This sermon is number 2 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 2
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now I want you to turn with me to the book of 1 John. I would encourage you, if you haven't been at our introductory evening, that you would get the tape recording tonight - you can get it on CD or on audio cassette - it just gives you...I spent the whole night giving a background to the theme and the context of such a book like this. I'll not be going over all of that ground tonight, so it's important that you get that knowledge, though I will be touching on some of the relevant information. But you'll be glad to know that we haven't dealt with any of the verses in any depth, and so we're looking at the first four verses specifically this evening from chapter 1 under the title 'Authentic Christianity' - authentic Christianity.
Verse 1 - do note that there is no normal introduction that is given to a New Testament epistle or letter, John just cuts to the chase and gets right to the point: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full".
The reason why John wrote this epistle, as we saw in our introductory week, is found in the last chapter and verse 13 - let's just remind ourselves of that: 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God'. Now we were recapping that in John's gospel he wrote that particular narrative of the life of the Lord Jesus in order that people should believe in the Son of God. But now, as he comes to his first epistle, he is writing to those who have believed in the Son of God, but he is giving them an assurance - because, for a reason which we will touch on again this evening, they lacked assurance. Though they had trusted in Christ, they had not that particular assurance that every child of God should seek that brings joy, that brings the satisfaction, the reassurance of the faith of Jesus Christ.
Now why was it that they lacked such assurance? Well, we found out in our first week that there was a sect within the church at Ephesus who considered themselves as an intellectual and spiritual elite. They were, in fact, claiming superior anointing from the Spirit of God, they believed that they had a knowledge and a revelation from God that was almost an improvement on the gospel message that had been revealed to the apostles and passed down through the church to this stage in its history. We have a hint in chapter 2 and verse 19 that this sect broke away, they caused schism within the church in Ephesus. So there's a group of believers that John is writing to - and of course this is a circular letter, but I believe that primarily it was written out of the situation in Ephesus - those who were left behind after this split, those who were confused, shaken, made uncertain because of those who said: 'We have an anointing that you don't have, we have a knowledge and a revelation that you don't have!', and they were starting, perhaps, to ask themselves 'Well, what if they're right? What if there's something in this anointing and knowledge that they have that we don't?'.
So John comes, and if this epistle teaches anything, it teaches Christian certainties. He gives the certainty that these Christians, because they had believed in the Son of God, could know that they have eternal life. In order to bolster their assurance, we saw in our introductory week that he gave them three litmus tests - how they could know that they were the children of God. The first was the doctrinal test, which specifically we'll take up tonight in most of our time, which related primarily to our view of who the Lord Jesus Christ is. That is the test of Christian authenticity. Then the second test was moral, and we find this right throughout this book, and we'll spend much time on this, that you can't call yourself a Christian - even if you believe correct doctrine - and not live a sanctified and holy life. Then the third test was social, because a holy life is not just all about you and how you live, but it's also entails how you react and relate towards others - particularly your brethren and sisters in Christ, and even those outside in the world. So there was a social test as well as a moral and a doctrinal one.
As I said, the first four verses of chapter 1 really comprise of this doctrinal test, part of it, that we will find within this epistle. You remember that I told you in our first week of introduction that the group that broke away from this church in Ephesus most likely were a group called the Docetists. It was an early form of Gnosticism. Basically they believed that the Lord Jesus just appeared to be a man, He was not really human flesh and blood like you and me, but He only appeared to be such in a sort of phantom or ghostlike manner - He wasn't truly human, so therefore there is no doctrine of the incarnation any more according to these Docetists and Gnostics. That has great ramifications. It means that when the Lord Jesus lived His life before men on this earth, He was really playacting, He wasn't a genuine man. He didn't hunger, He didn't thirst, He wasn't tired, He wasn't really tempted in a human sense. The Word, therefore, did not become flesh, as John says in chapter 1 of his gospel and verse 14, and tabernacle among us. It contradicts directly the teaching of Colossians 2 and verse 9, that the fullness of the Godhead dwells completely, bodily in our Lord Jesus Christ. But here was the fundamental problem in relation to our salvation: obviously incarnation. If He wasn't incarnate He could not go to the cross, and there's a problem regarding salvation and substitution. If He didn't become a man, He couldn't become men's substitute, a sacrifice for all mankind on behalf of man and before God. So this doctrine of the Docetists and the Gnostics had fundamental ramifications for Christian doctrine. They did not think rightly of Christ, and so the whole of Christian faith was at stake. They had created a Christ of their own making.
This is why John was so strongly and vehemently opposed to the teaching of these false teachers and false prophets. Because, as far as he was concerned, and remember he is inspired by the Holy Spirit, this was a complete departure from historical Christian faith. You remember that verse in Jude, verse 3, where he encouraged them to earnestly contend - or defend - for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints...a completed faith that does not need to be added to, and certainly should not be taken away from. Now this is terribly important: we live today, in the 21st century, in a culture that is eager for religious experience. I think that in our post-modern age we have evolved out of a sceptical society, to a large extent - there aren't as many atheists or agnostics about today, but there are a lot of people around who are yearning for a particular religious experience, and it doesn't have to be Christian necessarily. You see it in the New Age movement, you see it in ecumenism: it doesn't really matter the particular religious label that you take, as long as it seems to work for you! It is a religious pragmatism, it throws out the idea of truth, right and wrong, and accepts that, 'As long as it does something for me, gives me a buzz, gets me to my desired end and goal - well, I'll embrace it, it doesn't really matter whether it's the truth or not'.
Let me illustrate this to you: George Barna, in one of his polls in the United States, and I take it from there because not only is it one of the greatest 'Christian' countries in the world, so-called, but it's the only one I could really get my hands on figures for. The Barna poll reports that in the US over 80% of people believe in God or gods. It is not an atheistic country by any means. When the folk were asked in this poll in the States if all of the world's religions essentially prayed to the same God, 64% of the adults said 'Yes, they did'. The next statistic is staggering, because the figure among evangelicals in the United States that said everyone prays to the same God was 46%. Among those who labelled themselves as 'born again', as opposed to 'evangelical' - you can make the distinction as you like there! - 48% said that they all prayed to the same God. Among the regular church attendees that may not have considered themselves evangelical, 62% within American churches believed that everyone in the world, whatever religion they belonged to, prayed to the same God in heaven. That means that within the pews of America, two thirds of churchgoing people believed that the exclusive character of the Christian message was now obsolete! Indeed, with those who call themselves evangelicals, half of them believed the same.
So the question needs to be asked today, as it was asked in John's day, in the light of so much confusion: what are the essentials of Christian doctrine? What makes you a Christian? What makes a church Christian? Not only what are the essentials of doctrine, but what are the essentials of fellowship? How can we join with other people? On what grounds? Now, especially in the light of ecumenism, one commentator who I'll share some excerpts from this evening shares the dangers that he encountered in interfaith fellowship. He was there, he fellowshipped with other religions on a low-key level, not, perhaps, to the extent of the fellowship that we would have tonight, but he operated and cooperated with them in various ways, even if it was on a social level. He says this, and I quote him: 'Trying to build unity, particularly for commendable social programs, I recall attending one such attempt in Illinois. This was a meeting of Jewish rabbis and Christian pastors who, for the sake of Chicago's northern suburbs, agreed that a united front was needed against crime and drugs. As the discussion progressed, all sides pressed for' - he quotes - ''common theological denominators' that would be the basis of prayer and worship and ethics. It goes without saying', he says, 'that the Christological emphasis had to be set aside'. Christ, that's what Christological means, the study and understanding of Christ had to be set aside.
Now this writer also expresses how at one stage in his life he was a navy chaplain in the United States Navy. He says from one experience in that career, I quote: 'I recall leading a prayer at an Officer's School near the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island. I was reminded gently by the commanding officer not to include anything offensive, such as any reference to Jesus Christ'. He says: 'Imagine wearing a cross on your collar device in the military, and not referring to Jesus'. Now whether we care to admit it or not today, that is the attitude of the world, largely speaking a religious world, and it is even an attitude that is starting to invade the church - a pragmatism. In fact, the same writer goes on to say of a specifically Christian situation in a broad sense: 'A friend of mine once told a story about Harvard Divinity School', which hundreds of years ago used to be a very reputable Divinity School, 'upon learning that one of her professors was an agnostic, she inquired about the range of theological diversity on the seminary campus. 'Anything goes', came the reply. My friend pursued the point, 'You mean there's no belief or absence of belief that would keep one from being hired to teach theology?'. 'Only one', came the clarification, 'the refusal to endorse women's ordination''. That was the only account on which someone would be refused to be a Professor of Divinity in Harvard Divinity School. It didn't matter what you thought of Christ, what you thought of the Gospel, all that seemed to matter was what you thought in endorsement of women's ordination!
The same confusion, perhaps not to such an extent, exists among evangelicalism today. The Evangelical Theological Society is an academic fellowship of hundreds of evangelical professors and pastors, and it has only one doctrinal affirmation for every member to sign, and it is the inerrancy of Scripture. The Mormons could write a signature beside the inerrancy of Scripture! That tells you nothing! What John tells us is that there is no Christianity if Christ is not at the centre of it. They, as we, were trying to discern: what are the essentials for Christian identity? Indeed, what are the grounds for Christian unity and Christian fellowship? So he gives us both the historical and the experimental aspects of what Christianity is.
So let's answer that question this evening: what is Christianity? The first answer is found in verse 1, and it is the life that the apostle John and the rest of the apostles encountered: the life encountered. 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life'. What John is giving to us now is the objective, foundational, historical basis for the faith that we have. Something objective is something that you can see, something that you can handle, something that is solid. So he tells us: from the beginning, from the beginning! What a statement! It's very reminiscent of how he began his gospel in chapter 1 and verse 1: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God'. It's even reminiscent of how the Bible itself begins in Genesis 1 and verse 1: 'In the beginning was God'. What John is seeking to do here is lay down a foundation: this is historical, this faith that we have is founded in the Christ of God who came before the world - and he records the account in John 1. But it's also more than that: it is a faith that is rooted and grounded right back to creation, Genesis 1 verse 1, and this is none other than the pre-existent Christ that we preach. This is the One who was with God before the world was.
This is so important that we maintain and realise that we believe in the pre-existent Christ. The Gnostics did not believe this, the Docetists believed that the Spirit of Christ fell upon Him, the man Jesus, when He was baptised in the Jordan, and it left Him before He was crucified on the cross - but the man Jesus who was born into Bethlehem wasn't really that Christ in and of Himself. But He is! He was the pre-existent Son of God. This is important to realise, that our faith is not just an historic faith, our faith is an eternal faith in the eternal pre-existent Son of God. You see the Mormons would say: 'We believe the Bible, but we believe our Mormon Bible too - it's a new revelation added to the Bible', like the Docetists and the Gnostics. But we have to reply to the Mormons: 'I don't need your new book, for I have a book that gives me the revelation of God from the beginning, and tells me that His complete revelation is perfected in Jesus Christ'. Mary Baker Eddy might say to us: 'Well, you need the book 'Science and Health' to complete your understanding of God and how to get to Him'. Pastor Russell and Judge Rutherford of the Jehovah's Witnesses would say you need the books 'Studies in Scriptures', but we say: 'No, we don't need any of those, because our faith goes back to the beginning - that which God gave at the first, the One who was with God before the world began. Our faith is founded on the pre-existent One!'.
You see, what John is saying here is that the foundation of all true fellowship with God and with any other people is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and these first two verses are telling us of His eternity. Not only His eternity, but the reality of His incarnation as He came from eternity into time to be our Saviour. He articulates it in such a graphic way by saying: 'We heard Him' - the 'we' being the apostles - 'We saw Him with our eyes, we even handled Him with our hands, this Word of life. We say this because He was not an illusion, He was not a phantom, He was not a ghost, He was not a figment of our imagination, He was real! He came in flesh and blood as a man. That one who came in flesh and blood was from the beginning', and as verse two says, 'He was with the Father'. Now the Greek phrase there is 'proston patera' (sp?), which means He was in closest face-to-face fellowship with the Father, that fellowship that existed in the eternal mystery of the Godhead. This is God the Son, and He became flesh! What John is telling us is that this is a central tenet of what Christianity is, and if you don't believe in it - either the deity of the Saviour or His humanity - you cannot call yourself a Christian. The life was encountered, it was revealed.
Then secondly, as we look into verse 2, we read: 'For the life was manifested', a favourite word of John's, 'and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us'. The life was manifested. The New Age movement, even the Baha'i Faith, and many of the cults follow the heretic of John's day, Cerinthus, in the view that the divine Christ is a sort of spiritual entity that just came upon the man Jesus at His baptism and left Him before the cross. What they do is, they take away this truth, they take away the truth that this life, this Son of God, this Word of God, this Christ was actually manifested in the flesh. The whole of Christianity stands or falls on that truth - it falls to pieces without it. Christ's teachings mean nothing, they fall to the ground and rot, if he was not the Son of God in human flesh. His miracles mean nothing, they are not signs, they do not point to anything. His death was not for sinners, it did not atone for your sins. His precious blood was worthless, because on the cross He was not the Son of God nor the Christ of God. His resurrection didn't happen, His promises to raise the dead are all empty and futile, and therefore we will not rise from the dead, we will rot too. Our sins cannot be forgiven, and He is not coming to judge the world and bring His own to glory. Everything in Christianity rests on the person of Christ, and who He claimed to be.
May I say, that's where it differentiates greatly and fundamentally with other religions in our world. What I mean by that is: it doesn't really matter who Buddha was, Buddhists follow his teaching. In a sense, it doesn't really matter who Mohammed was to the Moslems, other than the fact that he was a prophet, what matters is his teaching and what he revealed. We could go through all the religions of the world, but Christianity is different because it rests fundamentally on who Christ was, and who He said He was. It rests on the premise of Him being God. Confucius and Buddha and Mohammed never claimed to be God in the flesh, but He did! So Christianity as a faith is more than a conglomerate of ideas, it's more than a philosophy, the greatest miracle of Christianity is Christ, and if we don't have Him we don't have anything!
An anonymous writer put it like this: 'I am glad as a Christian that my knowledge of eternal life is not built on the speculations of philosophers or even theologians, but on the unimpeachable testimony of those who heard, saw, gazed at and handled Him in whom it was incarnate'. What John brings to us in verse 2 is not only was that life encountered, but he had a personal experience of it. This life was experienced, he saw it, he heard it, he handled it - it was manifested, it was revealed. In other words, what John is saying, if you look at this verse, he is saying: 'We are not deceived, we saw Him!'. The word for 'saw' there is literally 'We gazed intently upon Him'. You remember when Peter went in and examined the clothes of the Lord Jesus after He had risen again, the grave clothes? There's a word for 'look' there, and it means he 'examined it', he interrogated those pieces of cloth. This is the same word, he gazed intently upon Christ when He was on the earth. We know that of John, he was the beloved disciple, he was the one who was the last at the cross, he was the one whose head was on His bosom on the night in which He was betrayed, he was the one who intently studied the Lord Jesus Christ. He is saying: 'We know that He was a real man, and His vision, experientially, has filled our souls'. Do you know what he's saying? 'This is no second-hand religious experience that has been inherited from someone else. This is not something that we just read in a book and have adopted, we know that this is real! This Christ of God is not a phantom, He is not a ghost, He is real!'.
Now let me add to the fact that this life came in the flesh, the incarnation, He was the Son of God, it was encountered and experienced - this book intrinsically develops for us the doctrine of the Trinity. Because we see that it says in verse 2 that this life 'was with the Father' before the world began. You see, if you believe in the doctrine of the Son of God, you must believe in the doctrine of the Father and in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in chapter 2 of this book, if you'll look at it for a moment, in verse 23 John categorically states: 'Whosoever denies the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledges the Son hath the Father also', and that is implied. So what we have here is the doctrine of the Trinity. No matter what somersaults exegetically and expositionally you try to do to say that there is no Triune Godhead, how can you explain these words? 'This life was with the Father' - with Him - 'before the world began'. You must, therefore, accept the Trinity to be considered as Christian. Indeed, one teacher of doctrine said this: 'Try to explain the Trinity and you may lose your mind, but try to explain it away and you will lose your soul'. That is what John is saying: the truth of the Father and of the Son are intrinsic to this Christian doctrine, and you must believe in both. No person of the Trinity is expendable in our faith.
This is serious stuff, because not only are there those like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses who deny that the Lord Jesus was actually God the Son, there are others who believe that He was not God in human flesh like the Docetists and the Gnostics, like the Baha'i and the New Age Movement; but there are the Oneness teachers, and they teach that there is no Father and Spirit except Jesus who manifests Himself in three different ways at three different times. People have been astounded that I have pronounced that this is not a Christian doctrine, neither should churches like that be considered Christian - but this is what John says! I stand foursquare on the word of God.
Some will say: 'Well, are we not at a disadvantage? The apostles saw Him, they heard Him, they touched Him, they handled Him; but we have not'. Don't misunderstand what John is saying here. John is saying that the One that brought us this life, the Author of our faith, He was a physical reality, and the foundation of our faith is a historical fact - but that does not exonerate us from exercising personal faith in Him. Even the apostles who saw Him and heard Him and handled Him, they had to do that to be saved. Indeed, that is what he reveals in this book in chapter 5 and verse 1: 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' - 'whosoever believeth', faith must be exercised. Whilst the apostles were greatly privileged, we do not contradict that fact, as in Matthew 13 the Lord Jesus reminded them, when He said to them: 'But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them'. They were awesomely privileged, and their witness gives the witness to the authenticity of Christian faith today in the 21st-century - but it doesn't at all diminish from our personal experience of faith and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. As Peter said in chapter 1 of his first epistle and verse 8, 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory', because the reality of the physical historical fact of the coming in flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ is attested by the apostles, and is of such authenticity that when we put our faith and trust in it, it will save us effectually.
This life was encountered and it was experienced, and it still can be experienced by us in personal salvation. Can I ask you: have you experienced it? Oh, you might have the doctrines all right up here, that's good, but it's not good enough. Judas had the doctrines, but he never had an encounter with Christ in such a manner where he ventured his all upon Him, and trusted Him and repented of his sins. Have you? Authentic Christianity, you see, is not just an historical base, but it has to have an experiential personal identity with Christ.
Then thirdly, in verses 3 and 4 we have the life expressed. Not just encountered and experienced, but expressed. In verse 3 he says: 'That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ'. 'Declare we unto you' - that's a Christian responsibility! Do you do it? Do you declare your faith? Do you share it with others? But the question begs: what is it to share our faith with others? Well, it is to share, obviously, the truth of who Jesus Christ is - but it's also not just to share the historical, but to share the experiential, to express what He has done for us, the experience of personal salvation in our lives! That's terribly important, because although the apostles are the historical witnesses of the coming of our Lord Jesus in the flesh, we are also witnesses. Of course, to be an apostle you had to witness the resurrection, and all of them did - but we are witnesses. I think I've told you this before, perhaps around the Lord's Table, that Lloyd-Jones on one occasion in his book 'Preachers and Preaching' expressed how a preacher is not to be simply an advocate. An advocate is someone who stands and represents another, and looks for evidence and then presents it, historical evidence. But an advocate, or a lawyer, a barrister has not been there at the events, whereas a witness is the evidence - and that's what an evangelical preacher ought to be! That's what a Christian is: a witness! They're evidence in themselves, and there is a sense in which - though it is not physical - we ourselves have touched and seen and known this Word of life. That's what he means, I believe, in a sense, when he says: 'Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ'.
The Gnostics wanted to establish a fellowship of intellectually elite pilgrims, but the contrast is of the apostles: they wanted to declare, to proclaim to the world what they had received from God. They were not an elitist club and group, there was nothing hidden about this truth that God had revealed through Christ. This was not a secret knowledge to a select few, this was something that was declared to the world, that all men could believe if they would have faith in the Son of God who came into the world, the whole world! This must be believed, the message that is declared. It is an everyday experience.
So we have looked at the objective, the fact that historically Christ came, John saw Him, touched Him, handled Him, the life was manifest. But now we're coming to the subjective, and these are the evidences of authentic Christianity - both the historical base and the subjective experience. Everyday experience! One writer has said: 'This is a rebuke to much contemporary evangelicalism, which divorces a right theology from a Christ-like life'. The sad fact of the matter is, there are many churches that are Bible-believing today and fundamentalist, and they are evangelical, but they do not know what it is to be like Christ, to live like Christ, to talk like Christ, to love like Christ! Sadly, often they hold truth with great arrogance and pride.
Do you have an everyday experience that is authentic Christianity? A man who receives a letter from an absent friend is probably happy and chuffed to get it, but he will be far happier when he actually meets and enjoys the immediate company of his friend. You can know who He is, the Son of God, the Christ of God, in human flesh for us, and all the doctrines of the atonement and the resurrection and His second coming - but you may have an absence in your life of fellowship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ; and that is what Christianity is all about.
Can I ask you when the last time was that you had fellowship with the Father and with the Son? This is the subjective experience that authenticates the Christian Gospel. Now he communicates it in two ways. This subjective experience is manifest through first of all fellowship, that's what he says at the end of verse 3: 'our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ'. This word in the Greek language for 'fellowship' is 'koinonia', 'koinonia', it literally means 'to have in common'. It was used in classical Greek language as a favourite expression for the marriage relationship, the most intimate bond between human beings - 'to have in common'. Yet it is used very appropriately here as a description of the fellowship that not only we have with the Father and with the Son, but ultimately the fellowship that will derive from divine fellowship towards others who are in Christ also. Isn't that remarkable? It's one of the deepest expressions of human fellowship that there can be.
Let me say this: here we're getting at the base, not only for what is Christian doctrine and what makes a person an authentic Christian, but we're now seeing the grounds for fellowship and unity within the Christian church - it can only be with those who are authentically Christian, those who hold to the Christian doctrine of who Christ is and what He has done. But what John is saying here is that fellowship with one another is only derived from fellowship with God and fellowship with His Son. In other words, tradition cannot provide a basis for church unity, even common experience cannot provide a basis if it is unrelated and divorced from the historical reality of who Christ was. Sadly today what is so notorious as the grounds for Christian fellowship, and even ecumenical fellowship across all religions, is subjective experience and standards. I'll give you one example: the Roman Catholic Church has its own brand of the charismatic movement that use the same language as evangelicals and have the same experiences. They speak in tongues, they baptise - so-called - in the Holy Spirit, they do all sorts of things - but they're not saved. One or two of them may be, I'm not limiting the grace of God, only God knows those that are His, but the fact of the matter is: when you probe into the meanings behind the evangelical garb that they use, we find that there is classical ancient Roman Catholic theology behind it all.
You see, Christian unity can only be upon the truth of the Scriptures. That can be the only authentic and adequate foundation for fellowship, and we must fellowship on those grounds alone - fellowshipping only with those whose fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, and that means as the Father is portrayed in the Scriptures and as the Son is also. But let me also add to that: that means that we ought not to add to those grounds of fellowship. A man who has fellowship with the Father and with the Son, I can have fellowship with. As the little chorus put it:
'I don't care what church you belong to,
Just so long as for Calvary you stand.
If your sins have been washed in the fountain,
You're my brother, so give me your hand'
That's the Christian fellowship we have here in John. But isn't it remarkable when we think for a moment that as sinners this word 'koinonia' is used toward us, we who have nothing in common with a holy God! We who are the exact antithesis morally and spiritually of all that He is in His divine being - sure we have hardly anything in common, some of us, with each other! But this salvation that we enjoy, this commonality has come because God in His grace has sent Christ into the world to have something in common with us - what was that? His flesh! Koinonia, fellowship can only be upon this fact: that Christ came in the flesh for us, and in that flesh He went to the cross and bore our sin in that body upon it. Because of that, when we trust in Him, what does Peter say in his epistle? 'We become partakers of the divine nature', the new birth, and we are given the very nature of God. Do you see that word 'partakers 'that Peter uses? It is from the same Greek root that is translated 'fellowship', 'koinonia'.
I hear some evangelicals, they say: 'I think the church lacks in fellowship, you know'. So they get a picnic together, or they go for a walk in a forest park, or they go bowling or something like that - not that there's anything wrong with those things, there's not, and it's good for Christians to do recreational things together - but that's not fellowship. Fellowship is something deep, something spiritual. Sure, doesn't God tell us to love our enemies? There's nothing in love or friendship that is spoken of here, this is a deep fellowship with each other and with God upon the knowledge of the Gospel of who the Father is and who the Son is, and what we have together.
Then the second subjective experience that authenticates Christianity is not just fellowship, but joy. In verse 4 we find it: 'And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full'. If fellowship is the answer to spiritual loneliness, joy is the answer to spiritual emptiness. Didn't the Psalmist say in Psalm 16: 'In thy presence is fullness of joy'. Sin has caused unhappiness right throughout all of mankind, indeed in Hebrews 11:25 regarding Moses we see that pleasures only last for a season when they are sinful ones, but God's pleasures are for evermore - at Thy right hand there are pleasures forever! A life that is real, listen to this, a life that is based on the authentic historical facts of Christianity - who Christ was as God's Son, coming in the flesh to us; authenticated by the fellowship among God's people, and daily experiential fellowship with the Father and with the Son - it'll be a life that is permeated by joy. Is that your experience? Maybe that joy is not there, even though you believe everything about Him - that's right, because you're not fellowshipping with Him.
The night before the crucifixion the Lord Jesus said in John 16: 'Your joy no man taketh from you'. Remember the wee chorus years ago: 'The world didn't give it to you, the world can't take it away'? I know that some of you are going through indescribable circumstances at this moment in time, but the fact of the matter is that if you can lay hold upon the Christ of God and have fellowship with Him and have fellowship with His Father, you will have a joy that transcends even the direst and darkest of life's circumstances - for this is a fellowship of life, the life that was eternal and is eternal, a life which is historical, a life which is personal! You can have it and you can enjoy it! Praise God that we stand on historical fact tonight of who Christ is, and we must never lose it; but equally so let's never lose the authenticity of the experiential nature of Christianity that is both fellowship with one another and all those in Christ, and joy shed abroad in our hearts.
It was old Karl Marx that wrote: 'The first requisite for the people's happiness is the abolition of religion'. The truth of God is: the first and only requisite for the happiness of people is that Word that was with the Father from the beginning, which they heard, which they saw, which they handled with their hands, and which they have declared unto us, and which we have embraced by faith. The fellowship that we enjoy with Him and each other is in that One, and what a joy it brings! Hallelujah! The truth is Christ, He is Christianity, He is our faith!
Our Father, we thank You that our fellowship is with You and with Jesus Christ Your Son, that One who came to this scene veiled in the likeness of our sinful flesh, apart from sin. As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, so He likewise partook of the same that He might die, and die for us. Thank You, Lord, that He rose again, and He could stand before doubting Thomas and say: 'Thrust your hand into my side, look upon me. Behold, a spirit has not flesh and bones as ye see me have'. He is the human Christ, but then we witness Thomas as he falls at His feet and declares: 'My Lord and my God!'. We know that the Son of God has come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ, this is the true God and eternal life, in whose name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Authentic Christianity" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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