Let’s assume that one of your New Years’ resolutions is to grow deeper in your faith during 2017. How do you move from weak and immature to strong and mature? How do you go from being a spiritual infant to a spiritual adolescent to a spiritual adult?
The letters of John (1, 2, 3 John) provide a barometer of fellowship. The letters describe the nature of our fellowship with God—what things increase our fellowship, and what decreases our fellowship.
While the epistle of 1 John does not contain the name of the author, the early church believed the Apostle John wrote the letter. The tone of the epistle indicates one who has spiritual authority. He was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ.
There is no reference to whom the first recipients of this letter were or where they lived. We do know they were Christians (1 John 5:13). Church tradition ways that John lived and ministered in Ephesus in Asia Minor.
While the book is difficult to date, it was probably written after the Gospel of John (AD 85-95) and before the book of Revelation (95-96). Part of John’s purpose was to counteract the doctrine taught by false teachers. Among the examples were the:
- Gnostics—Gnostics held to a dualism in which spiritual and material things were sharply distinguished. They emphasized gaining special knowledge.
- Docetism—Docetism taught that Jesus did not have a real, human body. It was only an illusion or appearance.
- Cerinthus—Cerinthus taught that Jesus was only a man and the divine Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and left him before his crucifixion.
John provides a model of how to combat false teaching. Rather than studying false doctrine, John makes a clear presentation of the truth about Jesus Christ.
The theme of the book is found in the opening paragraph (1 John 1:1-4). The key to spiritual growth is fellowship with God and with others. John uses several key terms—fellowship, knowing, and abiding—to describe our relationship with God.
Fellowship rests on the reality of the incarnation (1-3a). False teachers taught that Jesus did not have a normal, physical body. John met this false teaching head on by saying he had a firsthand experience with Jesus, and based on that experience, he is telling us what he knows about Jesus.
As we draw closer to God, we will enjoy a deeper relationship with him. The essence of fellowship is increasing intimacy.
Rather than single out one event, John is referring to the entire career of Jesus. The whole of Jesus’ life is what John is proclaiming.
We tell others about Christ so they can enjoy a relationship with him as well. Once we experience true life in Christ, we feel impelled to tell others the message.
Fellowship results in joy (3-4). Our joy increases as our relationship with God deepens. Only one thing can give us true joy—knowing Jesus Christ intimately. He satisfies our mind, emotions, and every desire.
Our joy increases as others come to know God. True joy is a triangular relationship—my life in fellowship with Christ; your life in fellowship with Christ; our fellowship in Christ together. The net result of this relationship is increased joy.
Lessons for today: (1) You cannot enjoy true Christian fellowship without a common belief in Christ. Jesus must be in the center of the relationship. (2) You cannot enjoy a relationship with God without a relationship with Jesus.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 1, 2017. It is the opening message in a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.