Conditions of Fellowship
John begins his first letter in 1 John 1:1 this way:
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life—
John made it clear from the start that he was testifying as a material witness in a court of law. He was not speaking of things that he had heard from others, but what he had seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands.
In other words, John had known Jesus Christ personally. Therefore, whatever others might say about him, whatever others might claim that He taught, their witness carries no weight if they do not agree with John’s witness. Those who try to claim that Jesus taught the principles of Gnosticism, for example, are false witnesses and liars.
The Gnostics believed that the devil (“demiurge”) created the physical universe and that matter was inherently evil. They believed that a good God would never come in contact with such “evil” matter. The Greeks believed that the mingling of spirit and matter was bad, and that spirit and matter should be divorced from each other.
John tells his audience that Jesus Christ was flesh and blood like every other man. Not only could He be “seen” but also “handled.” Those who claimed that Jesus’ body was only an illusion did not really know Him as John did. Greek philosophy, claiming that a good God could never inhabit evil flesh, was based on the false premise that matter was evil.
Even as Moses had borne witness of the beginning of creation, so also John bore witness of the beginning of the new creation. The first creation was about Adam, the second was about Jesus Christ, whom Paul called “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was a life-giving spirit. So John refers to Christ as “the Word of Life.”
John’s letter is closely connected to his gospel, which also starts at the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word,” says John 1:1, and “in Him was life” (John 1:4). In this way, John identifies Jesus with the Tree of Life in the original garden (Gen. 2:9), from which flowed a river, splitting into four rivers. So also in the Kingdom of God we see another river flowing out from the throne of God with the Tree of Life on either side of the river (Rev. 22:1, 2).
Because of sin, man lost access to that Tree, but Jesus came to earth as that Tree of Life, and through Him we are able to regain immortality and the quality of life for which we were destined from the beginning.
In Gen. 2:16, 17 Adam and Eve were given access to the Tree of Life. Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not given to them—not even to touch. When Jesus came to earth, disciples like John were able to see and handle Him. They were privileged to examine Him and observe Him in action. Hence, John was a credible witness.
The Life was Manifested
1 John 1:2, 3 continues,
2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ life was full of evidence that He was indeed the Tree of Life. John says, “the life was manifested,” that is, it was made visible and tangible here on earth. But to gain access to that Life one must be in unity with Jesus Christ. Fellowship is about unity, which comes by having Life in common. It is a fellowship of immortals, and faith is the door to fellowship.
John’s purpose in writing this letter was to open up this fellowship to a wider group—to the whole world, he says later. It was never meant to be an exclusive fellowship. Yet no one would want to join this fellowship without first desiring it and believing John’s report. One must believe the truth of John’s witness in order to “have fellowship with us.”
The Light of Truth
This life is also light, because “the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). One’s alleged faith in Christ must be rooted and grounded in truth. For example, if a Greek or Persian desired to join the fellowship of true believers, he had to give up the culturally-ingrained notion that matter was created inherently evil. He must believe and accept the truth that Jesus Christ was the Word made flesh. He must believe that a good God would indeed come in contact with the material creation.
This is part of the belief that Christ was and is the Son of God. Hence, when Gen. 1:3 says, “Then God said,” we are to understand that the Word He spoke was Jesus Christ Himself, and that this Word became matter itself. The Word was spiritual, and when the Word spoke, light was created in the physical universe.
Visible light was thus the first manifestation of the spiritual Word and was “good” in the sight of God (Gen. 1:4). Then matter was created by the same good God, and after each day of creation, God proclaimed His work to be “good.”
John tells us that the physical universe was created by the power of Life and Light that was inherent in the Word, Jesus Christ. The Greek idea that matter was created by the devil (“demiurge”) is a fundamental lie that taints all philosophy built upon its premise and prevents men from having true fellowship with God and with the church.
John implies that one’s belief in Gen. 1:1 is paramount. One must have faith that God—and not the devil—created the heavens and the earth. One must know the origin of matter in order to understand the subsequent incarnation of the Word in human flesh. The issue is a fundamental truth undergirding the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The Virgin Birth
The virgin birth of Christ, along with the concept of His incarnation as the Son of God, is also the fundamental premise for our own ability and authority to become sons of God (John 1:12, 13). If Jesus’ incarnation was a mere illusion, then there is no reason to think that we ourselves can become sons of God, for both are built upon the same law of begetting and the gestation leading to full birth (manifestation).
Thus, John set forth this fundamental truth at the outset, for he intended to build upon it later in his teaching about the sons of God who are begotten by the Father.
There is a strong group of Gnostics within the Roman Catholic church today, a group which can be traced to the time of the Crusades. The Knights Templar, formed in 1099, were converted to this belief system after encountering it in the Middle East. Eventually, they were suppressed in 1307, but these Gnostic knights simply went underground. With the Templar organization suppressed, the knights joined other Orders and continued their beliefs and rituals in secret.
Only recently have they felt secure enough to come out into the open. Their debut came in 1996 when Laurence Gardner began publishing a series of books to explain the premises of Gnostic Christianity. He was the main spokesman for the Gnostics and for Prince Michael of Albany, a Stewart who claims to be the true heir to the throne of England. His books were followed by the publication of Dan’s Brown’s book, The DaVinci Code, in 2003, followed by the movie by the same name.
The publication of these books is backed by a strong Gnostic faction within the Vatican itself, which seeks to take control of the church doctrines and substitute Mary Magdalene for Mary the mother of Jesus. They believe that Jesus did not truly die on the cross but was saved by His disciples.
They further believe that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that she bore three children to Him. Jesus Jr., they claim, was the father of the Merovingian dynasty whose bloodline permeates most of the royal families in Europe today. By this myth they claim the divine right to rule the earth. Their claim is founded on the belief that Jesus did not really die on the cross, nor was He the Sacrifice for the sin of the world.
I have also encountered quite a few Bible teachers today who have absorbed Gnostic teaching, usually inadvertently. Some of them base their teaching on the idea that matter is an “illusion,” thinking that their perspective is spiritual. It is not spiritual, but Gnostic, and it dishonors the One who created matter. All that God created has value, and God loves all that He created. To claim that it is just an illusion degrades creation and dishonors the Creator.
We are now seeing the emergence of Gnostics who say that Gnosticism, founded by Simon Magus, is the true heir of the “Christian” title. Strangely enough, those Gnostics even claim John as their patron saint! Hence, it is important that we understand John’s writings and see how he fought against Gnostic teaching.
John’s opening statement in his first letter makes it clear that this is a fellowship issue. The purpose of John’s letter was to cause men to repent of their Greek and Gnostic ideas about the origin of matter, so that they “also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). If men hear the Word of Life and are begotten by that Word of truth, they become sons of God. If not, they are not part of our fellowship, for how can they be begotten by God when they seek to separate flesh from spirit?
Later in John’s letter, he will speak more of this.
In the introduction to John’s first letter, he says in 1 John 1:1, “what we have seen [horao, “to stare”] with our eyes,” using the word horao, “to stare.” He follows up by saying also, “what we have looked at [thaomai, “to examine closely”].” John was emphasizing the fact that he was truly an eyewitness of Jesus Christ, not merely seeing a glimpse of Him in a crowd. He had spent much time with Jesus, whereas Simon Magus, the originator of Gnosticism, had never even met Him.
Hence, John is a credible witness, while Simon Magus is not.
There is another angle to this as well. John’s face-to-face examination of Jesus had changed his life in the manner in which Paul spoke in 2 Cor. 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding [katoptrezo, “reflecting”] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
In other words, we are transformed into the image of Christ by face-to-face encounters with Him, so that we ultimately become a mirror image of Him, reflecting His glory. Later, in 1 John 4:12, the apostle defines the glory of God in terms of manifesting Love, which is the character of God manifested in Jesus Christ.
Simon Magus had never had this experience. He had stared too long at the Greek philosophers and Persian dualists and thus based his ideas on the wisdom of this world and not upon the wisdom of God.
The wording in 1 John 1:1 suggests that to be a genuine witness of truth, one must not only examine Jesus closely but, in addition to this, others must see evidence of His glory reflecting in the witness himself. If, as time passes, the witness remains unchanged from his past life, it is not likely that he has had a genuine encounter with Jesus, nor should anyone give credibility to his testimony.
The Basis of Fellowship
Those who reflect the glory of Jesus have something in common, and this is evidence that such people are part of the same fellowship. True fellowship is not based upon culture, ethnicity, or a common membership in a religious organization or secret society. It is easy to become a member of something or to subject one’s self to a single religious leader. But John says nothing of being changed by closely examining a religious leader—not even himself. John the apostle knew John the Baptist, who said that he was not the Christ but was only a witness of Christ (John 1:20-34). Neither the Apostle nor the Baptist pointed to himself but gave glory only to Jesus Christ.
What is Fellowship?
The Greek word koinonia is translated “fellowship.” The word has to do with communication, community, and communion. Some denominations today restrict communion to members of their religious organization, which they call the church. By excluding genuine believers who have had face-to-face encounters with Jesus, they show that they base their fellowship on membership and submission to denominational leaders, rather than on their relationship to Jesus Christ Himself.
Essentially, they do not understand the meaning of the word church, for they equate it with an earthly organization rather than “to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). Further, such people’s basis of fellowship has shifted from grace through faith in Christ to the belief in long creeds that include far more than simple faith.
John, however, sets forth the truth about fellowship, devoting a chapter (as we will see) to each topic as follows:
1. The Conditions of Fellowship (1 John 1)
2. The Conduct of Fellowship (1 John 2)
3. The Characteristics of Fellowship (1 John 3)
4. Cautions about Fellowship (1 John 4)
5. The Cause of Fellowship (1 John 5)