“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
1 John 1:6–7
The word “fellowship” appears four times in 1 John 1 and is the key idea in the chapter, perhaps even in the epistle. “That ye also may have fellowship with us” (v. 3). “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3). “If we say that we have fellowship with him” (v. 6). “We have fellowship one with another” (v. 7).
The basic idea of “fellowship” is sharing, participation, or partaking of something or someone. Such fellowship requires commonality, something that binds the two together. Such fellowship requires affinity, something on which the two agree. The opposite of fellowship is alienation, enmity, or estrangement. In the Bible fellowship with God is the outstanding benefit of the covenant, which is our friendship/relationship with God.
The fellowship in 1 John 1 is fellowship with God and, therefore, fellowship with fellow believers. Such fellowship is enjoyed through faith and in the church, where God is worshipped, confessed, loved, and obeyed. John begins in verse 3 with the message of the apostles, which is the message of the incarnation of the Son of God. The apostles (among them John) have seen, heard, and handled Jesus Christ. That message they declare unto you, the readers. That message we receive as we read it and as we hear it preached. The purpose of that declaration of Jesus Christ is “[so that] ye also may have fellowship with us [the apostles]” (v. 3). We have fellowship with the apostles by believing and receiving the gospel that they preached. Through faith in the apostolic message, and in no other message, we have fellowship also with God: “And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3).
Contrariwise, those who reject the apostolic message, by denying the incarnation of the Son of God, by denying the atoning death of Jesus Christ, and by denying the resurrection, have no fellowship with God, no matter what they might claim.
What then is fellowship with God? How do we share in God? How do we participate (partake) of God? How do we enjoy affinity, commonality, or friendship with God? What binds us in love to God? Those questions jump out of the text. The idea seems preposterous. Shall a creature have fellowship with the infinite, almighty Creator? Shall a sinner have fellowship with the holy, righteous Judge? If we are sinners, enemies of God, estranged from God, and alienated from God, as the Bible so clearly teaches, how do we have fellowship with him?
Clearly, we cannot accomplish this. We cannot share anything with God, but he shares with us. God is the overflowing fountain of all blessedness: he bestows his blessings upon us, so that we taste and see that he is good. First, God sets his love upon us before the foundation of the world: God determines in his decree of election to have fellowship with us, something that we could never have imagined or conceived in our minds or hearts. Second, God’s Son partakes of our humanity—body and soul—in order to come close to us. As John writes, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Third, God’s Son sacrifices his life on the cross, suffering the penalty that our sins deserved, and delivering us from the power of the devil. Fourth, by virtue of Christ’s resurrection, God bestows upon us the gift of life. That life is everlasting (eternal) life, which is life with God. We receive that life in regeneration, so that we partake of or share in the resurrection life of the Son of God. Fifth, by virtue of the righteousness of Christ given to us, by virtue of the pardon of sins, and by virtue of the life of Christ, we have commonality and affinity. The Spirit of Jesus Christ unites us to God by working faith in us.
Therefore, Christ causes us to have fellowship with God. Christ brings us into communion with God. Christ shares the riches of God with us. Christ causes us to taste, see, and know that God is good. Christ gives us a clean conscience. Christ causes us to experience blessed fellowship with God. That is a wonder: “And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3).
This fellowship with God leads to fellowship with other believers. In fact, fellowship with God cannot be enjoyed in isolation. When God saves us, he brings us into communion with the saints. He does not have us live in isolation from the saints. That’s John’s point in verse 7: “We have fellowship one with another.” In fact, one who refuses to have fellowship with his fellow Christians, which the Bible calls “hatred,” shows by his attitude and behavior that he has no fellowship with God. That is one of the major themes of this epistle (1 John 2:9–11; 3:14; 4:20). Life in enmity, estranged from, and alienated from other Christians is not a life compatible with fellowship with God. If we have fellowship with God, we have fellowship with others who also have fellowship with God. Notice the second person pronouns: “we” and “our.” John does not write “I” and “me.” “If we say…If we walk…we have…”
What, then, does fellowship with other Christians look like? It is more than just “hanging out” with them from time to time. It is more than chatting after the worship service. Fellowship is more than just socializing. You can socialize with an unbeliever, but you can fellowship only with a Christian. Fellowship is the sharing of the Christian life: it requires a common confession of the truth, a common faith in Jesus Christ, a common Spirit, a common commitment to holiness, a common zeal for worship, a common love and care for the other person. Fellowship includes the seeking of the welfare, especially the spiritual welfare, of the other, the bearing of one another’s burdens, and the sharing of one another’s joys. Fellowship even includes the giving of one’s life for the sake of the brother.
To be continued.