Divine joy is made complete in the Christian community
This week we are focusing on the first letter of John. In this letter, John opens with an invitation to enjoy God. He says that the way to finding joy is to proclaim the Word of life and to have fellowship with other Christians. He’s saying that we will experience joy as the Bible is read and proclaimed in the Christian community.
Being part of church can give us strength. When we are condemning ourselves – maybe by worrying about something or having doubts – other Christians can give us strength by talking to us and reminding us about the truths spoken in the Bible. This can come through a sermon, a Bible study group, or having conversations with Christian friends. The method isn’t important, the important thing is to recognise that God speaks to us through other Christians. When we condemn ourselves, often it is words of other Christians that will remind us of God’s love to give us strength, hope, and joy.
Worship sung together as a congregation can be a particularly powerful way to recapture that joy in God. The act of singing together creates a sense of solidarity and can be quite an emotional response to the love of God. Singing about the truths of God together can create a great sense of joy and alter our hearts.
Divine love is made complete in the Christian community
John continues in his letter by reminding us of what Jesus said “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13 v 34). Jesus’ command tells us that by loving one another as Jesus loves us, we are giving and showing divine love. Love for God becomes complete when we love our brothers and sisters as a Christian community – we can’t enjoy God’s love on our own.
We enjoy God when we both receive and give love
John also reminds us that by receiving love from the church, we are not just receiving and enjoying love from people but also receiving God’s love. Christian love is divine love so, even though we can’t physically see God’s love for us, we can see the love of God through the love received from the church. Christian love is the overflow of God’s love to us.
We can also enjoy God by giving love to other Christians. In Paul’s letters he often talks of the joy he receives from writing letters because of the joy they will bring to those churches. John says a similar thing in this letter, “We write this to make our joy complete”. John is receiving joy by bringing joy to the church through the letter, by giving joy.
Jesus often spoke of the need to give as a way of gaining happiness. We know from experience that pursuing joy in a self-centred manner often doesn’t actually lead to receiving joy. However, pursuing the joy of others can often result in happiness for ourselves. Oddly, we may never be truly happy while we are pursuing our own happiness. Instead we can work for the joy of others Christians. By taking this approach, we can actually turn tasks from being a burden into a way of bringing love to others. Our problem can be that we want to give everything for Christ while also having everything that life can offer. For instance, we want to tell the world about Christ but also want to be liked by our peers. This double-mindedness doesn’t work as we are reminded of in Mark 8 v 34-36.
So love the people in your church, not through duty and service, but with enjoyment. By spending time with them and building a community, we will see the rewards in happiness and joy.
Of course, our churches can seem very ordinary and have all kinds of problems and failings. But look beyond that with John’s perspective for a moment. John sees the light of the new age taking shape in your community. He sees us shining the light of Christian love into our communities. In the topsy-turvy world of the kingdom of God:
- We find ourselves by losing ourselves
- We gain most when we give most
- We experience fulfilment when we deny ourselves
- We feel most happy when we pursue the happiness of others
- Last week we ended with a challenge to pray through the Scriptures. How have you got on?
- When has a word from another Christian had a powerful impact on your heart, or when have you experienced the love of God through the kindness of other Christians?
- When have you found the selfish pursuit of happiness to be self-defeating?
- Think of the Christians you know who are most preoccupied with themselves, their desires and their status. And then think about the Christians you know who are most preoccupied with serving others and with God’s glory. Who are the happiest?
- To give is to gain in the economy of Christ. What could you give?
Initiate a meal/picnic with someone from your church or find someone to pray with one to one