Christian Fellowship in God’s Family: 4
Eric Parmenter, Honiton, England
The Proving of Fellowship
The theme chances as we leave chapter 3. God gave the Holy Spirit to His children at their new birth, and by this they have confirmation that He has made His home in their hearts. John, in changing his subject for the moment, sounds a warning, 'there are many false prophets abroad in the world'. Like sensuous harlots, dressed in their finery, they are seducers of the people. These false teachers, disgorging their counterfeit doctrines inveigle men, women, and families into their net with their lies and deceits. It was like that in John's day and now centuries later it continues in our day.
Is the apostle thinking of a type of Christian, not very well instructed in the scriptures, only too readily gullible to every front door exponent of false teaching? To all God's children he says, 'Beloved believe not every spirit, but try the spirits'. God having sent His spirit into the world, other spirits also have gone out into the world. Like God's Holy Spirit, these are using human agencies to accomplish their nefarious ends. The believer with the Spirit of God in him can put to the test their preaching. Here is the acid test, 'every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God'.
Why should such tremendous issues hang on the simple acknowledgement of Jesus Christ come into the world? Was that not a fact of history? If we leave out two words from John's statement, we will see better the force of the test. 'Every spirit confessing Jesus Christ come in the flesh, is of God'. Now we can see what John is driving at. It is not just a confession of a fact of history, but confessing the deity of Christ, and the purpose of His coming. He had a prior existence to being born at Bethlehem. 'Come', emphasizes the truth; Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God. His coming into the world had a definite purpose. It was to make atonement for sin. Those who deny His deity and His coming to make atonement for sin, are not of God. They, and their preaching are forerunners of the coming anti-christ. The false prophets and their message, is the product of demonic influence. They have come out from the devil's world in its opposition to God, and the world hears about them.
Concerning demons they know of the truth about whom Christ is, but do not confess it. Sometimes in the scripture there is a record of their declaring it, but that is different to confessing it as a matter of faith. Confession involves believing in the heart. To the believers, John says, 'Ye are of God, little children and have overcome them'. The Holy Spirit dwelling in them is far greater than he that is in the world. John speaking of the apostles declares they are of God. They know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error by those who refuse to hear. All who know God hear the apostles and receive their teaching. Receiving the apostles' teaching is vitally important. It is a safeguard from the beguiling influences of the false teachers.
The Persuasion of Fellowship
Environment has a tremendous influence in the world today. Our neighbourhood, our home, the surroundings in which we live, all have a pull and power upon us. John returning to his theme of love says, the same is true in the spiritual sphere. Here he takes a different approach to the subject. Previously he had said, 'we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren'. That was based on the sacrifice of Christ. Now we are to love each other because God sent His Son into the world. The Christian family is reared in the beautiful atmosphere of love. Love is of God. True love, pure love finds its source in God, and all begotten of Him receive of His nature. It is a mark of a newborn soul that it breathes love, love with no impure motive and no selfish interest. We cannot really know God without catching some of His wonderful love and showing it in our lives.
God showed His love towards us when we were sinners. We were dead and needed life and suddenly, startlingly, the heaven filled with angels' song. Simultaneously a message came to men, 'Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord'. John puts it this way, 'The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the World'. He sent Him into the world that we might live, that is, have life through Him. When Paul writes to the Romans, he says, we have life through the work of Christ. John says, we have life through Him instrumentally. We were guilty, requiring propitiation, and God's only begotten Son, stepped into the fathomless horrors of Calvary's darkness. The seething seas of divine judgement and the deepening swell of God's wrath surged to engulf 'him who knew no sin'. The waves and billows enclosed Him. 'Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps'. 'Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves, Selah', Psa. 88. 6-7. Christ fathomed the fathomless and met sin's consequence at its last dark frontiers. He made propitiation for sins. God's love provided what His holiness demanded.
An obligation now lies on us to reproduce love patterned after that love we see in God. 'Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another', v. 11. All who receive divine life are bound up in the one bundle of life and are dear to us.
'No man hath seen God at any time', is first said in John 1. 18; there it is concerning the revelation of God. Only the Son, coming out from the Father's bosom, was competent to speak of the perfect nature and character of God. Here in verse 12 the apostle is thinking of God being seen in His children. Men have not seen God, but if we love each other that is a display of Him. Loving each other is undeniable proof that God dwells in us and His love is perfected in us, meaning it reaches its goal in us. There is no preaching or debating, which will be more convincing that we are those in whom God dwells than if we are loving each other. This is the evidence that God has given us the Spirit.
The apostle's testimony concerns next the sending by the Father of His Son to be the Saviour of the World. Just once elsewhere this phrase, 'Saviour of the world' occurs. We find it connected with the Samaritan woman's testimony to the men of the city, John 4. 42. John using the emphatic 'we' says we have seen. Having seen and pondered it he now gives effective testimony to the fact; God sent His son, a Saviour of the world, without any restrictions to any one nation. The world refused Him, and rejected its Saviour, but the fact that the Father sent Him to save the world, is testimony to the manifestation of His love. No one can ever say that they have not seen His love.
The Position of Fellowship
'God dwelleth in him, and he in God . . . God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him', vv. 15-16. There is a reciprocal aspect about it. Like a sponge, the sponge is in water, the water is in the sponge. This reciprocal dwelling is infinitely greater, and it is a characteristic fact, true of everyone who in reality confesses Jesus as the Son of God.
We have received a common life from the spirit and a full reliable testimony to the love of God. Being participators in this life and love we dwell in God and God in us.
Have we boldness in respect of the day of judgement? What terrors will fill the hearts of men when the Lord from heaven appears to deal with a wicked world. Man will stand dumb, trembling at the knees. The masses will shake and deep unease will fill their minds. Must it be so with us, when we think about the future day of judgement, the great white throne of God?
A preferable translation of verse 17, 'Because God's love is perfected with us, we can have boldness (rest of heart) in view of the day of judgement'. It is not our love made perfect, but God's love perfected with us. If there is timidity in our souls, then there is a defect in our knowledge of the love that dwells in us. To correct the defect, John explains, 'As He is, so are we in this world'. Christ is not, and cannot be, an object of judgement where He is at God's right hand. We are not in some future day made as He is, we are as He is now. God's love is perfect carrying no torment with it. His perfect love casts out fear.
We love, because He loved us. For one to say, 'I love God'; that is claiming to know God, to love Him and participate in the activities of that love, and then to show hatred of God's children makes a man a liar and his profession false. How can anyone that does not love the children of God, whom they can see, love God who is invisible? John concludes, by reminding all of the commandment received from Him, 'that he who loveth God, love his brother also'.