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The Fruit of the Spirit is... Bitter?

  • Veronica Neffinger

    Veronica Neffinger wrote her first poem at age seven and went on to study English in college, focusing on 18th century literature. When she is not listening to baseball games, enjoying the…

  • 2016 May 25

Oftentimes, Christians are stereotyped as judgmental and unhappy. Unfortunately, this stereotype sometimes proves to be true. When we look at all the bad things going on in the world, all the sin, all the suffering, it is easy to be doom and gloom.

But as Christ-followers, although we are called to be sober-minded and to live our lives with an eternal perspective, we are also called to have joy. It is this joy, says Randy Alcorn in his blog “Why are Christians Bitter and Unhappy?” that is often most effective in drawing others to Christ.

Oftentimes, we are tempted to equate the Christian life with a legalistic set of rules, a life void of joy and laughter. Alcorn gives the example of Miss Watson, a Christian spinster who takes care of Huck Finn in Mark Twain’s famous book.

“She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. . . . I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together,” Huck Finn narrates.

Miss Watson not only presents an unhappy future life, but an unhappy present one, says Alcorn.

Perhaps some of us may be convicted by Huck’s words--have we presented Christianity as a boring, goody-two-shoes way of life like Miss Watson did? Are we guilty of deterring others from the riches of joy and abundant life found in Christ?

The remedy to letting the world’s sin and evil ways steal our joy is to remember that we serve a joyful God.

If we see God as happy, suddenly the command for us to ‘find your joy in him at all times’ (Philippians 4:4) makes sense,” says Alcorn. “God is saying, in essence, ‘Be as I am.’ Paralleling ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16), the answer to the question ‘Why should God’s children be happy?’ is ‘Because our Father is happy.’”

The Apostle Paul many times exhorts Christians to “rejoice” (1 Thes. 5:16-18). We, of all people, who serve a risen Lord who is present in our daily trials, have cause for joy.

The church, the meeting place of God’s people, should be a place of joy as well. As Christians, we are called to be different from the world, but we should not stand out for our judgmental nature or our condescending attitude toward the things of this world; instead, we should stand out because of our joy in spite of adverse circumstances.

If you are able to remain joyful and not despair when bad things happen, what better testimony to the power of Christ in your life!

Joy is contagious; people are drawn to a person who is encouraging, and showing the joy you have in Christ may present an opportunity for you to share the Gospel. However, we must realize that true joy comes only through Christ, and not through outward circumstances.

“If we pursue joy in our circumstances, we are guaranteed a life of disappointment. But when we seek joy in Christ, what he has done for us, and the progress of the gospel, we can experience unshakable joy,” says contributer Dr. Matthew Harmon in the article “How to Have Unshakeable Joy Like Paul.”

In our world today, it is tempting to look at the news and the circumstances of our life and allow our joy to be replaced by despair, a judgmental attitude, or bitterness, but instead let us be people who take to heart Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again--rejoice!”

Veronica Neffinger is the editor of

Publication date: May 25, 2016