Verse 4: Complete
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
John’s prologue to his first epistle picks up where the epilogue to his gospel leaves off:
John 21:24 (CSB) This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
The apostolic mission to write down and deliver the final confirmed testimony of Jesus Christ is John’s aim for this letter. He is delivering to them what was with them from the beginning; the Word of Life. This letter is a continuation of the faithful and true testimony of Christ that John began when he penned his account of the gospel.
There is a great deal of emphasis on “the writing” of Scripture within the pages of the Holy Word:
Exodus 34:27 (CSB) The Lord also said to Moses, “Write down these words, for I have made a covenant with you and with Israel based on these words.”
Jeremiah 30:2 (CSB) This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write on a scroll all the words that I have spoken to you
Habakkuk 2:2 (CSB) The Lord answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it.
Romans 15:15 (CSB) Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God
1st Corinthians 14:37 (CSB) If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command.
Revelation 1:19 (CSB) Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this.
The same amount of emphasis is placed on God’s leaders and assembly reading and learning the written word:
Deuteronomy 17:15, 18-20 (CSB) Appoint a king from your brothers… 18 When he is seated on his royal throne, he is to write a copy of this instruction for himself on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to remain with him, and he is to read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to observe all the words of this instruction, and to do these statutes. 20 Then his heart will not be exalted above his countrymen, he will not turn from this command to the right or the left, and he and his sons will continue reigning many years in Israel.
Ezra 7:10 (CSB) Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Acts 2:42 (CSB) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Ephesians 3:3-4 (CSB) The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. 4 By reading this you are able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.
The crescendo of John’s prologue culminates in this verse by bringing everything he has said about the authentic testimony of Christ together to proclaim the inexpressible joy to be found in the Word of Life.
John’s prologues are very important and his letters always unfold from them. This concept of “writing” dominates John’s first epistle:
1st John 2:1 (CSB) My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one.
1st John 2:7-8 (CSB) Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
1st John 2:12-14 (CSB) I am writing to you, little children, since your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. 14 I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.
1st John 2:21-23 (CSB) I have not written to you because you don’t know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; he who confesses the Son has the Father as well.
1st John 5:13 (CSB) I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
John is writing this epistle so that we may not sin (2:1), but have eternal life (5:13). He isn’t writing a new commandment by human authority, but the original commandment of Christ (2:7), yet the commandment is new because of Christ’s light that is shining in us (2:8). He is writing the spiritual children of the church because their sins are forgiven by Christ’s name and they know the Father (2:12, 14); to spiritual fathers because they know the everlasting Christ (2:13, 14); and to the spiritual men of the church because they have conquered the evil one in Christ, are strong, and God’s word remains in them (2:13, 14). Indeed, John isn’t writing these things because the Church doesn’t know the truth, but precisely because they do know the truth (2:21).
The beloved apostle is very concerned that the Church understands the blessed testimony that has been delivered to them by his writing. And what is the blessing of this written testimony? That joy may be made complete.
This expression is unique in John’s first epistle but abundant in John’s gospel:
John 15:11 (CSB) I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
John 16:24 (CSB) Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
John 17:14 (CSB) Now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy completed in them.
This joy is clearly wrapped up in the Word of Life – the life which was manifested to them – the eternal life that they are now boldly proclaiming to the Church. The joy of eternal life that John has witnessed has consumed him and the darkness which once was in his life is now passing away as “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” has dawned (2nd Corinthians 4:6).
This joy is inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ himself, who is the object of the blessed fellowship that John has testified about (v.4):
John 17:3 (CSB) This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.
The fullness of joy abounds, not merely in continued life, but in the fellowship that we have with the Triune God!
Unfortunately, there is some controversy concerning the expression “our joy” versus “your joy”. A number of manuscripts, including some of the most important ones (A C K P 33 81 1505 1739 pm syh bo), read ὑμῶν (humōn, “your”) rather than ἡμῶν (hēmōn, “our”), which is the rendering of the most reliable witnesses (א B L Ψ 049 1241 pm syp sa). Likewise, the majority of Byzantine minuscules are split between the two readings, although the Textus Receptus reads went with ὑμῶν (your).
I believe the controversy is easily resolved by understanding how verse 4 informs us that John’s written testimony is given to us so that we may be included in their fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. As their joy is wrapped up in the eternal life of fellowship with Christ, so we too may share in the blessing of their fellowship and unrestricted joy in Jesus Christ!
“Our” should not be understood as the apostles “versus” the rest of us, but instead, as the apostles “together with” the rest of us. Nothing in this text indicates that John is gloating over an exclusive joy that does not belong to the Church. He is extolling the eternal joy of unrestricted and unashamed fellowship with Jesus Christ!
What does John mean when he says that our joy will be made “complete”?
The concept of completeness is a consistent and unified theme throughout his first epistle, which I suggest tells us that our joy in the eternal fellowship of Christ is brought to maturity in those who keep his word by God’s perfect and abiding love, which will commend us to him in confidence on the day of judgment:
1st John 2:5 (CSB) But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. This is how we know we are in him
1st John 4:12 (CSB) No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is made complete in us.
1st John 4:17 (CSB) In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world.
1st John 4:18 (CSB) There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.
The expectation is that the joy John is writing about is made complete by abiding in the word of Christ and keeping the love of God.
These are the high aims of John’s first epistle!