John’s gospel opens magnificently. It begins by portraying the life of Christ in eternity, before the world was. That life was rich and glorious, filled with infinite delight and serene blessedness in the presence of the Father.
The apostle in his first epistle reveals the consequences of the Lord Jesus being manifested in the world. The Father is set to bring poor, wretched sinners into His family, giving them eternal life and the privilege of enjoying fellowship with Himself and with His Son.
In a world that is passing away, all who belong to Christ enjoy a fellowship of life that will never pass away. This fellowship, motivated by love, is lived in the light, with all who are the children of God. John establishes that the life we have is eternal life rooted in God Himself. Throughout the epistle the Holy Spirit focuses attention on the Family of God and its Fellowship.
The Privilege of Fellowship
The Fellowship of John’s epistle is a ‘Fellowship of Life’.
First it is life that is eternal. John, directing us back into the past, says, ‘that which was from the beginning’. We realize the eternal life we have was in the Son of God essentially and eternally. Writing his gospel the apostle testifies, ‘In him was life’, John 1. 4. It was manifested at His incarnation and the apostles saw it in Christ when He appeared publicly.
John next reminds us of the historical side, ‘the life that was with the Father … was manifested to us’. He with the other apostles had seen for himself and could therefore show the fact to the others. Christ Himself is the personification of eternal life, and they had individually and personally seen and looked upon and their hands had handled Him. In resurrection the Lord said, ‘Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have’, Luke 24. 39.
The apostle now majors on the special character of this fellowship. There is something extra special about human relationships when brought into fellowship with divine persons. ‘That ye also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ’. They were bound together in a mutual love. This fellowship is now opened to all who have received eternal life. They are all bound together in a fellowship of love.
Then we learn that there is a higher aspect to this fellowship. Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and cultivates our fellowship within the family of God. Our fellowship with each other reflects that we are already enjoying communion with God the Father.
With all our shortcomings, we are welcomed into fellowship with the Father and with His Son. A holy God, and those once counted unholy sinners, walking in fellowship together is a miracle of divine grace.
The apostle will now draw attention to another aspect of the fellowship. That it is a ‘Fellowship of Light’ is the first message of the epistle and one brought by the excellence of truth, purity and perfection. The Father who welcomes us to have fellowship with Him, is the same God of light in Whom there is no darkness at all. Such revealed character demands that to company with God our walk must be compatible, ‘Can two walk together except they be agreed’? Amos. 3. 3.
‘If we walk in the light’, v. 7. This statement refers to our position as Christians. What we mean by that is, when salvation became real in our souls, the grace of God put us in the light where God is. Nothing can remove the believer from that position, because the eternal value of the blood of Jesus Christ keeps him there. If the character of our lives is, as the hymnwriter puts it, ‘Nothing between Lord, nothing between,’ this precious truth becomes a daily reality. Living in obedience, walking in company with God, puts gladness in the heart.
Walking in the darkness while professing fellowship with God who is light is a contradiction. We cannot enjoy fellowship with God and walk in the dark. First we must know the glorious saving power of Christ through believing faith, and go on to know the happy experience of the continuous cleansing power of the blood. The precious blood of Christ is the divine provision for the maintenance of holy fellowship with God and with His children. ‘These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full’, v. 4.
The Problem of Fellowship
A series of ‘ifs’ appears from verse 8 to chapter 2. 2; they deal with different aspects of sin.
‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’. Sin here is in the singular, it is the evil principle of sin, inherent sin, that which is in the heart of every man, woman and child born into this world. Christ is the only one who was different, ‘in him is no sin’, 3. 5. Sin as a root is universal; to say we have no sin is to be led astray and the truth is not in us. The apostle Paul declared ‘sin dwelleth in me’, Rom 7. 17. We shall always have to reckon with it down here. Not until we get to heaven we will lose it. If Paul said, ‘sin … dwelleth in me’, he also said, ‘Christ liveth in me’.
‘If we say that we have not sinned’, v. 10. Here is a further problem. Sin as an act. For me to say that the evil principle that is within, has never and does never exert itself in my life is to make God a liar. He said, ‘all have sinned’, and to say otherwise is to attack the veracity of God and ‘his word is not in us’. In verse 8, it is ‘the truth is not in us’, which is truth in a general sense. In verse 10 ‘his word is not in us’, meaning His word as it relates to a certain point such as an act of sin.
John recognizes the possibility of a believer committing a sin, in contrast to habitual sinning . The answer in those circumstances is, ‘If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. Living in the light, and knowing God has made provision for just such an event, leads the believer to a sincere confession of sin. The word ‘confess’ means to ‘agree together’ or ‘to speak together’. When believers sin they do not conceal it, or console themselves about it; they come to God, agree with Him about it and see it as He sees it. John informs us to be specific in confession, tell God in the light of Christ’s death at Calvary, exactly what has been done. Confession like this brings immediate forgiveness, He is faithful to His promise and righteous in dealing with sins. We confess our sins. He definitely, decisively and immediately forgives sins and cleanses from all unrighteousness.
How God does this, the apostle explains in the opening verses of Chapter 2. Here John gives a second reason for writing, ‘My little children these things I write unto you that ye sin not’. He has told us of the abiding efficacy of the blood of Christ, now he immediately tells God’s children that he is not licensing sin. He envisages the possibility of one falling into a sin. There is provision for just such a case, made in the advocacy of Christ, and His propitiatory sacrifice.
The first assurance given if we sin is that it will not break relationship with the Father. God is still ‘our Father’ even after sin has interrupted our communion with Him. Then he tells us, we have as the children of God, ‘an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’. Similar to Pethahiah at the Persian court, who handled matters as they arose concerning thee Jews who were at Jerusalem, Neh. 11. 24, we also have in heaven, One on the throne, at the Father’s right hand, who is always available as our advocate. He draws alongside when we sin, making us aware of the sin committed, and brings us to the point of confession.
Advocacy is always towards us, although our Advocate is ‘with the Father’, showing that He is now back in heaven. Propitiation is towards God, and always has to do with sins. What Christ accomplished in His death on the cross, He makes good to us now as He is on the throne. God’s holy and righteous demands met in His death, answer the problem of the sins of the whole world.
The consequences are twofold; for sinners, judicial forgiveness by a holy God the moment they put their trust in the Saviour; for saints, upon confession of sin, they enjoy a Father’s forgiveness within the family and communion with God is re-established.
There is a salutary lesson in John 13. Peter refused the ministry of Christ; he said, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet’. In so saying he put himself against the Lord, seeing no need for personal cleansing. His attitude brought this response from the Lord Jesus. ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me’. Are we willing to expose our defilement to the eye of the Lord Jesus? Communion demands daily cleansing, and the cleansing available for our defilement is with Christ.