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That Your Joy May Be Full

Joy is about realizing that in our hearts, we are living in the kingdom of heaven today!
Read Time: 9 minutes

As a child, we used to vacation every summer at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. It was a bustling if somewhat honkytonk little town. It had a long, sandy beach always packed with sunbathers and a busy boardwalk that ran the length of the beach on the other side of the main street. The boardwalk area was the heart of the town. It had several hotels, all types of restaurants, and innumerable gift shops and specialty stores. It had clothing stores, jewelry stores, ice cream parlors, and even two different penny arcades!

As a kid, I loved to body surf the ocean waves, fly kites along the beach, play Skee Ball in the arcade, and watch the taffy being made by a special stretching machine in the window of the candy store. At night, we would stroll along the boardwalk as a family and stop for ice cream, taffy, or fried dough! It was a magical, joyful week, and the memories of it, even now, so many decades later, still bring a smile to my face.     

The challenge of joy, of course, is that it is fleeting. For instance, most of us experience great joy on our wedding day, but that doesn’t mean every day of marriage is joyful. Bro. Bob Lloyd used to talk about returning to work after Bible School with a “spiritual glow,” only to realize after a few days of toil that the glow was gone!

Sadly, this is often the case in our walk of faith, with spiritual highs followed by fleshly lows that can make our spiritual journey feel like we’re riding a roller coaster. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could maintain joy in our hearts through all the trials of faith? Actually, the Bible speaks repeatedly about that very type of enduring joy. It isn’t the type of emotional, ecstatic joy you experience when your child is born or if you get a perfect score in Skee Ball, but it is an inner joy that comes from a complete faith that the weakness of the flesh can no longer be compromised.     

John speaks about this enduring joy at the beginning of his first letter to his “little children.” He tells them, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:3-4).

What John is offering them is the level of fellowship with the Father and the Son that he has already experienced, and that provides “full joy.” What is this “fellowship?” That is what John expounds upon throughout the letter. 

He starts by first explaining God’s nature, that “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5). This is important to know because we naturally ascribe an element of darkness to God. We see the vengeance of God or the sufferings of this world (or the sufferings in our own lives) and think, “If God allows this, then it must be an element of His character. But by saying that God is light, John is not denying the darkness; he’s only placing it where it belongs, in the hands of sinful man.

God, in his infinite wisdom, is dealing with sin but in His way, through His Son. As the perfect manifestation of the Father, Jesus has revealed to us the true light of God while exposing the darkness for what it truly is, the darkness of sinful flesh. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus about himself, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19).

When we fully understand where light and darkness come from, we can more easily grasp how our actions reflect one or the other. John says, “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light… but he that hateth his brother is in darkness.” (1 John 2:10-11). 

John places our love for each other as the proving ground of whether we understand and love God, but John goes further by explaining that our commitment to this truth also reflects our understanding of God’s love for us. In 1 John 3, he writes: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he [Christ] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). 

Again, our love and care for our brother not only reflects our love for God but also our understanding of God’s love for us, for none of us has earned the blessing that God has bestowed upon us, so how can we hate our brother upon whom God has bestowed that same grace? 

John says if we hate our brother, then we don’t know God. For if we hate our brother, then we have not incorporated into our hearts the fundamental truth that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, and that the darkness lies in the heart of all sinful flesh. We have also forgotten that Christ is the atonement, not just for our sins, but for the entire world’s sins. (1 John 2:2 NIV).

John then explains that in the same way God is light, He is also love, and our understanding of this is shown again by our love for one another. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

But again, John goes even further, saying that loving one another is not only “of God” but that it perfects God’s love in us. He writes, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love of His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12).  He continues to speak of the power of perfect love saying: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18).

Incredible! By saying, “Because as he is, so are we in this world,” John is teaching us how to be one with Christ, just as he and the other disciples were in perfect fellowship with him. Consequently, we can be so filled with the love of God that the flesh has no hold on us, no fear, no doubt, no shame. Complete joy in our hearts by knowing that we have full fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is what John knew about himself and the other chosen of Christ and what He’s offering to us, His “little children.”  

Consider how this joy was reflected in the lives of a few of Christ’s disciples. Paul told the Corinthians, “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” We can easily read these words and think he doesn’t really mean joyful; he means accepting that his tribulations further the truth. This thought may have been true, but that’s not what he says. Instead, he emphasizes that he is “exceedingly joyful” in tribulation. How would you like to feel that way? The Apostle John says it is possible if you truly love your brother.

James, in his letter, instructs us to

Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

What a marvelous inner joy we can have if we, with patience, endure the trials of our faith.

Finally, let’s consider a man we wouldn’t usually associate with the idea of joy, never mind complete joy—John the Baptist. In John 3:27-30, his disciples come to him complaining that Jesus and his disciples were now baptizing more than John. John says, 

A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.

So much of what John says here is pregnant with meaning for us. Consider his words “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” So many of our struggles in faith (and what keeps the full joy of God at bay) are our own feelings of inadequacy before God.  How can I, the chiefest of sinners, ever feel worthy to experience full joy? John the Baptist’s words about himself provide the answer for all of us.

Remember, John was no less a sinner than any of us, for Paul told us that he who sins once is a slave to sin, and it was no different for John. John surely was a more faithful man than you or me, but he was no less a sinner and needed redemption through Christ. Jesus said this of John, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).   

What John the Baptist says about his discipleship is true of all discipleship, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him of God.” (John 3:27). God has not asked us to be more than what we can be, He is only asking us to be all He has called us to be. This should give us great comfort as we strive to follow Jesus and as we seek for that inner joy and peace. 

The same holds true about his words concerning the bridegroom and his friend. The friend is not the bridegroom, but he can rejoice with the greatest joy at the bridegroom’s marriage and message! This glorification of the bridegroom was all John ever wanted; seeing people now listening to and putting on Christ was the fulfilling of all John’s joy. 

Just like John the Baptist, Jesus must increase in our lives, and we must decrease. Instead of focusing on where we fall short, we’re called to focus on Jesus. Paul put it this way, 

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you… For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:13-15; 20-21).

The Apostle John has called us to a full understanding of the love of God and to witness what is true. He writes, 

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God… And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:13, 19-20).

And complete joy is not just happiness or contentment. It’s so much more. It’s a feeling of wonder that God’s glory is right before us, and we get to be daily witnesses of His purpose being fulfilled. It’s marveling at all the small and beautiful things that shine before us every day because of the light of God. It’s about being moved by the depth and power of His Word. It’s about the daily reflection upon all we’ve been given in life, including the sacrifice and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s about realizing that in our hearts, we are living in the kingdom of heaven today!

All this is possible right now if we believe with all our hearts that Jesus is the light of the world sent from the Father of Light and that, despite our failings, we can remain in that light if we follow his commandments and love our brother as ourselves, just as John and all the other faithful witnesses have done.   

Paul put it this way,

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. (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Not very long ago, I took a day trip back to Hampton Beach. It had been several decades since I had been there, and while the memories flooded back, the experience was not quite the same. Many hotels, restaurants, and touristy gift shops were still there, as well as the arcade, but the Skee Ball machines were gone. The beach, of course, was still there, but I didn’t bring a kite, and I’m a little too old to body surf. The taffy store was still there, but the pulling machine was gone, so I contented myself with a nice, big piece of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. I enjoyed it very much.

Jim Sullivan,
Boston Ecclesia, MA

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