Have you ever heard the term Christianese? If you haven’t Christianese is the unique language Christians use and understand, but one that is completely lost on everybody else.
Here are a few examples: washed in the blood of the Lamb, fruit of the Spirit, born again, guard your heart, armor-bearer, quiet time, baby Christian, fire insurance, hedge of protection, missional (totally different meaning in the world), old man, ask Jesus into your heart, unequally yoked, stumbling block, love on people, or my personal favorite - I’m on fire.
Aside from these phrases, it’s also true most of the vernacular used in church is foreign to the majority of our culture. It’s only on rare occasions that words like justification, sanctification, propitiation, redemption, or atonement are used in every day conversations.
Sure, you might be able to chop this up to the length and religious connotations of these particular words, but there is one word rarely used that will totally surprise you - joy!
While most every person possesses a deep longing to be happy, the very notion of there existing an inner joy that transcends an emotional experience is a foreign concept. Seriously, you will find yourself hard-pressed to even hear the word joy used in daily speech.
As a matter of fact, there is data to prove my point. Since the early 1800’s the disappearance of the word joy from our common English lexicon has been gradual, but weirdly steady.
Have you heard of the Google Books Ngram Viewer? Because Google has now digitalized over 15 million manuscripts dating back hundreds of years, social scientists have created an algorithm that allows you to trace the frequency of a words usage in literature through time.
What makes Ngram Viewer so revolutionary is that the site acts as a kind of cultural seismograph measuring the trends of society following words. The graph it yields looks almost identical to that of an earthquake (tremor, rise, peak, fall, aftershock, etc). As a dear friend on mine recently observed, “Language is culture!” The two are specifically intertwined.
For example: The word “internet” was never used until it popped onto the scene at the very end of the 1970’s, was rarely used up to 1990, and has since taken off to dominate culture. The word “atomic” understandably hit a peak in the 1960’s and has since tapered off.
Use of the word “millennials” was also nonexistent until its first use in 1996, the frequency of which has obviously become more common. The word “google” entered our lexicon in 1998. The word “microbrew” ends up being introduced in 1990 before a quick rise over the next decade. It’s such a cool site I’ve included a link at the bottom of C316.tv.
Just three more I found interesting as it relates to the radicle changes taking place in our current culture… The word “Porn” explodes onto the scene in the 1970’s and then takes off from there. Additionally, notice how the phrase “gay marriage” as well as the word “transgender” don’t exist until the 1990's before taking a dramatic jump in only 20 years.
Out of curiosity I wanted to see how the word “joy” has been used since 1800. (Show Slide) You will notice from it’s peak during the 1830’s the word joy has experienced a steady decline through 2000. As mentioned, the word joy is literally no longer as popular as it once was. Note: You can directly attribute the peak in the 1830’s to the second Great Awakening.
And yet, though the decline has been real, an unexpected shift has recently taken place. If you expand the search of “joy” from 1800 to 2008 you’ll notice a sharp uptick occurs. Here’s a better view specifically focusing on 2000 to 2008. It’s actually quite a dramatic uptick.
So why the renewed interest in joy? Here’s my theory… I’m convinced a culture that has afforded almost every license for people to pursue individual happiness has in turn left that society completely empty. Though we’ve boughten into the idea happiness is the ultimate pursuit of man, many have discovered that once it’s achieved misery only ensues.
I can’t speak to bygone eras, but I can speak of today’s culture… The more I rub shoulders with secular people the more evident it is how deeply dissatisfied and miserable they are. Honestly, if you strip away the superficial, many today are lonely and utterly depressed.
For proof of this reality look no further than the astounding increase in antidepressant drug use. A new report cited in an August 15, 2017 article in Time of the National Center for Health Statistics shows that from 2011 through 2014 close to 13% (1 in 6) of Americans 12 years and older said they took an antidepressant in the last month. That number is up from 11% in 2005 and has increase two-fold from the 6.8% recorded in 1999.
Why is this? Not to get overly philosophical this morning, but I’m of the opinion that evidence suggests a culture whereby all things are presented as true ends up being a society whereby nothing is true and life is perceived as meaningless.
You see the progressive challenge of traditional norms over the last 60 years, the pop-cultural exhortation to just do whatever you believe will feel good, coupled with the normalization and indoctrination of the theory of man’s biological evolution has fostered a new generation grappling with the very questions of meaning and purpose in life.
Here’s the reality… If you examine the trends of history, you will discover anytime a society exchanges absolutes for relative truths there ends up being one of three results:
(1) Either people become Nihilistic and give up hope, which yields an apathy ultimately ensuing in chaos, (2) People double down and grow Narcissistic whereby self-consumption trumps the greater good, or (3) People engage in a renewed quest for meaning.
While there is no question we see elements of the first two across our society (recent pop-culture has demonstrated an interesting love-affair with Nihilism, and in 2016 the Selfie-Generation elected a reality TV star as President), I’m convinced people are longing for something more and we could be at the precipice of a Spiritual Awakening. I mean it can’t be an accident that for the first time in 150 years the word joy is making a resurgence!
One more word analysis to further validate this particular point… If you search the phrase “Holy Spirit” from 1800-2008 you will not only notice the peak also being during the Great Awakening of the 1830’s, but you will also see an interesting upswing in recent years. I really do believe the trends of the last few decades have created the framework within our society that just might result in a powerful move of God’s Spirit in America!
Joy… Joy is such an interesting thing because it’s so very hard to define, and yet it’s so clearly seen. What is joy? I know it when I see it, but still what is it? Is joy just extreme happiness or does it transcend the emotional? And if this is the case, how do I get joy?
In an earlier study in our series through Philippians I told you the story of Erin Stoffel. Take just a second and recount the shooting death of her husband Jon and daughter Olivia. Well, a few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing Erin for the Outlaw Radio Show that aired this past Friday night and she told me a part of the tale I hadn’t heard before.
Apparently, in order for Erin to attend the funeral and because of the severity of her own gunshot wounds, her doctors decided it was best to take her by ambulance and wheelchair her to the font row. Well, to everyone’s shock and dismay, as they were playing Jon and Olivia’s favorite worship songs, Erin ends up rising up out of her chair and with raised hands and through incredible sobs proceeds to worship Jesus for His continued goodness.
What is joy? Once again it’s hard to define, but easy to identify. Let me tell you what joy looks like… Joy is what motivates a grieving woman who’s experienced such an incredible tragedy as the loss of her husband and daughter, who herself is in immense pain, and who has no idea what her future looks like to passionately stand and worship God! That’s joy!
To the world joy is a mystery. A reaction like Erin’s is unexplainable. And yet, maybe that’s the point. Joy is supposed to be otherworldly. To be radical. Joy is designed to transcend what is normal and natural. When we see joy manifest we all understand it to be something that bubbles forth from the depths of a well much deeper than the physical.
You see joy, especially in the midst of grief and pain, intends to show out as the visible evidence of much larger spiritual realities. Which explains why in writing to the Philippians the Apostle Paul places such an emphasis on joy and our ability as Christians to rejoice regardless of whatever trial or trying circumstance we might be presently facing.
There is no doubt Paul knew from personal experience the powerful testimony his joy and ability to rejoice in the midst of his Roman imprisonment was yielding. Like Erin people could witness Paul’s joy, and in light of his suffering they wanted to know how this response was even possible. Friend, they’ll do the same when they see your joy as well!
In studying Philippians chapter 3 commentator David Guzik made this provocative and in so many ways challenging observation about joy. He said, “It’s a duty for the Christian to exude joy. A chronic lack of joy is simply a poor witness.” At first I’ll admit I was a bit taken back by this statement; and yet, the more I considered his point the more I’ve come to agree.
It’s interesting, but Satan really only peddles nothing more than knock-offs - cheep imitations of the originals. The Bible says we’ll be known by our love, so the world presents it’s own version at a cheeper price. The Bible says in Christ we’ll have a peace that would surpass even our own understanding, so the world promises a imitation at a discount.
Ironically, though the world offers knock-off versions of our love and peace, there really is no substitute for this thing we call joy. The world will do everything it can to facilitate happiness, but it offers nothing but pills aimed at numbing pain when life takes an unexpected turn.
Friend, here’s the grand challenge of this mornings study… If the world will know the Christian by your love one for another, the world will see Jesus when joy manifests from your life regardless of whatever circumstance you come to face. Our joy is our greatest witness because the world literally has no alternative!
As we transition into chapter 3 I want to begin by unpacking why joy is such a profound indicator of God’s work in our lives by examining how we come to possess this radicle type of joy (God’s grace manifesting through the Indwelling of His Spirit) before discussing the greatest deterrent to our Christian joy - legalism. Note: It’s highly likely this second point we’ll end up unpacking next Sunday.
Philippians 3:1a, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
While the word “finally” in our English context would seem to indicate Paul is going to begin winding own his letter to the Philippians (which he clearly isn’t for you’ll notice he’s only half way through), in the Greek, this word simply means “at last”. The idea is that Paul is reiterating for the final time the core message of the previous two chapters.
And what message is that? “My brethren, rejoice in the Lord!” In the Greek this word “rejoice” is “chairō” which means “to be glad” or “to be well”. In a very practical sense we’d define “rejoicing” as the act of demonstrating joy. Because the word is a verb in the active tense, Paul is not making a suggestion, but instead issuing a directive. “My brethren, rejoice!”
Sure, you may find it difficult to be glad in light of the present situation you’re facing. It may be a challenge for you to be glad in lieu of your current circumstance. And yet, neither the situations or circumstances you face should be able to deter the gladness you can at least find “in the Lord!” You see a relationship with Jesus is the basis for joy!
What’s interesting about the word “chairō” is that it’s very similar to the Greek word “charis” which we translate as “grace”. In actuality, in addition to “unmerited favor”, Strong’s defines “charis” or grace as simply “that which affords joy”. Aside from joy being based in a relationship with Jesus, joy is fundamentally designed to manifest in your life as you continually experience the grace of God - the fact He loves you because of Jesus.
In actuality, this is why I decided to title our series through Paul's letter to the Philippians, “Enjoying Grace.” God’s grace not only changes everything, but because grace yields joy it subsequently changes the way we experience everything.
Let me explain why this is the case… It is absolutely possible to possess joy regardless of environment, because of the eternal and unchanging reality that you’ve been extended the grace of God. This is why Paul says to “rejoice in the Lord.” The very reality of Jesus and the sacrifice He made on Calvary to pay for your sins so that you might be saved should be more than enough for you to rejoice - or to allow joy to exude from your life.
You see God’s amazing grace establishes a much deeper and unwavering basis for joy and your rejoicing. The present life afforded to you by Jesus should place all earthly trial, struggle, difficult situation, or trying circumstance into a proper context. In fact it was such a context that enabled Paul to joyfully declare earlier, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!” No temporal hardship had the power to rob Paul of his eternal perspective and joy!
Let me quickly add a caveat to all of this… Please note Paul isn’t commanding you to “be happy!” While it’s true joy can yield happiness, the reality is that this thing we refer to as joy transcends the emotional by springing forth from the spiritual.
Think of it this way… While we obviously understand joy to be a state of being (to be glad) as opposed to an emotion (feeling glad) or an action (doing gladness), we should ask where does joy originate? Is joy something that magically occurs? Is it something similar to an epiphany? Is joy simply a personality trait, a decision of the will, something we choose?
No! I don’t believe joy originates in any of these ways. Consider… If joy is the manifestation of grace… And grace is a gift given through Jesus by God we’re to receive (can’t be earned or manufactured)… Then it’s only logical that joy must also be a gift imparted by God.
The reality is joy is much more than an emotion because it’s a direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you a few examples: Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering…” Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6, “And you became followers… of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 13:52 Luke says of the disciples in Perga following Paul’s departure that they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Scripturally, joy and the Holy Spirit come hand in hand - which subsequently makes joy something completely intrinsic to Christianity and why it’s such a powerful witness of the power of God in someone’s life. Even Urban Dictionary verifies this reality presenting only two definitions for joy either being the name of a kind woman or a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Before I take this idea any further, I want to explain why it’s so dangerous when we allow joy to be relegated to only the emotional plain. If joy being a “fruit of the Spirit” ends up being nothing more than an emotional happiness, then subsequently the real emotions of sadness, sorrow, or depression end up being seen as evidence of a spiritual problem.
Aside from the fact this convolution will hyper-spiritualize emotions it shouldn’t, most tragically, when this happens church-life ends up being relegated to the superficial. Instead of people being real and honest about the things they’re emotionally dealing with, people put on their happy-go-lucky-Jesus-face out of fear of being perceived as less spiritual.
Let me prove you’re guilty of this very approach by asking a simple question… When was the last time someone came up to you at church and asked, “How you doing brother?” and you’re response was, “Truthfully man life stinks right now and I’m pretty depressed about it!” I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say you’ve probably never said that.
Now I understand in many ways it’s simply easier to say, “I’m good man” or worse yet, “Bro, I’m blessed” because you don’t want to unload on someone who’s just trying to be friendly. (On a side note… If you don’t want an honest answer, don’t ask someone how they’re doing!) And yet, if we’re being forthcoming, one of the other reasons you shy away from full transparency is the fact you don’t want your emotional struggle judged as a spiritual one.
Sadly, it’s this misunderstanding of the fundamental difference between the emotional and the spiritual that creates a climate where it’s safer to be fake than real. Never forget the “fruit of the Spirit is joy” - not emotional merriment! How quickly we forget the Bible says there is a time to weep and mourn - that good people can struggle with depression and that it’s only natural you can wake up on the wrong side of bed or find yourself in a funk.
David was often troubled and in deep despair. Elijah was discouraged and weary. Job suffered incredible loss and found himself paralyzed in his devastation. Moses was gripped with bouts of inadequacy and heartache. Jeremiah struggled with loneliness and insecurity. In actuality, Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief!”
Sometime this week do a Bible search for the following words: downcast, brokenhearted, troubled, miserable, despairing, mourning - they’re everywhere. Hopelessness and emotional struggles are all over Scripture and never once are they emblematic of a spiritual problem.
And yet this is what’s amazing about joy transcending the emotional and why it’s important… Even when you’re struggling through such emotions, you can still possess joy! You see if joy isn’t base in the circumstantial or the emotional and instead flows from the Spirit, it is very possible for you to still posses joy and rejoice even when you feel down.
Next time you come to church and someone genuinely asks, “How you doing brother?” the more honest and Biblically sound response would be to say, “Truthfully, I’m tired, worn out, and a bit uncertain by all the things going on right now. Presently, life stinks! And yet, I’m still glad God’s love never fails, I’m filled with His Spirit, and I’m not in the struggle alone.” Since joy comes from God’s grace and His Spirit, nothing can rob you of what He’s given!
In closing, I have one more important application with all of these things in mind… It’s simply inconsistent (and for that matter a poor witness) for a person who’s experienced God’s grace and been filled with the Spirit to be deeply miserable and constantly sour.
Because joy manifests in your life through a working of God’s Spirit yielded by the grace afforded to you in Jesus, a lack of joy or for that matter the inability to “rejoice in the Lord” is often an indicator of one of two things: Either you’ve never experienced God’s grace and been filled with His Spirit or you’ve lost sight of His grace and are failing to rely on the Spirit.
If that later is you and you thirst for more than this world has to offer… If you find yourself trapped in the happiness, misery, happiness cycle thinking there has to be more to life that this… I want you to know there is! God’s grace not only changes everything, but it’s the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus in your heart that will transform how you experience everything. Why settle for a knock-off when you can have the original for free?
In John 7:37-39 we read that “on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Living water from the indwelling Spirit!
If you’re a miserable Christian… Is not the incredible grace God has already demonstrated towards you in that “while you were a sinner Christ died” not only to save you from sin, but to fill you with His Spirit not such an amazing enough reality that it shouldn’t stir you up from your sorrow, raise you up through your despair, move you out of your pain and grief, and even from your depression to your feet in joy and worship? As Paul so opened Philippians three may I repeat… “Finally, my brethren rejoice in the Lord!”