In every season of my bible studies, I like to do a study series where I focus on one singular topic over a series of studies. For example, last season, I did a series of studies on Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In the next five studies or so, I want to do a study on the first epistle of John. In the past, I had did a study on 1 John, but when moving the site from the old location to the new server, I did not carry those studies over.
So, I want to dive into the first epistle of John with you because there is much here that we need to learn. Here in the first chapter, we’re going to dive into the validation of scripture. I also want to take a deep dive into true fellowship with God. I feel like true fellowship with God – what it means – has been lost on so many who call themselves believers. So, let’s take a dive into this first chapter of 1 John. When I reference scripture from the first chapter of 1 John, I will use (v.number). So, when you see (v.1) that is a reference to the first verse in 1 John 1.
Quick note for before you start this study: Studies are written out to be longer than my sermons and the Sunday School lesson commentaries. I skip a week with posting bible studies because not everybody can complete a study in one sitting. Take your time and do not rush through my studies! Take it one day at a time if you need to do so. I will recommend a stopping point below for taking a break. Enjoy this lesson and share it with others!
John’s First Epistle
John’s first epistle is arguably my favorite book of the Bible along with James. Both books are incredibly short, but for the genuine believer, they are incredibly powerful. The reason why I chose to do a study on John’s first epistle is because I believe it is a letter that all believers should and need to read in our world today. There is so much going on in our world today that John speaks to even though he lived many centuries ago before us.
Let us not get John’s first epistle confused with the gospel according to John. John is the writer of that gospel, this epistle, and two other epistles along with the book of Revelation. By this point in time, John was a much older man. Jesus spoke to Peter of the special work that John would go on to do (John 21:21-25). He said to Peter, “If I will that he (John) remain till I come, what is that to you?” John lived a very long life.
At this point in time he had started being known as “the elder”. In his second and third letter, you will see him refer to himself as the elder (2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:1). His letters are believed to have been written near the end of the first century along with the book of Revelation. John saw much in his life and gained much knowledge and wisdom on the way of the Lord and in his gospel, his epistles we see that spiritual wisdom shared with us.
This is why I find his writings to be some of the most important writings that you will come across in scripture. The purpose of this letter, John says, is so that “you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).” Let us keep John’s purpose for this letter in mind as we go through our studies of it.
A Tangible Eye Witness of God
As we open up John’s first epistle, we will see him touch on his witness of Christ. Many people ask questions questioning the validity of the Bible so let’s dive into that thought for a moment since John speaks to it. Questioning the validity of the Bible is a questioning of the people that wrote the scriptures that make up the Bible. The 66 books that make up the canon of the Protestant bible went through many validation checks before they were added to the 66 books of the Bible.
There are many books that are not in the Protestant bible because of validation checks. For example, there is a gospel of Thomas (Didymus) and even Judas that are not in the Protestant bible. John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels that were accepted in the day it was written because it could be traced to John. The same goes for even Old Testament books like Isaiah which Jesus even referred to (Matt. 4:12-16).
In the first verse of this epistle, we see John speak to what he witnessed with his own eyes and held with his own hands (v.1). John says, “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, concerning the Word of life.” (Let us note: John refers to Jesus as the Word just as he did in the first chapter of his gospel – John 1:1).
John is telling his readers that this letter is being written by someone that was a personal witness of the Messiah. As we will see later on in this epistle, who was teaching or preaching the gospel was a big deal in the time John wrote this. I choose to believe John’s words here because John says he saw Christ, spoke to Him, touched Him, and nobody back in that day doubted this writing.
Led by the Spirit
Let’s dive a bit deeper into what it means to question the validity of scripture or those witnesses to what they wrote. Peter, in his writings, wrote, “We have prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19).” What he said in the next two scripture is key. Peter said, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21).”
To question the Bible and scripture is not only to question people like John and Peter (eye witnesses), but it is also to question God as well. Every person involved in the writing of scripture was led by the Holy Spirit of God; they did nothing of their own imagination. Again, John states that he witnessed the manifestation of God in the flesh (Jesus) and that he was bearing witness of that manifestation and declaring the gift of eternal life brought on by that (vss.2-4).
Now, the part of this chapter that I really want to dive into in this study speaks to being in true fellowship with God. In this passage of scripture, we will see John state that “If we say that we have fellowship with Him (God), and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (v.6).” That is saying a whole lot that we definitely need to dive into!
This speaks to something that I have mentioned on several occasions when comparing genuine faith to religion. The first question we must answer is: What does it mean to be in fellowship with the Lord? Second question we must answer: what does fellowship with God look like?
A close and personal relationship
Fellowship is defined as: companionship; a company of equals or friends; the quality or state of being comradely. These definitions, I believe, are perfect for defining what a relationship with God is. Let’s take a look at what I mean.
As recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus said to the disciples, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you (John 15:14).” Note: Jesus said to the disciples (this includes us as believers as well) that we are His friends. Understand that we are not considered simply acquaintances but friends. So, certainly, Jesus using the term friends here shows endearment — that is, companionship.
Let’s take that next verse in that same chapter of John’s gospel because it is also significant to understanding true fellowship with God. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).”
So, there was a time when God viewed His relationship with man as Master and servant. This, to me, makes complete sense, right? God is the Creator of all things we can see and imagine, and at the same cannot see nor imagine. To God, heaven is His throne and the world (His creation) is His footstool (Matt. 5:34-36). We only knew of God in part, not fully, because the Master had not yet told the servant what He was doing.
God sent His only begotten Son to the world so that those of the world could have everlasting life. In everlasting life, God and the church (true believers) will be joined together in eternal fellowship – an eternal marriage. While we live in the world, we have an opportunity to date each other – enter into a relationship prior to being eternally married. In order for us to date, to have have a fellowship while we are in the world, He sent His Son to enlighten us.
All of this points to companionship, a company of equals, and being comradely. God seeks to have a close personal relationship with all of His children. To be in fellowship with God is to be in a close relationship with Him.
Do as He commanded
So, what does one do to enter into fellowship with God? Let’s stay here in John’s gospel for a moment to get an answer. We need to make a very important note of what Jesus said about being His friend. Let us make a note and not overlook that Jesus says, in order to enter into fellowship with Him, one must do what He commands (John 15:14).
Yes, in order to be in fellowship with God, there is a command that you must follow. When we think of it, this is actually no different from when one enters into a relationship with us, right? We have our demands/rules we expect someone to keep in a friendship or relationship with us. Nobody can enter into a relationship with us and simply act any ol’ way they wish, right? They have to do right by us – meet our demands.
So, what does the Lord command of us in order to be in fellowship with Him? Jesus says that command is to “love one another”. Jesus did not simply say this one time, but this is a repeated statement from Him. He said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12, 17).”
Love is something Jesus talked about a great deal in His ministry. Yet, we also know that the entire Mosaic Law hangs on loving God, and loving one another as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). If we love one another, we will live on eternally in that eternal fellowship with God (Luke 10:25-28).
So, let’s make this very clear in this study: in order to be in true fellowship with God, we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Let’s make something very clear in this study – there are no workarounds to this command from Christ. We are obligated to love all people. If we cannot love others, how can we say that we love Christ and are in fellowship with Him?
Stopping point: you have made it through the first part of this study. Take a break if needed and return back to this point to continue. This is the bookmark point of this study. If you do not feel like pausing, let’s dive deeper into this study!
To do otherwise
To those who try to find a workaround to loving their neighbor, John speaks about doing this in his first epistle. John wrote, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (v.6).” When we try to live by rules that we have invented and determined to be part of the faith, let us understand, we are doing nothing but adding to a faith defined by God. We cannot, or should not, add any “rules” to the gospel of God (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6). We are sinning and not practicing the truth when we do such a thing.
I referenced scripture from Luke’s gospel just a moment ago, that I want to use to illustrate what I mean by trying to have a ‘workaround’ to Jesus’ command. Let’s take a look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan in this study (Luke 10:25-37).
A certain lawyer tried to “test” Jesus by asking Jesus what He should do to inherit eternal life. This was a question that Jesus made Him supply the answer to by answering with a question of His own. Jesus said to Him, “what is written in the law? What is your reading (understanding) of it?” The lawyer responded, “love God and love your neighbor as yourself (this is what I just referenced above)”.
Realizing what he had just said, the lawyer wanted to justify himself, even when Jesus had told Him he had answered correctly and would inherit eternal life should he do those things. What was there for him to justify? I suppose that this lawyer had probably been doing what many folks do today (loving those in his bubble but maybe despising others outside of it). Maybe he was considering his actions and trying to justify those actions in his head. So, he asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor?”
Being clear on His command
So, Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan to be clear on exactly who our neighbor is and what neighbors should do for each other. In the parable, He speaks of a certain man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jesus does not specifically state whether the man was a Jew or not but considering that he was leaving Jerusalem to go to Jericho, lets just assume the man was a Jew from Jerusalem.
Jesus says that the man, while going down the road to Jericho, was beaten and assaulted by thieves (Luke 10:30). The man in this parable was so beaten that he was beaten half to death and left on the side of the road by the thieves. In this parable, we are told of three individuals who went down the road and came across this half beaten man – a certain priest, Levite, and a Samaritan (Luke 10:31-33).
The priest and the Levite, two men who were supposed to be men of faith, came across the beaten man and chose to pass by him on the other side. Consider, both of those men were Jews who wouldn’t even stop for a fellow Jew IF, indeed, the beaten man was a Jew. I do not believe it to be a coincidence that Jesus chose two men who were supposed to be men of faith in this parable. I believe they are representative of many people who claim to be people of faith. You find out a lot about someone’s faith when it comes time to do something to help others, especially those in serious need of help.
What does it say about those two men’s ‘faith’ if they chose to go by on the other side? Again, I want you to understand that these were two men who would have likely known the law of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Yet, they chose to do otherwise at that point in time. Maybe they thought it was a setup for them to be robbed or beaten, or maybe they simply chose not to help.
Yet, when the Samaritan came down the road and saw the beaten man, decided to stop and move with compassion on the man. We are told that the Samaritan bandaged the man, took him to an inn, cared for him overnight, and the next day left money at the inn for the innkeeper to further take care of the beaten man (Luke 10:35).
Fellowship with one another
After telling this parable, Jesus again made the certain lawyer answer his own question which he used to test Jesus. Jesus asked him which of those three men did he think was a neighbor to the beaten man (Luke 10:36)? Now, let us understand clearly that all three men was a neighbor to the beaten man but only one acted as a neighbor to the beaten man by moving with love and compassion towards him.
So, who is your neighbor and do you act neighborly towards them? The certain lawyer answered Jesus that the one who showed mercy was the one who was a neighbor to the beaten man. To the certain lawyer, Jesus said, “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). I used this parable to show that there is no workaround to doing as Jesus commanded when He commanded that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
In order for us to enter into true fellowship with God, we must be capable of entering into fellowship with each other through love and compassion for each other. Some believe that they can enter into fellowship with God by just saying that they have faith in Him, yet that faith must actually be acted on.
When we turn back to the first chapter of John’s first epistle, we will see him say, “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (v.7).” Let’s fully understand what this means. “If we walk in the light”, we should consider this to mean choosing to walk faithfully in the way of Christ. John says that if we choose to walk faithfully in the way of Christ, that we “have fellowship” with one another. We should consider this to mean that we should fellowship – show love and compassion – with each other.
Leads to righteousness
John then says within that when we enter into fellowship with one another, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin – it leads to righteousness. I want you to understand that loving one another is what confirms our faith in the Lord! I feel like we often overlook the importance of loving one another. I’m honestly not certain how anyone can consider themselves a true believer of Christ if they don’t love others outside of their bubble. It would be something that completely goes against the faith — a lie. We would be walking out of step with the Lord.
How can we say we have fellowship with God, if we cannot practice the key principle of our faith? I preached a series of sermons last year – Spiritual Dilemma – about how many believers try to live in a gray area. We have to be very wary of attempting to live in a gray area where we end up walking out of step with the Lord. Walking out of step with God certainly does not sound like being in true fellowship with Him. Understand: walking in a manner that opposes the Lord, and as we have learned, is something He considers to be sin.
No sin in true fellowship with God
Sin, we know, is something the Lord is willing to forgive. When we enter into fellowship with God, He is certainly looking to forgive us for any missteps that we take. As we continue in our study of this first chapter of John’s epistle, we see John switch over to speaking of sin (vss.8-10). I find it very interesting that John followed up speaking about fellowship with one another (or not) with speaking about sin. I would definitely say choosing not to love your neighbor to be a sin just as fornication, adultery, murder, etc.
John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (v.8).” This certainly goes for all sin (except the unpardonable sin), but consider how many of us are deceiving ourselves when it comes to being in fellowship with one another. The truth is not fully in us when we choose which parts of the faith to practice and not practice. In all sin, we must repent. We must fully commit ourselves to the way of the Lord.
When we enter into true fellowship with the Lord, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” if we acknowledge and confess our sins (v,9). Full repentance, requires our acknowledgement, but it also requires our action to turn from whatever it is we are doing. So, in other words, when we know that we are doing wrong, we should acknowledge that it’s not right, and turn from the wrong.
God will not be in fellowship with anybody who chooses to live in darkness. Yes, when we get out of step with the Lord, He will certainly work to get us back in line. Yet, we must genuinely choose to walk in His way to be in true fellowship with Him.