Sunday, April 23, 2017

The test of fellowship, 1John 2:7-11

We have been studying the doctrine of fellowship so far in our exposition of 1 John.  We have seen that God designed us for fellowship with Him, and He desires fellowship with us.  But as we have learned, before we can have fellowship with God, we must first have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus manifested Himself to the world so that we might come to know God. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of [God’s] nature.”   But God desires more than just knowledge of Him.  He desires fellowship with us, communion with us.  He desires love with us.  He loved us enough to punish Christ so that we might by faith become the children of God.  And out of this relationship He desires our love for Him.

So we have seen various aspects of fellowship up to this point. We saw the basis of fellowship, the nature of fellowship, the proof and progression of fellowship.  Today we are going to examine the test of fellowship.  When we were in school as kids, we dreaded tests, didn’t we?  The idea of a test always struck a chord of fear in my heart.  Usually it was because I was not prepared.  But the teacher understood that for us to really know the material she had been teaching, there must be a test of our knowledge.  As students, we could protest all day long that we knew the subject matter, but the teacher knew that unless there was a test, our knowledge, or lack of it, would not be proven, it would not become evident.

So also John, as he teaches us this vital doctrine, knows that it is one thing to say you know Christ, but it’s another thing to actually have a  relationship with Him.  John says it’s one thing to say you have fellowship with God, but it’s another thing to actually walk with Him.  And to illustrate that in chapter one we see John use again and again the phrase, “if we say.”  “If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”  All false professions of fellowship which are revealed by our walk. And we looked at the remedies to all those false professions.  What we should do, as opposed to what we merely profess.  We have to examine our worship to be certain we do not simply give lip service to God, but that our actions give testimony to the truth.

The next progression then in John’s letter is to define sin.  And in chapter 2 vs 4, he defines sin as not keeping the commandments; “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  So keeping His commandments, or obedience to God, is proof of fellowship with God.

Now today, John tells us what those commandments are. The commandment is love. John doesn’t explicitly spell out in these verses what the commandment is.  But it’s clear from the context of the passage, especially vs 10, that the commandment is love.  Love is the overarching theme of John’s epistle, and it’s the preeminent commandment of the Bible. But let’s look at our text to confirm this.  Don’t just take my word for it.  First of all, John says it’s an old commandment. Vs.7, “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.”  

So he is saying, “I’m not writing to you a new commandment.”  “I’m not coming up with some new thing, some new gospel, some new knowledge.”  There were a lot of false teachers in John’s day that were trying to teach some new doctrine, as if they received it from some vision or revelation.  And so John, as he is writing to combat a lot of the false teaching of Gnostics and Dualists and so forth, is emphasizing that this is not something new.

A lot of commentators debate what exactly is meant by his comment that the commandment was “from the beginning.” Some think it predates creation, speaking of the nature of God.  Some think it speaks of Moses and the Levitical law.  Some think that it means the beginning of one’s salvation. I think we can make the case that all are true. John uses this idea of in the beginning, or from the beginning on a couple of other occasions.  John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Obviously in this passage, “in the beginning” refers to eternity past. Before creation, before the law, before the incarnation. 

Another passage is found right here in 1John, chapter 1:1, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”  There again, “from the beginning” refers to the eternal nature of Christ, who was manifested to man in His incarnation.  So I believe it’s safe to say John’s speaking of the eternality of this commandment, which reflects the eternal nature of God.

Now we know that God has also declared Himself to man in His law, which He gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  His Law declares His nature, His character, and His attributes.  And if we are to have fellowship with Him, then we must share those characteristics.  Thus God’s nature becomes God’s law. As God said to Moses in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”  

In the law, Jesus said there were two commandments which contained the whole law.  Some rabbi added up all the laws in the Pentateuch and came up with 613, if I remember correctly.  And Jesus, in Matt. 22:37 said in answer to what was the greatest commandment said,  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” So I think it’s fair to say that the old commandment, which was from the beginning, are these two which Jesus said contained all the law. 

However, it can also be argued that it means the beginning of one’s salvation.  John tells us in chapter 3 vs 11, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”  So it is a foundational message which is essential to the gospel. It’s  old, it’s eternal, but it’s still vitally essential.

But notice then John seems to contradict himself in vs.8. “On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.”

Now John is indicating that on the other hand, this old commandment is, in some way, new. What does he mean, “On the other hand I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you ..."? Well if you can remember back in our study of the gospel of John, you may recall that this is an echo of  Christ’s words recorded in John 13:34, in the Upper Room Discourse.  There Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  That last phrase, "as I have loved you" is the key. To love one another is the old commandment, predating even creation. But "as I have loved you" is new application of it. The manner by which we love, the process by which this can occur is new.

I would suggest then that what is new is the manifestation of this law through Jesus Christ.  He establishes the standard of love.  And this is certainly new.  Because Jesus showed through His life God’s standard for love that we are to emulate.  We are to love one another as Christ loved us.  The motive for our love is new.  Before we loved because it was legislated in the law.  It was required, and so the Jews in particular looked closely to see who they had to love and when.  They limited love according to what the law specifically dictated. Christ though showed a different standard for love.  He loved us when we were enemies of God.  He loved us though we despised Him.  He served those who should have been serving Him. And when we come to know that love, through a personal relationship with Him, we have now a new standard for love, and a new motivation.

So in the reference from the Upper Room Discourse, how did Jesus show He loved them? He loved them by washing their filthy feet. That’s what He did to illustrate His love for the disciples. And I think that's sort of a metaphor summing up how Jesus had loved them all through His ministry. They always needed their feet washed spiritually.  And as we have discussed here in this epistle, this continual cleansing is necessary if we are to have communion with God.  But our love for God should motivate us to stay pure, to live as He lived, and love as He loved. 

How important is love? John 13: 35, "By this all men will know that you're My disciples." How they going to know you’re a disciple of Christ? "If you have love for one another." You'll know because it's a test that reveals your knowledge of God. Everybody else will know you are a Christian because of your love for one another. It's a humble love. It's a self-sacrificing love. It's a bowing and serving love. That kind of love, sacrificial love, is what Jesus speaks of when He said "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Now notice back in our text that John says this commandment is true in Him and in you.  The word for true there means genuine.  Genuine love is defined by Christ.  Folks, I’m afraid the church has let the world co-opt Christian love.  Love has been redefined by the world, and the church, unfortunately, has debased it’s definition as well to that of sentimentalism.  The church must get back to the Biblical definition of love.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had a few words to say regarding the law of love.  In Matt. 5:43 He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I just want to point out, that it’s human to love those who love you.  It’s natural to love those that do good to you.  But God’s standard of love is to love those who injure you.  To love those who mistreat you.  To love your enemies.  Even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Christian love is sacrificial love.  It puts the other’s needs above your own.  And this attribute, Jesus said, will be the defining characteristic, the defining test, to the world that is watching, that we truly are Christ’s disciples.  And by the way, that’s God’s standard for marital love as well.  The love between a husband and wife is not just sentimental, it’s not just romantic, but according to Ephesians 5 it is to be as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  Marital love is sacrificial love.

Now how do we love like Christ loved?  Isn’t that a tall order? Is it even possible?  Well, John says it’s true in Christ and it’s true in us if we are truly in fellowship with Him.  So as we have already learned, this fellowship with God occurs when we walk in the light as He is in the light.  When we walk in the light of truth.  When we keep His commandments.  When we confess our sins as they happen.  We walk in fellowship. “Because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.”  As we are conformed to His image, as we are sanctified in obedience to Him, there is less darkness and more light shining in us.  

The Apostle Paul gives us some more insight in Romans 5:5, "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” Notice that we have the love of God in our hearts because of the Holy Spirit within us.  He is the source of our love, He is the power that governs our love. And through that same Spirit is also the way the Lord loved his disciples. The love of God was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit who was given unto him without measure. That is the only way anyone loves another the way God loves. Only God can love that way. Therefore it is the same way for us. That is why John says, "which is true in him and in you." It comes out of a shared life as we have communion with the Holy Spirit. He is our power to keep the commandments of God. As we yield to Him, and as we stay true to Him, we are filled with HIs presence and His power.

So finally, we see love not only as an old commandment and love as a new commandment, but love as a way of life as we walk in the Light. This isn't just empty philosophy. This isn't just pie in the sky liberal ideology. In verses 9 to 11 John gives some clear illustrations of what love looks like. Here the principle is applied. The test is given to the one who claims to be a Christian. Verse 9, "The one who says he's in the light, yet hates his brother is still in the darkness until this moment.”  Here is another false profession.  “If we say, or the one who says he is in the light and eat hates his brother is still in darkness.”

I’m not sure if darkness is ignorance or an indication of a unbeliever.  I would like to think it’s ignorance, or willful selfishness. Some commentators think it speaks of a unbeliever.  Well, they would certainly fit the bill.  But remember, we’re talking about fellowship here.  And we have seen it’s possible to be a Christian and walk in darkness.  So I would argue this is a condition of selfishness, or ignorance.  But either way, it’s a sin.  Ignorance of the law is still breaking the law, it’s still sin.

But the remedy comes in verse 10. "The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him." Now that's a pretty obvious illustration. If you're walking in the light, you're not going to trip over something. He who is in the light sees where he's going. He's not like somebody bumping around in the darkness. When you love and obey the Law of God, when you express the love of God, the love of Christ to others, you're walking in the light, you're not going to stumble, you're not going to fall into sin. 

But their is also a sense in which this is saying if you love your brother, you won’t do something to cause him to stumble. Paul had a lot to say about this in  Rom 14:21, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”  And again in 
 1Cor. 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”  So then, if we love our brother, there will be no cause for stumbling in him.  We will not despise our brother for the sake of our liberty or our rights.  But we put his needs above our own.

And then John closes with a comment on the absence of love in verse 11. "But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”  Sin is darkness, it is ignorance, and it is blindness.  One who is walking in darkness is one who is blinded by sin.  Are they saved? I don’t know, God knows.  Or are they just backslidden?  Again, I don’t know.  But I do know the remedy.  The remedy to the darkness is light.  1John 1:5, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  

The answer is that we receive the light.  The answer is we do not put a basket over the light.  The answer is that we walk in the light as He is in the light. And if we are to stay in the light, we must love our brother. And the result will be that we shine the light of God to others. We reflect Jesus Christ to the world through our behavior.  So that the world may know that we are His disciples.  The manifestation of that test is that we love one another as Christ has loved us.  This is difficult, I know.  Human nature is opposed to it.  Human nature talks about love, but only loves oneself.  But through the knowledge of Christ, and through walking with Christ, we will adopt His nature, and what is true in Him will become true in us, because the darkness is fading, and the light is shining.  Walk in the Light, even as He is in the Light.  1John 1:7 “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

So this is a test of your fellowship; do you love one another as Christ loved you?  Paul said in  2Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”  Are you manifesting your faith?  It’s one thing to claim it, it’s another thing to live it.  We are called to live out our faith as a testimony to the world, and in obedience to Christ.  I pray that you do not fail the test of fellowship, the test of loving one another as Christ loved you.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The proof and progression of fellowship, 1John 2:3-6

If you are a regular here at the Beach Fellowship, then you will know that I do not normally try to accommodate the holidays with topical messages.  It is our practice to preach verse by verse, and we are in 1John 2 today by the providence of God.  So I hope that will not be discouraging for any visitors that might have come expecting a normal “Easter” message.  

That being said, however, I do want to make one association from our text at the outset, which has to do with the theme of Easter - that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The resurrection is the purpose of Easter, of course, and not an Easter bunny, or a Easter eggs.  We celebrate Christ’s resurrection this Sunday as we do every Sunday throughout the year.  That is why the Sabbath was changed to Sunday, the first day of the week, to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.  

However, what is significant about the resurrection from our perspective here this morning is that it’s because of the resurrection that we worship a living person.  John speaks here of knowing Jesus, of coming to know Him. Present tense.  If I were to speak of the fact that I know George Washington, you would think I was either delusional or that I misspoke.  It would be more correct to say “I know of him,” or if I were alive in the early 19th century I might have said, “I knew George Washington.”  When someone has died, it is not proper to say “I know him.”  But “I knew him.”

But because of the resurrection, John who witnessed Jesus crucified and dead and buried can say, “I know Him.”  Present tense.  Because John and 500 other people witnessed the appearance of the resurrected Lord on several occasions prior to His ascension.  And because John knew that Jesus was alive, and that He is eternally alive having ascended bodily into heaven, and hence he is able to say to us that  we too might know Him.  

So today, rather than focusing on the facts of a historical event 2000 years ago, we are going to focus on the present reality of knowing the resurrected, living Jesus Christ.  Christianity’s whole premise, is that we can have a vital relationship, and personal fellowship, with the living, Lord Jesus Christ.  We can know Him, not just intellectually, or theologically, but we can know Him personally, and even intimately.  In fact, that is John’s goal in this gospel; that we might come to know Jesus personally and intimately, so that we might have fellowship and communion with Him.  

Just having a relationship with Christ is not the end goal of the gospel, but that we might have fellowship.  Fellowship is the same word in the Greek we translate communion.  It means the living, resurrected Christ lives in us and through us so that we might have the power of new life. The death and resurrection of Christ is not just an historical fact to celebrate, but a present reality to duplicate.  His death is an example to be reproduced in us, dying to the old man, dying to the world.  And His resurrection is to be reproduced in us, living a new life, conformed to the image of Christ, living in His power and for God’s glory.  As Paul said in Phil.3:10, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

Now to establish the doctrine of fellowship, John has in chapter one presented the basis of our fellowship, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ.  In vs.1-4 John teaches the necessity of a relationship with Christ before you can have fellowship with God.  Jesus Christ, says John in ch.1vs 1, was from the beginning.  He is the eternal God who existed from the beginning.  In the beginning, Christ already existed.  Then He was manifested in the flesh.  The invisible became visible.  And by coming to know Him, to believe in Him and who He said He was, to believe in what He did for us by dying on the cross for our sins, God grants us salvation on the basis of Christ’s atonement.  So we begin our relationship with God through faith, by the grace of God, by which we are made a part of the family of God.  Through accepting and believing and trusting in Christ, we are made the children of God.  That is the basis of our relationship.  That is the only way you can have a relationship with God, it’s only through faith in Jesus Christ.  Not through our good works, but through His good work.  That’s why they call it “good Friday.”  Because of what He did on the cross.  Not by works of righteousness which we have done.

So faith in His atonement for our sins gives us a relationship with God.  We become a child of God. But it is possible to have a relationship with God and not have fellowship with Him.  There is a distinction between union (relationship) with Christ and communion (fellowship) with Christ. The goal is not to just have a relationship, but to have fellowship.  In relationship we come to know God, but in fellowship we come to experience God.  God designed us for fellowship.  So John presented that principle by saying in chapter one that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. 

He goes on to say in chapter one that a person can have a relationship with God and yet not have fellowship, when a person walks in darkness.  And in order to illustrate that broken fellowship, he gives us three false professions of fellowship, all of which start with the phrase, “If we say.” He says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  Then “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And finally, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”  Three false professions of fellowship.  Three ways in which our fellowship with God is broken; if we walk in the darkness, if we deny our sin, or if we rationalize our sin. Now  I don’t want to re-preach the last two sermons, so I will leave it to you to go on our website if you like at and you can read them there if you like.

But as we come to chapter 2, John is continuing to teach this doctrine of fellowship, and in today’s passage he gives us two other principles of fellowship with God.  First we will look at the proofs of fellowship, and then the progression of fellowship.  Let’s start with the proofs of fellowship with God, or another way of saying it is the evidence of fellowship with God.  

Vs.3, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”  Here is proof number one that you have fellowship with God. You will keep His commandments.  John states this both positively and negatively.  Vs 4 is the negative; “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

The  willingness to keep His commandments, says John, is a sign of true fellowship. It is proof that an act of union with Christ has already occurred, you have been born again. Your actions have changed, and because they have changed and you do not behave as you once did but you now have a desire to obey him, you can know you have indeed been born again.

But you cannot reverse this order! You cannot come to know God by attempting to keep His commandments. That is impossible. Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.”  You can never come to know God by trying to keep his commandments, for a relationship with God comes by faith in Jesus Christ. That must come first, and then the keeping of the commandments is evidence  that your relationship is real, and that it is producing fellowship with God. 

There is an aspect of the negative principle of proof that I must mention, however.  And that is that John makes it clear that it’s possible to claim you know God, to claim a relationship with God, to even claim fellowship with God, and yet be a liar because the evidence of your works speaks louder than your words.

Jesus gave a warning about such people in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”  

So then the first proof of fellowship is that you will keep the commandments.  No one is able to keep the commandments perfectly.  But the result of new birth is that you get a new heart, which gives you new desires, resulting in a desire to keep the commandments of God.  If you sin though, God has given us a way to restore that fellowship.  Chapter 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess means to agree with God, that His commandments are good, and that we agree they are right, but to admit it when we fall short.  And if we confess our sins, Jesus Christ the Righteous (chapter 2:1,2) is able to cleanse us and restore us to fellowship.

The second proof of fellowship is found in vs. 5, “but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.”  The second evidence of fellowship is that we keep the word of God.  The idea behind the word keep is that of a sentinel.  It means to guard, to observe, to watch.  A proof of your fellowship with God is that you observe His word, and you come to love His word.  David was a man after God’s own heart, the Bible tells us.  And though David fell into sin, he constantly proclaimed his love for God’s word.  Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.”  It goes on to describe the love of the psalmist for the word of God; “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, I shall delight in Your statutes; Your testimonies also are my delight; Behold, I long for Your precepts; I shall delight in Your commandments, Which I love.”  I could go on and on.  Psalm 119 alone has 176 verses, practically all of which extol his love for the word of God.

Let’s not forget that Jesus Himself was introduced by John in his gospel as the Word made flesh.  So if we are going to claim fellowship with the Word, then we must keep the Word, and treasure it in our hearts.  And that love of God’s word will be a proof of our fellowship.  This is how God talks to us, how He communes with us.  Fellowship is communication.

The third proof of fellowship is found in vs.6, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  You can exchange the word “abides” for “fellowship”.  It means the same thing.  So read it again, “the one who say he has fellowship with Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

That simply means that we go where He goes, we do what He does, we say what He says, we walk where He walks.  We follow His leading.  We follow His example.  Peter, who was adept at missteps in his walk as a disciple, in his later years wrote in  1Peter 2:21, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”   The Greek word for “example” used there is “hypogrammos”, which means a writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.  Remember those when we were in elementary school?  You traced over the dotted lines to learn how to write the letters.  This is what Peter says about Christ’s example.  We walk as He walked. We walk in the same manner as He did.  And when we walk in His steps, we have fellowship with Him. 

And the good news is that now that we are born again by faith in Christ, we have been given the Spirit of Christ within us to help us walk as He walked.  To give us the power to live the life that He wants us to live.  

Now let’s look at the last point John makes concerning fellowship, and that is what I call the progression of fellowship. If you know Christ, if you have a relationship with Christ, then not only will there be the evidences or proofs of your relationship as we just mentioned, but there will also be a progression in your fellowship.  I’ve often stated the principle that Christianity is progressive.  It’s a walk, a journey of faith.  Jesus called it the Way, the Way of truth.  And as you walk with the Lord, as you have fellowship with the Lord, there will be a progression that gets better and better.

And to illustrate that I just want to point out three words regarding this progression of fellowship that John uses in this text.  He says fellowship begins with knowing, it becomes loving, and it ends with abiding. I said earlier that we were designed for fellowship with God.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “He has also set eternity in their heart.”   Some have likened that to a God sized hole in your heart that cannot be filled with anything else but fellowship with God.  God designed us, made us for fellowship with Him.  Genesis 1 says that we were made in His likeness, according to His image. 2 Cor.11:2 says we were made to be the bride of Christ. 

All the other things God made in creation, He spoke into existence.  But God formed man out of the dust of the earth like an artist lovingly shapes a sculpture.  And then it says that God put His lips to man’s lips and breathed into Him the breath of life, and man became a living soul.  God made man for His pleasure, to be His bride, to have communion and intimacy with Him forever.  But Satan sold man a bill of lies, promising a better life, a higher knowledge of good and evil if they would just obey him.  And so man exchanged the glory of life with God for the temporary pleasure of this world, not fully comprehending that sin would bring about death and separation from God.  But thanks be to God, Jesus made it possible for us to be reconciled to Him, to have life in His name and through His righteousness be restored to fellowship with God forever.

Now this notion of communion with one you love should be familiar to all of us.  A young man sees a young lady, and he wants to know who she is.  He is interested in her.  He finds out her name. He introduces himself.  He asks her out on a date.  He wants to come to know her.  And that knowledge of her produces a relationship.  They become friends.  They aren’t just acquaintances.  They begin a relationship.  And of course, that produces dating.  It doesn’t really matter what they do, as long as they do it together.  They want fellowship.  They talk on the phone all the time.  They have communication.  They go on long walks together.  And before you know it, they are in love.  Their love is reciprocal.  It’s not going to work if he loves her, but she doesn’t love him.  They both love one another.  And the progression continues as it has for thousands of years.  That fellowship, that love, desires full time commitment.  John calls it abiding.  We call it getting married and setting up house together.  Till death do us part.  For better or for worse.  Forsaking all others, I will cling only to you. That’s the idea of abiding.

Well, that’s the progression that John shows us in this text.  Vs.3, we have come to know Him, Vs5, the love of God has truly been completed, and Vs 6, he abides in Him.  Let’s look real quickly at those three stages.  To know, in vs.3, we have already established as a relationship with Christ.  The first stage of our fellowship is relationship with Jesus Christ.  And John tells us that relationship is evidenced by obedience.  We do what He tells us to do.  We keep His commandments.  

I want to point out something here.  In the first chapter and the first two verses of chapter 2, John is talking about sin being the thing that breaks our fellowship with God.  Now in vs.3, he starts talking about keeping the commandments of God.  The point I want to make is that John is now defining sin.  He said in the last chapter, “if we say we have not sinned, we lie.”  Now John defines sin; it’s not keeping God’s commandments.  God’s commandments define sin. Without the law, we would not know sin.  Paul said in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

Christ did not come to abolish the law, but He came to fulfill it.  And furthermore, He came to explain it, expand upon it.  He said that all of the law was contained in this; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your might.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Those two commandments encompassed all the law.  So a right relationship with God will be evidenced by obedience.  

Jesus emphasized that obedience in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." And in Verse 21, "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.”  And so we see that obedience segues into the next stage of our fellowship; obedience to Christ produces the next stage which is love for Christ. In him who is obedient to the commands of Christ the love of Christ has truly been perfected.  Perfected means completed.  

We love God because He first loved us. God initiated this fellowship.  He loved us, He sought us and wooed us to Him.  He introduced Himself to us in the scriptures.  He manifested Himself to us through Jesus Christ. And as a result we come to know the love of God experientially, and we reciprocate by loving others as He loves us.  That’s what it means to be perfected or completed.  We love others as He loves us.  We love His church because it is HIs body.  

And then lastly, that love desires to abide with Him permanently. One day that will result in Jesus coming again to take us to His home, to the place He has been preparing for us.  But for now that means that His Spirit takes up residence in us, so that we might have communication with Him through His word and through prayer and assembling together with His people.  But abiding means even more that that. Abiding produces fruitfulness.  John 14:4 ”As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” You can be in Christ, as a member of the vine, and only bear dry leaves. That is mere relationship. But if you want fruitfulness in your life, there must be that further attitude of abiding in him, living in Him and He living in you. That, he says, is what produces significant results in this new life in Christ. Without Him, "you can do nothing," (John 5:5)

Well, we must close.  Let me just conclude by saying that Christianity is not a bunch of formulas or rituals, it’s not an intellectual assent to God, nor even an emotional attachment to God.  Christianity is a personal relationship and communion with the very Creator of the Universe, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is alive, and He wants to come in and have fellowship with His bride, that we might know the power of the resurrection life that He died to purchase for us.  Jesus said to His church in Rev 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”   That is what He wants.  Fellowship with us.  I trust that you will desire fellowship with Him. You can have this communion with God, when you come to know Christ, and to love Him, and abide with Him.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The nature of fellowship, 1John 1:5-2:2

The theme of the first chapter of 1John is how we can have fellowship with God.  Last time we saw the basis of fellowship starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without the basis of a relationship, there can be no fellowship.  Basically, that means that you must be born again by faith in Christ, trusting Him as your Savior and Lord for the forgiveness of your sins.  That relationship is the basis by which you can have fellowship with God.

As we turn now to the remainder of the passage, we are going to look further at this principle of fellowship, particularly the nature of fellowship.  Fellowship, by the way of reminder, is from the Greek word koininea, which means communion, intimacy, fellowship, communication.  Some one has said it well that relationship is accepting Christ; fellowship is experiencing Him. You can never have fellowship until you have established relationship, but you can certainly have relationship without fellowship. It is possible to be a believer, a born again Christian, and be out of fellowship with God.  We have seen several examples of that in Christ’s letters to the churches of Revelation.  It’s possible to have lost your first love for God, to even commit adultery against God, all of which hurts your  fellowship with God.  So though you may have a relationship, you do not have fellowship, because of sin in your life.  And as a consequence you may feel far from God, you may feel distant from God, or feel like you can’t talk to God.  Such is the nature of fellowship, or broken fellowship with God. It causes separation.

An illustration can be found in your family. Your children are yours by relationship.  Nothing is going to change that.  But when they come to the dinner table with dirty hands and feet they are not going to have communion with you until they get cleaned up.  That’s a simple illustration of fellowship.  We are God’s children by relationship, but we lose fellowship with Him when we are stained by sin, when we pick up the muck and mire from being in the world.  And to be restored to fellowship we must be cleansed from our unrighteousness.

Now John is addressing that problem.  The Christian mired in sin is not the life that God has designed for us.  That kind of life is not going to produce the joy of salvation that God intended, nor will it produce fruitfulness, nor the blessings of our salvation.  If you are truly saved, living in sin will produce misery and heartache, and it can even require God’s discipline in order to turn you around to keep you from hurting yourself, or others, or the church.  Paul, speaking about the Lord’s Supper, said for this reason, for the reason of unconfessed sin, many of you are sick and a number sleep. Some had even died as a result of living in sin.  God is jealous for church and will act to keep it pure and to do away with stumbling blocks.

So now that John has established in vs1-4 the basis of our relationship with Christ, which gives us fellowship with God, he moves on to show us the nature of fellowship.  And he starts with a message from Christ to the church.  He says in vs.5; “This is the message we have heard from Him (that is Christ) and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  He said, I have been with Christ, touched Him, lived with Him, walked with Him and heard His teaching.  He is the Son of God who was in the flesh.  Now here is His message, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”  

Well, at first glance that seems a strange way to summarize the gospel.  But if you really think about it, it is a brilliant synopsis of the nature of God and our relationship to Him. It states the nature of God, and the nature of our fellowship with Him.

If I were an eloquent speaker, scientifically minded, I would probably try to give you an entire sermon today on the nature of light and how vs.5 illustrates it.  But I’m not scientifically minded. However, I don’t think that John is making a sweeping theological treatise here which is meant to stand alone, but I think instead it is particularly pertinent to his theme of fellowship.  For instance, John records in John 4:24 Jesus as saying that God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Now he records Jesus saying that God is Light.  Does that mean that God is actually Light?  Or is it perhaps an allegorical reference to God?  I would suggest that it may be both to some extent.  But perhaps it is better to understand it as God has manifested Himself as Light, both literally and figuratively.

Now I do not have time to spend this morning showing you all the ways in which God has manifested Himself as light in the Bible.  But let me just show you one, which I think is illustrative.  It’s found in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”  

Notice a couple of things here real quickly; one is that God commanded light to appear on the first day, before He made the sun, moon and stars.  Secondly, notice, the Spirit of God was moving before the Light appeared.  So God existed as Spirit before light was manifested to the world.  Thirdly, notice that the world was in darkness and then God said, “let there be light.” 

Cross reference that to John 1.  And you will see that the Word was in the beginning with God and was God.  The Word became Light in vs4.  And in vs.5, the Light shined in darkness and the darkness did not overpower it, or understand it.  It’s pretty cool to see the correlation between Genesis 1 and John 1.  Now in 1John1, we see the Message, that is the Word, manifested in the flesh, and the message is that God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all.  So we can say that as light is manifested to the world, it is a picture of God manifesting Himself to the world as the Word of God, the Truth.

So what is light, what does it figuratively represent about God?  Well, I would suggest from the scriptures we just looked at and others that it represents purity, holiness, truth and life.  Light represents the attributes of God; He is holy, pure, He is truth, and life.  

John goes on to say that “in Him there is no darkness at all.”  This speaks of God’s holiness.  Darkness throughout the scriptures represents evil, i.e., the kingdom of darkness being the kingdom of Satan.  When the scriptures speak of the world being in darkness it’s speaking of the sinful nature of the world, the blindness of the world in regards to spiritual truth.  So God being without sin, being holy and pure, He cannot tolerate sin, or have fellowship with sin.  Thus man  when he sinned was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and lost fellowship with God.

So the message from Christ states the principle that God is light and cannot have fellowship with darkness because He is without darkness, being holy.  So we can say that Christians can have a relationship with God, and yet be out of fellowship with Him because we have sin in our lives.  God cannot have fellowship with sin.  

So now John presents three ways by which Christians lose fellowship with God. If you look at the first chapter of John's letter, you will see three times he uses the phrase, “if we say”.  Verse 6, "If we say we have fellowship," Verse 8, "If we say we have no sin," and Verse 10, "If we say we have not sinned." Three times a false profession is made, but the condition that follows belies the profession. There are three false professions of man that are contrary to fellowship with God;  the man who walks in darkness, the man who denies his sin, and the man who rationalizes his sin.  

Let’s look at the first one in vs6; “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  Now the most common way of interpreting this verse is to say that to walk in darkness is to walk in the world, according to the lusts of the world, which is to walk in sin.  And that is true.   James 4:4 says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” So walking in darkness can be correlated with friendship with the enemies of God.  Hardly conducive to fellowship.

Yet there is another dimension to walking in the darkness which is another possible interpretation.  It is possible to be a Christian and yet walk in darkness by turning God off. To stop coming to a Bible teaching church, to stop reading the Word. To become attuned to the world, and out of tune towards God.  In other words, to turn off the Light.  If the Light is Truth, then to turn it off is to simply stop listening to the truth, to stop hearing the truth, and then to stop practicing the truth. The opposite of the truth is a lie.  Listening to the lie of the devil is a sure fire way of walking in darkness.  And when you start listening to a lie, you will start practicing evil and stop practicing the truth.

Now in each false profession John presents for us, he also gives us a remedy.  And in this case, the remedy is simple; rather than walking in darkness, walk in the light as He is in the light.  Walk in the truth.  Listen to the truth, practice the truth.To walk in the light is to walk according to what God reveals in the Word.  Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

And one more aspect of walking in the light, is to let the light of God’s word shine in you and reveal in you all that is darkness, to examine yourself in the light of His word, and then you will have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The second false profession that men make is to deny their sin.  Vs.8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  There is an anecdote about the late D.L. Moody which illustrates this principle.  Someone attending one of his services came up afterwards and told him that he had reached the place where he no longer sinned. Mr. Moody said, “Well, I’d like to ask your wife about that.”  

If we say we have no ability to sin at all, we are only deceiving ourselves. Others are quite aware that we are lying to and deceiving ourselves. They are not fooled, it is we who are fooled.  The first man who had a relationship with God but didn’t walk in the light may deceive others, but seldom himself. He knows that he is not living as he ought, he knows he is ignoring the truth. But this man deceives himself. He actually believes that he can no longer sin, that there is no longer any possibility of evil in him.  I’ve heard some people in that camp describe it by saying that God no longer sees their sin as sin, so therefore it isn’t sin. They are perfect and cannot sin.

This self righteousness goes by a lot of names and has found it’s way into a lot of churches and false teaching. Ironically, many call themselves “holiness” practitioners.  Some think that salvation eliminates the penalty of sin, which it does, but then think that a subsequent spiritual baptism eliminates the presence of sin, irregardless of their actions.  But whenever this self righteousness occurs, the one who makes this false claim loses immediately that fellowship which gives Christianity it’s life. He loses his power, his influence, his vitality, and his effectiveness as a Christian.

John once again gives a remedy for this broken fellowship with God.  Vs.9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Now the word confess does not necessarily mean to ask for forgiveness. Christ's work for us upon the cross has already done all that is necessary to forgive us. What God wants us to do is to look at the sin before us and call it what he calls it. That means to agree with God about it, and that is what the word confess means: Fess comes from a root which means "to say," and con means "with." "To say with" God what he says about this thing, that is confessing sin.

When we confess our sin, it says He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We are forgiven for our sins by faith in what Christ has done on the cross to atone for our sins.  There He removed the penalty of our sin.  To cleanse us is to wash us. And here Jesus cleanses us from the practice of our sin.  Jesus illustrated this washing in the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed.

Gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room, he took a basin and a towel and girded himself and set about to wash the feet of the disciples. You recall, as he came to Peter, Peter shook his head and said, "No, Lord, you will never wash my feet," (John 13:8). Jesus then said these significant words, "If I wash do not wash you, you can have no part with me.” Peter, always going overboard, said, "Lord, if that's the case, then wash me all over.” Again the Lord has to correct him. "No, Peter, he that is bathed does not need to wash again.”  That first cleansing of redemption, that coming to Christ which washes away the guilt of the past, that is "bathing all over." Jesus said he that is so bathed does not need to wash all over again, but he does need to wash his feet. This is what John is talking about -- this repeated washing of the feet. Being cleansed from traipsing in sin as we walk in this world. It is illustrated in the ancient practice of washing at a public bath, then when walking back to your home, your feet get soiled. So though you have been bathed, you need to have your feet washed. We have been made righteous by faith, but in practice we grow soiled in this world we live in.  To retain fellowship with God, we need to confess it as sin, and be cleansed.

The third false profession is found in vs.10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” This false profession is of the man who rationalizes his sin.  Once again, it results in breaking fellowship with God.  In this third case, the person is saying, "Of course, I know I can sin as a Christian. I know I need the light of the truth. But when I stop to look at my life, and examine myself, what I see is not sin. Weakness and failure perhaps, but not sin. I may have to admit that I have been weak, but I have not sinned." This what John means: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

This is the exercise of the human mind which we call rationalization, the tendency to categorize wrong so that it sounds better, and evil so that it looks good.  We redefine sin according to our definition, rather than according to God’s.  We relabel sin as something that doesn’t sound so bad. We hold our sin to a different standard. We have no problem usually seeing sin in other people, just not in ourselves. Others have prejudices; we have convictions. Others are prideful; but we have self-respect. Someone else may be lazy, but when we do not want to do something, we say we are too busy. When someone else goes ahead and acts on his own, we say he is presumptuous; when we do the same thing, we have initiative. When someone else gets angry and blows up, we say he has lost his temper; but when we do that, we are merely showing righteous indignation. And as long as we can find a nicer label we never will treat the thing like the sinful cancer that it is.  

We make  excuses for our sin  due to our circumstances. But the truth is, we do not like our circumstances.  We don”t like where God has put us. We don’t like the people or the pressures we have to live under, we don’t like the circumstances that surround us, and we refuse to accept them. That is the real problem. Therefore, we are not interested in Christ's power to live in the circumstances we find ourselves in. But Romans 14:23 says that whatever is not of faith is sin.  Therefore, when we refuse to see our sin as sin, we make God a liar and His word is not in us.  We call our sin ok, so that means God is a liar because He says sin requires death.  We are back in the darkness again, His word is not in us. We create our own standard for sin.

But thank God there is a remedy which John gives us in the second chapter.  Vs.1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  The solution is to come back to the word, the things which John has written, so that we may see sin for what it is, that you will see God’s standard for sin, that having a love for God you will not sin.  When you come to know God and love God as we should, then we won’t want to sin, to bring shame upon the name of God.  When we have fellowship with Him, we don’t have a desire to sin.  

But if we do sin, and no one on this side of heaven is free from sin, then we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  Advocate is from the Greek word “parakletos”.  It means to come alongside.  Jesus comes alongside us to help us get back up on our feet and walk with the Lord again.  He is a faithful friend who sticks closer than a brother.  He is our Helper, our Shepherd.  He walks with us, and is there to pick us up and clean us up when we fall.  

And note that John says He is Jesus Christ the righteous.  His righteousness is so expansive, so great, that it is more than enough to cover our sins.  When we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, because His righteousness is more than enough, not only for our sins, John says,  but for the sins of the whole world.  That shows us the magnitude of Christ’s righteousness.  He is God, and is eternal, the maker of life, so that His righteousness is more than equal to the sins of the world.  That is a tremendous thing, beyond our comprehension.  But it is given to us as a comfort to those who fall into sin, that God’s mercy and grace are more than sufficient to forgive even the worst of sinners, because Jesus Christ is the Righteous One who is able to atone for all the sins of the world and still have an unlimited supply left over.

Listen, God made us for fellowship with Him.  In walking with Him, in fellowship with Him, we have life more abundantly.  In fellowship with Him we have joy and peace and hope.  But Satan as the god of this world has devised a strategy to lure you back to the darkness, to cause you to turn off the light, to redefine sin, to rationalize sin.  Whatever lie he has to make he will make it.  But his strategy is always to lie.  Notice that in each of the remedies John identifies a lie as part of the problem.  In vs.6 he says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  In vs.8 he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  In vs. 10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”  That’s the progression of the lie of the devil.  We lie to others, we lie to ourselves, and then we even get to the place where we call God a liar.  How can we have fellowship with God when we live a lie?  God is light/truth, and in Him is no darkness at all.

But thanks be to God that His love for us is so great, His desire for fellowship with us is so great, that He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to restore that fellowship with Him.  We confess our sins, we are forgiven and cleansed of our sin, and we have His presence with us to help us when we sin to get back up and come back into fellowship.  But it starts with walking in the truth, the light, even as He is in the light.  When we walk with Him, we follow Him, stay close to Him.  We may not understand everything.  We may not know why we have to deal with some things, or go through some things, but we continue to walk with Him, to follow Him, to pattern our lives according to the example we see in Him.  Because He is Light, and when we walk with Him we walk in the Light.  I pray that you will walk in the Light this week.  And if you sin, you have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, confess your sins to Him that you can be restored to fellowship.  There is no other way to joy.  Don’t believe the lie.  Believe the truth and walk in it.  Walk in the truth, and you will have fellowship with God, that your joy may be complete.