up with pride! What pleasure there is in exacting sweet revenge.'

Dearly beloved, if all these sound all too familiar to you, or if you have even the slightest affinity to any of them, please beware! Please be warned most solemnly that these are not the kinds of happiness or joy that you should seek, for they will ultimately bring your soul to ruin and your life to eternal destruction. The kind of happiness or joy that you should be seeking for with all your heart is divine joy - the kind of joy that the Bible describes.

I. What Is This Joy?

Let us learn now what the Bible says about this divine joy. Firstly it is 

A. A Joy that God Himself Enjoys

We know this from what the prophet Zephaniah mentioned in Zephaniah 3:17 'The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.' (see also Isaiah 62:5; 65:19) The word for 'joy' in this verse is translated from the Hebrew word 'simchah.' This word is found 89 times in the Old Testament and it describes a joy or gladness of the heart, a deep-seated joy that involves the whole disposition. How comforting it is to know that our great God not only loves us, but He has great joy, happiness and even pleasure over us who belong to Him. Psalm 147:11 tells us that 'The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.' 

B. A Joy of God's People

The Hebrew word Simchah is not only used for the joy of God. It is also the word most frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the divine joy of God's people. For instance, it describes the exuberant that joy King David displayed as he led the Israelites in a grand procession to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12). It describes the joy of the Levites as they lifted up their voices to sing praises at the Lord's Tabernacle or Temple (1 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 29:30). It describes the joyful giving of God's people toward the building of the Holy Temple when David exhorted them to bring their offerings (1 Chronicles 29:9,17). It also describes the joy of the Jews in the great spiritual revival they experienced under the reign of the godly king Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:21,23,26).

C. A Joy that is Found in God's Presence

One important verse of Scripture where this divine joy is mentioned is Psalm 16:11 'Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.' Here King David describes for us the awesome sense of joy he experienced when he was in the presence of God. There were probably many other things that King David enjoyed in life, for he had more fame, power and riches than anyone at his time could wish for. And yet of all the many joys that King David enjoyed, none can compare with the divine joy that he found in God's presence. He testified that in God's presence there is fullness of joy! 

D. A Joy that Refreshes the Soul

There are two things worth mentioning about the divine joy of Psalm 16:11 - Firstly, in the whole Old Testament, this is the only instance where this word 'joy' is used in its plural form: and it is actually 'joys.' This plurality of joy may imply that we will never grow weary of divine joy, because there will always be new and refreshing dimensions of joy to discover every time. That is what you will find in God's presence: joy upon joy, and joy after joy! What a refreshing joy this is!

E. A Joy that Satisfies the Soul

The second thing worth mentioning is that this is the only verse where the word 'joy' is combined together with the word 'fulness' to form the unique expression, 'fulness of joy.' The word 'fulness' here can also be translated as 'satisfaction.' This adds new meaning to our understanding of divine joy. It is a joy that fully satisfies the soul. What a deeply satisfying joy this is!

It is no wonder then that David should mention how much joy he found in God's presence in a few other psalms as well, e.g. Psalm 21:6 'For Thou hast made him [i.e. King David] most blessed for ever: Thou hast made him exceeding glad with Thy countenance.' and Psalm 43:4 'Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy:...' Dearly beloved, this is the kind of joy we should certainly desire to have in our hearts at all times.

F. A Joy that Can Be Lost Through Sin

Now, while King David regularly enjoyed this divine joy because of his close walk with God, there were some moments in his life when he lost it. We see evidence of this in Psalm 51, which David wrote to confess his sin against God, 'Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation' (v.2) and in v.8 'Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.' Here David was praying that God would now restore to him the divine joy which he had before, and which he described in verse 11 of Psalm 16. Interestingly, verse 11 of Psalm 51 also mentions God's presence 'Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.' 

David knew that his sin has caused him to lose the divine joy he had, and since that joy was to be found only in God's presence, he pleaded that he would not be cast away from God's presence because of his sin. Perhaps David was worried that God would do to him what He had done to his predecessor, King Saul. God abandoned King Saul because of his persistent selfish disobedience to His commands. From them onward he was troubled by an evil spirit and only David's harp-playing could soothe him.

G. A Joy that Comes from the Holy Spirit

But what I would like all of us to observe now in Psalm 51:11 is that David also pleaded that God would not take His Holy Spirit from him. From this we can now understand clearly how God's presence was with David - It was actually through the Spirit of God who dwelt in him! The source of David's joy was really God the Holy Spirit who was with David wherever he went. And this now enables us to understand how we too can have the same joy.

II. How Can We Have This Joy?

A. Through the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

We can only have the divine joy of the Lord when the Holy Spirit dwells in us. It is only then that God's presence can be manifested to us in a special way. And when does the Holy Spirit come to dwell within us? From the moment that we are saved from sin! In Romans 8:9 Paul says 'But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.' (see also Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Galatians 4:6) Paul goes on to say that it is God's Spirit dwelling in you that makes you call him, 'Abba, Father' (Romans 8:15).

What this means is that only those who are saved can experience divine joy. If you are still unsaved, there is no way that this joy can be yours! I speak now to any friends here with us who still have not turned to Christ yet for salvation - Why do you still wait to turn away from your sins and turn to Christ? Don't you know that there are many wonderful blessings that can be yours even today, when you make Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour? Don't you long to know the blessed joy of having Christ in your life? May the Lord convict your soul of sin and draw you to Himself this very day.

Now I speak to the rest of us - namely those who are already saved. If you are a truly born-again Christian, the Holy Spirit is now dwelling in you, and He will never leave you. Now you have the privilege to experience that wonderful fullness of joy that comes from God's presence in your life! Now your soul can fully enjoy the sweetness of blessed communion with the Lord. But perhaps many of you may say that you are not experiencing enough of this joy. You say that there are moments when you can sense God's presence in your heart, but it is not always there. There are also times when you seem to be missing both His presence and the joy that it brings. Dearly beloved, the reason why you experience such seasons of spiritual dryness is exactly the same as for King David's life - There is sin in your life that you have not dealt with. It is sin that takes away the joy of your fellowship with God. Although He still remains with you, you cannot enjoy fellowship with God when you allow sin in your life. 

But when you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. When you plead with God like David did saying, 'Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit' (Psalm 51:10,12) the Lord will restore your fellowship with Him, and with that He will also restore divine joy to your soul. Then the fullness of joy from the Spirit of God who dwells in you will be yours once again.

B. Through the Filling of the Holy Spirit

Now, such a prayer for restoration of your fellowship with God is essentially the same as asking the Lord that you may be filled again with the Holy Spirit. Let us listen now to what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:17-18 'For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.' The flesh here refers to the sinful nature within us which, unfortunately, we often allow to take over the control of our lives, resulting in sin. On the other hand the Spirit of God who dwells in us wants us to give Him full control. This giving of control to the Holy Spirit is also known as 'being filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18) or 'being led by the Spirit' (Galatians 5:18).

Now, when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, v.22 says that you will produce the Fruit of the Spirit. Take a look now at the list of nine virtues that make up the fruit of the Spirit in v.22, and you well see that the second one is joy! This is the same divine joy that we have seen earlier - the joy that God Himself enjoys, the joy that is meant for God's people to experience, the joy that is found only in God's presence, the joy that refreshes and satisfies the soul, but which also can be lost through sin! 

Now, that we know what this divine joy is, and how we can have it in our daily life, let us consider:

III. Why Do We Need This Joy?

Is this divine joy something that is optional? Not at all. Is it only for the most spiritual believers to experience? No, it is not. It is for all believers of every age and every level of spirituality. Every one of us ought to have this divine joy. Dearly beloved, do you know that it is our God-given duty not to be morose and sad Christians, but to be joyful Christians? That is why we are commanded in Philippians 4:4 to rejoice in the Lord always. The joy that we have in the Lord can fulfill at least three important functions: It sustains us, it strengthens us, and it sets us apart from the world.

A. It Sustains Us

Unlike all other kinds of joy, the divine joy that we have in the Lord is not at all dependent on our circumstances. The joys of the world exist only while joyful circumstances prevail. The laughter and pleasure that worldly entertainment brings is soon dissipated after the show ends and the sober reality of life descends upon us. 

The thrill of winning the World cup is only for a brief shining moment, because in 4 years time, another country will probably win it. Everyone who relies on such joy to sustain them will find themselves disappointed! Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, said that he gave himself fully to enjoying every kind of worldly pleasure that he could lay his hands on with all the riches at his disposal. But at the end of it all, when he assessed all that he had gained, he said, 'behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.' (Ecclesiastes 2:11b). Earthly joys cannot sustain you.

But the divine joy that we have in the Lord is different from this. It does not depend on circumstances, and hence we can rejoice in the Lord both in good times as well as bad times. Because of this, we can rely on it to sustain us even during our most difficult and painful trials in life. Listen to what the prophet Habakkuk said: 'Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.' (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Perhaps you are presently going through a very difficult time of your life, when things are not going very well for you. It may be that you are struggling now to cope with sickness, with loss, with disappointment or with failure. If this is true of you, please do not be dishearted or discouraged by these things, but rejoice in the Lord just like Habakkuk did. Let God be your source of exceeding joy. Remind yourself that He is still in full control of all things, and trust Him to grant you His sufficient grace to journey through your difficult path. 

And when you do that, you will be able to sing glad songs of joy even in the darkest night! This was how Paul and Silas were able to sing praises to God in the Philippian jail at midnight, despite being badly mistreated and abused. You need this joy, because it sustains you. The next function of the divine joy of the Lord we shall consider is that:

B. It Strengthens Us

The last part of Nehemiah 8:10 reads, 'the joy of the Lord is your strength.' The background of this verse is like this: The Jews who had rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah had just heard the Word of the Lord read and thoroughly explained to them and they realized that there was much work to be done for the Lord. 

But they were so deeply convicted of their sins that they wept and mourned in deep repentance and contrition of heart. And their sorrow was so great that Nehemiah and Ezra had to stop them, lest they should go to an extreme. It is good at times for God's people to be mournful for their sins, but they must eventually be assured of God's forgiveness and be ready to consecrate themselves once again for cheerful service to the Lord. And so they instructed the people to turn their sorrow into joy so that the work that they needed to do now would not be hindered. And the encouragement they gave them was this: 'The joy of the Lord is your strength.'

In any kind of service that you do for the Lord - whether in church or outside church - always be sure to do it with the joy of the Lord, for it is your strength. Perhaps some of us who have been faithfully serving the Lord are in need of a good spiritual boost right now. The initial enthusiasm that you had when you first started to serve God has given way to tiredness and weariness, and perhaps you are even entertaining thoughts of giving up your service. One possible reason why this has happened to you is that you have been relying on your own strength instead of drawing your strength from the Lord. What you need to do now is to put the joy of the Lord back into your service. 

This divine joy will improve your service tremendously by adding more vigour and more life into it. It will keep you from regarding services a burden, because the enjoyment that you derive from serving the Lord makes you press onward and forward. It will also make your service more pleasing and honouring to the Lord. That is why Psalm 100:2 tells us that we should serve the Lord with gladness. God is worthy of the most joyful service we can give! 

C. It Sets Us Apart from Others

According to Acts 16:25 when Paul and Silas sang their joyful praises in the Philippian jail at midnight, the other prisoners heard their singing. The prisoners may have wondered how these two men who had suffered such brutal humiliation, scourged with whips, thrown unceremoniously into the innermost prison cell, and immobilized with stocks could still have the heart to sing so joyfully. No one in such circumstances would ever do that. It was clearly the joy of the Lord that set them apart from all the rest. 

Woud it not be wonderful if the joy of the Lord can also set us apart from others like this? What kind of testimony are we giving to the world if we hardly exhibit any joy at all? Are we not supposed to be bearers of the Good News of salvation to the world? But how can we do that convincingly if our own lives never radiate the joy of salvation, the joy of knowing and serving our Lord Jesus? This would surely make us the worst advertisements of the Gospel of Christ!

What the unsaved world needs to see in us is the divine joy that they do not have, and that this joy can only be found in those who have received Jesus Christ into their lives. Let us therefore ensure that we show that joy in our lives. This morning we have seen how we can we do this - by being indwelt and filled with the Holy Spirit so that we may bear the fruit of the Spirit which includes joy. May the Lord help us to commit ourselves to live the Spirit-filled life. And who knows how God may use this one day for His glory?

About 300 years ago a storm was threatening to sink a ship on the Atlantic Ocean. On that ship was a young man whose name was John Wesley. As the winds and waves grew stronger and stronger John Wesley became terrified and thought he was going to die. But on that same ship there was a group of Moravian Christians who did not seem to be fearful at all. And even in the worst part of the storm they were still calmly singing praises to God. Wesley was amazed. He knew that they had something he did not have. When the ship finally arrived safely in England, Wesley did not rest until he found the secret of their joy - their saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was soundly converted, and went on to become mightily used of God to bring a great revival to England. May the joy of the Lord in you be used by Him to bring similar results, for His glory!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25