“Joy Complete” 1 John 1:1-4 September 13, 2009
SI: We’re taking a break from Abraham today.
We’ll get back to him next Sunday and then we only have two or three more
passages and we’ll be done with his story and we’ll move on to something else.
Instead of Abraham, we’re going to look at a few verses from 1 John.
The reason for the change is that today is an important day in the annual rhythm of
Christ Covenant life. We have a weekly rhythm and an annual rhythm.
September is the beginning of our year.
Our new Sunday school classes start today.
I know the kids moved up last Sunday for a trial run, but today it’s official.
After the worship service, will introduce new teachers.
And we will also present the subjects the children and youth
and adults will be studying.
Other thing that starts this week are our Covenant Groups.
We’ll be announcing those after the service as well.
Covenant Groups have been a part of the life of our church since the beginning.
The Lord has used them in wonderful ways to promote fellowship,
to care for the needs of the body, and to enfold newcomers.
We’ll fill you in today on Covenant Groups and Covenant Kids.
So I’ll tell you up front why I’ve chosen this passage.
I want to exhort you, prod you, encourage you—
to participate fully in these two parts of our church life.
Sunday morning service is the primary place worship takes place in our church—
not the only place, but the primary place.
And Sunday school and Covenant Groups are the primary places where teaching
and fellowship take place. Not the only places, but important places.
I want you to be a part of that.
And I think the Apostle John does too. So let’s read his inspired letter.
INTRO: Tuscumbia, Alabama, where I grew up, used to be called Big Spring.
That’s because there is a big spring there that gushes out from underneath
some rocks at the bottom of a hill.
My house was about five blocks from the spring,
so as a boy I loved to walk down there or ride my bike.
You weren’t allowed to swim (because that’s where the town got it’s water)
but you could sit on the edge and stick your feet in.
It was really nice on the hottest days of summer.
Because even if it was 100 degrees and hadn’t rained for weeks, and even if
everything else was parched and dry, the trees around the spring were
green and lush, and the cold water would be bubbling up out of the ground.
A cold spring in a hot and dry land is a perfect picture of joy.
That’s the reason John wrote his first letter—for joy.
John says in opening words that he has written letter “to make our joy complete.”
“Our joy” is not a formal way of saying “my joy”, “John’s joy.”
By “our joy” John meant his joy and the joy of Christians writing to—
and by extension all Christians who read this letter.
So he has written this letter to make our your joy, my joy, complete.
What is joy in the biblical sense? How would you define it?
Seems to me that one of the key words for defining joy is word “deep.”
I think of that spring in Tuscumbia, deep under that hill,
deep in the North Alabama limestone.
Joy is that deep current that runs under the Christian life.
It’s that deep happiness in Christ.
That deep pleasure.
That deep confidence.
It is not just knowing Jesus, knowing that you know him.
Joy is so deep that it can even co-exist with grief because it’s deeper than grief.
A person can be weeping and still have joy. So many examples in Bible.
Greatest is Christ. He had the Holy Spirit beyond measure.
That means he had joy. But he was also a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
John says that he has written this letter to make our joy complete.
What is joy complete?
John is saying something remarkable.
He is saying that he has written this letter so that Christian who read it,
and churches who read it can come to the condition in which it is possible
for every possible outward prop to be removed—and still have joy.
That’s joy complete. It is pleasure, happiness, confidence in Christ so deep—
that even if every outward source of joy is removed, it keeps flowing.
There are lots of outward joys.
There is joy that comes from friends, health, wealth, good circumstances.
John is saying that if some or even all of those things are removed—
if you know the things he is writing about in this letter—
you can still have joy complete.
There could be a drought that scorches all the land—you could be scorched—
but deep down, in the inner place, things are green and refreshed.
That’s joy complete. There is only one step beyond it and that is heaven itself.
Whole creation is perfected, outer lives match perfectly joy within us.
But you can have a real taste of it now.
How? How does joy happen? What’s the source?
It happens, John says, when two things come together in your life.
1. When you believe the testimony about Jesus, and
2. When you share in fellowship with Jesus.
When those two factors come together in your life
they become a source of joy complete.
You don’t get joy by looking for joy.
But if you pursue these two things John mentions—joy will come.
Let’s look at each of these in order John presents them.
There is a logical order.
You have to first believe the testimony and then you share in the fellowship.
So we’ll look at each in that order,
and then we’ll see how they come together to make your joy complete.
MP#1 Joy complete requires believing the testimony about Jesus
Look at verses 1 and 2 again. John says:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you . . .
What is John talking about?
That which was from the beginning? The Word of life made manifest?
He’s talking about Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of Life from the beginning.
John is talking about the pre-existence of Christ as the eternal Son of God.
Then he says that Christ was made manifest. He was revealed.
Then John says that when the Word of life was made manifest—
We heard him. We saw him with our own eyes.
We touched him with our own hands.
Peter, James, Andrew, and the other disciples and me—
we heard Jesus, we saw him, we touched him.
We were witnesses to all Jesus said and did both before and after his resurrection.
The testimony of those witnesses is written down in Gospels—
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
This is where John starts his letter, and this is where Christianity always starts.
It starts with hearing and believing the facts about Jesus,
what he did and said as reported by eyewitnesses.
And then, John says, this is where joy complete starts,
you have to believe the testimony of Scripture about Jesus Christ.
You have to believe what the Bible says he did, and what it says it means for you.
How he life Jesus lived is now your life through faith.
And how the death he died is now your death through faith.
You stand before God righteous because
Jesus’ obedience is your merit and
Jesus’ death is your punishment.
You are not saved by how you live—saved by how he lived.
You are not punished for what deserve—he was punished for what you deserve.
John says: This we proclaim.
And this you must believe for joy complete.
But it’s not just the Gospels that proclaim Jesus—the whole Bible does.
All of Scripture points to him in one way or another.
The Old Testament foreshadows Christ in countless ways.
It gives us a rich vocabulary for talking about our Savior.
Jesus is the Second Adam, the Seed of the Woman, the Promised Son of Abraham,
the Sacrificial Lamb, the Lion of Judah, the Greater than Moses,
the Fulfillment of the Law, the Son of David, the Suffering Servant . . .
We could go on and on, multiplying themes and types of Jesus Old Testament.
And then we have the New Testament, which presents his life and work
and then explains and applies it to us, building on Old Testament foundation.
So a Christian can’t be content with a child’s knowledge of Christ—
but he must go deeper and deeper in the Scriptures’ testimony about him.
Don’t be satisfied with a diet of milk, Hebrews says, go on to meat.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,”
The whole testimony of Scripture about Jesus should be your life quest.
And as you hear and believe the testimony about Jesus from Genesis
to Revelation—it will build in you a deeper capacity for joy.
This week I was talking to a Christian businessman.
He’s not in our church, he’s a member of a Pentecostal church in town.
And he got to talking about prayer, and how for him,
it is the kingship of Jesus that is so meaningful.
He said a king proclaims his will, he makes a decree—and it is law in the land.
His subjects and his enemies must submit to him.
Jesus is the ultimate king. He’s the King of kings. His will is law.
And, he said, the Bible calls us kings and priests of God.
So our prayers, to the extent they are God’s will, carry with them
a ring of Jesus Christ’s kingly authority.
He told me about some bold things he was praying for and the answers received.
The reason he could pray like that is because he knew about the theme
of Christ’s kingship in the Bible. He had heard and believed the testimony.
He had studied those sections of Scripture and they had given him a deeper
capacity for joy—in his case, joy expressed in confidence in prayer.
That conversation was interesting to me because I knew that next Sunday
several of our Adult Sunday school classes will begin a study of 1 Samuel.
1 Samuel is about the establishment of the monarchy in Israel
through Samuel, Saul, and David.
Why are we studying 1 Samuel? Because it’s part of the testimony about Jesus.
Because the history of Israel’s monarchy gives us a framework for
understanding the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The longing of Israel for a king and the kings of Israel good and bad
show us our need for a perfect king and how Jesus alone fits the bill.
That’s why we study the Bible here—
because it’s the testimony about the Word of Life.
And if you know and believe the testimony, in increasing depth,
then like that Pentecostal brother, it can become in you a source of joy.
There are so many enemies of Bible study, aren’t there?
Our whole entertainment culture dulls our minds. It makes reading
and sustaining thought about theological subjects much harder.
I’m not pointing fingers—I have a 40” flat screen Sanyo and a Netflix subscription.
But I know personally that the constant bombardment of entertainment
can make the study of Scripture hard and boring.
When I was going through seminary almost 20 years ago,
the cutting edge research said that sermons should be 22 minutes long
and aimed no higher than the understanding of a 14-year-old.
And our schedules, and the constant electronic interruptions make regular
study that much more of a fight.
And so we have, in God’s wisdom, this divinely established rhythm of church life.
Every week, on the Lord’s day,
we gather and hear the testimony preached and taught.
And if you submit yourself to the preaching and teaching ministry of the church,
then you will be regularly fed the truth, and your knowledge of Christ
will deepen, and you will gain a deeper capacity for joy.
You need it, your children need it. Even if you read them Bible stories every night.
It is still good for them, on the Lord’s day, to hear it from Sunday school teacher.
But John doesn’t stop here. Knowing and believing the testimony about Jesus
lays the groundwork for the second thing John mentions.
Something else needed for joy complete.
MP#2 Joy complete requires sharing fellowship with Jesus.
Verses 3 & 4 again “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the real key to joy.
Everything we hear and believe about Jesus from the Bible is for one purpose—
so that we can have fellowship with Jesus and with our heavenly Father.
We don’t do Sunday school for Sunday school’s sake.
It’s so that we can know our Lord better and share fellowship with him.
You have to have knowledge. There has to be content to your faith.
You have to know what the Bible says about Jesus in increasing measure.
It’s never less than that—but it’s always more than that.
Fellowship means sharing something in common.
And that’s what we want, to share in the life of God—
to participate in the divine nature, as Peter puts it in one of his letters.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones had a famous sermon called “The Truth Begins To Shine.”
In that sermon he said that fellowship with God is not just knowing the truth—
it’s when the truth begins to shine.
It’s when the Holy Spirit takes something you know and believe about Jesus,
and rams that truth through all the barriers and into your heart.
And the truth amazes you and you have a palpable sense of the presence of God.
Fellowship with God is not getting new words from God—
it’s when the Holy Spirit makes the old words new,
and surprises you with the freshness of them.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones called attention to the old hymn by Peter Brooks
“I Am His And He Is Mine”
Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christ-less eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’er flow Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His and He is mine.
Hymn writer is looking at the sky—not just blue, softer blue.
Looks at the earth, not just green, sweeter green.
Listens to the birds singing, songs are more glad.
Looks at beautiful flower, sees deeper beauties.
What is going on with this man? Is he having a manic attack of some kind?
What has happened is that one great truth has begun to shine.
“I am his and he is mine.”
Something he has known for years has suddenly come home to him in fresh way.
I belong to Jesus Christ and he belongs to me.
Fellowship with Christ so real, sees all life differently.
If someone has wronged you, hurt you, and you are bitter, resentful.
How do you forgive?
You know Jesus Christ died for you.
He suffered terrible wounds so you could be saved.
You have received great mercy from God through his suffering.
You know all that but it has to become real to you. It has to shine.
When wounds of Jesus become more real to you than the wounds
this person gave you, then you can forgive from your heart.
See, this is not just something for poets to talk about in hymnbooks.
It’s intensely practical. The way you deal with temptation, anxiety, success,
and failure, everything, is fellowship with God.
Fellowship with Father and the Son is the heart of Christian life.
To get back to our opening image—it’s that deep spring of joy that refreshes
you even during the droughts of life.
How do you cultivate fellowship with God? Places where truth shines?
Here we get to my plug for Covenant Groups.
John says our fellowship with God magnified through fellowship with each other.
This is an amazing statement by the apostle John.
He is writing this letter to Christians in Asia 50 years after Jesus’ resurrection.
These were Christians like us who never saw Jesus face to face.
They just heard the Gospel and believed, just as we have.
And here is John who saw it all first hand. The miracles, the cross, empty tomb.
But John didn’t say: I’ve had all these great experiences with Jesus—
You can’t ever have what I had.
And I don’t need what you have. I don’t need to hear about your “spiritual”
experience with Jesus. I was there. I touched him. I heard him.
Instead John says that he wants to have fellowship with these Christians,
so that they can have what he has and he can have what they have.
Together they will have fellowship with the Father and the Son,
and through this their joy will be complete.
This is one of the glories of life in the kingdom of God.
All true Christians share a common experience with Jesus Christ.
Our circumstances may differ. Our trials may be different, but he isn’t.
So when we fellowship with each other,
and share the joys and struggles of the life of faith,
we get the benefits of each other’s fellowship with Christ.
That takes work. Fellowship a spiritual discipline just like prayer or anything else.
It takes commitment. It takes determination.
It takes believing that God is going to use it for good in your life.
Like every spiritual discipline, it’s harder for some Christians than for others.
Have you ever thought of that? Your personality type may make
fellowship easier or harder for you. But Lord still calls you to pursue it.
There are forces in our culture that push against fellowship.
Our individualism, our desire for privacy and anonymity.
I don’t have anything at all against big churches, but one of the reasons
smaller churches in America are closing and mega churches are growing
is that they provide Christian experience without fellowship.
You go in, sit for worship, and then you leave.
Nobody knows you, you don’t have talk to anybody.
That’s very appealing to many American Christians. No common life.
In Christ Covenant fellowship takes place in many places.
But our Covenant Groups are the place we are intentional about fellowship.
Every soul is assigned to one. And we know for some people Wednesday
night is tough. But here is a group of people for you to share life with for year.
I know that for some people it’s hard to be in groups with people you don’t
know well or don’t feel like you have much in common.
I understand that feeling. I’ve been in Covenant Groups awkward at first.
But I remember one night Allison and I were driving home after Covenant Group.
That night someone we didn’t have much in common with had talked about a trial
and expressed confidence in Lord. Allison said: That was good.
And it was: We got to share their experience, piggyback off their faith.
We got to see the shining truth from their eyes. Our own joy was deepened.
Do you want joy that flows even when drought scorches your life?
Do you want a source of cool refreshment deep down in your soul?
It comes through Jesus Christ.
First, knowing and believing what Bible says about him.
And committing to growing in that knowledge and faith—not being content
with a diet of milk, but moving on to meat.
Growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
Second, joy comes through fellowship with him.
Certainly the fellowship of your private life and prayer, but also the fellowship
that John loved so much, the fellowship with believers in your church.
Sharing the common life with them so that their experience with the Lord
becomes your experience and yours becomes theirs.
On cold winter nights I had a ritual when I was a boy.
I would check the temperature outside.
And if it was below freezing,
I would go to a barometer my dad owned, and I would tap the glass.
Usually nothing would happen, but sometimes, praise God—
the needle would fall.
And when those two factors came together—freezing temperature
and falling barometric pressure, it meant the possibility of a rare joy—snow.
Just a half inc was enough for school to be cancelled—
you know how it is around here.
You need this combination in our life—just like John had.
Knowing more and more about Jesus through the Word
and experiencing fellowship with him through his body.
Commit yourself to that, and you are on the way to joy complete.