Distorted joy

joy distortedBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. –Galatians 5:22-23, CEB

When life is lived in cooperation with the Spirit of God within us, we experience what Paul calls the fruit (singular, not plural) of the Spirit.  As suggested in a recent post, when this verse is taken together with his argument in 1 Corinthians 13, we might say that we cannot embody the so-called gifts of the Spirit without the fruit of the Spirit.  Love is its central expression.  And there is a joy appropriate to that love: the joy of the gospel, the delight of recognizing every incursion of the kingdom of God into the brokenness of our world and our relationships.

When we read that love “does not delight in evil” (1 Cor 13:6, NIV), we’ll go amiss if all we can imagine is larger-than-life villainy of the James Bond or Despicable Me variety.  Paul’s more down-to-earth point may simply be that those who love as God does don’t take pleasure in the wrong things, in actions and consequences that are not in keeping with his purposes.

I can easily imagine such things happening in Corinth.  Where there is division and rivalry, even for seemingly spiritual reasons, people rejoice in the downfall of their enemies.  It’s not about the truth, it’s about winning the argument, or to put it more negatively, about beating your opponent for having the gall to argue with you in the first place.

Another example: what is the secret (and sometimes guilty) pleasure of gossip?  We spread stories of other people’s failures, perhaps with an outward mask of pious concern.  But inwardly, we take pleasure in our superiority, or even a satisfying nugget of revenge if the fallen one happens to be someone who has offended us in some way.

Love is different, because it is not self-serving.  Instead of rejoicing in the fall of our enemies, we rejoice in seeing them in the grip of truth and restored to God.  And to rejoice in such a manner will require all the other things Paul has described: patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and the like.

If we’re in the grip of envy, pride, or resentment, the command to love may sound like a terrible burden, a steep uphill climb.  But the implied promise is that true love is inseparable from our true joy.

All else is distortion.