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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24
He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:15
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:11
Our family had a unique Advent calendar. It was a felt banner with pockets on it. One for each day of December until Christmas Day. In each of the felt pockets was a symbol of some sort: a sheep, a manger, a star, an angel, and the like. There was a brief devotion for each of those days. We all enjoyed seeing the next symbol and counting down the days until Christmas.
One of the inserts had the letters JOY glued onto it. Tiny alphabet soup letters formed the word joy. The devotion was simple. Joy comes when we put Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last. This is an important teaching of Jesus and the Christian faith. It’s not easy to teach young boys. Nor is it easy to live out. But it is a vital Christian truth. Jesus, Others. Yourself. Equals true joy.
I worked with a congregation recently to help them identify their mission statement. They came up with a clear and simple statement: Helping People Put Jesus First. They saw that their community was populated with people who had all the wrong priorities. And they wanted to help people get things back in order. Putting Jesus first was a clear indication of the proper order of things. It is also the first step to true joy – the joy of the Spirit.
When we put Jesus first we will then look toward the needs of others more readily. That calling is highlighted in Philippians 2:1-4
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul’s joy will be completed not when he gets the latest tent-making equipment, or even by getting out of jail, but when the people he evangelized put others ahead of themselves.
Doing this is not easy. It is not the exercise of an immature Christian. We had to teach this to our children again and again. We, too, fail to put others before ourselves. We put Jesus on the back burner, or relegate him to occasional importance in our lives. By this we forfeit true joy.
I do not pretend to have this fully squared away in my life. But I am willing to say it, and even be reminded of it by others. Jesus is first. Others are second. I am last. And Jesus promises that whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for his sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35). The most miserable people in the world are those consumed with their own happiness, rights, and blessings. Jesus offers joy of a completely different kind.