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 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.