What’s our greatest source of joy? Paul pointed to the Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Commenting on chara, the Greek Word usually rendered “joy” in this passage, the United Bible Societies’ translation handbook advises, “In some languages joy is essentially equivalent to ‘causes people to be very happy.’ In order to indicate that this joy is not merely some passing experience, one may say ‘to be truly happy within their hearts.’ In some languages joy is expressed idiomatically as ‘to be warm within one’s heart,’ or ‘to dance within one’s heart.’”
Translating the fruit of the Spirit as adjectives rather than nouns, the Contemporary English Version reads, “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.”
If it seems that the translators are taking liberties by saying “happy” instead of “joyful,” note that the other eight adjectives perfectly correspond to the nouns used in the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible. Chara is the only Greek word in this passage rendered differently by the CEV translators. Their goal was faithfulness to the original language. “Joy” is a good translation of chara, but so too is its synonym “happiness.”
Some suggest that the order of the ninefold fruit of the Spirit is significant and that love is named first because “the greatest . . . is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). If this is true, then joy’s position as the second listed might imply it’s the second greatest.
Why does Paul emphasize joy and the other eight components of the Spirit’s fruit in the context of his attack on legalism in Galatians? Reading between the lines, we might surmise that joy was too rare among the Christians there, as it often is today.
Paul’s argument in Galatians suggests that self-righteous legalism chokes out the fruit of the Spirit, leading believers to become killjoys. Killjoys find pleasure in always being right and showing that others are wrong. Their false joy comes from thinking, I’m the smartest, purest, and most doctrinally, behaviorally, or politically correct person in the room. Unfortunately, no one wants to be in the room with them . . . including Jesus.
Joy, along with the fruit of the Spirit, stands in contrast to the works of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21). Only new life in Christ equips the believer to walk in the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-18, 24-25).
The presence of chara on the list, whether it’s rendered as “joy” or “happiness,” raises the question, What really makes me happy or joyful? If the Father and the Son make the Spirit happy, then the joy that’s the fruit of the Spirit must be God centered and God originated.
It’s easy to recite the fruit of the Spirit as if it’s a list of virtues or a badge of honor. But all the qualities are ingredients of happiness. Not just joy, which is happiness, but the whole list.
The permanence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in our lives allows us to continually access a supernatural happiness. To be robbed of the ability to rejoice or of the source of joy, a believer would have to be robbed of our happy God’s indwelling.
Browse more resources on the topic of happiness, and see Randy’s related books, including Happiness and Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.