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The Goal of the Gospel: Fellowship with God

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1 John 1:3-7

3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin.

Last week we saw that the letter of 1 John was written so that its readers might find full joy in the community of believers by obtaining fellowship themselves with the “Word of Life.” We saw that fellowship with God and with other Christians is the goal of the gospel.

Today, before we move on to the next passage, I think we need to ponder a little while longer over what John means by “fellowship.” Most of us tend to think too little about what fellowship in the Bible is all about. And if this is the goal of the gospel proclamation, it would do us good to consider what John has in mind when he uses this word (he uses it 3 times between verses 3 and 7.)

So let’s look at what the Bible means by “fellowship,” and next week, Lord willing, we will see  what John has to say about what it takes to have fellowship with God.

There appears to be different ways of looking at the concept of “fellowship” in the Bible. I think we can identify at least six different ways of talking about it. And keep in mind that it is John's goal that his readers have fellowship with God through Christ and thereby find themselves in fellowship with other believers as well. So when we look at what it means to have fellowship, these things are true whether we are talking about fellowship with other Christians or whether we are talking about fellowship with God. They go together and cannot be separated.

1. Fellowship is being on a friendly basis with another.

This is the most basic thing we could probably say about fellowship. It is so basic in fact that I don't think the Bible ever speaks about “fellowship” in this way. But I say it here because this is one of the English definitions of fellowship, and we can certainly say that in the Bible while fellowship is much more than mere friendliness with another, it is also not less than that. I also point this out to all of us because 1 John will demand of us to have fellowship with all Christians if we have true fellowship with God. And yet many Christians struggle to even be on a friendly basis with some other Christians. If we are at odds with any other believers in Jesus, we will also be at odds with God.

2. Fellowship is the development of a deeper relationship with others.

In extra biblical literature, the word for “fellowship” was a favorite term to describe the most intimate human relationship, the marital relationship. It was also used to refer to a society, brotherhood, or closely knit majority. It refers to a harmonious unity.

What is interesting about this definition is that this appears to be the reason why the Old Testament never uses such language in describing the relationship between God and men. The Hebrew man seems hesitant to ever refer to his relationship with God as “fellowship,” choosing instead to put some distance between himself and God by referring to himself as a “servant of the Lord.” Now, such a relationship with God was experienced by the Jewish worshipper in the common meals and feasts in which God was believed to be a participant. Yet such relationship is never called fellowship.[1]

3. Fellowship is “a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim.”

This definition also comes from the English dictionary. But I think there is biblical support for this definition, too. Consider, for example, Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In this definition there is an emphasis on some mutual interest between two or more parties. The early Christians were a “fellowship” because they were all devoted to the same thing, namely, “the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” They were also devoted to the “fellowship” itself.

As we've said before, there is an affinity in the church, but only one legitimate one, and that is Jesus. He is the reason we are a “fellowship.” If we ever get away from that, by profession or practice, we are no longer a church according to the Bible's definition. If our shared interest or aim becomes leisure or movies or little league sports or nice neighborhoods or new cars or golf, we may have friends but we will not have fellowship.

What is it that we pursue with God as a shared interest or aim? In other words, in having fellowship with God, what is it that both God and we are after?

We find our answer in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Really? Eating and drinking and whatever we do should be done to the glory of God? Why? Because God's glory is what God is seeking most. How do we eat and drink and work and play and do a million other things in life for God's glory? By doing them in a way that shows that we value Christ above those things. If we really were to live that way, our lives would be radically different from the world and from a host of other nominal Christians whose aim in life doesn't seem to be that different from anyone else's.

4. Fellowship is a partnership.

The common aim of two or more people who choose to work together toward that aim means that both parties become equally responsible in their pursuit. Thus we find in the word fellowship the idea of sharing. In Philippians 1:5, Paul thanks the Philippians for their “partnership” in the gospel. They had financially assisted him in his mission work making it possible for him to spread the gospel.

I believe this idea of partnership and shared responsibility is particularly addressed in our passage. Verse 7 says, “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 cleanses us from all sin.” To whom is John referring when he says “one another”? Almost all commentators agree that John is referring to the fellowship of believers with each other. But if so it comes as somewhat of a surprise.[2] The immediate context seems to be concerned mostly with one's relationship with God. So, perhaps what John says is, “if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with God, and he with us, that is, one with another.”[3]

If it is our relationship with God that is in view, then why did John not simply say, “we have fellowship with him”? The reason he might use the reciprocal pronoun here is to stress the idea of partnership. In other words, our fellowship with God is not unilateral. It is a relationship of sharing.

This is not to suggest of course that our relationship with God is based upon our efforts coupled with God's efforts. This is one of the differences between our justification and our sanctification. What makes our fellowship with God possible is justification and it is entirely his work on our behalf. But what makes our fellowship with God continual is sanctification, “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”[4] So John says that the condition for fellowship with God is that we “walk in the light.” This is a responsibility that we have in our salvation which we cannot ignore.

Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I fear that what so many of us fail to do is exactly this. There is no striving, no serious and even strenuous effort to grow in our faith. It’s not that we can claim that we don’t know how to grow. Theologian Wayne Grudem comments:

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means of Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:2; Matt. 4:4; John 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18–20), witnessing (Matt. 28:19–20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24–25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8).[5]

One of our core values at Crosstown is Intentional Spiritual Formation. We like to say that we are concerned about church growth—that is, that believers demonstrate a life of increasing holiness. So how will you strive to grow in Christ? Surely our fellowship with God depends at the very least on our commitment to some of the basic spiritual disciplines. But how many in our churches are very successful at their consistency with those disciplines? How many of us are consistent? When is it going to bother us when we struggle with our daily disciplines? And what are we going to do about it? Again, listen to Grudem:

One more point must be added to this discussion of our role in sanctification: sanctification is usually a corporate process in the New Testament. It is something that happens in community. We are admonished, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25).[6]

Our goal of spiritual formation for every believer is not an attempt to control each other's lives in legalistic ways. But we also cannot keep on refusing to really help each other in this area. We need to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” How do you think we should do it? How about a daily phone call to another brother or sister in Christ to see if they have had a time of devotion consisting of Bible reading, memorization, and meditation? How about asking one another if we have spent time in worship and prayer this day? Maybe there are better ideas on how to do it. But my question is, are you involved with another believer to the point where you have freedom with each other to ask these questions? Or are we in danger of assuming that we have fellowship with God because of some decision we made in the past?

5. Fellowship demands participation.

This is not hard to see once we've grasped the truth that fellowship is a partnership, so I won't say much more here. I simply want to remind us all that we have no right to assume we are in fellowship with God, and therefore no reason to assume we are reconciled to him, if we are not actively involved with him and his goal of spreading his glory across this globe. To be a Christian means to be a participant. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinwniva ) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinwniva) in the body of Christ?

But you might be thinking, “Isn't our participation with God a passive one?” Perhaps you are thinking of verses like Romans 12:1 that command us to “present ourselves to God.” To be sure, our growth in Christ is dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit, and the biblical term for fellowship can emphasize either the giving or receiving of a relationship.[7] It is true that we are mere receivers in our relationship with God since we can offer to him nothing that he is in need of.

Nonetheless, the word fellowship “is always used of active participation, where the result depends on the co-operation of the receiver as well as on the action of the giver.”[8] Allow me one more quote from Grudem:

Unfortunately today . . . this idea of yielding to God and trusting him to work in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), is sometimes so strongly emphasized that it is the only thing people are told about the path of sanctification. Sometimes the popular phrase “let go and let God” is given as a summary of how to live the Christian life. But this is a tragic distortion of the doctrine of sanctification, for it only speaks of one half of the part we must play, and, by itself, will lead Christians to become lazy and to neglect the active role that Scripture commands them to play in their own sanctification.[9]

6. Fellowship costs.

One of the more common uses of the word fellowship in the New Testament involves the giving of material goods, often at great sacrifice (e.g. Rom 12:13; 15:26; 2 Cor 9:13; Gal 6:6).

Fellowship with God will cost us, but this should come as no surprise because worship naturally involves sacrifice. We worship whatever it is we sacrifice to. And we do so joyfully. This was true of the Macedonian churches:

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)

But fellowship with God costs more than just money and sometimes it costs us our life: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.(Phil 3:10).

It should be clearer to us now what fellowship with God will take. And it is for fellowship that God has gone to great links to bring reconciliation to us who were at one time hostile to him. So we can be sure that fellowship is worth it. It is the goal of the gospel. And with it comes full, everlasting joy. 


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[1]       “Conscious theology is hesitant to express what participants in the feasts know by experience,” F. Hauck, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964–74), 3:801.

[2]       This is exactly what I. Howard Marshall calls it in his commentary, The Epistle of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1978), 111. F. F. Bruce (The Epistles of John [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1970], 46) agrees that the reciprocal pronoun may refer to the relationship of believers with God just as well as it may refer to the relationship of believers with each other, stating that “It is unnecessary to insist on the one meaning as against the other, since the one implies the other.”

[3]       Though rare, the Greek reciprocal pronoun ajllhvlwn can refer to two individual persons rather than to groups of people, e.g. Luke 23:12; 24:14, 17, 32; Acts 15:39; 1 Cor 7:5. See H. Krämer, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (EDNT), ed. Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, 3 vols (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 1:63.

[4]       Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 746.

[5]       Grudem, Systematic Theology, 755.

[6]       Grudem, Systematic Theology, 756.

[7]       F. Hauck, TDNT, 3:798.

[8]       J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 351.

[9]       Grudem, Systematic Theology, 754.

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