What is the meaning of “your joy may be complete”? How is it shown?
This phrase appears four times throughout the writings of John the Apostle. It occurs twice in the Olivet Discourse in the Gospel and twice in his letters. Joy is one of the hallmarks of the Christian life because of our love for one another and Christ.
But it is also shown in the midst of persecution because we know that our destination is in heaven with Christ forever. Even when we face trials we can have joy as James says (James 1:2-4). God is working all things out for our good in him (Romans 8:28).
Specifically throughout the writings of John, this phrase about joy being complete speaks of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. I will briefly ago over each appearance for context. The phrase appears in John 15:11; 16:24; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 12.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11, ESV)
in John 15, Jesus has just taught his disciples about him being the vine and them being the branches. Jesus is the source for every good thing his disciples do. He teaches us how to do the works that glorify him.
Those works are based out of the new commandment he gives, that we love one another. We are not Jesus’ slaves, but his friends. His close relationship that he forges with us through being our source and our friend gives us great joy. But the joy that we have is reciprocal. Jesus has joy because of us and we have joy because of him.
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24, ESV)
In John 16 Jesus talks to his disciples about needing to go away to the Father for a while. He knows that he is going to the cross in just a few hours from their conversation. He wants to encourage the disciples because they will need it when they see him hanging on the cross.
More than that, he is going to the Father until his second coming, his return to gather his disciples and take them to heaven with him. So he talks a lot in this passage about their joy being complete or full in him even though he is not physically present with them.
There actually will be full because even though he is leaving, he is giving the Holy Spirit to them. He’s giving them the authority to ask anything in his name and he will give it. Their joy will be full because they still have relationship with Jesus even though he is not there in person. And it’s a bonus that he’s returning again for all his disciples.
“And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4, ESV)
John opens his first letter by talking about seeing Jesus, touching him, and knowing that he’s really there. He was combating some of the false teaching that had pervaded in the church about whether or not Jesus was really a human being. The Gnostics still teach these things.
He writes 1 John to the church so they can enjoy the fellowship of God and the church without having to listen to these false doctrines. First John is much about love and truth. John wants the church to love one another, but also to not patch over the truth or change it.
So he says that he is writing the things in the letter so that his joy, and the joy of those with him, most likely church leaders, may be complete. In this case, it is the author’s joy instead of the joy of the church. But I’m sure the church would be filled with much joy knowing that they were living in truth and love.
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 12, ESV)
In the second example of this phrase being used in the letters of John, we see him ending the letter by talking about his joy being complete. He wants to come to the church, probably in Ephesus, and share in person instead of through a letter.
He probably feels as most in the ancient culture did that a letter is somewhat impersonal no matter how much you try to personalize it. So he wanted to talk with the Christians face-to-face. We should always want to gather together and be together in person. It’s part of what it means to fellowship in the church.
These are the examples and reasons for the phrase, “so your joy may be complete.” We make each other’s joy complete when we gather together and fellowship together. We enjoy our relationship with Christ as we grow in his Spirit.