1 John 1:4 | Joy

Joy

Let’s start with a couple definitions from my favourite online dictionary: Ninjawords (it’s fast like a ninja):

Here’s what my big Canadian Oxford Dictionary has to say about it:

  • Happy: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment
  • Joy: a vivid emotion of pleasure; extreme gladness

Semantically, these words overlap and intertwine quite fluently in English. Although it’s difficult to nail them down, there is a difference between them. You wouldn’t say, “Man, that Baconator from Wendy’s filled me with joy yesterday.” (That is, of course, unless you really love your bacon!) Conversely, you probably wouldn’t say, “I’m happy my brother made it through surgery without dying”.  There’s got to be something deeper than happiness there.

The basic difference between these two words is the quality of the emotion: joy is stronger—more lasting—than mere happiness. It’s this deep, enduring sense of utter contentment that John has in mind when he writes:

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:4, NRSV)

. . .

Before we look any closer at the this verse, we need to settle a textual issue. Some translations (NAS, NIV, NRSV) say “that our joy may be complete”. Other versions (KJV, Amplified) say “that your joy may be complete”.  That little pronoun really changes a lot. It’s fair to ask, “which is it?” Does John want his joy to be complete, or does he want his people’s joy to be complete? (Although you could legitimately answer, “both”, only one sense is intended in this sentence.)

In Greek, the difference between “your” and “our” is one letter. In transliteration, “your” is hēmōn, while “our” is humōn. The difference is between an eta and an upsilon.  You can see why it would be easy to mistake one for the other while copying the texts by hand.

Without going into a lot of detail, modern scholarly consensus suggests that “our” is the proper translation. (According to the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament, the translation is rated {A} which means the text is “certain”.)

. . .

After a quick reading of this translation, John can almost seem selfish. He wants the people in his churches to have fellowship with him, the Father, and the Son so that he can be filled with joy. But let’s look deeper.

You may have noticed that John consistently uses the first person plural to refer to himself in the first four verses of this letter. In many other places in the letter, he uses the first person singular. Why did he chose to start the letter using “we” instead of “I”? It’s because John sees himself as part of a group of people—the twelve apostles—who were eyewitnesses to Jesus. He knew that he had a responsibility as one of the last living apostles to ensure that the truth about Jesus continued on in spite of the lies of the false-teachers.

John is not being selfish by stating that his joy will be complete when his people experience authentic Christian fellowship—quite the opposite. John knows that he will never be content until he has fulfiled his twofold responsibility:

  • to the people in his churches, to keep them in the truth;
  • to Jesus’ commission to be a faithful witness.

Both obeying Christ’s commission, and seeing the fruit of that obedience was necessary for him to experience joy.

. . .

What gives you joy? Take a minute and think about it. I hope it’s more than a Baconator (as delicious as those six strips of hickory smoked bacon piled high atop two 1/4 lb. patties of fresh, never frozen, beef can be.)

For the believer, joy is found in the twofold process of our obedience to the voice of the Spirit generating the Son’s intended results. And with joy like that available, why continue to chase mere happiness?

< 1 John 1:3 | Fellowship

1 John 1:5 | Light >

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  1. According To John » Blog Archive » 1 John 1:4 | Joy - July 9, 2008

    […] 1 John 1:4 | Joy (According to the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament, the translation is rated {A} which means the text is “certain”.) . . . After a quick reading of this translation, John can almost seem selfish. He wants the people in his … […]

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