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1 John: Fellowship with God

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Whenever we begin a study of the Word of God there are a number of questions that we must ask regarding the text before us.  Three of these questions should include:

1. Who is the intended audience?

2. What is the theme?

3. What is the reason or occasion that a given section of the Word of God was written?  These three questions are of vital importance when it comes to a proper understanding of 1 John.

Chapter 5 of 1 John answers some of these questions.  The issue at hand is that the Apostle John wanted the believers to have confidence in the witness of God, not the witness of men.  This is easily seen in verses 9-10.  The witness of God was clear, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).  The issue came down to assurance.  John wanted these men and women to have confidence in the promises of God.  This brings us to a very important statement in the next verse, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).  Certainly we must recognize that at least this section of 1 John was written to believers to give them confidence in the promises of God regarding their salvation.  However, this does not mean that 1 John was written for us to test whether or not we are truly in the faith.

It does not take very long, as we survey the rest of 1 John, to discover that this entire letter was written to believers.  Chapter 3 teaches, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).  Again, we read in the very next verse, “Beloved, now we are children of God” (1 John 3:2).  While it is not possible in such a brief work to examine it in detail, we also see this same teaching in Chapter 2 verses 12-14.  Since John, “made it perfectly clear that he regarded the readers as genuine Christians, his goal was obviously not their conversions” (Walvoord 883).

A necessary section of text to evaluate is found in Chapter 1.  The Apostle John wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4).  Without a proper understanding of these two verses you cannot come to a correct interpretation of 1 John.  It is here we learn that the theme and purpose of 1 John is fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  This should be the goal of every believer in Jesus Christ.  “Joy is the product of fellowship with God” (Constable 1 John 1:4).

Once we understand the purpose of 1 John we begin to see that the Apostle John gave many examples of how we as believers may know that we are living in fellowship with God.  We see right away in 1 John 1:6-7 that walking in fellowship with God means we walk in the light.  Verse 5 had already taught, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  Having fellowship with God is walking with God.

In Chapter 2 we learn that abiding in Christ is comparable to walking in Christ.  Here John taught, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).  Towards the end of Chapter 2 we come across another important truth, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).  Verse 28 reveals it is possible for believers to fail to abide in Christ.  This strikes to the heart of what we have been discussing, that you can be saved by faith in Christ, but fail to abide in fellowship with Him.  Warren Wiersbe agrees by stating, “It is possible to be a child in a family and yet be out of fellowship with one’s father and with other members of the family” (Wiersbe 1 John 2:28).  John continued this theme of abiding in Christ in Chapter 3 by testifying, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin” (1 John 3:6).  We also learn in 1 John 3:24 that if we abide in Him we will keep His commandments.  To abide in Christ is to be in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

Even though we have only scratched the surface of the teaching of 1 John it is evident that the intent of 1 John is to teach believers in Christ to live in fellowship with Christ.  This is where joy is found for the believer in Christ.  When 1 John is interpreted as a test for salvation the result is confusion and a misunderstanding of this spectacular section of the Word of God.  When 1 John is interpreted correctly it is a beautiful reminder of the intimate fellowship that we can have with Jesus Christ!

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The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Constable, Tom. Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996.


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