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Too wonderful for words

When Peter wrote to the Jewish disciples dispersed in the five Roman provinces of Asia Minor (present day Turkey), he told them that even though they hadn’t seen Jesus (as he had), they loved and believed in Him. As a result, they were filled with an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1:8).

It’s that word “inexpressible” that catches my attention. As someone who dabbles in words, I’m generally not a big fan of such expressions because it’s the business of a writer to choose the word that accurately conveys the idea they want to communicate—not to lazily say it can’t be described. (After all, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of words to choose from). Of course, there are times when you have to resort to saying something is unable to be put into words, but it seems to me that’s done too frequently (very much like how the word “awesome” is used to speak of so many non-awesome things). However, Peter is writing under the oversight of the Spirit (John 14:25-26; 2 Peter 1:19-21). If the Spirit guided him to choose the word “inexpressible,” then there’s no doubt that’s the correct word.

Checking the translations, “inexpressible” is the word of choice (NIV, ESV and others), followed by “unspeakable,” (ASV, KJV and others), “indescribable” (International Standard Version), while still others opt for the expressions “no words can tell” (CEV), “which words cannot express” (Good News Translation) and ”which cannot be spoken” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). When the lexical work is done, we are back where we started—the disciples Peter wrote to possessed a joy that words were unable to describe.

It's worth noting that Peter didn’t write to inform them of such joy (as if they were somehow unaware of it). He was recognizing the joy that was theirs and they were just as conscious of it as they were of their faith in and love for Jesus. If anything, Peter seems to be acknowledging the reality of these things (see v. 7). It’s possible that their synagogue friends and family had been ridiculing them for following someone they had only heard of from others and was (on their view of things) now dead and buried. Peter wants them to know that what they have experienced is the real thing. Their hope is as alive as Jesus (v. 3, 21).

A final observation about this joy. We won’t find it by adopting a consumer approach and looking for it. That only guarantees that we will not experience it. It took me a while to learn that you can’t preach people into joy. It only occurs as we lose ourselves, as we yield our lives to God through Christ. Joy is part of the fruit the Spirit produces under such conditions. The text makes it clear it comes to those who have faith in and love for Jesus. If you have that, you will have this wonderful gift of joy that transcends all circumstances and situations and is too wonderful for words.

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