TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART ONE

All believers are called into fellowship with God.

Fellowship With God, 1 John 1

The first four verses of John’s first letter are unlike the beginning of most New Testament letters and very uncharacteristic of the author’s style. The structure of the paragraph is complex and we get the impression that John was so excited about his subject matter and the truths he was wanting to write about that his thoughts literally rushed out of his mind and onto the page. There are no greetings and no preliminaries. He gets right to the point.

After declaring some very deep theological truths concerning the Word—Jesus Christ—he states the primary purpose for his letter: that we, believers, may have fellowship with God through sharing the life of Christ. This fellowship that believers may have with one another is best understood in light of the eternal life we share.

1. Fellowship with Father and Son, 1:1—3

a. The Word of Life, vs. 1, 2

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

This “introduction” parallels that of Hebrews, but Hebrews is written is a much more classical style of Greek. John’s letter is typically Semitic Greek, made up of short clauses connected by the conjunction “and.” Let’s briefly look at the clauses;

  • That which was from the beginning. It is interesting that it is “that” and not “who.” John could have used “who,” because certainly Jesus Christ was from the beginning. But he uses “that” because the subject is not really Jesus Christ; it is much broader than that. John is about discus the Person of Christ and the message of Christ. Both the Person and His Gospel are what have existed “from the beginning.”

  • Which we have heard. The “we” is editorial. John has in mind he and all the disciples who personally heard the teachings of their Lord from His own lips.

  • Which we have seen with our eyes. In a sense, this phrase is redundant. It’s a way of saying he and the disciples heard Jesus teaching with their ears and saw Him with their eyes. But it’s also a way of saying they saw Jesus’ physical body; the Son of God was no ghost. This was John’s way of combating the Docetic notion that Jesus was a sort of phantom and not a real person.

  • Which we have looked at and our hands of touched. With purpose, John makes it clear using a series of verbs that he was most definitely not only a eyewitness to Jesus, not only student of Jesus, but he had a close relationship with the Lord: he saw him and touched him. All of John’s physical senses, in other words, came into contact with the Lord.

  • This we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The phrase “this we proclaim” was added by translators to make a kind of summary and conclude the sentence. Both the Word of Life and the Gospel which John preached were from the beginning.

Why did John refer to Jesus as the Word (logos)? The term logos was used by many different religions and philosophies in the first century, so it would have been familiar to his readers, if not to the modern reader. We don’t generally view “the Word” as a person, but John’s readers would have had no difficulty understanding that he was writing about a Word—a Person—much greater than the word of other beliefs.

Verse two is parenthetical in the sense that is a restatement of verse one.

b. Shared life, vs. 3

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

John resumes his line of thought after the parenthetical comment of the second verse and repeats the verb “proclaim.” He is emphasizing that his message, and the message of the other disciples, came straight from the Source Himself. Why does he take such pains to stress this? He was probably wanting to distinguish himself and his friends from the many false teachers that were rampant in the first century church, often preaching doctrines that denied Christ’s human nature and bodily resurrection.

But the exciting part of verse three is not so much John’s emphasis, but his stated purpose. The purpose of this letter was to invite its readers into the fellowship of the apostles who were the eyewitnesses of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Fellowship with God and with God’s people is the natural result of the proclamation of the Gospel and its acceptance by those who hear it. Salvation, then, is the bedrock of Christian fellowship, and fellowship is the visible manifestation—the social consequence—of those whose hearts have been redeemed by Christ.

“Fellowship” comes from the Greek koinonia, and means “to share something in common with another.” What Christians have in common is unique to the Christian community. What ties Christians together is not family or children or careers, but mutual experiences with Jesus Christ. Koinonia can only happen in the context of the Church of Jesus Christ, among true believes.

2. Fellowship in the light, 1:4—7

a. Joy in Christ, vs. 4

We write this to make our joy complete.

Here is the secondary purpose for this letter: to make his joy, and that of his friends, complete. True joy for the believer is found in fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. Christian fellowship is something that transcends time and space for nothing can interfere with it, not even death.

The essence of what John is teaching is this: there can be no real fellowship which produces joy outside of Christ. What does this mean for Christians? It means that the closest, most meaningful relationships in our lives will necessarily be with those who themselves are in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

b. No darkness in Christ, vs. 5

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

The “substance” of the message John heard from Jesus Christ was that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” What a simple, but deeply profound statement! The way it is written in the Greek stresses it’s emphatic meaning. “Light” occurs first in the Greek sentence, giving it place of prominence; while its opposite, “darkness,” is seen with a double-negative, underscoring its emphasis.

God is pure light, meaning two things: God has revealed Himself to man perfectly and He Himself is morally pure. God is a revealing God; He is not an arrogant, game-playing god like the Gnostic gods of John’s day and the imitation gods of today. Yahweh doesn’t reveal Himself to a select group of enlightened individuals, but to all who seek Him. Light is not mixed with impurities, like darkness. Light is pure in every sense.

c. Cleansing by Christ, vs. 6, 7

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

When one is cleansed by Christ, certain verifiable changes occur in the believer. The word “if” introduces a new thought, which is a refutation of false teaching of John’s day. The false teaching, a result of Gnostic heresy so widespread in first century churches, went something like this: You could live in sin and still have fellowship with Christ. John insists this is impossible, though he is in no way teaching that Christians may live sinless lives. “Walk” is written in the present tense, and it refers to one’s continual moral activity. John is not referring to occasional lapses into sinful acts, but a habitual lifestyle of walking, not in the light, but constantly in the dark.

Here is a tremendous truth: a Christian can only have fellowship when they have literally surrendered their dark ways and are, to the best of their ability with the help of the Holy Spirit, walking in God’s light.

3. Fellowship through cleansing, 1:8—2:2

a. Self-deceit, vs. 8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

John must have been familiar with Proverbs 28:13 when he wrote this verse:

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

Here is another powerful truth that seems lost on many modern believers. The Gnostics of John’s day truly believed in “sinless perfection.” They believed they had progressed beyond sinfulness; they had become perfect.

John’s choice of words in verse 8 is significant. He does not write, “we do not sin,” but rather we claim to be “without sin.” Again, the notion is a state of being. The fact is, we all sin, only a deluded person could claim to be “without sin!” If we say we have no sin, then we are not seeing ourselves clearly. People who think this way are way out of touch without reality.

b. Confession of sin, vs. 9, 10

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

If we see ourselves in God’s light, we see that do sin. Confession of those sins is essential. We must be honest with ourselves and with God; we must not hide or cover up our sins or make excuses for them. We must confess our sins to God and He will forgive us.

As if to answer the reader who may be fearful of God’s reaction to his sins, John makes sure they understand that God is faithful and just. God cannot do anything but forgive a repentant sinner. God is absolutely true to the terms of His New Covenant:

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

c. Our advocate, 2:1, 2

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

With the exception of Jesus, we are all sinners. We may know God’s Word, and we may walk in the light, but we all stumble from time to time. What is the remedy for those who fall into sin?

John refutes the Gnostic claim of verse 10 (claiming we do not sin) with these two thoughts.

First, another purpose of this letter is to help his readers not to commit sinful acts. “Will not sin” is written in the aorist tense, speaking not of a habitual lifestyle this time, but of individual acts of sin. He wanted his readers to be as sinless as possible; this must be the ideal for all believers.

Second, we see that this ideal, as worthy as it is, is not possible 100% of the time. John may have wanted them to not commit acts of sin, but he assumed they would, and provides a wonderful truth: the redeemed sinner has an advocate in Heaven, with God the Father!

The word “advocate” comes from the Greek paracleton, elsewhere seen as “comforter.” The term “advocate” has a variety of meanings in the New Testament. The “paraclete” is one who comes to comfort, one who is sent to help. Here, the word describes the One who pleads the Christian’s cause before God. Jesus is the One in Heaven, speaking in our defense. Our advocate does not claim our innocence, but confesses our guilt and secures forgiveness from God the Father. He can do this because He Himself is completely righteous.

Adam Clarke observed:

From these verses we learn that a poor backslider need not despair of again finding mercy; this passage holds out sufficient encouragement for his hope. There is scarcely another such in the Bible, and why? That sinners might not presume on the mercy of God. And why this one? That no backslider might utterly despair. Here, then, is a guard against presumption on the one hand, and despondency on the other.

John’s teaching about fellowship stood in stark contrast with the errors that filled the first century church, and it stands against the false teachings of that riddle the Church today. We cannot enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and God’s people if we are living in sin. Sin cannot be taken lightly, and it will be exposed for what it is. Our actions betray our hearts and they are measured against God’s standards.

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