We have a question today from a listener named Brent. “Hello Pastor John, I want to first say thank you for your ministry and for this podcast. You have helped me grow deeper in my love for our Savior and helped me know more of what his word says to us. Thank you! On to my question. I have read countless times in God’s word that God is where we will find fullness of joy, but I don’t know what fullness of joy looks like practically. I don’t know if I have ever experienced ‘fullness of joy’ in God. What is it and how would I know it when I saw it?”
I love questions like this because they make me do what ought to have been done a long time ago; namely, just pause over phrases and words that we use so often and see if I can identify biblical meanings, definitions, content, so that we don’t just throw around our favorite phrases.
Here are a couple of verses that include that really good phrase, “fullness of joy” or “joyful.” Psalm 16:11 is in my DNA, I hope: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Or in John 15:11 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
So, Brett is asking: In what sense is our joy full? What does fullness mean? And here is one thing it means in the age to come, but not yet in this life. And then I will give three things that I think it means even in this life.
“Fullness of joy in the age to come means so much joy that all competing, contrary emotions will be gone.”
Here is the first one — the one that is not complete in this life, but full in the age to come. In this life, where our own sin and misery and other people’s sin and misery compete to make us sad, we do not have fullness of joy in the sense of having so much joy that joy has no competitors. Jesus was a man of sorrows in this life (Isaiah 53:3), not just joy, even though he had the deepest joy of anyone in the universe.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” It’s right there, side by side. No, they are not side by side. They are contemporaneous. They are simultaneous. In Romans 12:15, he says, “Weep with those who weep.” And in Romans 9:2, he describes his own heart of pain about his lost Jewish kinsmen, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” — unceasing anguish. But I thought, Paul, you were supposed to rejoice always and again I say rejoice (see Philippians 4:4).
So, clearly fullness of joy in this life does not include so much joy or such joy that all competing emotions are excluded. We rejoice and we weep even simultaneously. But in the resurrection this won’t be the case anymore. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Fullness of joy in the age to come means so much joy that all competing, contrary emotions will be gone.
“We have fullness of joy in God when it outweighs all other competing emotions and overflows in love to others.”
The question then becomes, Is there a sense in which we can speak of fullness of joy in God now in this fallen world of sin and suffering? And let me suggest three meanings that I think are not nonsense. They are not a contradiction of what I have just said, and they are not double talk when we say yes to that question.
1) We can be said to have fullness of joy in God if our joy in God is so full that it outweighs all other competing emotions and overflows in love to others. And here is where I am getting that: “In a severe test of affliction, their [the Macedonians’s] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2). In other words, the joy in God — not in freedom from affliction, not in freedom from poverty — their joy in God was so full, it outweighed affliction. It outweighed poverty. And it overflowed in generosity. That is a real fullness, even if there was pain and sorrow along the way.
2) We can be said to have fullness of joy in God if our joy in God is so full that we know we have arrived at the end of our quest for satisfaction. In other words, there may be ups and downs in our level of satisfaction owing to sin or pain, but we never need to be in doubt that Christ is the end of our search. We will never leave this fountain to find a more satisfying one. Here is fullness. He is fullness.
So, Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” (Philippians 3:8). And Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), which I take to mean: I am the end of your quest for perfect and full satisfaction. Don’t turn to another. Stay here. You will in due time never thirst again. You have tasted this fullness, and it will surely, surely come and remain.
“Our joy in God is only full when we know we have arrived at the end of our quest for satisfaction.”
3) Finally, we can be said to have fullness of joy in God if our joy in God is so full that it rises to the heights of overflowing gladness in song or other forms of exuberance. And I say that, because Paul talks about it that way in Ephesians 5:18–19 where he says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
What is that? That is an experience of the Holy Spirit’s work that so fills us with himself — his fruit of joy and hope and peace — that we burst out in song. And many of us have tasted this, especially in corporate worship where the Spirit comes and the hearts of people are lifted to a level of joyful fullness that they cannot keep to themselves. So, that is a description of the fullness of joy as well as the fullness of the Holy Spirit: singing and making melody to the Lord.
Here’s one last encouraging reminder to all of us who fight with our own sinful incapacities for joy. I am sure everyone who cares about fullness of joy groans under sin and personality brokenness because we grew up in homes where nobody ever rejoiced — nobody ever sang. There was only criticism. We are all broken people and we feel so incapable of sustained, intense spiritual joy.
“We have full joy when it rises to the heights of overflowing gladness in song or other forms of exuberance.”
Here is the encouragement: The day is coming when Christ will finally work in us the capacities to enjoy Christ — not just of ourselves, but of the Father himself enjoying Christ. And I get that from John 17:26 where Jesus prays “that the love with which you [Father] have loved me may be in them” — so, the love of the Father for the Son would be in them — “and I in them.”
Now, that will be the climax of fullness when we delight in Jesus the Son with the very delight that the Father has in Jesus. And we will love and delight in the Father with the very love and delight that Jesus has in the Father. And all of our brokenness and all of our inability will be over, and “fullness” will be the right word for the eternal experience.
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