Gal. 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.” When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, joy is not the emotional exuberance we experience from something that causes us great merriment. That kind of joy is fleeting and based on an event or series of events. For example, your favorite football team has had a great season and has made it to the playoffs. Along the way, you experienced emotional rushes when they won and crushing lows when they lost. Every playoff game they now win gives you great emotional happiness, but then they lose, and suddenly all hopes of a victorious season are dashed – and sadness overwhelms you.
As you can see, joy like that results from temporal hopes being fulfilled, but the joy Paul speaks of is much more than that. Sure, you do experience emotional joy as a Christian, as you absolutely should, but the difference between worldly and spiritual joy is what happens when things do not go as planned. Peter also mentions it in Jam. 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The joy both Paul and Peter are referring to is not based on earthly, but rather heavenly hopes. The former is “wishful thinking” and relies on others to fulfill it for you.
On the other hand, the latter finds its foundation and permanence in heaven. It is not temporal and uncertain in nature but is divine and assured by the promise of God Himself. When we understand that, we realize that real joy is not an emotional state at all but instead is eternal in nature, with its fulfillment being in the aforementioned promise of God. The only way to experience it is to be in Christ, to be a son or daughter of the Creator, and to place our trust and hope in Him. And there is another big difference. Unlike earthly joy that finds us exuberant in times of success only, spiritual joy manifests itself mainly in challenging times and has a growth purpose.
You do not “grow” in maturity or any other perceptible way when your team wins a national or international title. For the next year, you “feel good” when speaking of them, and even if they win multiple championships, eventually, it will be replaced with the disappointment of defeat. By contrast, heavenly joy has a purpose in your life. When you know that your victory is ultimately assured and the prize beyond anything you can imagine, the difficulties you face will not overwhelm you. It is then that something can be learned from the various trials you are guaranteed to face. When you look at them through a divine lens, they will not defeat you but allow you to grow ever closer to God as your spiritual maturity grows.
That kind of joy was experienced by the Thessalonian church. “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit….” Even in the difficulties they faced, the joy they received from the word in was from the Holy Spirit and not man. Instead of those hardships undermining their faith, it afforded them the peace of mind to overcome them and stamp their future in the book of life. The “supernatural” joy that comes from God and is deposited in you through the Holy Spirit is weaponized when trials arise to challenge you. It has the power to defeat the nefarious plans of the devil by thwarting even his most well-made ones used to try and remove you from God’s loving arms. Divine joy comes with the assurance of not only the promises of God but also with his defeating power.
It is time to leave the immature, emotional joy behind and experience the wonders of the heavenly kind. Does that mean you should stop cheering for your favorite team or experience temporary happiness when they win? Absolutely not, but always remember which joy will benefit you when the losses pile up, and hardship ensues.