Fellowship with the Truth
1 John 1:1 – 2:6
Fellowship with the Truth
Is there a problem with some churches?
Last week I met with some of the staff of a church in the North East of Adelaide, who are wanting to begin planting new churches in their region and across Adelaide.
The only thing that’s better than learning from your mistakes, is learning from someone else’s mistakes! And so at different times I get to share my mistakes and our mistakes with people who are keen to start new churches.
It’s a great joy, and it’s something I get to do a bit, and I’ll be doing some more when I head to Malaysia and Singapore in a week or so. I don’t know whether you realise this or not, but our church experience;, that we were planted by a church plant, and then we were 5 years old, we planted a new church on the South Coast, that multi-generational experience of starting new churches is unusual around the world, and almost unheard of in Australia.
So our story is fascinating and encouraging to people, and we can give thanks to God for that, but all that meant I got to spend an afternoon with those leaders from a church out North.
And we talked about all manner of things to do with starting new churches, but one of the things I wanted these guys to be aware of at the outset, because they’re going to find out pretty quickly, is that starting new churches makes some people in other churches people, uneasy.
It really shouldn’t cause too much friction, because every church, even the one that’s been there a hundred years, was itself brand new, once upon a time! But people in existing churches do sometimes get a bit worried when they hear about a new church starting up in the neighbourhood.
I know from the leaders at Littlehampton Baptist Church, who meet where we used to gather in Littlehampton school, that they were generally not warmly welcomed by other churches around here when they started.
That’s not great, is it?
And there’s probably all kinds of reasons for that, but part of the reason, is that when somebody says, “we’re starting a new church”, it can sound a bit like in their mind, that sentence finishes, “because there’s something wrong with all the churches that here already.”
And so some of the Christian people who are already there tend to wonder,
Are you starting something new because you think none of the other churches in the area teach the gospel of Jesus?
Do you think you’re the only ones with the truth?
Do you believe that all the other churches have misunderstood who Jesus is?
But of course, there are lots of good reasons to plant churches that have nothing to do with those questions.
The leaders I met with last week, they told me that their denomination’s statistic for starting new churches, is one new church in the past hundred years.
Of course since 1917 the population of South Australia has increased from 439 thousand to 1.7 million, so there’s 1.3 million reasons to start some new churches!
And it would be nice to be able to say, that’s all it is! That we just need new churches because the populations increasing,
It would nice to say that everyone who calls themselves a Christian,
Every group with “church” in their name, all have the same message, and are all on about the same thing,
If you walk into any church on a Sunday morning, you’ll hear the truth about Jesus, who came into the world, and lived, and died, and was raised, in our place, for our rebellion against God.
But sadly that’s not the case.
It can’t be said that everybody who claims to speak for God, actually does.
Not everyone who promises good news actually delivers.
One reason for starting new churches, is that there are far too few churches where God’s voice in the Scriptures is actually heard.
What’s at stake? Eternal life and fellowship with God
Which all raises a question, then, doesn’t it?
If not everyone has the message about Jesus,
If the message of eternal life 1 John 1 verse 2, in our church, is different to what you’d hear in some neighbouring church,
If at TMB we say this is how you get into right relationship with God, but somewhere else they’re saying that you come to God by some other means,
It makes you wonder, who’s right? Doesn’t it?
Who’s got the truth?
If the messages are different, contradictory,
How can we tell who’s leading us towards the right Jesus and the right gospel, and who is leading us astray!
And if, as John says here, this is all about knowing God, and having eternal life, having fellowship, with the Father, verse 3, then this is important!
Hearing and believing leads you into eternal life, verse 2, and into fellowship, with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, verse 3. But only if you hear and believe the right message.
The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher.
I remember at university, sometimes I’d drift off in class, so I know what it’s like, I do, but I’d kind of come back in, just in time to hear the lecturer say, “, and that’s very important, you must know that for the exam!”
And I’d realise, I just missed, what I needed to know.
Destinies hang on this,
Eternity is shaped by this,
You don’t want to get this wrong!
Imagine how awful it would be, to think you have a relationship with God, or in fellowship, with the father, to use the language of verse 3, only to hear God say on that last day, “away from me, I never knew you”
Fortunately for us, somewhere between 85 and 95 AD, the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, wrote to a group of Christians wrestling with the exact same question; How do we tell who’s got the true gospel?
And John’s answer, demonstrates for them and for us, 2 different ways of diagnosing if someone, if we, really have the truth about God, or whether we’ve put our trust in something else.
Actually he gives us 3 tests, but we’re just going to look at the first 2 this morning.
So today is about assurance.
It’s to stop us being like me drifting back into consciousness in my lecture and realising I’m not sure about the things that I need to be sure about.
If you’ve ever wondered, How do I know that I’ve believed the right thing? Or if what somebody else was telling me, didn’t quite sound right, how could I be sure of that?, well, you’re in exactly the right place this morning.
The recipients of this letter, a church or group of churches, they’d heard the truth about Jesus.
They’d responded to it, but then, after a little while, a bunch of people had arisen within the church, and they had another message about Jesus, a false message.
And then they’d gone down the road and started their own church, in order to promote their different gospel.
At the end of his letter, John tells us exactly why he’s writing;,
chapter 5 verse 13, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
John wants them, and us, to know, to have confidence, despite any challenge to our faith, to know that we have eternal life.
So what does he say to us, in order that we might be very very sure of that?
Well, let me read those opening verses again. That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked at and our hands have touched—
this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.
This is the sort of paragraph that would have earned a big red cross from Mrs Eckermann, my year 12 English teacher. We’ll cut John some slack because he’s writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t put in the main verb until verse 3, “we proclaim”.
Who are you in fellowship with?
And proclamation is key to this section? You probably noticed it popping up. This we proclaim, verse 1,
Verse 2, we proclaim to you,
And there in verse 3, we proclaim to you, he’s talking about what the apostles, the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry did.
And this can help us diagnose, whether or not we have the truth.
The reckon that up to 30% of us, when we’re sick, we self-diagnose on the internet instead of going to the doctor! Visiting doctor Google, they call it!
But here’s a method of self-diagnosis that’s OK! It’s allowed. In fact, it’s essential!
This self-diagnosis doesn’t require a blood test, or an Xray, or a list of symptoms,
It’s just a question;,
“With whom are you in fellowship?”
John wants us to consider if our message about Jesus, our take on the Christian faith, is the same as the message about Jesus and the Christian faith proclaimed by him and the other apostles, who Jesus commissioned as his witnesses.
So what is the message that the apostles taught?
Well, interestingly it’s not a list of rules,
It’s not a set of instructions that we need to follow.
It’s not even a theological position statement, is it?
Now, there’s value in that sort of thing;,
We have statement of faith as a church,
Martin Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago with his 95 theses about the Christian faith.
But for John, a statement of faith, has its roots in, real, historical events.
The message of the apostles, was about an experience of God.
That’s what we read in those opening verses, isn’t it?
We have heard,
We have seen with our own eyes,
We have looked at,
Our hands have touched,
We have seen it,
it appeared to us,
We have seen and heard.
That’s what we proclaim to you, John says,
A few days this week I was the first one in my family up on these cold, dark mornings, and so I’d wander round in the dark, turning on the coffee machine and the heater, usually in that order, trying not to wake anybody else up, but just as importantly, trying not to crash into things that I can’t see without the lights on.
And you know how it is, you kind of feel your way in the dark, trying to work out what you’re touching.
That’s the language John uses here;, the idea of feeling something to work out what it is.
And some of the time it seems like John is describing his experience of Jesus, as I said we know that John was one of Jesus’ closest friends. And if we’re familiar with how John begins his gospel account, which he wrote very close to the time of this letter, we can hear the similarities, between what he says here and what he says about Jesus in chapter 1 of his gospel.
So John 1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind,
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son
Here he says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
Jesus is the Word, that is, he is eternal, he was with the Father for all of eternity past, But then he took on flesh, took on human nature, so that John and the others who became eye-witnesses, could hear, and see, and touch, and experience Jesus.
They experienced God come in the flesh.
They experienced God made known.
But John, in somewhat typical John fashion, flicks back and forth between speaking about Jesus himself;, God come as a man, and then at other points, his subject is the message about Jesus.
So, we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us, it’s a slightly unusual way to do it, but he’s talking about Jesus was with the Father and has appeared to us, no doubt who that’s about,
But then down in verse 5, the message we have heard from him, we declare to you
So John’s saying, “I’m talking about Jesus, and I’m talking about a message;, Something that can be passed on to others.”
And really, that makes sense doesn’t it? Because the message about Jesus can’t be separated from the person of Jesus.
We can’t understand what it means to have eternal life, unless we know the one who John can call, the life
We really don’t know what it is to be forgiven for our rebellion against God, if we don’t know the one who paid the price for our rebellion.
So if we distil it down, the Christian message is a message about Jesus. The message that in Jesus, God came in the flesh, the eternal God broke into human experience, and made himself known, and that even though we’ve ignored and rejected God, he came into our world, to make himself known, so that we can be in relationship with him.
I’m becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that I’m turning 40 at the end of this year. And if I had a list of things that I wanted to accomplish by the time I turn 40, I’d really need to kick it up a notch!
But fortunately I don’t have such a list!
But the thing I’ve noticed about getting older, and yes, I recognise that it’s all relative! but I’m finding it harder and harder to keep my mouth shut when people say stupid things!
So those of you who are older than me, I need to spend some time with you and work out how you do it, because one day pretty soon, someone is going to say something that I find frustrating, and I’m not going to be able to help myself!
So the situation will play out where somebody says something like,
“I like to think of God like this, ”
Or “To me, God is, such and such”
And I’m not going to be able to hold back! I’ll say, “Do you realise how stupid that is?!”
“Do you realise what a bad starting point for a relationship that is, or even what a bad starting point for knowledge that is?!
So you can pray for me that my self-control will increase as I hit 40 and beyond!
But imagine if my wife Kathy decided, “I like to think of Clayton, as a 6 foot tall, blonde Swedish bodybuilder,
A graduate of the Cordon Bleu culinary school,
Who loves doing the grocery shopping,
And whose idea of a fun evening is doing the dishes, and cleaning the house.”
What’s that going to mean for her relationship with me?
For her understanding of who I actually am?
She’s completely off the page before we even begin!
No relationship works if we go into it like that! “I like to think of them like this, ”
But I meet heaps of people, who have the blonde Swedish bodybuilder view of God;,
“I like to think of God like, such and such.”
It’s got nothing to do with reality. It’s just what suits me.
John says, we, that’s him and the other Apostles, we know what God is like, because he’s revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ,
And he says if you, that is, us, want to know what God is like,
If you want the definitive Christian understanding and experience,
You need to make sure you’re in fellowship with us, apostles.
You need to be in agreement with our message.
Verse 3, We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ
If we dream up any other picture of who God is,
What he’s like,
What his character is,
What he requires of us,
It’s sheer arrogance, and foolishness.
It’s turning your back on reality because you’ve imagined the Swedish body builder.
Now, someone might object and say, “it’s arrogant of John to say you need to be in fellowship with us if you want to know God”
But surely what’s arrogant is to disregard the testimony of the eye-witnesses and to invent your own picture of God, and your own message about God.
To that question, “How do we know we’ve got the truth?”, the answer comes in the form of another question;, “Who are we in fellowship with?”
Who does our message put us in agreement with?
Do we agree with the witnesses?
Is our message, “God can be known”?
Is our message “God has made himself known”?
Is our message “The eternal God entered human existence as the man Jesus Christ”?
Is our message “Through the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus, lost, sinful people can have eternal life?”
Because that is the message of the eye-witnesses, that’s the message of those whom Jesus commissioned to speak on his behalf, including John.
Now, I like to agree with everybody. You know, I wish I could do that all the time!
But who we agree with has never been more important than in this case.
Because as much as it pains me to say it, there are all sorts of people, and churches, and groups around today, who aren’t in fellowship with John and the other Apostles, because the message they’ve chosen to proclaim is not this one.
Do we believe what the eye-witnesses have seen and heard?
Do we therefore have fellowship, with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ?
Or have we got it wrong?
Have we missed, or rejected, or obscured the truth?
When I think about our message as a church,
What we say to those who come in here on Sundays,
What we say to each other in our Bible study groups,
What we say we’re on about as a body,
When I hold our message up for examination against this criteria, it seems to me that we are in fellowship with the Apostles.
That our message is their message.
That if you walk in here on a Sunday morning, what you’ll hear is what you would have heard if you were talking to John first-hand.
But please don’t take my word for it. Run what you hear, in our family, through this criteria.
Run your experience of this community, through this criteria.
Find your assurance.
What does your walk say about you?
There’s a second test, as I said.
Another way to diagnose,
Another question: What does your walk say about your understanding of the truth?
In those lectures at university, during the times when I was paying attention, one of the things we learned about was gaits.
Not the gate that you walk through, but the gait that is the way you walk.
And we were taught, that somebody’s gait, the way they walk, can tell you about their health;, about injuries, muscular and skeletal issues, and all that kind of thing.
How you walk, can diagnose what’s going on inside.
There are even consultants who will “interpret” your walk, and tell you what kind of worker you are,
What you’re seeking in your relationships,
Whether you’re trying to hide things from people!
Which to me sounds like pushing the bounds of science a bit! but John would agree at least with the general theory!
The way you walk can be diagnostic,
The way you walk says something about you.
The language of “walking” is one of the Bible’s favourite expressions for life.
To walk, is to live.
So how do you walk?
See verse 5, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin
If we walk in, darkness, verse 6,
We don’t have fellowship with God, and we don’t live by the truth. On the other hand, if we’re walking in the light, that shows that we have fellowship with God.
Can you see in those first 4 verses, John was really driving home, how important it is to make sure you’re believing the right things.
Be sure, that you’ve believed the truth.
And then he moves on and says, “but don’t think that what I’ve just said about knowing the truth, means that the Christian faith is about simply known facts.
No, you show that you’ve understood the truth, by how you live.
The ideas of light and darkness are used in the New Testament metaphorically quite a bit. In fact the terms are used as metaphor far more than they’re used for physical light and darkness.
And the contrast is the kind of things you’d expect,
Good and evil,
Life and death,
God’s kingdom versus Satan’s rule,
Truth in contrast to falsehood,
But for John, in his gospel account and in his letters, it’s Jesus who is the light. Jesus, who says, John 8:12 “I am the light of the world”
So when John talks about light and darkness, he doesn’t do it kind of general terms;, that which is good, and that which is bad.
Rather, he means Jesus, and everything that is associated with him,
Submitted to him,
Flowing out from him,
Everything according to his purposes.
And then in contrast, everything that is opposed to Jesus.
Light and darkness are quite specific terms for John.
So what does it actually mean to “walk in the light” and to “walk in darkness”? Well John doesn’t tell us here, but he gives us a pretty good idea in his gospel account.
There’s some words on your outline from John chapter 3,
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God John 3:19 - 21
The people who walk in the light are the people whose lives say, “here’s someone who’s accepted the truth of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ”,
“Here is someone who has inherited eternal life in Christ”,
Their lives kind of advertise, “Here’s someone who has received forgiveness for their sin. They know they don’t need to work off their sin. They know they don’t need to fear the judgment of sin.”
These are people whose character reflects the God they have come to know in the person of Jesus Christ.
You know they say that when married couples get older, they start to look like each other?
And if they don’t start to look like each other physically, they certainly resemble each other in character, don’t they?
They think the same,
They finish each other’s sentences, all that kind of thing.
If you walk in the light, your life starts to look more and more like Jesus, because he is the light.
People can see Jesus’ character in the way you speak, and act, and treat others.
While people who reject Jesus,
People who prefer the Swedish body-builder approach to Jesus, well, their stumbling around in the darkness like me with the lights off, reveals the tragedy of their spiritual state.
Certainly the false teachers who John wants to warn his readers about, they were a particularly striking example of this, but it’s just as important for us.
We will meet people, who claim to have the truth about God,
Who claim to have fellowship with God, and yet doesn’t live in the light, they don’t live in accordance with the life that comes from Jesus,
Their lives don’t look like Jesus.
And their lives then, show their claims and their teaching to be false.
The Swedish body-builder people, the people who say, “I like to think about God like this,
To me, God is, whatever, ”
That kind of approach becomes obvious in the way we live our lives.
See, if I’ve rejected Jesus as God’s ultimate self-revelation, If I say, “No, no, I’m not interested in what John and the others have seen, and looked at, and touched”, then I can construct a God who suits my desires,
If Jesus isn’t God come in the flesh, well, then, I can ignore all those difficult and uncomfortable things that he said, and I can just chalk them up to, moderately interesting, ancient religious saying.
And the way that I live, the way that I walk, will demonstrate how I’ve responded to the truth.
Now, of course, let’s make sure we realise what John’s not saying.
He’s not saying, the way you walk determines your standing before God,
That if you do enough good stuff, if my life, kind of looks like Jesus, then God will be pleased with me.
It’d the other way around. It’s not that your life achieves the relationship, but the relationship will be obvious from your life.
And he’s also not saying, that if you muck up,
If you fall into sin,
If you repeatedly fall into sin, then you’re out. You obviously don’t know God.
He knows we’re going to sin, and so he says 2 verse 1, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
He’s talking about people who have set a deliberate pattern for their life in opposition to Jesus, not those who struggle with the reality that we’re not yet free from sin.
But the way I choose to walk, either, My life is the kind of life revealed and made possible, because God broke in to human history as the man Jesus Christ,
Or my walk says, “I don’t know God.”
My life says one of those 2 things.
Your life says one of those 2 things.
And I wonder if we got one of those “Walk Interpretation Consultants” in here this morning, to look at the way we walk,
What would they say about us?
What does your walk say about you?
Does your walk tell you, you need to take a closer look at the message of Jesus, because you’re not walking in the light?
Does your walk say, “I obviously don’t understand what it means to live the life for which Jesus died?”
Does your walk say, “I haven’t really grasped the truth?”
If that’s you I’d love to talk to you. Come and see me after, or put your details on the Communication Card. We’d love to help you think about that.
Does your walk give you great assurance, pointing you forward to the eternal life to which you’ve been called,
Does your walk convict you of the sin against which you still struggle, and yet remind you of the fellowship you have with God, only because his perfect Son was willing to die in your place, to take the penalty for sin you deserved?
In 1953, the molecular biologist Francis Crick wrote a letter to his 12 year son, Michael, about a new discovery he and a colleague had made.
The letter begins, “My dear Michael, Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery.” It runs over 7 pages, and he signs off, “Lots of love, Daddy.” And in the intervening pages, Crick explains the discovery of their model for DNA, a model that was not yet public, but which was so ground-breaking, that he and Watson would later receive a Nobel Prize.
60 years later when the letter went up for auction, an anonymous bidder paid over 6 million US dollars for it, the highest price ever paid for a letter.
It’s been called the, most, valuable, letter, in the history of the world.
, But of course, it’s not is it?
This letter is much more valuable!
John wants us to be absolutely convinced of the truth about Jesus.
He wants us to have absolute assurance, that we can and do have, fellowship with God.
He wants us to be sure, that we’re not going to discover that we’ve missed the boat,
He wants us to know that people we encounter with a different message, well they’ve departed from the truth.
The message of John and the other eye-witnesses is about Jesus;, Jesus who they saw, and looked at, and touched.
And the way to be sure that we haven’t believed in vain, is to hold fast to their message.