Summary: We cannot manufacture joy by trying to be good, nor can we survive game-playing. Joy comes from knowing that without Christ we would not be good at all, but that in Him we are freed from guilt.

The happiest people I know are not necessarily the most moral people I know. And the most unhappy people I know are among the most moral people I know.

I’ll bet you didn’t follow that. Let me try again. The happiest people I know are not necessarily the most moral people I know. And the most unhappy people I know are among the most moral people I know. The joy factor is the difference.

Here is somebody who steals a valuable painting from an art museum. It’s a Renaissance master, worth tens of millions of dollars. And yet, having stolen this painting, what can the thief do with it? He cannot sell it even for a fraction of its worth, because it’s too well known. It would trap him immediately. He cannot put it on display for others to enjoy, because even that calls attention to it, and puts it in jeopardy of being stolen by the next crazy down the road. So what can he do with his ill-gotten gain? How can he derive any joy from it? Where’s the happiness? Where’s the joy factor?

A few miles from here there are several men holed up in a motel room. When the police found them, they discovered a great mystery, and it smells of something very sinister. These men are remnants of a computer software firm whose central figure is missing and has been missing for several months. These men claim that they have been hiding in this motel room for weeks on end, paying their bills with a seemingly endless supply of cash, because they are afraid of being attacked by an assassination team. The police do not think the story rings true. Somewhere, they know, there has been a violation of the law. Something has gone awry. Just what no one knows. Everyone claims to be above board. But just who is happy over the result? Just where is the joy in this mess? Where is the joy factor?

As I told you last week, this month I am asking you to think with me about some basic moral issues. We are thinking together, using Paul’s rich passage in the Galatian letter about the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit. With some of these messages I will be very specific, just as Paul is painfully specific about moral issues. But today I want to set a background for the rest of the month by asking you to deal with the question of joy. The joy factor.

Paul says that the works of the flesh are obvious; and he lists a number of them, including enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy and a number of others; and then says that among the fruits of the Spirit are love and joy. Love and joy.

Is there a joy factor in your life? Who or what creates joy for you? If some of us find little or no joy in our lives, consider this morning whether that is so because we have tried to manufacture happiness. We’ve tried to pursue joy as an end in itself. But we have missed some of the critical clues. Paul in this Galatian letter can help us discover where joy comes from.


Notice, first, that Paul sets joy over against a long list of conflict words. Joy is opposed, according to this Scripture, to the conflicted ways we use to relate to each other.

What a laundry list Paul gives us! Enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy Sounds pretty horrible! But did you know that these are the wells out of which much of the world is trying to draw happiness? Did you realize that a great many people work very hard, every day, at trying to bring joy out of the poisoned wells of conflict?

A number of years ago Eric Berne published a little book called Games People Play. Games People Play was a humorous but pointedly accurate little treatise designed to show us that we relate to each other by playing conflict games. We work at setting each other up so that we can look good and somebody else can look bad. We do this, Berne says, to get a little rush of excitement, a little twinge of joy. The trouble is that playing games with each other does not give us joy. Usually the games backfire.

Some examples:

Some people play the game, "If It Weren’t For You". Have you ever played, "If It Weren’t For You"? If it weren’t for you, says the husband, I could be at the top of my profession, but of course, you’re no good at the office parties, so I’ll never advance. If it weren’t for you, I could be somebody. If it weren’t for you, I could be happy.

If it weren’t for you, says the wife, I could have had a fantastic career of my own. But of course you expected me to cook and clean and have babies and be at your beck and call, so I missed my chance. If it weren’t for you, I could have been somebody. If it weren’t for you, I could be happy.

If it weren’t for both of you, says the teenager, I could be cool. If it weren’t for both of you, I could get the right clothes and the right car and the right everything, but you make me do chores and study and show up at church, and that ain’t cool. If it weren’t for the two of you, I could be happy.

This game goes on and on. We play conflict games because we think we’ll get a little sympathy or a momentary rush of satisfaction. We think we’ll gain a twinge of excitement out of creating just a little conflict, just enough conflict to look good for a moment. But when that moment is past and the truth is known, there is no joy in conflict.

There is no joy in strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, no joy in any of Paul’s long list.

If it weren’t for you. Listen. Did you know that if it weren’t for you, I could be a great preacher? Sat at the beach all last week and read books and created fantastic sermon outlines. But you make me visit and you want me to raise money and you expect me to write newsletters and you think I should counsel the troubled, so of course my sermons won’t be any good. If it weren’t for you, I could be a great preacher. If it weren’t for you, I could be happy.

Do you see? And one day, in fact, one of you caught me on this. One day one of you said to me, "Some of us think you sometimes make up little conflicts so that you’ll gain our sympathy." Wow! You had me dead to rights! And whatever unworthy little joy there had been in that game suddenly evaporated.

For the word of the Lord is that conflict is the work of the flesh, but joy is the fruit of the Spirit. Joy does not come out of conflict. Joy is opposed to conflict.

The happiest people I know are not necessarily the most moral people I know. And the most unhappy people I know are among the most moral people I know.


So then, where does joy come from? If we can’t get joy running games at each other, then where do we get joy?

Paul’s message is that we get joy when we see that we have been freed. We have been liberated, that’s where joy comes from. We don’t get joy from being self-righteous. We don’t have real joy from being smug and self-satisfied. We are not happy because we think we are good. We get our real joy from knowing that in the mercy of God we have been set free from the law of sin and guilt. That’s where joy comes from.

You see, most of the Galatian letter is taken up with this business of Christian freedom. Paul says, "You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters." "For freedom Christ has set us free; do not accept again a yoke of bondage." The whole thrust of the Galatian letter is that God in Christ Jesus has freed us, and that is the ground of our joy. That is the reason for joy. Not something that we have achieved on our own, not that we have accomplished our own morality, but that God in Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin.

That’s why in this text Paul says that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s not our own achievement; it is the fruits of the Spirit. Joy comes because of what God has done in us. Joy is the by-product of God’s redemptive action for us. We have joy because we know that God in Jesus Christ has come and has released us from the mire and the mess. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit of God, because we wake up and realize that whatever we are that is any good is because of Christ.

You see, the problem with many of us is that we don’t have much sense that anybody has to do anything for us that we can’t do for ourselves. The problems with us as a middle-class, respectable group of folks is that we don’t have a very strong sense that God has freed us from something powerful. We just don’t think of ourselves like that. We think of ourselves as pretty decent, respectable folks, who’ve managed to keep it all together. And so there isn’t much room for joy. We’re so busy being right, there’s no time left to be forgiven. The joy factor is lost.

You know, I sit up here and read faces sometimes. I read faces just to see if I can tell what’s going on out there. Our worship is planned, but it isn’t so canned but what we can adjust to the needs that may be apparent. Well, I read a variety of things in your faces. In some of them I read "Blah". "Blah, yawn, Sunday again, duty calls, go to church. Praise the Lord, ho hum."

If the children were here I would ask whether they still have the old Saturday cartoon show, Deputy Dawg! Twenty years ago my kids could mimic perfectly Deputy Dawg’s oft-repeated line: "I’m so excited!" When things were popping and horses were running and bullets were flying, old Deputy Dawg was supposed to get up and nab the bad guys, but about the best old Deputy Dawg could ever manage was to drawl, "I’m so excited". Well, that’s about where a lot of us are, not just with Sunday worship, but with life itself. "Praise the Lord, ho hum. I’m so excited." But where is the joy factor?

But in other faces I read an entirely different message. In other faces I read, "I’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the everlasting arms." In those faces I read, "I was sinking deep in sin, but love lifted me". In such faces I read, "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see." And on those faces there is a powerful joy that nothing can erase. Why? What’s the difference?

The difference is that some of us think we got here on our own, and others of us know we got here only by the grace of God.

The difference is that some of us think it is enough just to look good; and others of us know that looks are only a mask for the moment.

The difference is that some of us think that the whole of life is to be respectable and nice and keep out of trouble; and others of us know that however respectable we are on the outside, however nice a front we put up, there was once inside of us a veritable monster. And God has delivered us. That’s the around for joy! That’s the joy factor!

You know we have a lot of discussion among us about worship, about whether our worship is spiritual enough or moving enough or exciting enough. And there’s always a temptation to see if we can get something going, whip you up. In some churches they work on you and work on you until just out of desperation folks will begin to shout; maybe it’ll shut the preacher up. How many times have music leaders exhorted me to sing the next verse of a song "as if we really meant it.”? Listen to that, isn’t that a telling phrase, "Sing as if – as if – we really mean it."

Well, that’s the point! Folks, if you have joy, nobody has to cheerlead it. You have it! You have it because you know that you’ve been liberated!

Let me say this clearly. If we lack joy but are trying to be good people, we need to see that we do not get to be good by ourselves. If we have any goodness at all, it comes because God in Christ Jesus snatches our feet from the miry clay, He sets us up upon a solid rock. He does for us what we cannot and will not do for ourselves.

Joy is not something you cheerlead or manufacture. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. Joy is the by-product of God’s redemption. Joy is not self-congratulation, it’s not bourgeois success. Joy comes when you face the reality that no matter how good we are or how bad we are, we cannot fix it on our own. It is grace and grace alone that can do it.

That’s why I can say that the happiest people I know are not necessarily the most moral people I know. And the most unhappy people I know are, sad to say, among the most moral people I know.

And so today "if you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy, true joy, let Jesus come into your heart."

You sang a while ago, "What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart; floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll, since Jesus came into my heart."

And so "all my life was wrecked by sin and strife – [by conflict games] – discord filled my heart with pain; Jesus swept across the broken strings, that is why I shout and sing."

In fact, I know that "Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before; every day with Jesus I love him more and more. Jesus saves and keeps me, and He’s the one I’m living for. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before."

I like to say that every day is Christmas. Every day is a little Christmas. Even in the heat and humidity of August, Christmas. Because every day He comes in new and fresh ways. He comes to expose the shabby little conflict games I play. But it’s Christmas, even today. And He comes to bring good news of a great joy to all people. Unto you glad tidings, for there is a Savior.

"Joy to the world the Lord is come, let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing the wonders of his love." His love and His joy.