Fellowship

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“God is light.”  In the Bible, especially in John’s writing, God is presented as “light.”  Did you ever stop to wonder why “light?”  Why not “sound?”  Why is God described as “light?”  Bible scholars and teachers give all kinds of reasons for this description of God, some are quite good and imaginative, others not so much.  In the end, though, “God is light” suggests that God is interested in making Himself known to the people He created in His image.  If man is in moral and spiritual darkness, then he needs some kind of light to lead him out; that light is God.

God is also described as “love.” This is makes sense.  The devil is evil; therefore God must be the polar opposite.  “God is love” means much more than “God loves me” or “At least He doesn’t hate me.”  No, “God is love” is not so much a description of what God does as who He is.  “Love” is the essential part of His nature and His character.  We breathe in the air around us, and God is love.

But it doesn’t stop there.  God is also known as “life,” as in “God is life.”  Of course, He is!  From God we receive the gift of eternal life through His Son.  How in the world is this possible? Well, the truth is, we are born with eternal life.  For better or for worse, the moment we are born, we shall never die.  The only question is, where will we live out our eternal life?  In a good place or a bad place?  When we say, “God is life,” we are, once again, referring to an essential component of God’s nature.  And, praise God, when we become Christians, here is what happens:

And by that same mighty power he has given us all the other rich and wonderful blessings he promised; for instance, the promise to save us from the lust and rottenness all around us, and to give us his own character.  (2 Peter 1:4  TLB)

Did you notice that last phrase?  God gives us “his own character”!  Or, to put in the KJV, we become “partakers of the divine nature.”  That’s a pretty good deal for sinful man.

But what does all this lofty theology have to do with fellowship among Christians?  The answer is:  Everything!  Let’s find out how.

Fellowship with God and others, 1 John 1:1—6 

The word of life, verses 1—4 

Even if the authorship of 1 John was in doubt, if you compare the first verse of John’s Gospel to the first verse of 1 John, you’ll see they are so similar, the same person must have written both works—

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1 NKJV) 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…  (1 John 1:1  NKJV)

The fact that Jesus came in the flesh was a controversial thing in John’s day.  That’s why he went to such great length to choose the opening words of his first letter with such care.  He wanted his readers to know beyond any doubt that he and others had seen, touched, and heard this Son of God, Jesus Christ.

…the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…  (1 John 1:2  NKJV)

Jesus was no myth.  Nor was He an illusion or a ghost.  Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, clothed in human flesh; for all intents and purposes, the divine Son of God became the Son of Man so as to reveal something of God to man hitherto obscured from man’s ability to see and comprehend.

…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  (1 John 1:3  NKJV) 

This verse says a lot more than you may think.  True believers have fellowship with Jesus Christ and with God the Father.  It was John’s desire that his readers, who were also in fellowship with the Father through Jesus the Son, have fellowship with “we,” that is, himself, John and all the apostles.  This was the whole purpose of this letter.  What John probably has in mind here is fellowship in terms of eternal life.  Stop and think about what that means.  Thanks to what Jesus did, our fellowship with Him will never end and our fellowship with other believers will never end.  This is the very heart of the Easter message!  Jesus didn’t die and merely come back to life; He actually arose from the dead victoriously.  For Christians, this means that the fellowship we enjoy with the Son and with the Father and with each other cannot be broken by either suffering or death.

According to verse 4, this fellowship (with God and other believers) ought to be the basis of our greatest joy.

God is light, verses 5, 6 

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  (NKJV)

This is a fundamental truth about the nature of God:  God is light.  God wants to reveal something of Himself to us, or at least as much as our finite minds can understand, which isn’t much.  But notice God is all light, with not so much as a smidgen of darkness.  This is very suggestive of a kind purity—a moral purity, a spiritual purity, an emotional purity, and even a mental purity.  Every aspect of God’s character is absolutely pure; there are no shadows in His personality.  God isn’t “up” one day and “down” the next!  He’ll never change His mind about you.  He’ll never have second thoughts about anything, especially concerning His love for you!

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  (1 John 1:6  NKJV) 

Here’s the rub:  we are to be as pure as our Father is.  God has revealed as much of Himself to us as is possible given our limitations for the purpose of imparting His life and light to us.  John makes it clear that it is impossible for any man to have any kind of fellowship with God if that man is still living in the darkness.

The condition for fellowship, 1 John 1:7—2:2 

That great disciple of Christ, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote:

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it. 

When a man chooses to walk in darkness, there is no possible way for him to have fellowship with God OR with believers.  This was a familiar line of thinking for John; he wrote about in his Gospel:

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  (John 3:20  NKJV) 

Little wonder, then, non-Christians don’t want to have much to do with true believers!  Those who don’t know Jesus instinctively know the closer they get to Him, the greater chance their wrongdoing will come to light.  In fact, the same holds true for Christians in a backslidden state.  While they are living in sin they fight tooth-and-nail to stay out of church and away from other Christians.

But the opposite is true for real believers.  True believers in Jesus are not only drawn to Him, but to each other!  John declares this to be self-evident 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 Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7  NKJV)

One truth follows after another:  if we are in Christ, then we will be in fellowship with other believers.

Confessing our sins, verses 8—10 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  (NKJV) 

Men are in real trouble, and that trouble goes back to the very beginning.  When Adam sinned and fell from grace, the whole human race fell with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:20  NKJV)

Living in sin is walking in darkness—it is walking away from God.  He is walking away into oblivion with no hope. No, it’s worse even than that; it is really self-destruction; a willful and stubborn refusal to look into the Light, that is God.  It is also self-deception; a mistaken belief that one is “all right” and “not that bad.”  To think that and to live a life in the darkness is to make God out to be liar.  Can you imagine!  Refusing to confess your sins and repent of them not only seals your doom but it defames God, all at the same time!

Sin is a choice, and in one way, so is salvation.  It is up to sinful man to confess his sins to God; God won’t force him to do that.  And the process of salvation begins with man’s confession of his sin.  John’s view of salvation parallels his idea of sin.  Sin is something all men can control—we make the choice to embrace it or not.  Of course, sin is both the act of evil (sin) and the propensity to sin (unrighteousness).  In John’s thinking, there is complete forgiveness of our sins; our acts of evil.  As for the propensity to sin; the unrighteous state of our hearts, the only answer is cleansing.

Writing about the importance of confession, British evangelist and pastor Alan Redpath offers this insight:

It is Satan’s delight to tell me that once he’s got me, he will keep me.  But at that moment I can go back to God.  And I know that if I confess my sins, God is faithful and just to forgive me.

We can all say “Amen!” to Rev. Redpath!

To “confess our sins,” by the way, means a lot more than just admitting them.  The Greek verb means literally, “to agree with.”  When we come to God to “confess our sins,” we not only own up to them, but we are agreeing with God’s assessment of our guilt.  So, we admit what we did and we admit our guilt.

Our advocate, 2:1, 2 

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  (NKJV) 

This letter was written to a man named Gaius, John’s “dear friend.”  John knew others would read this letter, and he calls them, “my little children.”  This is a term of genuine affection that speaks to their relationship—teacher and students.  John was their teacher.  And yet, the term goes beyond this relationship to another one; the fellowship Christians have with each other through Jesus Christ as a result of the new birth.

John took the time to teach his friends that it is possible for all believers avoid sin.  Remember, sin is a choice.  And John’s hope is that he may encourage his readers not to choose to sin.  But, human nature is what it is, and the odds were good that his readers would, sadly, be overcome by one temptation or another.  Fortunately, if and when that unfortunate thing happens, “we have an advocate.”  The Greek word is paracleton, referring to “one called in to help.”

Here, in John’s letter, the “one called in to help” is Jesus.  He is the “propitiation” or “expiation” for our sins.  The idea behind the “propitiation” interpretation is that of “placating or pacifying one who has been wronged.”  But it means even more than that.  God may have been wronged by our sins, but through the work of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.  Like the returning prodigal, Jesus made it possible for us to come back to God.

As to the other interpretation, “expiation,” it means “removal” or “forgiveness.”  It is through the work of Jesus that ours sins have been removed from our person.

Two different interpretations of a single Greek word shows how deep and profound the work of Jesus was on man’s behalf.  As to whether “propitiation” or “expiation” was intended, that debate should be left up to people smarter than we.  Perhaps both are correct; both interpretations are needed to give us an adequate understanding of what Jesus did on the Cross.  His work is big enough to deal with those Christians who stumble along the way and need a helping hand from above, but also it deals with “the sins of the whole world.”  Anybody can know Jesus and be allowed into the fellowship of the saints.

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