When Paul comes to describe the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, he uses the singular form of fruit, and then goes on to list love, joy, peace, and so on. So instead of considering this as a list of disparate fruits, like apples, oranges and bananas, perhaps we might consider the different graces listed as aspects or attributes of the one fruit of the Spirit’s presence—like redness, sweetness, crispness, and so on. And one of the most distinctive features of the Spirit’s presence is the grace of joy. It is not the most important, but it is perhaps the most obvious. It stands out.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:1–3).
Summary of the Text
In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we were given a long list of Old Testament saints who had endured great trials and troubles (Heb. 11:35b-38), or who had overcome great trials and troubles (Heb. 11:32-35a). These all were set before us as examples of true faith to encourage us in the race that we have to run. The stadium is therefore filled with saints from the older covenant, whose races are now complete, and it is now our turn to come to the starting line (v. 1). We are to lay aside everything that might hinder us in running, whether a weight or a sin, and we are to run with endurance. That means this is therefore not a sprint, but rather a long race (v. 1). Although chapter 11 is crammed with examples for us, now that we are running, we are to look principally to the supreme example, Jesus—the author and finisher of our faith (v. 2). And Jesus ran His race in this way—He endured the cross, holding the shame of it in contempt, and is now seated on the throne of glory. He also has completed His race.
This passage tells us to look to Jesus Christ twice—looking unto Jesus (v. 2), and consider Him that endured (v. 3). If we don’t consider how Christ endured such “contradiction of sinners,” we are going to get sucked down into our own pain, and then we will quit from exhaustion. Remember this: the context of Christian joy is exertion, and the nature of Christian joy is agonistic. Spirit-driven joy is never lethargic.
Robbed of Joy
Now our text says that in order to run the race effectively, this race that has joy at the end of it, we must lay aside sin and the weight that so easily entangles. One of the things that robs us of our ability to run with joy toward that joy is sin. This was certainly David’s experience. “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalm 32:4–5).
A second major thief of joy is poor doctrine. Some people believe that because Reformed folk believe in total depravity that this means that we must spend our time wallowing around in it. But we affirm total depravity, which is not the same thing as blowing bubbles in it. False teaching, misplaced teaching, is a thief of joy. “What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:15-16, NIV)
Not a Happy Happy Joy Joy Thing
Joy is deep satisfaction with the will of God for your life, as that will is expressed by Him in the circumstances of your life. But joy is not froth and bubble on the surface of your life. Joy is the bedrock, down beneath the soil in which all your experiences grow. And the bedrock doesn’t move, regardless of what’s happening up above. Think of David, interceding for the life of his son. While his son was dying, he lay fasting and praying for a week. When his son died, he got up, washed, changed his clothes and went to worship the Lord (2 Sam. 12:20).
“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
2 Cor. 6:4–10 (KJV)
Peter gives us the same kind of clear juxtaposition.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
1 Pet. 1:6–9 (KJV)
The Noise of Our Celebration
One greater than Solomon is here (Matt. 12:42), and when Solomon was crowned king, Joab was provoked to ask, “Wherefore is this noise of the city being in an uproar?” (1 Kings 1:41). Solomon had been crowned in Gihon, and everybody came up from there “rejoicing” (1 Kings 1:45). The tumult that they heard was tumultuous joy. But it was tumultuous joy in a nation on the verge of civil war. Joy is not just what we fight for, it should also be considered a weapon that we fight with.
We also are in a perilous time. We are engaged in a very real struggle for the future of our nation. We are fighting to ward off terrible consequences for our people, and we intend to have a good time doing it. This is not because we do not know the stakes, but rather because we do know the stakes. We are to be serious Christians, which is not the same thing as being gloomy and depressed Christians. The former is consistent with joy, while the latter is not.
Christ was crowned at His ascension and given universal authority, and we are the people who meet weekly to acclaim Him as our king. That is what we are doing here, is it not? And that is why the hallmark of evangelical, Reformed, postmillennial, Kuyperian, covenantal faith is also here. What is that mark? Is it not cheerfulness? Is it not joy?
How could we be looking toward Jesus, the one who ran looking toward the joy set before Him, without ourselves looking toward joy? That is entailed, necessarily, in our imitation of Christ. This is the life of a true Christ, further up and further in.