Summary: Joy is the heritage of the believer. If we do not have joy in our Christian walk, it is either because we do not know the author of joy, or we are disobedient to His will.
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
The writer identifies himself as “The Elder” [VERSE ONE]. This individual does not identify himself beyond this designation; however, from earliest days, church leaders have testified that John, the Beloved Disciple, was the writer of this letter. Internal evidence in this letter, as well as in the other letters ascribed to John and the Gospel that bears his name, lead to a similar conclusion that he is the author. It is evident that the writer is sufficiently well known so that he need not name himself, choosing instead to simply identify himself as “The Elder,” a term that was used of one appointed to provide guidance within a congregation. Among the first churches, the term was used interchangeably with the terms “Bishop,” or “Overseer,” and “Pastor.” Therefore, it is appropriate to conclude that the writer enjoyed recognition as a pastor, perhaps even as one to whom other pastors looked to for guidance.
The Elder wrote to an individual who afforded him great joy. Perhaps you have such a friend that one brings you great joy whenever you think of him. This would be an individual whom you trust implicitly, who walks consistently in the path of righteousness, who seeks God’s glory and the good of fellow worshippers. Blessed is the individual who has such a friend. As a pastor, I can attest to the veracity of John’s words. There is another side to that statement, for just as there is no greater joy than to hear that one’s children are walking in the truth, there can be no greater sorrow than to hear that one’s children are pursuing their own desires.
JOY IN CHRIST — “I have no greater joy,” enthuses the Elder. The words are not meant to quantify the experience of joy, but to state that the joy spoken of suffuses the Elder’s life. What is often neglected by many Christians is the fact that the Christian life is to be a joyful life. Joy should mark the life of a believer—and it does identify the child of God. Unfortunately, we tend to confuse “joy” with “happiness” in our modern experience.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Happiness is ephemeral, evanescent, fleeting—just when you think you are happy, the feeling is gone. Why is this? The reason is found in the word itself. Happy is derived from the old English word “hap.” The word spoke of “luck” or “chance.” “Hap” spoke of one’s circumstance; it described one’s situation. In other words, “hap” spoke of conditions over which an individual had no control. Thus it is that happiness speaks of one’s response to conditions over which he or she has no control. Happiness always points to an outside agency and to one’s response to that agency. In this day, happiness has come to identify our feelings in response to what gives us momentary pleasure.
Joy, on the other hand, describes a condition that is unrelated to our particular situation. Joy speaks of settled contentment that is separate from what is occurring outside of one’s self. Joy describes the condition that arises from confidence that God is in control of one’s life, guiding and directing the individual’s path, and guarding against assault by those intent on evil.
As a Christian, you may be happy, but happiness will never continue unabated in your life. We live in a fallen world, and there is always something to steal our happiness. However, as a Christian, you are assured of joy. Joy is our heritage because the God who gives joy is our Father. The presence of Christ the Lord ensures joy. At the birth of God’s Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, an angel announced to shepherds tending their flocks, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” [LUKE 2:10].
Whenever someone comes to faith, we are taught that there is joy in heaven. Remember the parable the Master related of the lost sheep? “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” [LUKE 15:3-7]. Scope in on the last statement: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” All heaven rejoices when a sinner comes home.