Week of June 7, 2009


Bible Verses:  1 John 1:1 - 2:2.


Lesson Focus: Fellowship with God and with other believers is based on a correct understanding of who Jesus is and why He came.


The Reality of Fellowship:  1 John 1:1-4


[1]  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--

[2]  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- [3]  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [4]  And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. [ESV]


The opening of the Epistle is remarkable in that it lacks any salutation or personal reference. In this it differs from all the other New Testament Epistles except Hebrews. The main verb of the first paragraph, which does not occur until verse 3, shows that the preface is concerned essentially with the apostolic proclamation of the gospel - what it was, and why it was made. The first sentence begins with four relative clauses, all describing the ending phrase concerning the word of life. Verse 2 is a parenthesis, explaining how that which was from the beginning could have been heard, seen and handled, namely because the life was made manifest, and elaborates what is meant by life. This parenthesis so interrupts the flow of the sentence that verse 3 opens with the resumptive, relative clause that which we have seen and heard before we finally reach the main verb, we proclaim also to you. The rest of verse 3, and verse 4, describe the purposes, immediate and ultimate, of the apostolic proclamation, that you too may have fellowship with us and that our joy may be complete.


[1-2]  The similar expression at the beginning of the Prologue to the Gospel (in the beginning) suggests that here too from the beginning means the beginning of all things and not just the beginning of Christ's ministry. The Eternal Son was before His historical manifestation; the preaching of the gospel came after. The contrast between the first and the next three relative clauses with which the Epistle begins is dramatic. The Eternal entered time and was manifested to men. The Word became flesh and thus presented Himself to the three higher senses of men (hearing, sight and touch). The word touched, the climax of the four relative clauses, mean more than just touching. The word means to grope or feel after in order to find, like a blind man or one in the dark. It may also be used in the sense of examine closely. Although the touching is the climax of the sentence, the emphasis is on seeing (which is repeated four times in the first three verses), presumably because it is sight in particular which qualifies men to witness. The proclamation of what had been heard, seen and felt was part of the word of life, the gospel of Christ. This audible, visible and tangible apprehension of that which was from the beginning was only possible to man because the life was made manifest. The verb manifest is repeated twice, at the beginning and end of the parenthesis. First it occurs absolutely; and then to us is added. We could not have seen the One who was eternally with the Father unless He had taken the initiative deliberately to manifest Himself. Men can apprehend only what God is pleased to make known. This stress on the material manifestation of Christ to men's ears, eyes and hands is of course directed primarily against the heretics who were troubling the Church.


[3-4]  The historical manifestation of the Eternal Life was proclaimed, not monopolized. The revelation was given to the few for the many. They were to dispense it to the world. The manifestation to us [2] becomes a proclamation to you [3]. John uses two verbs to describe the apostolic announcement, we testify and we proclaim. The apostolic ministry involved both a testimony and a proclamation. Both words imply an authority, but of a different kind. Testify indicates the authority of experience. To witness is an activity which belongs properly to an eyewitness. He must be a witness before he is competent to bear witness. The true witness speaks not of what he has gathered secondhand from others, but of what he has himself personally seen and heard. It is for this reason that the verbs to 'see' and to 'testify' are so commonly associated with each other in the New Testament. If testify is the word of experience, proclaim indicates the authority of commission. The experience is personal; the commission is derived. In order to witness, the apostles must have seen and heard Christ for themselves; in order to proclaim, they must have received a commission from Him. Christ not only manifested Himself to the disciples to qualify them as eyewitnesses, but gave them an authoritative commission as apostles to preach the gospel. The proclamation was not an end in itself; its purpose, immediate and ultimate, is now defined. The immediate is fellowship [3], and the ultimate joy [4]. The fellowship created by Christ in the days of His flesh within the apostolic band, and deepened by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, was not to be limited to them. It was to extend to the next generation, and so on down the ages. The purpose of the proclamation of the gospel is, therefore, not salvation but fellowship. Yet, properly understood, this is the meaning of salvation in its widest embrace, including reconciliation to God in Christ, holiness of life, and incorporation in the Church. This fellowship is the meaning of eternal life. As the Son, who is that eternal life, was eternally with the Father, so He purposes that we should have fellowship with Them and with each other. Fellowship here denotes that common participation in the grace of God, the salvation of Christ and the indwelling Spirit which is the spiritual birthright of all Christian believers. This statement of the apostolic objective in the proclamation of the gospel, namely a human fellowship arising spontaneously from a divine fellowship, is a rebuke to much of our modern evangelism and Church life. We cannot be content with an evangelism which does not lead to the drawing of converts into the Church, nor with a Church life whose principle of cohesion is a superficial social camaraderie instead of a spiritual fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Verse 4, like verse 3, contains a final clause introduced by that. In verse 3 the clause depends on proclaim, and in verse 4 on writing. The purpose of the writing is now given. And what is the secret of this full or complete joy? It is in the fellowship which the proclamation creates; for if the immediate purpose of the proclamation is the establishment of fellowship, the ultimate purpose is the completion of joy. This is the divine order: message, fellowship,  joy. Yet perfect joy is not possible in this world of sin, because perfect fellowship is not possible. So verse 4 must be understood also to look beyond this life to the life of heaven. Then consummated fellowship will bring completed joy.


Walking in Fellowship: 1 John 1:5-7.


[5]  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6]  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [7]  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [ESV]


[5]  The link between 1:5-2:2 and 1:1-4 is in the word message. This message has not been invented by himself or the other apostles, but is what they have heard from him. The word of life, with which his proclamation is concerned, can be condensed into the single great affirmation God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Of the statements about the essential Being of God, none is more comprehensive than God is light. It is His nature to reveal Himself, as it is the property of light to shine; and the revelation is of perfect purity and unutterable majesty. We are to think of God as a personal Being, infinite in all His perfections, transcendent, holy, who yet desires to be known and has revealed Himself. The effect of the light is not just to make men see, but to enable them to walk. Right conduct, not just clear vision, is the benefit which light bestows. Men are not just to know the truth, but to do it, just as they are not only to see the light, but to walk in it.


In 1:6-2:2 three of the spurious claims of the false teachers are exposed and contradicted. Each is introduced by the formula if we say. A man's verbal profession is not necessarily to be believed. It must be tested both in itself, in its relation to the fundamental truth that God is light, and in its bearing upon his behavior. This is the dominant theme of this Epistle. John supplies searching tests by which to judge one who professes and calls himself Christian. The supreme question is whether his teaching and behavior are consistent with each other and with the apostolic proclamation that God is light. This affirmation is still the test of the truth and reality of our Christian profession. The symmetry of the seven verses is evident. First, he introduces the false teaching with the words if we say. Next, he contradicts it with an unequivocal we lie or a similar expression. Finally, he makes a positive and true statement corresponding to the error he has refuted, but if we. The three errors he treats concern the fact of sin in our conduct, its origin in our nature, and its consequence in our relationship to God. They are the misconceptions of men who want fellowship with God on easy terms. They have never learned the indissoluble marriage of religion and ethics; they are seeking a divorce between them. They have a thoroughly inadequate doctrine of sin and its sinfulness in relation to God who is light. So, in each of the three examples he gives, John faces the fact and the problem of sin before proceeding to state the solution. He not only denies the erroneous view, but indicates the divine remedy which is offered if men will only acknowledge their need of it. Each time he describes the cleansing and forgiveness which God has made possible through the death of Jesus Christ His Son. Christianity is the only religion which, by emphasizing that God is light, first insists on taking sin seriously and then offers a satisfactory moral solution to the problem of sin. The way to have fellowship with a God who is light is not to deny the fact or effects of sin, but to confess our sins and thankfully appropriate God's provision for our cleansing.


[6-7]  The first false claim is the assertion that we have fellowship with God, while at the same time we walk in darkness. Sin is always a barrier to fellowship with God. If we make such a claim we lie, deliberately, knowingly, self-evidently, and do not practice the truth. That is, we not only contradict the truth in our words, but deny it by our inconsistent lives. The error having been refuted, John now affirms a complementary truth. He now describes what happens if we walk in the light. God is in the light because He is always true to Himself and His activity is consistent with His nature. We must walk in the light of His holy self-revelation, and in His presence, without deceit or dishonesty in our mind or consciously tolerated sin in our conduct. Walking in the light describes absolute sincerity, to have nothing to conceal, and to make no attempt to conceal anything. Two results of this are given, first, we have fellowship with one another. The second result is that the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. The verb suggests that God does more than forgive; He erases the stain of sin. And the present tense shows that it is a continuous process. Thus if we walk in the light God has made provision to cleanse us from whatever sin would otherwise mar our fellowship with Him or each other. The condition of receiving cleansing through the blood of Christ and of enjoying fellowship with each other is to walk in the light, to be sincere, open, honest, transparent. 




A Costly Fellowship: 1 John 1:8 - 2:2.


[8]  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9]  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

[10]  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [2:1]  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2]  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [ESV]


[8-10]  The second claim of the heretics was one stage worse than the first, namely to have no sin. The first heretical claim at least appeared to concede the existence of sin, while denying that it had the effect of estranging the sinner from God. Now the very fact of sin is denied. These men cannot benefit from the cleansing effects of the blood of Jesus because they say we have no sin. Sin is again in the singular (like verse 7) and refers to the inherited principle of sin or self-centeredness in our fallen human nature. The heretics are now saying that, whatever their outward conduct may be, there is no sin inherent in their nature. To say that we have no sin means that we deceive ourselves, that is, we are self-deceived rather than deliberate liars, and the truth is not in us. Not only do we fail to do the truth [6]; we are void of it. For if it did indwell us we should inevitably be aware of our sinfulness. The proper Christian attitude to sin is not to deny it but to admit it and so to receive the forgiveness which God has made possible and promises to us. If we confess our sins, acknowledging before God that we are sinners not only by nature (sin) but by practice also (sins), God will both forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In the first phrase sin is a debt which He remits and in the second a stain which He removes. In both He is said to be faithful and just. In forgiving our sins and cleansing us from them God displays faithfulness to His covenant promises and He is just in forgiving sins due to the price paid for our sin on the cross by Jesus. He is faithful to forgive because He has promised to do so, and just because His Son died for our sins. This forgiveness and cleansing, issuing from the faithfulness and justice of God, are conditional upon confession. What is required is not a general confession of sin, but a particular confession of sins, as we deliberately call them to mind, confess and forsake them. The third heretical claim is indicated by the words if we say we have not sinned. We may concede in theory that sin would break our fellowship with God if we did sin, and that sin does exist in our nature as an inborn disposition, and yet deny that we have in practice sinned and thus put ourselves out of fellowship with God. This is the most blatant of the three denials. The heretics maintained that their superior enlightenment rendered them incapable of sinning. To say that we have not sinned is not just to tell a deliberate lie [6], or to be deluded [8], but actually to accuse God of lying, to make him a liar and to reveal clearly that his word is not in us, because His word frequently declares that sin is universal, and the word of the gospel clearly assumes the sinfulness of man.


[2:1]  The symmetrical construction of this paragraph now changes. Instead of adding 'if' as on the two previous occasions, John begins a new sentence in order to enlarge on the subject of sin in the Christian. He does this first negatively (that you may not sin) and then positively (but if anyone does sin). It is important to hold these two statements in balance. It is possible to be both too lenient and too severe towards sin. Too great a lenience would seem almost to encourage sin in the Christian by stressing God's provision for the sinner. An exaggerated severity, on the other hand, would either deny the possibility of a Christian sinning or refuse him forgiveness and restoration if he falls. Both extreme positions are contradicted by John. He longs that his readers will be preserved from the evil teaching of the heretics and that they shall not fall into sin. But if anyone does sin then God has graciously made provision for his restoration. This clearly indicates John's conviction that acts of sin, as opposed to the continuous sinful habit, are possible in the Christian. The provision which God has made for the sinning Christian is now unfolded. It is in One, who is described first as an advocate with the Father, secondly as Jesus Christ the righteous, and thirdly as the propitiation for our sins. Advocate means 'called alongside' and describes anybody summoned to the assistance of another, especially to plead their cause before someone. Once the sinner has been justified by God his Judge, he has entered the family of God and become related to God as his Father. If he should sin, he does not need another justification from the divine Judge. Rather he needs the Father's forgiveness. This is assured to him through the advocacy of Jesus Christ the righteous, a composite expression indicating His human nature (Jesus), Messianic office (Christ) and righteous character. The righteousness, purity and sinlessness of Christ's character are mentioned several times, directly or indirectly in this Epistle. It is self-evident that only through a righteous Savior could we be cleansed from all unrighteousness [9].


[2]  John now proceeds to describe our righteous Advocate as the propitiation for our sins, since it is this alone which qualifies Him for the position. Christ's intercession is the continual application of His death to our salvation. Christ Himself is the propitiation, the sin offering on our behalf. His death on the cross is an appeasement of God's wrath against our sin. But His wrath is not arbitrary or capricious. It is His settled, controlled, holy antagonism to all evil. The initiative in the propitiation is entirely God's and His action flows out of His love, the spontaneous, uncaused love of Father and Son together. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins [4:10]. Thus the only thing that cleanses sinners from their guilty stains is the blood of Jesus, God's Son, that is the laying down of His life in a violent death. Moreover, Christ still is the propitiation, not because in any sense He continues to offer His sacrifice, but because His one sacrifice once offered has an eternal virtue which is effective today in those who believe. And the propitiation for our sins is not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. This cannot be pressed into meaning that all sins are automatically pardoned through the propitiation of Christ, but that a universal pardon is offered for the sins of the whole world but is enjoyed only by those who embrace Christ in faith. Thus, the Father's provision for the sinning Christian is in His Son, who possesses a threefold qualification: His righteous character, His propitiatory death and His heavenly advocacy. Each depends on the others; they are necessarily interrelated.


Questions for Discussion:


1.         What is the difference between testify and proclaim? What is required for each action? What two purposes does John give for the proclamation of the message? What is the relationship between salvation, fellowship and joy?


2.         What does John mean by God is light? What implications does this have for our Christian walk?


3.         What are the three false claims that John deals with in 1:6-10? How does John refute these false claims?


4.         John stresses three things about Christ as they relate to our receiving forgiveness for the sins we commit in our daily walk. What are the three things and why are they interrelated?



The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

The Message of John's Letters, David Jackman, Inter-Varsity Press.