Joy and Peace

Last week we began looking at the fruit of the Spirit as we discussed love.  While love has many meanings, particularly in the English language, the kind of love that God demonstrates for us and that we are to have for one another is a self sacrificing love.

The fruit of the Spirit are qualities that we as Christians should possess but they are not something that we can simply decide to attempt to possess.  They are marks of maturity.  While as human beings we may demonstrate some manner of these qualities, it is only with God’s help that we are capable of having them perfectly, or at least fully as perfection is probably too high to attain.

The fruit of the Spirit are given by the Holy Spirit and only come through trial.  We learn these qualities as we are refined by the Holy Spirit.  The things that detract from these qualities are burned away over time and experience.  Only then do we gain these qualities.  With this in mind, let’s take a look at the next two qualities this morning, joy and peace.

Galatians 5:22-26

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Some equate joy with happiness and while it is true that they are similar and in some ways overlapping emotions, they are not the same.  To state it most simply, you can be unhappy and still be joyful.  Paul had this concept mastered better than most of us ever will.  To the Philippians he wrote in Philippians 4:4:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

To the Thessalonians he wrote one of the shortest verses in the bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:16:

Rejoice always

If we expand a bit further for context we get an even better idea of what Paul meant – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Finally, Paul writes in Philippians 4:10-12:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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.

What Paul describes to the Philippians is true joy.  Paul had the right to tell the Thessalonians to rejoice always because Paul had lived that.  My mentor has said before that there are two people’s lives in the Bible that he would not want to have lived – David and Paul.  These two are among our greatest heroes but neither had an easy life.  Paul writes of his difficulties to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26:

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.

If you want to speak of a difficult life, Paul has lived it.  And he did this after living what I would assume was a life of luxury.  Not only was Paul a Pharisee but he was a wealthy one prior to his conversion to Christianity.  Paul could have bemoaned all that he gave up, particularly as he was being beaten or imprisoned for the gospel.  Instead, what we see time after time is that Paul is simply more emboldened to share the good news.

I do not like to hold myself up as an example because I am a very imperfect man.  However, I do believe that God has called me to be a testimony for Him through all of this.  Two years ago yesterday was when I had my colon surgery.  Roughly 18 inches, or about one third of my colon was removed.  Two weeks to the day after that we found that Merissa had miscarried a second time.  This came almost three years to the day from her first miscarriage.  And the following Sunday, those of you who were here should remember that I stood in this very spot and declared that God is still good.

Now the Lord has blessed us with a son and I am battling cancer once again but with a much tougher diagnosis.  And I can tell you that there is still joy to be found because it is not dependent on outside circumstances.  To me, joy is dependent upon the goodness of God.  I may be unhappy about the circumstances but that does not change the fact that God is good one bit.

It is far too easy to blame God when things go wrong in our lives.  In times of tragedy people will ask “Where was God?” or “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”  Nowhere have we been promised that we would avoid hardship in life.  Some people are led to become Christians, believing that their troubles would disappear.  If anything, life is harder for the Christian because Satan has little interest in destroying someone who already belongs to him.

Jesus warned us that there would be trouble.  In John 16:33 He says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So how do we have joy in a life that Jesus Himself told us would be full of trouble?  The answer is to gain some perspective.  The average lifespan is now approaching 80 years in industrialized countries.  Depending on how close you are to that number, that may or may not seem like a lot.  Even if we vastly outlive that average, our time on earth is but a speck of a speck in light of eternity.  It is easy to focus on the “here and now” because that’s where we live but the reality is that no matter how great our troubles are, they will not last forever.  On the other hand, we were made to enjoy God forever.  And the rest of our time won’t be in these frail and sinful bodies.  It will be in a glorified body that is made to last forever.

Jesus instructed in John 12:25:

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This sounds like double talk but it is the key to joy.  Jesus does not want us to literally hate our lives, we should enjoy the time that we have here on earth, but we need to keep eternity in our minds while we go about life.  Jesus is telling us that we need to live in light of eternity, not just what is presently in front of us.  When we focus on eternity, even the most horrible things that we see around our world don’t seem so terrible because we can rest assured that God is still in control and there will be an accounting for the things that break our hearts today.

Peace is closely related to joy.  It is difficult to have one without the other in my opinion.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit are things that a person might naturally be but it is only perfected with the Holy Spirit.  I am naturally calm and collected which I get from my mother.  My father is pretty much the opposite of that.

Just as an example, a few years ago when I lived in Virginia and before I was married I had a little incident where I burned down my shed.  I was talking to Merissa on the phone at the time when I walked into my kitchen and saw my shed aflame.  And my reaction was pretty much “Hey, I gotta go, my shed’s on fire.”  That’s me, that’s a natural peace that some people have and some people obviously don’t.

The fruit of the Spirit is a supernatural peace.  There are two kinds of peace in life.  There is an outward peace and there is an inward peace.  Eastern religions often stress inward peace and promote meditation.  Anabaptists, which we are as Brethren in Christ, are pacifists which is an outward peace.  Outward peace is fine and is a good thing to strive for but the kind of peace that we’re talking about here is an inner peace.

Much like joy, peace does not depend on circumstances.  We can have peace inwardly even when everything around us is going wrong.  Likewise, outward peace does not always lead to inward peace.  Recently our government has reached an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program.  I have not read the details and I have no opinion on whether this is a good deal or not.  What I do know is that despite what appears to be an outward peace, there are many who do not have inward peace because of this deal.  If anything, it has taken away their inner peace.

As I said a moment ago, joy and peace are closely related.  For this reason, it should be no surprise that we find the definition of peace in Philippians 4 as well.  Philippians 4:7-9

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

As I read this, I see two parts to peace.  The first is that peace comes from God.  Sometimes we speak about a peace that passes understanding.  This peace can only come from God.  It may be given by the Holy Spirit but I don’t believe that it is anything that is achievable through any action of our own.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where God has given you this peace that passes understanding but I can tell you from personal experience that it almost defies description.

Two years ago when I first went into the hospital and I had no idea what was going on, I ended up passing out in the ER bathroom.  The next ten minutes were a blur of people and hooking me up to machines and IV’s.  But once things calmed down, my room was empty.  Merissa wasn’t even with me at that time because we had no reason to think that anything was serious when I first went.  At that time I just found myself humming a hymn.  I don’t remember what it was now but I distinctly recall lying in the ER with an IV in each arm and several monitors and probably oxygen as well and I was just tremendously at peace.  None of what had happened bothered me in the least bit because I knew God was in control of it all.

I’ve probably told that part of the story before.  What I haven’t told is that I was scheduled for a CT scan before passing out.  They still ended up doing the CT scan anyway.  But the doctors misread the scan.  I’ve seen the write up myself.  The doctors found the polyp but because they didn’t expect to see something that size in a healthy 33 year old, they didn’t view it as a problem.  I don’t know for a fact, but I personally believe that if I hadn’t passed out, the doctors wouldn’t have ordered more tests and they might not have found the cancer until it was too late.  I believe the peace that I felt that night was God reminding me that He knows what He is doing despite what the circumstances look like.

In the last two years I have had doctor after doctor tell me how fortunate I was to catch the cancer when I did because there are usually no symptoms.  And God gave me peace throughout every doctor’s visit and procedure that I went through.  I will tell you that hearing the word cancer is a shock and I do believe that it is the scariest word in the English language, but I can tell you straight faced that not once was I ever worried about the outcome.  That may seem impossible but it is true because it’s not about me but the fact that I serve a God of peace.

There is another half of peace however, and this is where our part to play comes in.  Paul says “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is what we must do in order to obtain peace.  This is like joy where we have to keep things in perspective.  It is easy for our thoughts to go negative in times of trouble.  Don’t let them so much as it is within your power.  Focus your thoughts on positive things.  I’m sorry if that sounds cliché or like far too many self help gurus but it is the truth.  If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

We begin to worry when we take our mind off of excellent or praiseworthy things.  God is the source of excellent and praiseworthy things.  The things that we worry about are beyond our control and that’s why we worry about them.  But we worship a God who is in control over the things that our beyond our control.

I know some of you are type A personalities.  Women are more likely to be wired this way for whatever reason but there are plenty of men who are like this as well.  Type A personalities need to have control.  And because of this, peace is something that they struggle with.  God is in control and God is a God of peace.  I’m sure Merissa gets tired of hearing me say that God is in control but that thought is truly the source of my peace.  Because I am mostly able to just surrender my life to whatever God wants of it.  And at this point, I mean literally surrender my life.

I know that some of you are more worried about me than I am worried about me.  And I really do appreciate the concern.  But I can also tell you that I am at peace with the situation.  I am praying for healing but that’s not all that I’m praying for.  I am not interested in just being someone who beats the odds or even someone who is miraculously healed.  God has allowed this to happen for a reason and I do not believe that it is just a test of faith.  I am convinced that He is going to use this to show others His goodness.  I don’t know how yet but I am sure that I am going to have ample opportunities in the upcoming months and probably years.

This morning I’ve made things a bit more personal than usual.  I’ve used myself as an illustration because these are two traits that I believe I have exhibited in difficult times.  But I will echo the words of Paul and say “follow me as I follow Christ.”  I am not a perfect example and don’t think for a moment that I am.  Right now I am at the beginning of another difficult journey.  And in the months to come there are going to be rough days.  And there are probably going to be days when I am not feeling as joyful or at peace as I am today.

Please don’t hold my humanity against me.  The fruit of the Spirit are qualities that we strive for but also ones that we won’t perfectly attain.  When we allow our lives to be controlled by the Spirit we will see these things exhibited in ourselves.  But when we try to take back control, as we all do at times, that’s when these qualities will disappear.  So I simply say, yield to the Spirit as much as you are able and when you fail, try to do better next time.