Real Fellowship
July 2, 2023

Real Fellowship

Preacher:
Series:
Passage: 1 John 1:1-4

Introduction

Are you satisfied with your life? For the past four decades, a Gallup poll1 has been tracking how Americans answer this basic question. And though there’s been some variation over time, each year about 80% of Americans say – yes. About 80% are at least somewhat satisfied with their lives.

Many of us fall within this 80% of satisfied Americans. But why do you suppose that is? Why do so many of us say we’re satisfied? If we’re honest, many of us are satisfied with life simply because our lives are comfortable. We may have steady jobs, pleasant homes, healthy bodies, plenty of food, and a good social network – and for as long as we have all these things, life feels good.

But what would happen if those things were taken away? How satisfied would you feel if you lost your job, your home, or your friends and family? How satisfied will you be in a season of chronic pain – or in that last hour before your death?

It should be obvious to all of us that health, wealth, and popularity – they’re only temporary. They provide a flimsy sort of satisfaction that’s incomplete. Yet these are the things we love and long for. “Oh, if only my paycheck was a little bit higher! If only my body were a little bit thinner.” All the while, these things we keep wishing for are never quite enough. We keep coming back to empty wells and dry riverbeds expecting to find water. But the ultimate, never-ending satisfaction we’re thirsting for is something only God can provide.

As C.S. Lewis has famously said (you’ve probably heard this quote before, but it’s so true): “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”2

Here in 1 John, the Holy Spirit speaks through one of Jesus Christ’s closest companions, the apostle John. And John is concerned that our desires are too weak. He wants us to take hold of supreme satisfaction and happiness. He wants us to know that fellowship with God produces completeness of joy.

With God’s help this morning, I want to unpack our text under three points. First, that Jesus brings knowledge of God. Second, that this knowledge enables fellowship with God. And third, that this fellowship produces joy in God.

Jesus Brings Knowledge of God.

So first, Jesus brings knowledge of God.

John starts his letter by referring to “that which was from the beginning.” And it quickly becomes clear he’s not talking about some sort of ancient material, like a lump of rock or primordial slime. Instead, he’s pointing back to the dawn of time, at that moment when the material universe first began to have structure and coherence, and John tells us that something else had always already been there. Non-existence didn’t give birth to existence. Nothingness didn’t explode or expand into something.

The finite, material cosmos was established by an infinite, metaphysical Creator – an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, something beyond space and time – He’s talking about God. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

And here John is pointing back to the beginning, and he’s saying I personally know that someone who was at the beginning.

 

How Does He Know? God’s self-revelation

But where did John gain this special knowledge? How can John speak about seeing, hearing, and touching God, like he does here in verse 1?

Well, he can speak this way because God has revealed himself. That knowledge of God, which was so far above us, shrouded in mystery and transcendence, has been brought near to us. Or to put it another way, God brought down the hay to where the cows could eat it.

And how did God do this? By stepping down from the heavenly places into our world. This is why John is able to write in his gospel account (1:14a) that our Lord “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory...”

This event – of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us – it’s an event called the incarnation. And John insists that the incarnation really happened. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, really stooped down and entered into our human condition – and through Jesus Christ, we are given the clearest, fullest picture of who God is.

Jesus shows us God’s righteousness, God’s compassion, God’s wisdom – he even reveals God’s nature – that God is, in fact, Triune. When we say that God is Triune, we’re just summarizing what the Bible teaches: that there’s one divine being – one God – but that this God consists of three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three are equal in deity, and they’re united in one purpose and essence. This is what it means for God to be Triune.

In verses 1 through 3, John alludes to all this with carefully chosen words. He makes a distinction between the Father and the Son – the Son took on flesh, not the Father. But at the same time he contends that the Father and the Son are equally divine.

See, back in verse 1, when John speaks about “that which was from the beginning,” John is specifically talking about Jesus. And he affirms that Jesus existed from the beginning – why? – to show that the Son is just as eternal and just as infinite as the Father.

John does something similar in verse 2. Speaking about Jesus, he says, “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father…” Notice here: the eternal life isn’t something outside of Jesus that he received from someone else. Rather, the Son has always had eternal from within himself – he is eternal life – which further affirms that he’s coequal and coeternal with the Father.

But why does John emphasize that Jesus is divine here? It’s because he wants to press home the reality – that when Jesus Christ lived among us, we weren’t just being visited by an archangel, or a wise teacher. It really was God himself.

And that’s why John is repeating over and over – he has seen him! He has heard him – he has touched him. John is pleading with us again and again to pay attention. He isn’t talking about a myth. He isn’t talking about someone’s dream or opinion. He’s talking about real life.

You can almost hear John testifying here:

“The Holy One of heaven came down and spoke to me! I was there on the shore mending nets when He called my name. I was there at the wedding when he turned water into wine. I was with him in the boat when he calmed the raging sea. I was watching when he raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. I was in the upper room when the King of Kings wrapped a towel around his waist, and bent down to wash my feet. I was even there at the cross. I watched my Lord and my God bleed and suffer and die – for me – for us.

Oh! but I was also there at the empty tomb. I was there after his resurrection, when he showed me the marks in his hands and feet. And I was there when he disappeared into the clouds and rose into glory. Don’t you get it? I’ve seen these things! I have seen God!

But notice from our text – John isn’t the only one speaking here. He doesn’t merely say, “I saw, I heard, I touched.” He says “we.” Jesus Christ brought knowledge of the invisible God, not only to John, but to hundreds of others. A chorus of voices are joining together here to testify that God is real, that God has come, and that through knowing Jesus Christ, you can know God, too.

But there’s still a problem. Our problem isn’t that God is unknowable. Our problem is that many of us simply don’t care to know him. We’re so satisfied to bumble about through life with our amusements and leisure activities – we feel no sense of urgency – no interest in divine glory – no reverence or seriousness about the things of God. We’re content with cheap imitations. We’re satisfied to have hydrogenated shredded plastic on our pizza when we should be insisting on real mozzarella cheese. And I hope you see from all this – there’s something deeply wrong with us.

The Bible explains what this problem is. Our hearts and minds are warped by sin. Sin whispers into our soul that God isn’t relevant – God isn’t trustworthy – God isn’t precious. Sin cheers for us when we refuse to listen to God’s Word. Sin even smiles when we say nice things about God, but secretly love and worship ourselves instead. And since the whole human race has walked in sin like this, since we’ve all been traitors and hypocrites and liars who suppress the truth – you’d expect that God would be disgusted with us  – angry, even – that He’d be set on wiping us off the face of the earth.

But consider again the life of Jesus. When the Son of God came to live among us, he didn’t come to destroy us. He came to deliver us –out of our wickedness, out of our blindness, out of our rebellion. Jesus was sentenced and condemned under the law of God so we could be forgiven. He died in our place, so we could rise with him to eternal life. Jesus doesn’t just bring us knowledge of God’s existence, or God’s personality, or God’s commands – He brings us knowledge of God’s salvation.

[This] Knowledge Enables Fellowship with God

And this brings me to my second point – that this knowledge from Jesus – it enables us to have fellowship with God.

In verse 3, John says, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” – why? – so that you may have fellowship with us.” And who does John say is included in that “us”? Certainly it includes John and other people in the church – but it goes further than that. John says, “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

When John speaks about fellowship here, the word he’s using refers to close relationships where there is a sense of partnership: shared familiarity, transparency, and loyalty. This relationship isn’t superficial or disposable – it’s a real bond. And John reports that this real relationship with God is something he has, and wants us to have.

 The Necessity/Significance of Gospel Knowledge (How are we brought into Fellowship?)

But how can we have fellowship with God like this?

Notice first what John doesn’t say. He doesn’t encourage people to listen for some sort of mystical voice in their hearts. He doesn’t tell people to seek out emotional experiences in nature. Instead, John says that fellowship with God comes through hearing about Jesus. John says, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you may have fellowship...” So how will we draw near to a transcendent and righteous God? John tells us that Christ must be proclaimed. We must know the person and work of Jesus.

The biggest barriers that stand between us and God are our ignorance and our impurity. And we need Christ to resolve both – both to reveal Our God and to cleanse our defilement. That’s why it’s so necessary for us to proclaim Christ – not a fake version of Jesus we invent for ourselves, not Jesus 2.0, but the real, historical Jesus proclaimed by John and the other apostles.

          This is how God convicts us of sin, confirms our salvation, and calls us into real fellowship. Through Christ, we have direct access to God in prayer. Real peace with God. Real sympathy from Jesus our High Priest. Real comfort and empowerment from his Spirit. We live in his grace, we rest in his promises, and we labor with all the energy he supplies.

But the experience of our fellowship with God will ebb and flow on a day-to-day basis. Many of us objectively know we have fellowship with God through the blood of Jesus – that knot has been tied – but subjectively, you and I won’t always sense it. You may have days when you feel a million miles away from God’s approval, when heaven seems silent, and when your heart feels numb. And this is because there’s still a disconnect between our God and our world on account of sin. For as long as we’re part of this fallen world, that disconnect will impact our relationships with God and with the people around us.

But sin won’t obscure our relationship with God forever. If it’s possible, I want you to catch a glimpse of what fellowship looks like when it’s totally free from corruption and sin. I want you to consider the Fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For the fullness of eternity, God has always existed in three persons. God has never experienced social isolation or solitude. The Son didn’t become a Son – the Father didn’t become a Father – but within the eternal existence of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always had each other. The three persons of our Triune God have loved each other in vivid harmony. And even now, they’re relating to one another in continuous peace and faithfulness.

No trace of jealousy. No conflict. No misunderstandings. Never any gossip, or grudges, or manipulation. We almost lack words to describe the purity and perfections of this relationship. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have real fellowship.

And God invites us into fellowship marked by the same things – into an eternal state of togetherness and commitment – a place of relational safety, and warmth, and depth, and sweetness. No more artificial sweeteners – we’ll finally have the real thing – real sweetness and satisfaction for our souls.

Fellowship Produces Joy in God. 

And this brings me to my final point: Fellowship produces Joy in God.

In verse 4, John writes, “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete,” which is to say, “We’re writing about what it means to know Jesus and to have fellowship with Him – why? So that all of our joy – your joy and our joy – may be complete.

John recognizes that there’s only one way to have joy that’s 100% maximized and permanent and complete. It’s only through having fellowship with God.

We can be amused by video games and water parks. We can get excited by college sports and vacations. We can enjoy good food and long-lasting friendships. But none of these things are the actual source and fountain of joy – God is.

All the things we taste and touch and treasure – they’re like lightbulbs that glow with warmth and light. But the lightbulbs don’t turn themselves on. God is the invisible power source that makes these things shine. The reason we’re not immediately plunged into misery and torment – the reason that we’re able to enjoy anything at all – is because God gives us these lights – because he’s shining through these lights to display his goodness. And God’s goodness is infinite and glorious. It really lasts.

If I told you that the greatest form of human happiness was eating ice cream, and that we should therefore devote our lives to eating ice cream, you’d think I’m ridiculous. (At least, most of you would). But why is that? It’s because we all know that the pleasurableness of ice cream isn’t complete. It falls short. It comes to an end. And everything else under the sun will have the same limitations – getting a PhD, getting married, having kids, winning the lottery – these are good gifts, but they won’t complete your joy.

Every ice cream cone, every sunny day, every good thing you can think of – they point to something greater. They point us to the Author and Inventor of joy, the only one who can make our joy complete.

But what does it look like to experience this completeness of joy? How do we get there? I want you to notice – in verse 4 John says he’s writing these things so that our joy may be complete. John currently has real joy in God through having real Fellowship with God and his people – but John himself acknowledges that his own joy isn’t yet complete. John is still in a sinful world, still waiting for the day when He, and his brothers and sisters, will dwell in the intimate presence of God.

Many people think that when they come to Christ, life will be one big mountaintop experience of bliss – that our relationship with God will instantly feel awesome all the time. But even though we’re instantly brought into a relationship with God when we trust in Christ, we shouldn’t expect for that relationship to instantly feel deep. Just think about other relationships you’ve had. Relationships develop over months and years – and so does our relationship with God.

As you and I walk with God, our fellowship with him progresses and matures. As you see God providing you with daily food, clothing, and shelter, your joy in him grows. As he counsels you through your teenager angst, through complicated relationships, and into His call on your life, your joy in him grows. Whether you’re celebrating a wedding or a new child OR you’re instead clinging to Jesus in your loneliness, crying out to him next to an empty cradle, God upholds you, and your joy in him grows.

God draws near to us in our prosperity, and God draws near to us in our pain – when we lose friends, children, siblings, or parents – when we lose our jobs, when we lose our good health, when we feel like we’re losing control of our circumstances – we will still find that God is still faithful. His promises are still true. His fellowship is real and enduring.

And Christian, what impact does that have on your soul? How does it make you feel to know that your God will never leave you or forsake you? How does it affect you to know that God’s grace is sufficient for you? When these promises cease to be words on a page, and become the daily experience of our walk with God, it grows our joy.

Sometimes it’s hard to live in the already-but-not-yet aspects of the Christian life. But there’s a not-so-distant day coming. A day when we ourselves will finally see, and hear, and touch the Lord Jesus. We’ll find fullness of joy in his presence. We’ll discover pleasures forevermore at his right hand. And our joy will be complete.

Conclusion: Do you have fellowship with God?

          Friends, do you know anything of what it means to enjoy fellowship with God? Through the gospel of Christ, have you found peace? Through faith in Christ, have you felt the smile of God’s favor? Through the word of Christ, has God counseled you and encouraged you? Do you know what it means to delight yourself in his presence? Do you find him to be an anchor for your soul, and a refuge in your time of need?

I have found Christ to be more than enough in all these things – and so today I add my voice to John’s voice: I want to proclaim to you that which was from the beginning, the eternal life who was with the Father – I want you to know the fulness of Jesus – because I desperately long for you to have real fellowship with God.

At the beginning of the sermon, I asked you if you’re satisfied with your life. And in one sense, I hope that your answer to that question is yes – that like the apostle Paul, you’ve learned in whatever situation you are, to be content – that you agree, Godliness with contentment is great gain (Philippians 4:11b, 1 Timothy 6:6).

But in another sense, I hope that your answer is a firm no. I hope that every time you drink a good cup of coffee, every time you hear a song that stirs your heart, every time you have a conversation that warms your affections, that you won’t be satisfied to have these things without having God. My hope is that these signposts will continue to direct your gaze upward to the Father who gives good gifts to his children – that you’ll seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God – that fellowship with God and his people will be more precious to you than all the treasures of Egypt. I hope these things for you so that your joy may be complete.

Please Pray with Me:

1: https://news.gallup.com/poll/470888/americans-largely-satisfied-personal-life.aspx

2: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/702-it-would-seem-that-our-lord-finds-our-desires-not

 

 

 

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