Fellowship Conditions
Tim Temple

Introduction

One of the great experiences of life is to be in the company with people we love and we know love us, isn't it? For most people, that is the experience early in life of the bonds of being with our siblings and parents in family life. Later, it may be the experience of being on a sports team with others who are committed to the same goals and accomplishments. Still later, it is the experience of a young engaged or married couple who dream big dreams of the future and of young parents who share the joys and the sorrows and sometimes the sheer terror of raising a family together. Later still, it is the experience of many who are involved in a business with employers or partners who share the vision and goals for the future of their enterprise. There are many ways in life in which we share experiences with other people and those are good experiences. Sometimes they turn out to be difficult or even bad experiences, but we all know what it is to have a shared experience. In those experiences, there is the closeness of shared goals and joys and trials, and sometimes shared disappointment.

Just for a moment I want to ask you to think about the best times like that in your lifetime, a moment of closeness and sharing, whatever the details of that might be. Let's just take a few seconds of silence for you to get that fixed in your mind—some very special time of shared experience with someone or some group.

If you have an experience like that in mind, hold it there while I tell you that the passage that we come to today is a letter from one of the very first Christians, one who accompanied Jesus Christ as He went about in the activities that we have celebrated and worshipped just now. This letter from John, the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, tells us that we can have just that kind of relationship that I have asked you to keep in mind, the best of a shared experience with humans, to an infinite level with the very God of the universe. That is the message of this little book at the end of the New Testament that we call I John. John writes to us and tells us that we can have fellowship and shared experience with God the Father and with Jesus Christ.

What Is Fellowship?

Since the whole subject of John's letter is fellowship, it is important that we understand what that is. What are we talking about when we use the term fellowship ? Well, somebody has stated that the definition is “two fellows in the same ship.” Even though that is funny, I think in a way it captures the idea of what fellowship is. It is people who are involved together in something. The Greek word is koinonia . The root word of that is the word koinos , which means “common.” In fact, we refer often to the Greek language that the New Testament was written in as Koina Greek . It was not classical Greek liked the scholars studied, but it was the everyday language of the people of that time. It was the language that people used in their everyday commerce, and it was unique to the working-class people. It was the language of the street, and koina means “the common” to whatever it is applied to. It is the common Greek, not the language of the scholars, but the language of everyday use.

In our English language, various groups of people speak English in different ways. We speak English differently in Texas than they speak it in New York, and it is spoken differently in other parts of the country than we do here—the common language of whatever group of people it is that we are dealing with.

That word is carried over into this matter of relationships with people. The things that we have in common is the word that is translated fellowship in I John. It is the idea of having things in common with other people. The beautiful thing about this is that the Scripture tells us that we as Christians have things in common. We have fellowship with each other, and that means that we have things in common with each other, and John is going to tell us that we also have things in common with God and with Jesus Christ. For example, Romans, chapter 12, verse 5, tells us that we Christians are members one of another. God wants us to have such an inner relationship that we consider each other brothers and sisters in Christ, that we consider each other family, members one with another.

Romans, chapter 12, verse 10, says that we are to be in honor preferring one another, that we are literally to look on the other person's need before our needs. We are to place a preference on the other person. I Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 25, says that we are to have the same care for one another. As believers we are to be as interested in the needs of another Christian as we are in our own needs. Galatians, chapter 5, verse 13, says that we are to serve one another. It is a beautiful thing to see situations in which Christians work together to serve each other and help meet each others needs without distinctions as to what kind of rank or difference in place in society we might have outside of our Christian activities. We are members one of another. We are to serve one another. There are many other Scriptures that talk about that kind of relationship that we have in common.

Each of the chapters in I John gives us another aspect of the subject of fellowship, and for the next several weeks we are going to be looking at this letter in detail and looking at these various aspects of fellowship. Chapter 1 gives us the conditions necessary for fellowship and we are going to begin to talk about that today. Chapter 2 tells us about the conduct of fellowship—the way we act in our fellowship with God and with each other. Chapter 3 tells us about the characteristics of that fellowship. Chapter 4 tells us about the cautions, the things we need to be careful about in having that fellowship. Chapter 5 tells us its cause, how we are to use that fellowship, why God has set it up that way. We have a cause to accomplish.

Conditions Necessary For Fellowship

Today we want to begin to look at fellowship's conditions as John gives them to us in chapter 1. If we are going to have fellowship with the very God of the universe, it is important that we understand the source of that information. Here is a book which tells us that we can have things with our Creator. Most of us are used to hearing that kind of thing, and because we are used to it, it is easy for us to take it for granted. I want us to think carefully about that as if we had never heard it before. This book is going to tell us that we have things in common with the God Who put the stars in place, with the God Who created us with all of the intricacies of the human body and all of the intricacies of nature that we see around us. We have things in common with the One Who set all of that up. What a fantastic truth that is.

Reliability Of John's Source

If we are going to believe that, it is important that we know who it is that is telling us that, the source of our information. John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, understood how important that was; and so in verses 1-4, he gives us his certification of the source of his information, the way that we can know that he is telling us the truth. Any information is only as trustworthy as its source. If a person whom you know to be a liar comes and tells you something, you are not nearly as quick to accept it without even checking into it as someone who comes and you know them to be trustworthy, so the first thing that John wants to clarify for us is the reliability of his source. He begins by emphasizing the starting point of this source in verse 1. Notice the first phrase of verse 1:

I John 1:

1That which was from the beginning…

John is going to go on in those verses to tell us that his source was from the beginning. This is where he got this information—the One Who was from the beginning. The best source of a definition of a spiritual term is always the Bible's own definition if we can find it, and many times the Bible defines its own terms. In this case, fortunately, we have just such a definition, and it is from the writings of John himself. In the gospel of John, he began that book in the much the same way. He said:

John 1:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

There is the word beginning again. What does John mean when he says, “…that which was from the beginning?” He doesn't make it clear in I John, but in the gospel of John, he says “that which was from the beginning,” has to do with the beginning of God. So without going into detail, let me just say that The Word is John's way of referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. The important thing to notice at this point is that he says, “The Word was with God.” That is, “Jesus Christ was with God.” So the beginning, as John speaks of it here in I John, chapter 1, is the beginning of all times. It was the beginning of God's dealing with the human race. Of course, God was there before time began, and so he is going all the way back not to just the beginnings of the rise of Jesus on the earth, not just the beginnings of the time that he and the others began to be disciples of Jesus, not just the beginning of the Roman Empire, not just to the beginning of the nation of Israel, but all the way back to the very beginning of time. In fact, he goes back before time, as humans count it, began—back to the past when God was there and began to bring into creation everything that we know. He says, “My source of information is that which was from the beginning, from the very beginning of all things, from the beginning of the human race and the world around us and really even before that.”

The source of our fellowship is something that comes from the very beginnings of everything that we are familiar with. That is the starting point—not some new concept or even something that our forefathers hammered out.

It is a wonderful thing that the founders of our nation recorded a lot of their thinking and a lot of their motivations. We have some wonderful documents that have to do with the history of our nation and documents that for the most part it would seem have been forgotten about by the leaders and the people who make decisions a lot of times in our nation today. The Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, those are important documents that have to do with the beginnings of our nation; but what we are dealing with here in I John is infinitely more important than that. It goes back not to the beginnings of our nation, as important as those documents are; this information goes back to the beginning of time. It emanates from God Himself.

Not only that, but if you come back to I John, the last part of verse 1 tells us of the surety of our source of fellowship. We talked about the starting point, but look at verse 1 again where John goes on to say:

I John 1:

1That 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;
2(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;)

John uses every way that he can think of to tell us of the thoroughness of his investigation. “That which is from the beginning,” of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He says in verse 2 that that life was manifested. Jesus Christ came into the world and showed Himself to people. John says that we have tempted Him in every way that we can. We have looked upon Him. We have seen with our eyes. Our hands have handled this One Who was from God which is the starting point of our fellowship with God—not just seeing and touching, but close examination. Notice he says, “…which our eyes have seen, which we have looked upon, which we have handled…” John knew what he was talking about. He knew this One Who was the source of his information, and this enabled him to give the summary statement of the fact that is part of verse 3: “That which we have seen and heard declared we unto you…”

This thing of fellowship with God, John says, “I have absolute proof because of the source of my information.” In verses 3-4, he brings it all together with the stated purpose of his writing. Notice that first he says, “I am writing this so that we can have fellowship with Jesus. In verse 3:

I John 1:

3That 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.

As we talk about those verses, remember the definition of fellowship . Fellowship is a one another relationship. It is being together in an enterprise of some kind or in a relationship of some kind. The Bible has a lot to say about the kind of fellowship that John is talking about here. He says first, “I am writing to tell you that you can have fellowship with us.” Us , of course, is a reference to John and the other early day Christians. John says, “You can have fellowship with us.”

The Bible has a lot to say about that. Galatians, chapter 6, verse 2, says:

Galatians 6:

2Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The verse just above that says that this extends even to helping someone who is overcome by temptation and falls into sin:

Galatians 6:

1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, says:

Hebrews 10:

25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Fellowship With The Father and the Son

Throughout the Scripture the picture is of believers cooperating with each other and helping each other, being a literal family of God. John said, “I want you to be able to have fellowship with us,” but it is much more than that, not just fellowship with fellow believers in Jesus Christ, not just something we belong to like the Rotary Club or the Lions or PTA or some of those human organizations. They have their purposes and they are important and they accomplish some good, but what we are talking about here is not just membership in a human organization, as good as some of those may be, but it goes on to say that we can have that same kind of relationship with the God of the universe. Notice how specific it is. Not only with the Father, but he says there in verse 3, “Fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” We have fellowship with each other from the lowest level, but we also have fellowship with God the Father and with God the Son, fellowship with the whole Body of Christ, fellowship with the people of God and with the Person of God.

Think about some of the implications of that. Think about the implications of having fellowship with God the Father and with His Son. Jesus said on several occasions that He had come to show us the Father. He came to demonstrate what it meant to obey the Father, so what Jesus tells us about the Father is extremely important. If our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son and the Son came to show us about the Father, Matthew, chapter 6, verse 8 said:

Matthew 6:

8Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

In Luke, chapter 12, verse 28, he says:

Luke 12:

28If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

In Matthew, chapter 24, verse 36, he said:

Matthew 24:

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

In John, chapter 5, verse 17, he said:

John 5:

17But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

In John, chapter 14, verse 2, Jesus said:

John 14:

2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

These are things that we know from the Word of God about our fellowship with the Father. Think of all the things we have because we have fellowship with the Father. Colossians, on the other hand, says that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father now that He has been raised from the dead, and Hebrews, chapter 7, verse 25, tells us what He is doing there while He sits at the right hand of the Father. It tells us that He makes intercession for us. He prays for us.

There are many other Scriptures that talk about the Father and the Son. John says, “I am writing these things to you so that you can have fellowship with us [other Christians], and with the Father and with the Son”—tremendous privileges beyond the scope of our mind to comprehend to have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son.

I have just touched on a few of the things that the Bible mentions about that. These are the ones that we have fellowship with, but fellowship is broader than that. Remember that John said that our fellowship is with other believers, and it is important for us to understand this definition of fellowship. There is a great deal of talk these days about the importance of us as Christians working together, fellowshipping together, not just within our church but in cooperation with other believers who are part of other local churches. It is extremely important, I believe, for us as Christians to work together to reach the world for Christ and to help each other not just within this church family, but with other believers who are a part of other churches here in town and other places. It is important that we work together.

Boundaries Of Fellowship

One of the important things about I John is that it tells us the parameters of that kind of relationship, the boundaries of this kind of working together. The boundaries are our fellowship with believers, with the Father and with the Son. The reason I am saying that is that there are a lot of groups who are doing good works and providing a lot of things that seem to be Christian good works. There are groups who call themselves Christian groups. There are groups who say they are following God and following Jesus Christ, but the test of fellowship and cooperation is this: Is that fellowship with the Father and with the Son? There are some large, long-time, impressive organizations who claim to be God's people. There are some large, impressive, long-time organizations that claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, but if you read carefully or hear carefully the details of what they believe and of what they practice, you find that they don't mean by that the same thing we mean. So the boundaries of our fellowship with other people, the boundaries of those with whom we work as fellow children of God, the boundaries limit that to those who believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ as His Son.

There have been some who have been a bit concerned when I have talked about this matter of cooperation with other Christians. I John gives the definition of that. Our cooperation is to be limited to those who believe that God the Father is the Creator and all of those other things that go with that, and who believe that Jesus of Nazareth Who lived and walked on the earth two-thousand years ago is the Son of God Who died for our sins to make us children of God. That is the limitation of our fellowship. When I talk about cooperating with others and when other ministers talk about cooperation between believers, that is what we are talking about. We are not talking about cooperating with the Jehovah's Witnesses who talk about God and Jesus Christ. We are not talking about the Mormons who talk about God and Jesus Christ, but who mean very different kinds of things about that than we do.

Listen very carefully to what I am going to say. It may step on some of your toes if you don't think carefully about what I am saying. We are not talking about cooperating with the Roman Catholic Church. There are many wonderful people who are definitely born again believers in Jesus Christ who are members of the Roman Catholic Church, but you may or may not know this. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church (I am not talking about individuals within that church) teaches faith in something along with Jesus Christ for salvation. It exalts Mary, the human mother of Jesus, to a place, as I understand it, where work is in progress to exalt her to a level with Jesus Christ. There are many extraneous things that are important parts of Roman Catholicism as an organization that would lower the place of Jesus Christ in the Godhead. We must not cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church. Individuals within that church are our brothers and sisters in Christ in many, many cases and to whatever extent we can cooperate with them and work with them as fellow believers in Jesus Christ, that is fine. But there is a limit to our cooperation in relationship with other organizations. It is limited to those who believe in teaching clearly that God the Father is the Creator and the inspiration of the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is His divine, human Son Who died for our sins and Who brought us into fellowship with God. That is where our fellowship is and we must be careful that we do not try to extend it beyond what the Bible says our fellowship is.

I think our bigger problem is that we do not extend it to the limits the Bible says our fellowship should be. In trying to be careful that we don't fellowship with the wrong people, I am afraid that in many cases we have held ourselves in so closely that we have wound up missing opportunities to together serve the Lord. Like anything else in Scripture there is a biblical middle; we can carry it too far one way or the other. John carefully decides for us this matter of fellowship with each other and with the Father and with the Son. That is the major thing that John is going to deal with later on in the letter. “The deity of Jesus Christ is the true test of fellowship,” John says. So we need to be careful that we cooperate with all individually who can pass that test, who believe in Jesus Christ as our only Savior. We should cooperate as fully as we can to get that message to others.

Ultimate Purpose Is Joy

That leads us to a second of John's purposes in writing and that is in verse 4. First, he says, “I am writing this letter so that you may have fellowship with us and with the Father and with the Son. Then in verse 4, he says:

I John 1:

4And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

Here is the overall purpose of I John—that is, that our joy may be full. We talked about this last week, but I want to go back over it today in more detail. Joy, as we talked about last week, is an inward emotion. It is an emotion that may or may not show outwardly. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a wonderful emotion. It is a wonderful experience to be happy, but happiness as Scripture speaks of it is entirely conditioned upon external circumstances. If you are well and healthy and strong and prosperous and everybody you know and love is well and healthy, you are probably happy. Happiness very often shows on our countenance. But joy is a much more important emotion because joy is something we can have whether or not we are well, healthy and prosperous or whether or not the people we love are healthy and prosperous. Joy comes from understanding our relationship with the Father and with the Son. That is what verse 4 says in its context: “We are writing to you so that you may have fellowship with us and with the Father and with the Son,” and John says, “I am giving you that information so that you can have fullness of joy, that your joy may be full.”

You see, fullness of joy comes from understanding our relationship with the Father and with the Son. God the Father working through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit many times leads us into difficult situations. God deliberately brings difficulties in our lives sometimes to teach us things we could learn in no other way. He refers to them as tests. Those difficult tests come into our lives and sometimes even involve sadness. They involve difficulty. They involve loss and sickness sometimes. It may be in the direct will of God as you go through a time of testing that you may not be happy at all; but on the authority of the Word of God, I can tell you that if you are sure you are in the center of the will of God, and you understand that that difficulty in your life is something that God has brought into your life because of His precious loving purposes for you, you can have joy in that whether you are happy or not. The problem that we Christians have is that we live in the United States of America where the ultimate goal and aim of everybody is to be happy, no matter what. As Christians, we get mixed up about the difference between happiness and joy.

What a thrilling joy it is to know that we can relax in the hands of the God Who created us. Because He created us, He knows what is best for us and if He brings us a time of difficulty to polish us and sand us smooth and make us more of what He wants us to be, we can have joy that He loves us enough to be making us more of what He wants us to be even though that may be a very difficult process to go through. We can be joyful even though we may not be happy. Fullness of joy does not come from having all the outward things of life—possessions, position, popularity, prosperity. It comes from that mental and spiritual understanding of the fact that we have a one another relationship with God as our Father and Christ as our older brother. We are fellows in the same ship with God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. If we come to realize that with all that it implies, it will bring joy and peace to our lives, regardless of our outward circumstances.

We know from experience most of us have so many of those outward physical blessings. We have a great deal to be happy about and all that I have been saying does not mean that Christians are never happy. It is just to distinguish between joy and happiness. Many of us have things that we should be overjoyed about. The majority of us have extremely few problems in life and particularly when we expand our scope to the borders of the United States. We in the United States have so much more materially and physically than the majority of the rest of the world. People in most of the rest of the world and people in other times in history would be delighted to live and have the things that we have, even the poorest of us. It is not to say that we are not ever going to be happy, but it is to say that our joy comes from that inward relationship with Jesus Christ that we have whether we have the outward circumstances that we would like to have or not. But even when the outward circumstances are what we would like for them to be, even when we do have those material blessings which so many of us have, it enhances our appreciation of those even more to know that we have the joy of being fellows in the same ship with the One Who created all of this and Who guides our lives and Who directs our lives in the way that is most pleasing to Him.

Possessions, Satisfaction, and Happiness

We can have joy and happiness, and for most of us that is a pleasant experience. But the ultimate purpose is to have the joy of the Lord, whether we are happy or not. Jesus knew that this would be an issue with His children all down through the years and so He addresses that specifically in Matthew, chapter 6. Jesus addressed this while He was on earth. Jesus, you know, only had a little more than three years of ministry and obviously He could not talk about everything in life in those three years, so the things that He did address we can know are extremely important. If He only had three years to teach and He, being God, knew everything, we can understand that the things He did address are of extreme importance. In Matthew, chapter 6, verses 25-34, He talked about this matter of possessions and satisfaction and happiness that is so much a part of our American way of life. We don't have time to look at each of these verses, but look at verse 30. It kind of brings it into a summary. He says:

Matthew 6:

30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Even though Jesus doesn't use the term joy in this passage, this is what He is talking about, the same thing John is writing about in I John. Notice the clear statement of verse 32: “…for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Did you know that God already knows what you need? We think of the things we need and the things we hope to someday have and the things we are putting aside money to plan to have at some point. Unfortunately, we may overload our credit card trying to get these things before the Lord is ready for us to have them. We all have a list of needs. We have a wish list, don't we? God clearly says that He knows what we need and He also knows the tendency of the human race. Look at the phrase just before that in verse 32: “For after all these things do the Gentiles seek…”

The term Gentiles was the Jewish way of referring to unbelievers. He didn't mean just non-Jews; he used this term to describe people who didn't know Christ, people who are not in fellowship with God the Father. The word seek means to have that as one's highest aim. We could translate it more literally, “All of these things unbelievers are knocking themselves out for.” These are the things people are knocking themselves out to have. This is a good picture of our world today, isn't it? Jesus is saying, “That is the way unbelievers live, but you are my children. You do not need to live that way.”

Look at Jesus' solution to those needs in verse 33:

Matthew 6:

33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

You see, God is willing and well able to provide all of those things for us. We don't have to knock ourselves out for them and the beauty of that is that the way God provides those things that we need comes from something infinitely more worthwhile. The provision of whatever it is we need is a by-product of making it our highest aim (we might say knocking ourselves out) to love and serve the Lord. As we make it our highest aim, as we seek to know and to love Jesus Christ and do things the way He would want them done, seeking to know and to please God in all that we do brings righteousness, peace, joy, satisfaction. It brings a proper perspective on what we do need and as we have that relationship with God, He gives us whatever we need.

His list of what we need may not be the same as ours. I believe if you will be honest with yourself and if you have made an effort to live and please the Lord, you may discover if you stop to make an inventory that you have more things than you would have ever planned to have. God knows there are some things that we need that are not even on our list. He knows some things that we think we need that we don't really need, but all of that falls together as we stop thinking about those things and stop knocking ourselves out for things and put our attention on pleasing the Lord. As we seek to have His approval, all of those things fall into place and that is where joy is found. Someone has said that we do not find joy by looking for it. We stumble over it in the path of obedience to God.

Conclusion

That is why John has written this letter. We have just scratched the surface of the things that he is going to tell us about having fullness of joy. Where are you looking for the joy that all of us so long to have? Are you knocking yourself out for it like people who don't know God have to do, or are you accepting it as the loving gift from the God whom you are seeking to please day by day?


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