Post Series on 1 John 1:1-4:
- The Proclamation: The Word of Life has been Made Manifest (1 John 1:1-3)
- The Fellowship: With the Church, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3)
- The Joy: Filled up and overflowing in the Gospel (1 John 1:4)
Although John raises some eyebrows by urging his readers toward fellowship first with us, and then secondarily with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, the fourth verse of 1 John might be even a bit more curious: “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). Doesn’t John’s desire for his own joy to be complete seem a bit, well, selfish?
The short answer is “No.” Here is the longer answer:
John would be selfish if he were seeking to fill up his own joy at the expense of his audience; however, his joy is filled up in seeking their absolute good–coming to know eternal life in Jesus Christ, the Word of Life Made Manifest Himself.
Furthermore, we would probably consider John selfish if he were writing all this out of neediness for joy that he doesn’t have. In fact, John’s joy being filled up is a cause and NOT a result of seeking the life of the people to whom he is writing. In this way, John’s joy is a picture of the joy of God.
Allow me to explain. Many people think that God created the humanity because he was bored or lonely, or that he needed people because of some insufficiency in himself. God’s joy in his people, then, is seen as the result of their creation. This view, however, is far from the truth.
Instead, consider the first verses of this epistle: John writes “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” (1 John 1:1-2).
In this, John all but formally cites the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). It is the Word of God who became flesh–the very Word of God who had been with God from the beginning.
It is important, however, that we not imagine the “Word” or the “Word of Life” as some kind of abstract, impersonal principle floating around in the sky. The Lord Jesus Christ did not exist from eternity past merely as a thought of God, nor as a strange biproduct of God’s glory, but as a person who existed in a relationship with his Father.
This much is clear from the Greek, but not so clear in English. Although we translate both John 1:1 as “…and the Word was with God,” and 1 John 1:2 as the Word of Life’s being “with the Father,” the word with is not really the best word for either of those passages. Instead, the word is actually the Greek word pros, which means “toward,” and it comes from the word prosopon, which means “face,” which has a personal overtone to it. Very literally, we should speak of the Word of Life’s facing the Father from all eternity.
John has in mind an eternal, personal, intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. More than this, however, this was a relationship of perfect love between the Father and the Son, a love that filled up and overflowed their joy in each other.
Here is why this love is so important: This great, overflowing joy of the Father in the Son and of the Son in the Father is the reason that the Father went so far as to send his Son into the world to secure the salvation of his people. It was never that God was bored or needed new company, but that God’s intra-Trinitarian love super-abounded to such a degree that he was compelled to create, redeem, and glorify new objects of his love. In verse 4, when John says, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be filled up,” John is giving us a picture of the outward-reaching, expansive, overflowing joy and fellowship of the Father and the Son.
And so the Son, who eternally faces the Father, was sent into the world and made manifest among us. By being made manifest, he genuinely took on humanity in all of its attributes–he could be heard with human ears, seen with human eyes, gazed upon as a three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood person, and touched with human hands.
More than this, we find that the Word of Life Made Manifest actually gave up his life on the cross, where his eternally-facing Father turned his face away from the Son, whose image was marred by our sin and our guilt.
All this took place because of the overflowing love of the Father and the Son, spilling out in great abundance on the objects of their love.
John and the other apostles witnessed this firsthand. This letter is written to “testify to it and proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was facing the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you 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 filled up.”
John proclaims the message of the Word of Life Made Manifest in order that you and I might enter into the fellowship or the Church (whose fellowship is with the Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit), for the sake of our super-abounding joy in each other and in God.