Summary: In an atmosphere of false teachings that sought to confuse the church and split it. John writes here about the true fellowship of the church and how we can recognize it.
Today I want to begin a series on the book of I John. It is believed by most that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was the author of this letter. He wrote this letter before he was exiled to the island of Patmos. Many put the date at around 85-90 A.D., which is real close to the date that John also wrote the gospel of John. John was probably one of the few people left at this point that had seen and touched Christ in the flesh. There are three characteristics about God that John brings home in this letter. God is light. God is love. And God is life. John was writing this letter to the Christian community, it was not written to one particular church. There seemed to be a devisive argument occurring within the Christian community. The problem had reached a point that it seemed like there were some members, including teachers, that had separated themselves from the others and were in the process of establishing their own community. It appeared that many of them kept in touch with those they had separated from trying to entice them to join their new group. So John wrote this to reassure the people in their faith and to combat the false teaching that they were facing. Once again it was a lot of teachings of the Gnostics that John had to combat.
One thing that John opens up stressing here is the same thing that he stressed in his gospel. That Christ was eternal. He had always been since the very beginning. That’s why he said, “That which was from the beginning.” The other thing that he stressed was their first hand experience of the Christ. He said, “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.” These people may have never seen the Word of life, but John was saying trust me, I’ve seen him and I’ve experienced Him. John said I share these things so that you can have fellowship with us. This whole chapter deals a lot with the word fellowship. Those of you who remember taking “Experiencing God” you remember the Greek word that fellowship is translated from, it’s koinonia. In the classical Greek it’s used as a term to express the most intimate kinds of human relationships. Put into English it can be translated fellowship, communion, participation, and partnership. John wanted these people to understand the truth so that they could have that communion, that partnership in the gospel with him. Isn’t that what the church is. A group of people that have a fellowship, a partnership in the gospel. John writes here in this first chapter about the true fellowship of the church and how you can recognize it.
After John told them that they proclaimed what they had seen and heard so that they could have fellowship with them. In the next sentence in verse 3, he said, “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ.” You see the fellowship that John was a part of was not just a fellowship with a group of men or a group of men and women, it was a fellowship that had the Father and his Son Jesus Christ at the center. You see there are people that come to church every week and they consider themselves a part of the fellowship of the church. Or as some churches call them, they consider themselves members. They have relationships and friendships with a lot of people in the church and they come to the meetings and services regularly and spend time with each other. But the true fellowship of the church is not based on the relationships just between the people. Our fellowship is not with the saints only, our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. If you take Jesus Christ out of the equation then we aren’t anything more than a social club. James Packer in his book Your Father Loves You said it this way. “Christian fellowship is two-dimensional, and it has to be vertical before it can be horizontal. We must know the reality of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ before we can know the reality of fellowship with each other in our common relationship to God. The person who is not in fellowship with the Father and the Son is no Christian at all, and so cannot share with Christians the realities of their fellowship.” You see it’s our relationship with God and his Son that’s at the center of everything we share in the church. It’s our relationship with God and his Son that gives us reason to come and worship and sing of his wonderful mercy and grace that he has shown to us in our lives. If we haven’t experienced the wonderful mercy and grace then how can we come and share our experiences and worship about something which we haven’t truly experienced. When Peter wrote the book of I Peter, he was able to minister to these Christians that had scattered and he was able to have fellowship with them because he could identify with them. They had suffered for their faith and loyalty to Jesus Christ. Peter understood and knew what that was like, he had been through persecutions and tough times for his faith as well. So he was able to encourage them and help them to see that these sufferings would prove their faith genuine, and that it was a part of the refining process that God does in our life. He could have that special partnership/fellowship with them because they shared a common bond through their relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul in the same way encouraged the fellowship of believers about persecution for their faith in Christ. He understood what they were going through. It gave him a unity with them. Paul suffered much for his faith in Christ. But he told the believers in Romans 5:3,4 “…But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.” Both Paul and Peter also talked about the privilege it was to be able to suffer for Christ, after all Christ had certainly suffered for them all. You see what makes the true fellowship of the church is those who have a common bond and a common experience through their fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ. Through our common relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ we have a unifying force that allows us to come together and share our experiences and strengthen one another. That my brothers and sisters is the true fellowship of the church.