Did you ever wish you could have been with Jesus when He lived on this earth? Think of the wonderful fellowship Jesus’ followers experienced as they talked with Him and listened to Him teach. Think of the blessedness of being in His presence like Mary experienced when sitting by His feet. Imagine the glorious feeling of being healed of an infirmity by His touch.
The Apostles brought us the message of the Gospel that we might experience the same fellowship they had with Jesus Christ. Our fellowship with God and others can be as real as theirs. Their senses of hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus made them credible witnesses that Jesus walked with them and had fellowship with them. We by faith are to believe that we can experience this same fellowship.
1. Fellowship Yields Fullness of Joy (1 John 1:3-4)
This message is meant to give fullness of joy (verse 4). Joy is an “evidence check” on our level of fellowship with God and with others. This chapter reveals the principles of fellowship which lead to joy. We tend to think that joy is based on what others will do for us. But true joy does not come from seeking our own fulfillment.
Our two highest callings in life are to love God and to love others. It is not about how I may feel loved. When our main perspective is “how may I feel loved” and “how may I be served” and “what will this do for me,” our joy will never be full. This entitlement mentality says other people owe us something. With this mentality, we will always find more things that people owe us before we feel any obligation to love them. But this “me mentality” is simply not biblical. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Fullness of joy comes from true fellowship—close relationships that grow out of our love for others. The highest fulfillment in life does not come in getting, but in giving. The Apostle John wrote these things so our joy may be full.
2. God Is Light (1 John 1:5)
God is perfect in character, motive, works, and in the exercise of His sovereignty. Everything He does or allows is for a wise and noble purpose. He asks us to believe this even when we cannot understand why certain things happen. God has no malicious intent in anything He does or allows. If we do not accept the sovereignty of God in our lives, we will never find fullness of joy. If we question God’s wisdom in major disappointments, our whole life may become a disappointment. If we are angry at our lot in life and do not reconcile with it, we are ultimately angry and bitter at God. When we are angry at God, no one will be able to fix our problems to our satisfaction, or help us find meaning in life.
If we harbor an attitude of anger at our lot in life, we are charging God with dark motives for allowing it. Do we really believe that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all?” This can be very hard to believe when no one can answer our “why” questions. Notice the commentary on Job: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:22). In our darkest hours of grief and hurt we can still choose to believe that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
This understanding and choice of faith are essential for fellowship with God and others. It is normal to question God, and it is okay to ask God those hard questions, like Job did. But it is wrong to charge God with dark motives for anything He has allowed to happen. In spite of our charges, He will still be morally perfect; but we will drown in bitterness. We cannot have fellowship with Him when we charge Him with not coming up to our standards.
3. Darkness Within Prevents Fellowship (1 John 1:6)
We cannot have fellowship with God, Who is light, and yet walk in darkness. What does it mean to walk in darkness?
Darkness is a description for hiding things that we know are wrong. The cover that we provide for our secret sins or our hidden motives is darkness.
Any attempt to circumvent the truth is a work of darkness. When the Word of truth makes something plain which requires a clear course of action, our sinful nature attempts to obscure the path by considering human reasoning and emotions. When the light of truth is diffused, all becomes gray; and in the gray, there is no definitive answer. Anyone attempting to circumvent the truth will try to lower the light to a shade of gray, producing indecision and confusion.
There is a difference between saying and walking. We may say we are in right relationship with God. We may say we have repented. We may say we have forgiven another. But when our lives continue to show our old habits of sin or unforgiveness, we are living a lie. If we tell ourselves and others that we have repented, yet we continue our same patterns of conduct, we are only deceiving ourselves. When we say we have forgiven another’s offenses, but continue to degrade them for those offenses, we are deceiving ourselves and living a lie. When we allow a brother or sister to degrade another member of the body whom they say they have forgiven, we are helping them to live a lie.
4. Walking in the Light Brings Fellowship (1 John 1:7a)
The key verse of this passage is verse 7: “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.” What does it mean to “walk in the light as He is in the light?”
(a) Walk in purity. The motives for our actions should serve the good of another, and must not be deceitful and self-serving.
(b) Walk in truth. We must honor the clear truth of Scripture, especially when we are unsure of how to handle all the details of our circumstances. Many times we allow uncertainty about details to obscure fundamental principles of conduct. When we are committed to following the life-principles of the truth, the details will be worked out step by step.
(c) Walk in openness. We need to commit ourselves not to hide our sin. Openness can hurt us when others use that information maliciously. When our lives are open epistles to others, we are also open to criticism. However, over time, the testimony of an open life of integrity will do more to dispel unjust criticism than secretive behavior. We should not share information with people who we feel certain will use it for evil (casting pearls before swine); but even those people should know that we aim to live our lives honestly before all. If we want to have close fellowship with other believers, we must walk openly before them. Deception divides relationship, provokes mistrust, and creates far more difficulties than living openly before some who may unjustly criticize.
Until we choose to walk in the light, our problems may seem insurmountable. We can easily focus on how other people are going to solve them for us. But other people will always come up short of our expectations. To “walk in the light as He is in the light” is to dedicate our lives to loving God and others rather than demanding to be loved. There is a direct relationship between walking in the light and having fellowship. Whenever we do not walk in the light, we create relationship issues between God and the members of the church.
Now consider the promise in a positive sense. Relating to others with pure motives, truth, and openness promotes fellowship and close relationship. When we are all committed to seeking each others’ good, we don’t need to wonder if someone’s words or actions are designed to degrade us. If we walk in truth together, truth is not offensive to our relationship. When we walk openly before each other, we build trust in each other. Walking in the light together brings close relationship and fellowship, which brings fullness of joy, which gives fulfillment in life.
The phrase “fellowship one with another” can be fairly interpreted to represent the relationship between us and God, as well as the relationship between us and others. John is making a general statement with a general blessing: walk in the light and you will have fellowship with one another—with God and with your brethren. Verse 3 clearly indicates that the intent of fellowship is between us and God, as well as between us and others. The two are linked together by design; we either have both or neither of them. Walk in the light to obtain both blessings of fellowship.
5. Confession Restores Fellowship (1 John 1:7b-10)
Although believers are already justified, they still need daily cleansing. Walking in the light keeps the cleansing process in place. All of us fall short of God’s perfection daily, and that sin would always mar our fellowship with God—except for the fact that “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The word “cleanseth” describes a present tense ongoing action for those who walk in the light. This truth is astounding: because of the continual cleansing of Jesus Christ, nothing can limit the closeness of our relationship to God—because we are cleansed from all sin. No relationship barriers remain to hinder fellowship if we walk in the light. We don’t need to walk perfectly, but we do need to walk purely, truthfully, and openly.
Walking in the light means we are open and honest about addressing areas of our life that need growth. When we have this attitude, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our sins and shortcomings. Notice again the promise. If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus will take care of everything else: everything between us and God, and everything between us and our brother.
If we presumptuously assume that our lives do not need daily cleansing, but we are quite sure that some other people need it, we are surely deceiving ourselves. If we are sure that our lack of close relationships is due to issues in the lives of others, we are deceiving ourselves. Automatically assuming that there is nothing we can do from our end to improve a strained relationship is a sure indicator that we are deceived. Walk in the light, and you will see areas of your life which need further cleansing. Verse 8 is given in the present tense for those who say they have no sin, or feel there is nothing further for them to do to heal a broken relationship.
In confession, Christ becomes our cleansing (verse 9). The light reveals those areas of our lives that need continual cleansing. The confessing and cleansing process humbles us and regularly reminds us of the need to forgive others as we are being forgiven. The person who cannot forgive another does not fully see their own sin because they are not walking in the light.
God’s promised response to confession is to forgive our sins. If we confess our sins, and Christ has promised to forgive our sins, then by faith we must believe that they are forgiven. We should not let the Devil continually assault us with our failures, and fail to forgive ourselves for what we have done. Let us not doubt the work of Christ. If He has forgiven us, we should move forward in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We dare not accept guilt for sins that Christ has effectually removed and canceled from our account. By not forgiving ourselves after we have confessed our sin and have been forgiven by God, we are expressing doubt and unbelief rather than humility and contrition. We should express our continued humility, contrition, and gratefulness to God by walking in the light.
God forgives us on two counts, in that He is faithful and just (verse 9):
Faithful: God is committed to forgiving us even before we commit the sin. Can we look our spouse or brother in the eye and say, “Before you offend me, I am committed to forgiving you, because that is part of my faithfulness to you; I will not go back on my commitment to you”? Jesus is faithfully committed to forgiving and cleansing those who walk in the light.
Just: God would be just in holding us accountable to pay the full penalty for our sin if Jesus had not died in our place and taken the full penalty for us. God cannot overlook our sin and cast it into a black hole of darkness, for “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” Everything is open before Him, including our sin. He could continually declare us guilty and remind us of it—if Jesus had not died for our sins so that they are remembered no more. Because of Jesus, God is “just” in forgiving our sin because the full price for it has been paid. God cannot justly hold us accountable for confessed sin without diminishing the perfection of His grace toward those who confess their sin.
6. Fellowship Requires Forgiving Others
Perhaps you feel justified in holding someone accountable for some wrong that they have done. But you have no more reason to hold someone else accountable than what God has to hold you accountable for your sin. Indeed, God has innumerable reasons to hold you accountable for sin that you have committed against Him. As God can be just in forgiving your sin for Jesus’ sake, so also you can justly forgive another for Jesus’ sake. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Whenever we think we can justifiably hold somebody accountable for sin without forgiving them, we can be sure that others could justifiably hold us accountable for sin we have committed against them. We must forgive others their trespasses in order to experience the cleansing of forgiveness from God.
Sometimes even in professing forgiveness there can be a dagger of malice. Someone may say, “I forgive you of your sin against me,” when they really mean to say, “I want you to know that you have trespassed against me.” True forgiveness is evidenced in the words of Stephen: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Just as Jesus removes sin from our account when He forgives us, so also do we remove sin and offense from a trespasser’s account against us when we forgive them.
How God deals with a trespasser’s sin is in His hands. If we truly have forgiven a brother and are walking in the light, then from our side we are open for fellowship and relationship. Being open for fellowship is a test of true forgiveness. Fellowship may not be possible if the other person is not walking in the light. But if we are walking in the light and have forgiven, we will not withhold fellowship from a brother who seeks it. We do not have the right as individuals to discipline a brother whom we think has erred. Discipline belongs to the corporate body, even when the church is lax in exercising it. The church at Corinth was lax in addressing a serious sin, yet Paul told them to discipline when they came together, rather than on an individual basis (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
The Apostle Paul would have been faced with the sins of his youth every time he met a family member of someone he imprisoned or put to death. Would the church forgive him? Could he forgive himself? For Jesus’ sake, all was forgiven; not only forgiven, but the church extended to Paul “the right hands of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9).
In Soviet Russia there was secret persecution of the underground church. Sergei Kourdakov, a young KGB agent, led some raids against church services. One day he confiscated a portion of the Gospel of Luke. From his book, The Persecutor, we quote:
“I opened up those pieces of paper and began to read them again. Jesus was talking and teaching someone how to pray. I became more curious and read on. This certainly was no anti-state material. It was how to be a better person and how to forgive those who do you wrong. This was exactly the opposite of what I had expected. My lack of understanding, which had been like blinders on my eyes, left me right then, and the words bit deeply into my being . . . Through the days and weeks ahead, those words of Jesus stayed with me. I couldn’t shake them, hard as I tried. I wished I hadn’t read them. Everything had been so organized in my life, but those disturbing words had changed something. I had feelings I never had felt before. I couldn’t explain or understand them.”
The message of forgiveness eventually led Sergei to find peace with God, in spite of his cruelty against believers. He was also reconciled to the church and became a speaker for Underground Evangelism when he escaped to the West. Forgiveness and cleansing by Jesus Christ can bring us into fellowship with those we formerly considered our enemies.
In closing, consider these precepts: Walk in the light you have. Walk toward the light you see. Walk in and toward the light in order to receive more light. As you walk in the light given in God’s holy Word, you will find that you are walking in close fellowship with God and others.