In 1 John 1:4, John writes something that at first glance seems self-centered, but a second look shows us an important truth about the relationship of our happiness and the wellbeing of others.
Here’s what John says: “We write this to make our joy complete.” At first glance, doesn’t that look self-centered? What if I said to you, “I write The Daily Word for you in order to make myself happy”? Wouldn’t that strike you as more than a bit narcissistic? Shouldn’t I have some higher motivation than my own positive feelings? In the Christian tradition, the highest virtues are faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Let’s plug each of them into John’s short sentence and see what comes out.
First, “We write this to make our faith complete.” In other words, John wrote what he did as an expression of trust in God. But is faith emotionless? Obviously not! Trust always involves an emotional element. Is that element positive or negative? Obviously, it’s positive! Doubt or distrust has a negative emotional element, but not faith. So, if you trust in someone, aren’t you, in a sense experiencing a form of happiness or joy?
Second, “We write this to make our hope complete.” In other words, John wrote what he did with the hope of eternal salvation in mind. But obviously, hope has a positive emotional element to it. Shouldn’t salvation make us infinitely and eternally joyful? Of course it should!
Third, “We write this to make our love complete.” In other words, John wrote what he did as an expression of his commitment to God and to his readers. But again, don’t we take delight in the object of our love? Of course we do! If we love people, our hearts race faster and our smiles grow broader just thinking of them. Those are the physical phenomena of joy.
My point is this: We may think there is a higher motivation for our actions, but in the end, no matter what that higher motivation may be, at some level, it involves joy. Joy, it turns out, is inescapable.
But is John’s joy self-centered or other-entwined? It is obviously the latter, for as he writes in verse 3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John’s joy is wrapped up in the fellowship of God and others. It is threatened whenever those relationships are threatened. It is complete whenever those relationships are perfected.
This is the important lesson John teaches us about the relationship of our joy and the wellbeing of others. We do well when they do well. We rejoice when they succeed. We are happy when they experience the blessings of God. Far from being narcissistic and self-centered, then, John’s words are an expression of deep-seated care for his readers.
If we take joy in anything, then, like John, let us take joy in the wellbeing of those we love.