Notes from Tim Keller’s Sermon “Joy”

This was part of Keller’s series on the fruit of the Spirit entitled “Real Signs of the Spirit”. This sermon was on Joy and was preached on April 18, 2010. The text was Romans 5:1-11

Series Review:

One of the premises of the Bible (the theme of the series) is that there is a difference between a morally restrained heart by the power of will power and the supernatural change that the Holy Spirit gives. How do you know which is true of you.

The Three Points

  1. That joy is important
  2. That Christian joy is unique
  3. Where Christian joy comes from

Joy is Important

  • Every other religion says “live as you ought and God will accept you.” Christianity says you receive God’s acceptance and blessing as a free gift of faith on the basis of Jesus’ record, not your record, and then you can live as you ought. Total reversal! To be a Christian is to be someone who’s now justified by faith, at peace with God, accepted by him. Now what is the main mark of a real Christian life. Now we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, in our suffering, and in God.
  • John Stott in his commentary on Romans (The Bible Speaks Today). “It seems clear from this paragraph that the main mark of justified believers is joy.”
  • To live life you need a center of joy.  A lot of people don’t believe that. They believe that pursuing joy is a dead end.
  • There’s been a lot of happiness studies. Lots of self help stuff. The intelligentsia hate all of that talk. Amy Bloom wrote in the NY Times essay The Rap on Happiness . (Here’s the whole quote, Keller abbreviates it.) Smart people often talk trash about happiness, and worse than trash about books on happiness, and they have been doing so for centuries — just as long as other people have been pursuing happiness and writing books about it. The fashion is to bemoan happiness studies and positive psychology as being the work not of the Devil (the Devil is kind of cool), but of morons. “No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness,” Charlotte Brontë wrote in 1853. “What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould and tilled with manure.” 
  • (Keller then abbreviates another quote from the end of the article.) The real problem with happiness is neither its pursuers nor their books; it’s happiness itself. Happiness is like beauty: part of its glory lies in its transience. It is deep but often brief (as Frost would have it), and much great prose and poetry make note of this. Frank Kermode wrote, “It seems there is a sort of calamity built into the texture of life.” To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.
  • What she’s saying is this. If you really want serenity in life don’t pursue happiness because anything you get joy from will not last. No matter what it is it will disappoint you. The only way to get serenity is to not to try to be happy, not to try to pursue joy.
  • “I understand this…” Baseball illustration of being a boy whose joy was the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies lost 10 in a row.  What I said was, ‘never again! I’m never giving my heart to ________________.
  • For some sports teams are still breaking our hearts, but for most of the rest of us it’s a man or a woman, it’s love or a career or success. What happens is, because our hearts want joy, our hearts are a big vacuum pump, that has an enormous amount of sucking and it fixes itself on something and says ‘this will really make me happy’ but we know it will not last. Then you say ‘the only way I’ll get serenity is to stop pursuing joy. and get what philosophers and Buddhism is about. The old philosophers were all about detachment. Don’t give your heart to anything. But there’s a problem with that.
  • Joseph Epstein, retired professor of English, wrote an article in the Notre Dame magazine.  (I’ll put the quote below in it’s entirety.)

In the last stage of life, even with the cheeriest outlook, it isn’t easy to keep thoughts of death at bay. Consider, though, the advice of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), who lent his name to the school of Epicureanism but who was, in my reading of him, the world’s first shrink. Epicureanism is generally understood to be about indulging fleshly pleasures, especially those of food and drink, but it is, I think, more correctly understood as the search for serenity.

Epicurus, who met with friends (disciples, really) in his garden in Athens, devised a program to rid the world of anxiety. His method, like most methods of personal reform, had set steps, in this case four such steps. Here they are:

Step One: Do not believe in God, or in the gods. They most likely do not exist, and even if they did, it is preposterous to believe that they could possibly care, that they are watching over you and keeping a strict accounting of your behavior.

Step Two: Don’t worry about death. Death, be assured, is oblivion, a condition not different from your life before you were born: an utter blank. Forget about heaven, forget about hell; neither exists — after death there is only the Big O (oblivion) and the Big N (nullity), nothing, nada, zilch. Get your mind off it.

Step Three: Forget, as best you are able, about pain. Pain is either brief, and will therefore soon enough diminish and be gone; or, if it doesn’t disappear, if it lingers and intensifies, death cannot be far away, and so your worries are over here, too, for death, as we know, also presents no problem, being nothing more than eternal dark, dreamless sleep.

Step Four: Do not waste your time attempting to acquire exactious luxuries, whose pleasures are sure to be incommensurate with the effort required to gain them. From this it follows that ambition generally — for things, money, fame, power — should also be foresworn. The effort required to obtain them is too great; the game isn’t worth the candle.

To summarize, then: forget about God, death, pain and acquisition, and your worries are over. There you have it, Epicurus’ Four-Step Program to eliminate anxiety and attain serenity. I’ve not kitchen-tested it myself, but my guess is that, if one could bring it off, this program really would work.

But the real question is, even if it did work, would such utter detachment from life, from its large questions and daily dramas, constitute a life rich and complex enough to be worth living? Many people would say yes. I am myself not among them.

  • CS Lewis said it better. From the Four Loves . (again here is the full quote, Keller summarizes)
  • To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
  • If you seek joy your heart will be broken. If you detach it dehumanizes you. It hardens you. Is there any way forward?

Christian Joy is Unique

  • Two ways Christian joy is unique.
  • a. Christian joy is not based in circumstances. 
  • We rejoice in our sufferings! vs. 3
  • Suffering is favorable circumstances going away.
  • I’m going to part ways with the word happiness because I don’t believe that Christian joy is what the world calls happiness.
  • What the world calls happiness is getting control of your life so that you keep your circumstances favorable.
  • Do you know that there is a happiness dot com? (Keller gets the citation wrong here. It is in the Rap on Happinessarticle above. )

We could canvass Gore, Rubin, Gilbert, the Dalai Lama and the many authors on the Web site and produce the Fundamentally Sound, Sure-Fire Top Five Components of Happiness: (1) Be in possession of the basics — food, shelter, good health, safety. (2) Get enough sleep. (3) Have relationships that matter to you. (4) Take compassionate care of others and of yourself. (5) Have work or an interest that engages you.

  • Do you realize how ridiculous this is? Sure you need all of this to be happy. Most people, most places, most centuries have never had this. What are we going to do about all of the people who will never get these things today. They never will have it. Talk about engaging in interesting work?
  • The world believes that happiness is getting my circumstances in the right place. I’m happy if things are going well, circumstances are favorable. What about most of the people in most of the times and most of the places that never have favorable circumstances like that. Are they doomed to unhappiness? Yes, as you and I define happiness in this culture today, but joy is available to them.
  • That Christian joy is not based on circumstances at all. In fact when it says “we rejoice in suffering” it doesn’t mean you rejoice for your suffering. That’s masochism, forget that one. (Keller is SO NY/NJ east coast… 🙂 ) How can you rejoice in your suffering if all your circumstances are going bad? vs. 11. You rejoice in God, and he’s not subject to circumstances. You rejoice in suffering because suffering produces stronger endurance, perseverance, character, and that leads to more hope and that hope is in the future glory of God.
  • Christian joy, unlike worldly happiness not only can be maintained when all circumstances go unfavorable, but it can also grow, in fact it does usually grow.
  • you say ‘how can that be?’ Worldly happiness goes away when things are bad because it’s based when things are bad. Christian joy can actually get stronger. How?
  • Your mother used to say, “don’t eat that candy before meals. It will ruin your appetite. The trouble with eating candy is it gives you a sugar buzz and masks the fact that your body needs stuff you don’t have. Sex, and money and power and success, favorable circumstances are spiritual sugar. What happens to Christians is you say ‘oh I believe in God and I know I’m going to heaven…’ but you actually base your day to day joy and happiness on circumstances and when they go away it drives you into God, because when the sugar goes away, when the candy goes away you’re forced to go after the feast your soul really needs. When things go bad it drives you into God and you develop a poise, a power, a strong kind of joy that never goes away regardless of circumstances.
  • b. Christian joy is unique because it’s already but not yet. 
  • On the one hand vs. 2b says we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. When you become a Christian because your salvation is not based in your good works or your efforts there is a certainty you’ve got about your future. All other religions say ‘if you live as you ought God will bless you.”
  • If you believe the reason God blesses you is because you’ve lived a good life and I’m praying, etc. that means you have no certainty about your future spiritually speaking because what if you give up or what if you don’t keep it up? You can’t be sure because you haven’t gotten to the end yet. Religion earned by you creates an uncertainty about your future.
  • Christianity says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s absolutely certain you will share in the hope and glory of God. When you get to the renewed earth you’ll learn that this is your real country. You belong here. The knowledge of that future glory (hope).
  • Hope in the Bible is life shaping certainty of what you’re going to have but you don’t have it yet. It is grounding. It is poise creating when other circumstances are becoming unfavorable. But is that all we have? No, we have more.
  • Vs. 4 and 5. because God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who he has given us.
  • What does that word “pour out” mean? it’s a way of expressing experience. Sometimes we get an hors d’oeurve of that feast now. Sometimes you experience that glory now. It’s at the heart of the Christian joy, a foretaste of that glory.
  • Richards Sibbes Sometimes our spirits cannot stand in trials. Therefore sometimes the immediate testimony of the Spirit is necessary. It comes in saying, ‘I am thy salvation!’ and our hearts are stirred up and comforted with joy inexpressible. This joy hath degrees. Sometimes it is so clear and strong that we question nothing — other times doubts come in soon.
  • William Guthrie10. I speak with the experience of many saints, and, I hope, according to Scripture, if I say there is a communication of the Spirit of God which is sometimes vouchsafed to some of His people that is somewhat besides, if not beyond, that witnessing of a sonship spoken of before. It is a glorious divine manifestation of God unto the soul, shedding abroad God’s love in the heart; it is a thing better felt than spoken of: it is no audible voice, but it is a ray of glory filling the soul with God, as He is life, light, love, and liberty, corresponding to that audible voice, ‘O man, greatly beloved’ (Dan. 9: 23); putting a man in a transport with this on his heart, ‘It is good to be here.’ (Matt. 17: 4.) It is that which went out from Christ to Mary, when He but mentioned her name– ‘Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.’ (John 20: 16.) He had spoken some words to her before, and she understood not that it was He: but when He uttereth this one word “Mary”, there was some admirable divine conveyance and manifestation made out unto her heart, by which she was so satisfyingly filled, that there was no place for arguing and disputing whether or no that was Christ, and if she had any interest in Him. That manifestation wrought faith to itself, and did purchase credit and trust to itself, and was equivalent with, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ This is such a glance of glory, that it may in the highest sense be called ‘the earnest,’ or first-fruits ‘of the inheritance’ (Eph. 1: 14); for it is a present, and, as it were, sensible discovery of the holy God, almost wholly conforming the man unto His likeness; so swallowing him up, that he forgetteth all things except the present manifestation. O how glorious is this manifestation of the Spirit!
  • Unless you have this joy you will rely on worldly happiness based on favorable circumstances which is so fragile. You will not have Christian joy unless you have experiences of the love of God direct to your heart through prayer. It’s the already foretaste of the not yet. It doesn’t happen a lot, or constantly, but you know it.
  • That goes along with your knowledge of the glory of God, but at the same time I have a subjective nature and Christian joy gives you what you need both head and heart.
  • This answers the dilemma of the first point. The first point dilemma was that things in this world are great and yet if we give our heart to them we get disappointed so then we detach and we  don’t rejoice in things.
  • CS Lewis’ autobiography is called “Surprised by Joy”. Before he was a Christian he was always trying to find joy in other things and before he became a Christian he binged on things that gave him joy. The first time he read an icelandic saga he loved it. He reads every Icelandic saga, and learns old Norse so he can read it in the original. As he works through it he realizes it isn’t paying out as he’d hoped. Then he gets a friend and binge on the friend but then the friend backs off. At one point he starts to realize that there’s a God behind the joy. (The citation comes from the Weight of Glory.)
  • “We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty… The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
  • Then the conclusion from Surprised by Joy

But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian… I believe that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the point naturally loomed large in my thoughts. He who first sees it cries, ‘Look!’ The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. ‘We would be at Jerusalem’ (238).

  • All the things that we attach onto today and think “If I have that, then I’ll be happy”, they are just signposts. So enjoy them, some of them are great! But don’t mistake the sign posts for what they are pointing to which is the city of God and God himself.
  • That gets out out of afraid of enjoying things in this life or resting in them.

How do you really get this joy? 

  • The last part of the passage is worth 5 or 6 sermons. The essence of them is the gospel. There’s a beautiful little summary of the Gospel. “Why we were yet sinners, Christ died for us that we might be saved from God’s wrath.”
  • God’s wrath is not just crankiness. It is his settled judicial opposition to injustice and evil and the human race deserves punishment because we’ve participated in evil and injustice. But, Jesus Christ, while we were still sinners took the wrath, took the condemnation, took the punishment. That’s the gospel. How does that bring joy? 2 ways.
  • a. The gospel shows you the magnitude of your danger.
  • This is counter-intuitive because from the outside you are sinner, lost, punishment, you deserve wrath. This sounds negative. But what this means on the inside? The size of the debt and the magnitude of the danger which we were in before.
  • Imagine you went away and a friend of yours stayed in the home and your friend paid a bill for you while you were gone. How should you respond? It depends on the debt your friend paid for you. What if it was a huge bill for back taxes that you had no resources to pay on your own. You don’t know how grateful to be until you know how bad it was.
  • JC Ryle says one of the reasons you get so upset about your debts, your financial problems, is you don’t realize the great debt of sin, the only debt that could really sink you has been paid. When you see that all other debts seem small.
  • You can’t appreciate the magnitude of the deliverance until you realize the magnitude of your jeopardy.
  • The real disease has been healed.
  • b. the magnitude of Jesus’ pain
  • John 16 where Jesus is trying to comfort his disciples but says a woman giving birth has pain because her time has come but when the baby is born joy for a child is born into the world and so it is with your. Jesus Christ is identifying with the woman.
  • In the ancient world the only way for a woman to give birth to a new baby and the joy of new life was for her to go into a tunnel of anguish, pain and danger. Jesus said “that’s what’s happening to me as I go to the cross.”
  • Here’s how you develop joy. Jesus lost all joy so we could have joy. He experienced anguish so we could have new life. That’s how the love comes. You look at what Jesus has done.
  • Go get it. It’s available.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Quotations, Sermon Illustrations, Sermon Outline and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Notes from Tim Keller’s Sermon “Joy”

  1. benjamin9000 says:

    Thank you for posting! I was listening to the MP3 and found this. I’m not an expert but do you think it is significant that the reference in the introduction refers to Galatians 5 which lists “chara” [joy] as one of the fruits of the spirit, whereas here, the word in Romans 5 that is here translated “rejoice” is “kauchaomai,” otherwise translated “boast, exult, glory in”?

  2. Chuck says:

    This sermon was not done by Tim Keller but by David Bisgrove. You might want to correct that.

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