An Outline for Fellowship
3rd Sun. of Easter (B)
1 John 1:1 - 2:2
1That 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. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our[a] joy complete.5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But 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, purifies us from all[b] sin.
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[c] the sins of the whole world.
It still is very recent and fresh how just brief weeks ago during the Lenten season our churches reviewed all the incredible suffering endured by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, during His Holy Passion and on Calvary’s Cross. He was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and deserted by His other followers. On through an entire night He was forced to stand and be falsely accused and unfairly judged before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. He was roughly beaten and mocked, whipped and tortured by Jewish and Roman soldiers alike. He was nailed to the Cross where He bore the weight of God’s anger against the sins of the entire world. Church attendees again heard of our Lord’s committed Love continually being expressed while He experienced mental and emotional and physical and spiritual torment and hurt to which nothing can be compared. It all culminated, though, with the joy of Good Friday’s payment of sin and defeat of Satan and Easter’s victory over death itself. The wondrous announcement that “He Is Risen” made hearts race and soar, put heartfelt songs of praise on people’s lips, and even tears gleaming in some eyes! Jesus Christ by sacrificially earning forgiveness put us back into a personal relationship with God that had been destroyed by sin.
The Bible’s word is “KOINONIA,” which means fellowship, communion, being ONE with God again. We call it fellowship when we hold potlucks and social gatherings together, but the real thing is so much more, involving eternal life in the Light of God Himself, which is His gift and Grace to us! The Apostle John, our Lord’s closest disciple and eyewitness of both His humanity and glory, and suffering and rising, wanted for US to understand and have and keep hold of this precious “fellowship.” The Text he wrote explains some conditions in which oneness with God does not exist (much as we might like to believe it does), but John’s writing also outlines several items that characterize where such all-important fellowship does both exist and thrive. John is uniquely qualified to show us how we can be sure we’re close to God, and not just hope or falsely think so.
Our Theme, therefore is: AN OUTLINE FOR FELLOWSHIP
I. Ways It is NOT Experienced & II. Ways It IS Exercised and Manifest
In the first place, unity with God does not exist in the hearts and lives of those who claim to have it, yet “walk in darkness.” As the Text says, Verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the Truth.” Deliberate sin and fellowship with God are mutually exclusive! Playing catch with my brother with a hardball once as a youngster, dusk came and it got darker and darker. Pretending not to hear the calls to come in, we kept imagining ourselves as Yogi Berra and Roger Maris and other Baseball stars, while it got harder and harder to see the ball. Next thing I knew was “Bam in the nose,” and I knew I deserved it. Sin’s darkness can creep in around us and suddenly have us caught, but in any case it’s actually always an actively rebellious warfare against the right that we full well know God wants, and therefore against Him!
How can anyone say that he or she is close to God while fighting Him? How often have you seen a toddler at a Mall just innocently get separated from a parent compared to all the times you see children stubbornly stay at a certain toy shelf or intentionally run away from an exasperated Mom? It’s darkness to claim that you can commune with God in nature, which is created material of which we also are made, while ignoring God’s Word and Sacraments where HE states we are brought into communion with Him. St. Paul warns Christians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11),” and we should be quite familiar with his list of works of the flesh which are the same: “Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like (Gal. 5:19b-21a).”
Secondly, the Text Verses 8 & 10 go even deeper than the idea of just claiming fellowship while knowingly transgressing God’s Law and will, though: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us.” “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” God isn’t fooled by our blame-shifting and excusing of ourselves, stubbornly holding that things we do are not sin while He clearly says they are. We DO carry adulterous lusts in our hearts; we DO covet what the Joneses have and to win the lottery; we DO resent and want hurtful revenge to fall on others but to escape it ourselves. We DON’T always heed God’s will about marriage and divorce; we DON’T hold God above all else; we DON’T give our best always to Mission and Evangelism. Yet we like to think we ourselves are on OK terms with God and assert that: I didn’t do it, he did. It’s not my fault, it’s yours. It’s my parent’s fault. It’s the unfair way I was raised. It’s the hard job I have and the hours I work. It’s the bad breaks I got... and on and on we could go blaming everyone and everything else, denying our own responsibility and participation in sin! It’s a WALL between us and God and others. It’s a CANCER that slowly eats into more and more of our lives. It’s a POISON, sin is, which destroys relationships, ruins attitudes, causes bitterness and works death. God’s Law, like a mirror, reflects that such evil is at work in us and it does not lie. He can’t be mocked about it, for “whatever a man sows, that will he also reap (Gal. 6:7).”
We all have done the things that destroy our union with God, and we would be stuck without any fellowship (no matter how strongly we might assert having it), if not for these following explicit instructions for having and keeping hold of it...
As Christian believers made the Journey through Lent to Easter this year, there may have been times that some could imagine almost having personally been there watching Christ’s experience as one of His friends because of Scripture’s eyewitness descriptions. John wrote in Verses 1-3 and 7: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life - the Life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the Eternal Life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” “…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.”
So first, “Fellowship with God” is something that began outside ourselves and was brought and reported to us as the Apostles first received it themselves. As we (by faith) receive and walk in the Light of their proclamation, we begin the experience of closeness to God. Not by private musings or any of the world’s multitude of brands of self-seeking and struggling efforts to get near Him, but in His revelation to us of the Light and Love shown by Jesus Christ in His Death and Resurrection. We’re already brought so close by that, in fact, that the “Blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin.” Enoch is a man who walked with God by faith, we’re told (Gen 5:24), and was taken by God into glory. For us, too, by Grace through faith in Christ and His works on our behalf as we’ve been taught, is guaranteed our own coming so close as to be face-to-Face with God in glory!
The next step, and for an ongoing joining with God, is Verse 9’s familiar: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Unconfessed sin, a Pastor once said, is like having an infection in your foot and refusing to take off your shoe so the Doctor can treat it. Fellowship with God is not maintained by ever holding back from Him what’s hurting and destroying us - our own sin. The word “confess” here means literally to “speak the same”; in other words to own up and agree with God’s Law and Truth that convicts us that we DO engage in sin. It’s helpful to also understand that the verb tense is one of continuing action, so that in our hearts there needs to always be happening this agreement that God’s Law truthfully exposes us for what we are - sinners! A good picture of such a heart is the ancient King David’s yearning: “Purge me… Wash me… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me(Ps. 51)”
Then, not by our doing, but it’s God’s faithful Grace that is with us! Fishing and playing golf (while not in themselves being sins) don’t move us close, but forgiveness and fellowship are certain because God simply said so and promised it through our hearts’ constant humility and acknowledgment before Him! John wrote in Chapter 2 (Verses 1-2a): “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the Expiation for our sins...” Everything said up to this point is (thirdly) summarized in the Advocacy and Expiation of Jesus Christ. Do you want to have the comfort of really knowing the certainty of being close to God?! It’s that you have a legal Defender to whom you can turn and who Himself pleads your case with God, Jesus Christ the Righteous (One). It’s yourself being able to say to God that Jesus paid in Blood for your sin, to turn God’s wrath away from you! He rose again as God’s own evidence that His payment counts for you, too, along with the rest of the world; for every sin and every sinner! Christ’s own Oneness with God was severed and cut off at the Cross to bind you to God!
We can get so side-tracked from God’s agenda for us, yet convince ourselves that He’s a sympathetic supporter in things that are our own special concerns and which ultimately involve our selfish wills. We want to think He’s close in spite of our hedging against His will for us. But closeness doesn’t come through our vainly imagining it or deceiving ourselves concerning His Truth about sin. Fellowship is exercised and manifest by receiving in faith the reports of the Apostles concerning Jesus in Scripture, by ever humbly acknowledging that God’s Law does indict us, and by holding up Jesus Christ as the Only One who can turn away the wrath that God truly has against sin. That’s what takes place in public worship week-by-week, because that’s where God’s Word says “Fellowship” with Him IS! That’s how it’s also maintained privately in our hearts and homes day-by-day and moment-by-moment, confessing our sin, and learning of and confessing Jesus. What’s good and necessary for us is also good and necessary for the whole world; to turn the “i” in sin regarding all people to the “o” in God’s SON for them. For us to “walk in the Light” includes our working for God’s agenda to bring Christ’s Death and Resurrection to bear with them as well as ourselves. We sin when we “do our own thing” and not His, because Jesus is also the expiation for the sins of the whole world!