It was one of those deeply philosophical kinds of questions that occupy your thinking in the middle of the night. You know, those after-hours bull sessions, trying to top one another with Zen-like wisdom and riddles. “So how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” “Why don’t Brussels sprouts make you fat?” You know—all the big questions that you ponder when you’re supposed to be doing your calculus homework in your college dorm room.
And then someone said, “If you are a Christian, should it show?”
“You know, should people be able to tell by looking at you that you are a Christian?”
“What, do you mean we should wear name tags or something, like, ‘Hi, I’m a Christian!’”
“No, that’s not what I mean.”
“Do you mean, we should wear prayer caps, or shawls, or special shoes or something?”
“No, I mean, ‘Should it show?’”
Should it show? Our faith, I mean. Should passersby be able to look at us and know that we are followers of Jesus? Should it show?
On the one hand, of course, that is nonsense. Only God is able to see into the heart to know what is true and what is a facade. That’s why Jesus warns us over and over not to be so judgmental. We are so quick to decide who is in and who is out, and we can so often make a mistake because we don’t have the vision of God. We don’t know what core beliefs or defining experiences have shaped this person we are attempting to judge. So, that is a task better left to God. And we stick with the business of invitation, inclusion, and instruction. We learn and grow together as though everyone was welcome—because they are.
But, on the other hand, we all know that our faith is not simply a head thing. It is not just a set of beliefs that we hold to be true. Faith is instead a way of living, a way of being in the world. This means that our question is not so nonsensical after all. Should it show? Yes, it should show. Our faith should be shown in what we do and say; it should be shown in the choices we make and the priorities we set. It should be shown in our habits and in our attendance at public corporate worship.
All of that is true. But I think there is something more—something more that should show because of our faith; something more that should be in us and come out from us, so that everyone around us sees that something. That something is gratitude. We are the ones who live thankfully, who live aware of what others have done and are doing for us. We acknowledge a debt, a relationship, a “being with” that others might not recognize. Gratitude is what should show to the rest of the world, as we live and move and have our being—not, however, a begrudging gratitude or a thankfulness pulled out of us by a stern parent leaning down to ask us, “Now, what do you say?” Ours is exuberant gratitude that reflects our wonder at being alive in this interwoven world. And when you read Paul, at times, it seems that he gets gratitude mixed up with joy.
In Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit, joy is second after love. Or joy is first if you believe, as I do, that the fruit is love and that the other eight are aspects, or definitions, of that love. The fruit of the Spirit, says Paul, is love that is joy-filled. Yes, it is also peaceful and patient and kind and generous and faithful and gentle and self-controlled; but first, it is Joyful.
Paul was big on joy. It keeps coming up in his writing. Probably the most well-known passage is the reading we chose for this week. Most biblical scholars say that this passage is a conglomeration of a number of different sayings. Maybe, they argue, it was all written down at one time, but most likely this passage bears the hand of at least one and maybe many different editors, adding in bits and pieces to fill out the list of exhortations. Or maybe it was all Paul, just running down his checklist without regard to the content or narrative flow. This is like a shopping list or a menu from a Chinese restaurant, one from column a, and one from column b.
I’m not so sure. Maybe it is my imagination, but I see coherence here. I think Paul is trying to define joy in these verses. This is a recipe for the joy entree. That might explain why it feels disjointed; but in fact, it all comes together to produce something whole and satisfying and delicious, to boot!
Joy, says Paul, is revealed in gentleness, in how we treat those around us, in how we respond to slights against us, and in how we reach out to those who are hurt. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” says Paul. Let it show. Joy is found in the knowledge and experience of the nearness of God (The Lord is near), a nearness that diminishes anxiety and brings out a willingness to connect with God with gratitude and with hope (in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God). Joy is found in that communion, that peaceful confidence that comes from living in Christ.
So, how do we get it? How do we live in this joy? By filling ourselves with the good things of God’s creation – “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (verse 8). “Think about these things,” he writes; live in these things; fill yourself up with these things. And, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, he writes. There it is - joy blends into gratitude. Joy is the face of a grateful heart. Joy is the center of grateful living.
Then, he says, live in community; that’s where we find joy. It is a corporate experience, not an individual one. Find a mentor, someone who can show you the faith at work, someone who walks the walk. (Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, v9). Engage in acts of kindness; give, serve, love. Also, be content where you are; bloom where you are planted instead of always wishing things were different. And finally, take risks. Step out in faith, knowing that as long as you walk with God, you cannot fail. (I can do all things through him who strengthens me, v.13).
Paul says he has learned the secret to this joy, and it must be that joy is powered by gratitude. Grateful joy, then is dynamic, the result of an ongoing relationship and way of living that keeps us engaged with God and with people. And it leaks out as we engage with others; it shapes our language and our vision. In short, it shows. In everything we do, in who we are, in the attitudes we present, in the face we offer to the world, it shows. So, let it show.