In Paul’s fruit-of-the-Spirit passage (Gal. 5:22–23), joy is sandwiched between love and peace, which points us toward a deeper understanding of genuine joy.
Those who have a version of joy without love can be very self-centered. You may know someone who appears joyful but whose joy is shallow; they retain it by being oblivious to the needs of others.
Similarly, peace without love and joy is a counterfeit peace. In the 1970s, as a campus minister, I watched students who were attending the Erhard Seminars Training weekends (known as EST). They would pay good money for the experience of being treated abusively, insulted, and forbidden to talk to fellow participants or go to the bathroom for hours at a time. The goal was apparently to experience a sort of peace or tranquility, to remain calm in the face of fearsome treatment. But I saw students who came back with a glassy-eyed, detached calmness, which is a counterfeit to real, biblical peace and joy. God’s peace is not a tranquilizer.
Christian peace does not come from the annihilation of feelings and desires, which is more characteristic of stoicism or certain Eastern religions. Similarly, God’s gift of joy is not a passive denial of or resignation to the pain and unpleasant experiences of life, but rather an honest acceptance of this pain in light of God’s goodness, mercy, and love.
Jesus conveyed his peace to his disciples by saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Paul later states that Jesus not only offers peace; he himself is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Commenting on this passage, Walter Wilson, a Missouri medical doctor who later became a preacher, recalled the days when he used to make house calls. Often, he would enter a home where a woman was in labor or where someone was deathly ill. The whole house would be in a panic. But when he entered, an amazing calm and peace took hold. His presence was their peace, and Jesus’ presence is our peace.
And he is our joy. I have seen the power of prayer to turn panic into peace. When I was a young pastor, a woman called our church for help. She had seen the movie The Exorcist, and she was terrified that she was under attack. As we prayed, she invited Jesus into her life. I watched a peace come over her. The she beamed with joy. She suddenly realized that some sounds she was hearing were simply from a rusty gate. Later, as a campus minister, I watched this kind of transformation take place in the lives of scores of students, turning fear into peace and joy.
Adapted from An Invitation to Joy: The Divine Journey to Human Flourishing by Daniel J. Denk (Eerdmans: 2023). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
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