(These are the notes I worked off with my sermon this morning in our worship service. Here's the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faxy8Z8T1mU )
INTRODUCTION – As our elders and teaching team deliberated on how we should start the New Year in the pulpit, we decided we should choose passages and topics that would help us all go deeper in our walk with God or our pursuit of God, or more to the point - our response to God’s pursuit of us.
The amazing thing is - He in His sovereign grace first chooses us, and then begins to reveal Himself to us, and then He has to convince us that He is good and trustworthy, and then He pursues fellowship with us despite all of our unbelief and rebellion and resistance.
I’ve been wrestling with this whole idea of fellowship with God and then with one another for at least the last month or so. And the first chapter of I John is where I have been drawn to the most. So this morning I would like to read the chapter and then share some of the things I’ve been processing from this chapter. We will also touch on a few other passages as well.
BTW - The English word fellowship appears about ten times in the New Testament and it is always translated from the Greek word Koinonia. Four of those ten times are in I John chapter 1. The Greek word Koinonia appears twenty times in the Greek New Testament. But the other ten times it is translated in our English Bibles not as fellowship, but rather as sharing, communion, participation, partnership, contribution, and once administration. That’s in the New American Standard version. You will find some variation in other translations.
I found it interesting that in Noah Webster’s 1828 Massive Dictionary – greatly influenced by His fear and knowledge of God and the scriptures, that one of the prongs of his lengthy definition of fellowship is: “communion, intimate familiarity” and then he adds the reference I John ch. 1.
I John chapter 1, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life- 2. and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – 3. What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 5. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7. But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
When you are born again you come immediately and supernaturally both into a relationship with the living triune God of the Universe and with His church or people. As wonderful as that is, relationship is not the end goal. Fellowship is the end goal. And it is fellowship with God and with the believers God has sovereignly joined you and I with that is the primary purpose and passion of this first epistle of John’s.
Having read the writings of a variety of people and scholars over the last 44 years or so on this epistle, I can tell you many sadly have not clearly seen this. And when leaders of the church do not see this clearly, …well the attainment of fellowship rather than just relationship becomes more difficult. When we do not have the high call to fellowship with God and each other in clear view, we inevitably settle for less. We settle for being a good Christian; or having a successful growing church (and by growing we usually deep down mean numbers and programs and activity); or we settle for a host of other lesser things.
While John was an apostle, he was also a pastor and a shepherd. But more than any of that he was a great lover of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit – all of whom he speaks of repeatedly in this book. And it was out of that depth of fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with those who God yoked him with such as Peter and James and others we don’t know as much about - that he writes and urges and pleads with his readers re: the call to Fellowship.
When the apostle Paul, had the daunting task of helping the fleshly, carnal, worldly, divided, pride filled church in Corinth become the people God had called them to be, he right off the bat assured them that they were in Christ – that is they were in relationship with Christ. But then in vs. 9 of that first chapter he said these words, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. “- 1Co 1:9 Paul wrote at least three letters to the church in Corinth, and prayed night and day for this church to go beyond relationship to fellowship. His last words in his second letter to them were these, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” - 2Co 13:14 The call to fellowship was what he started with and what he ended with at least in the letters we have access to.
So back to I John. How do we know this was John’s driving purpose and passion? Well there is a little phrase in English grammar that tips us off to a purpose of something. Do you know what that phrase is? “So that”! vs. 3, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also,…..(why?) so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” One of the byproducts of enjoying ever deeper fellowship with God is we find ourselves longing for that depth of fellowship with fellow believers. The two are connected at the hip. They flow from one to the other. They are integrally related to one another. They feed off each other. And you cannot have or experience fellowship with fellow believers unless the said believers are experiencing fellowship with God. That’s why later in ch. 4 of John’s first epistle he exhorts, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 4:7,8
Now there is actually another purpose clause in verse 4 of I John ch. 1, “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” You see John was very thankful that these folks he was writing to had come to Christ and had been born again into His forever family. But he wasn’t satisfied with that. His joy would not be complete until they experienced the same depth of fellowship with God and with His people that God had joined them with - that he – John experienced with God and with those God had linked Him with.
You see John had not attended a seminary where Jesus was a professor in a classroom holding 50 or more students, wherein John sat in the back and took copious notes so he could get an A in the class, but actually knew little about professor Jesus.
To the contrary, John was one of the first disciples Jesus called to Himself. He was one of the 12. But not only was he one of the 12, he was one of the three – the inner circle of the 12, who got to go places with Jesus and experience things with Jesus that no one else did.
Jesus was not some ethereal guru that sat with his legs folded with burning incense in the background and chanted non sense syllables that his disciples then mindlessly chanted after him - being half brain dead from all the drugs they had taken.
John with his full faculties, walked with Jesus, dined with Jesus, had intimate conversations with Jesus, was trained, rebuked and corrected by Jesus, was right beside Jesus when He ministered to the rejects of society with amazing grace and compassion, and when He went head to head with the corrupt Pharisees and Scribes and Jewish elders – confronting them with their hypocrisy and hard heartedness.
John lived with Jesus for much of Jesus’s last 3 and a half years on planet earth. He saw Him righteously and meekly interact with His brothers and sisters, who scorned Him, didn’t believe in Him and unrighteously judged Him. He saw Him interact with His mother with honor and tenderness throughout those years, and then had the honor of Jesus on the cross entrusting her to him, instead of to Jesus’s brothers or sisters.
There was no person on the planet who knew Jesus and loved Jesus and adored and obeyed Jesus like John did. And it was that depth of fellowship that John experienced personally that he longed for the recipients of his letter to experience. And that God wants those of us here today to experience.
So how can we experience this fullness of fellowship with God and with each other that John is so passionate about?
Well allow me to suggest a few ways from this chapter. And here’s the first one: To experience ever deeper fellowship with God we must fully embrace everything God has revealed about His Son to us. Let’s go back and read those first few verses so we can see this, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” You and I cannot have ever deepening fellowship with God unless we fully embrace everything we are told in scripture about the Son. Many people do not experience fellowship with God because they have forced Jesus into their comfortable mold. They have made Him in their image.
John mentions four specific things in these first two verses. Many more aspects of Jesus’s nature and person are to come in the rest of the book. So what does it mean that He was “from the beginning”? Well it means He already was existent when the known universe was created. He was not created. He rather was and is the Creator. Second, He was and is knowable. He speaks. He is a real person. He is touchable, approachable, accessible. Third, He is the Word of Life. He is the great explainer of God as John says in his gospel. Everything we could ever want or need to know about life is found and explained and modeled in Him. He is the great communication from God. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” 1:1
And finally in these two verses He is “the eternal life”. But I thought “eternal life” was what we receive when we get to heaven? Well John says “the eternal life” “..was with the Father and was manifested to us”. Jesus is the embodiment of everything God wants us to know and experience. He is our prize in heaven, not the escape from hell and ticket to live forever that so many seem to be content with. That’s why Jesus said in His prayer in John 17:3, “This is eternal life that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
So firstly - To experience ever deeper fellowship with God we must fully embrace everything God has revealed about His Son to us.
The true theological and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ will be attacked from all sides as long as sin, satan and this evil world system exist. John will speak to this in latter chapters. But we need to move on. Here’s the second way we can go deeper in our fellowship with God:
To experience ever deeper fellowship with God and each other we must learn to walk in the light. Vs. 5-7 Let’s read them again: “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
One of the things John and his fellow disciples learned from walking with Jesus is that God is pure Light. There has never been an ounce of darkness in Him in any way, shape or form. God is incapable of ever thinking a sinful thought much less doing a sinful deed. He is pure Light through and through. Fellowship with Him therefore requires that we not walk in the darkness. Light doesn’t mix with darkness. Light reveals and exposes. Darkness schemes and hides and covers up. Light pierces the darkness. To walk with Him requires that we not entertain sin or practice sin or unrighteousness. It requires that we not have hidden compartments of our life.
For me – a person born in sin – to enjoy fellowship with One who has never known sin – I must not walk in or practice any kind of known sin. That’s what I must not do.
Positively I must walk in the Light. That is as I draw near to God in prayer and in His word, and I become aware of anything in my life that might displease Him, I then must turn from that sinful thinking or practice, and practice what does please Him.
Well that’s all great Randy and straightforward enough. But what do I do when I want to fellowship with God, but I find myself in some kind of intense spiritual struggle? Perhaps you’ve engaged in a certain practice for years and now all of a sudden you realize to enjoy fellowship with God you have to depart from that practice. But you find yourself unable to depart from it. Anyone in the room besides me ever been in that situation?
Well walking in the Light in that situation would mean I confess both to God and to the appropriate fellow believer or believers that I am having this spiritual struggle, and that we all then look to the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and deliver me from all sin as we wait on Him and cling to Him and trust in Him.
And that leads me to the third and last way we can learn to enjoy ongoing fellowship with God and with the believers He has joined us to and that is to regularly confess our sins. Let’s read vs. 8-10 together, 8 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
Now, how many of you have had fellow believers say to you “I have no sin”? Probably very few if any of you. So it’s possible that’s not what John meant here. I think it is more likely that John was referring to believers who speak and act as if sin is not a problem or issue with them – effectively communicating “I have no sin.”
The problem with this kind of communicating whether verbal or non verbal is it flies in the face of what the scripture teaches about the believer’s life this side of heaven. For instance Jesus said once, “….he who is forgiven little, loves little…” – implying that he who is forgiven much loves much. Luke 7:47. Now He is not advocating that we sin more that we might be forgiven more so we will love more. He is saying that those who come to Him often confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness will as they experience His forgiveness and cleansing – they will love Him more than those who refuse to come to Him regularly to find forgiveness and cleansing. Jesus’s overall message to whoever He was addressing was “to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:27 The Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance from sin and darkness and corruption as the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts of such.
Paul said these words in Romans 7:15, 21 in the context of a discussion about how sanctification works for believers – regarding his own experience as a believer, “…I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. …..I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.” Now Paul did not stay in that condition. He learned by grace and by the Spirit to overcome. But this was his real experience at one point as a believer.
The writer of the book of Hebrews says to the believers he was writing to in chapter 3 vs. 12, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God….”
In Chapter 12 vs. 1, he exhorts, “….let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, ….”
James in his short epistle reminds the believers he was writing to, “…we all stumble in many ways…” 3:2
Because of this reality later in ch. 5:16 James exhorts, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed…..”
Peter ends his second epistle with this exhortation, “You therefore, beloved, ….be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” 3:17
Please note that John says “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…” not others. Anyone who truly knows God and walks with Him in the light as a way of life - after being around any of us for a significant amount of time will know we sin.
The alternative to this kind of self deception and thus walking in darkness is being upfront about our sin – confessing it both to God and to those we are joined by Him with. I say the latter because in both vs. 8 and vs. 10 John says, “If we say that we have not sinned,…” Now no one is going to say that to God. But we might say this or something similar to people we relate to. So it seems to me that the exhortation to confess our sins is first to God, who is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us, but also to those He has joined us with. Many of us who have fought a mostly losing battle for months or years against sin have found that significant sin patterns or bondages were broken when we humbled ourselves before a fellow believer or two and confessed before them our ongoing battle with sin.
Walking in fellowship with God and others requires honesty and humility about our ongoing battle with sin. King Solomon affirmed this by saying, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Prov. 28:13. Now the Holy Spirit has to lead us in this. We are not to confess our sins to just anyone. And I don’t think the exhortations to confess our sins in scripture refer to every sin we commit. Rather when we can’t seem to overcome a certain sin and need the help of a brother or sister to win this battle. There might also be times where the Holy Spirit leads us in a time of fellowship with or ministry to a certain person to confess or share a struggle we have had with sin to help or encourage them in their present battle with sin. And if you are married, learning to confess your sins to one another as the Holy Spirit leads and enables is crucial to learn to walk in the Light together and to build oneness in your marriage.
I find it very interesting in my studies of the history of revivals that one of the most common characteristics of true God sent revivals is gut level confession of sin - both to God and to one another often in public.
The good news this morning is we don’t have to wait for a widespread national revival to experience revival in our own lives. Please remember, “God is faithful through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Cor. 1:9 and as Paul proclaimed to the church in Thessalonica, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” I Thess. 5:24
Closing Prayer Time