“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (I John 1:3-4). In this manner is the exalted theme of John’s first epistle introduced, that of fellowship or communion¹ with the God. John also gives warnings against the Gnostic deceivers of that day, but the aspect of truth we can perhaps most benefit from by this apostolic letter regards the knowledge and enjoyment of communion with God and with His children.
Communion, or fellowship, has the meaning of sharing or partaking in something in common with another or others. So then, as it relates to communion between God and His children, we now have in common the life of God communicated to us in the Son, which allows for the flow of love, enjoyment, and shared appreciation between those who possess that life. As another has written, eternal life is “the basis of intercourse between man and God”², and that intercourse is communion.
Apprehending, or laying hold of by faith, the apostolic testimony as to the Word of life come from the Father is the beginning point for fellowship. That eternal life in the incarnate Son of God has been communicated to those who have been brought out of the darkness to live and walk in the light. We have God presented to us here as being “light”, and Jesus Christ as “the eternal life”, so that being made alive spiritually and being brought into the light brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son positionally and characteristically. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:1-7). What characterizes being “in the light” is this communion, along with the knowledge of complete cleansing from sins by the blood of Christ. As will be noticed when contrasting the two positions in verses 6 and 7 (walking in the light as opposed to walking in darkness), our position is a matter of where we walk, in which realm, rather than how we walk, though that question is addressed elsewhere, chiefly in Paul’s writings. And contrary to what some teach, believers do not walk from the light to the darkness, and then back to the light again, each time needing a fresh cleansing by the blood of Christ. What blessedness to be in the light and clean, brought into communion with the Father and the Son!
Now there is an aspect of communion that is experimental³ and that is enjoyed by degree, for it has to do with our state of soul in the light, in the presence of God, “as He is in the light”. Some speak of communion being broken by sin in a believer’s walk, and we understand what they mean by that, yet it seems more in keeping with John’s doctrine to say that the allowance of sin brings in a hindrance to, or an interruption in, the liberty that ought to be experienced in communion. Confession of that sin is then called for, and the advocacy of “Jesus Christ, the righteous” with our Father allows for our restoration to a state in which we can again fully enjoy communion with Him. Our relationship as children with the Father is fixed, as is our position in the light, but our enjoyment of and confidence in Him may vary, and we have a responsibility in the maintenance of a joyful Christian experience through communion with Him.
We find several principles in this first epistle of John that, if they exercise our hearts, will help us to more fully enjoy communion with God.
First, in chapter 2, verse 5, we read: “Whoever keeps His word, in him verily the love of God is perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him.” Being spiritually exercised to imbibe and keep the word of God by faith will have a definite positive effect in the life of a believer. As a result of communing with God in deep appreciation of His revealed mind and will, the love of God will gradually take over (so to speak) in the Christian’s soul, and there will be growth toward perfection or full maturity in that love, which flows from God by the Spirit (Romans 5:5). This love for God and for our brethren provides us with assurance that we are “in Him”, in that place of intimacy and communion with Him.
Next, we are also brought into the knowledge and enjoyment of the end result of God’s love for His children, when we read in I John 3:1-3: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the [children] of God . . . Beloved, now are we the [children] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” It is the appreciation of God’s sovereign love toward us that assures us that we will soon be with and like the blessed Son of God, our Savior. And that hope enjoyed in a believer’s soul has a purifying effect within him, for the object of his heart is Christ in glory. Having the soon-to-be-manifested Christ before the heart will have the natural effect of turning a saint away from all that would hinder his communion with Him.
Then, we find that our enjoyment of God and confidence in Him are affected by the state of our hearts. The children of God ought to love “in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (I John 3:18-22). In chapter 2, John shows that love for the world is incompatible with the love of the Father in us. If the lusts and pride of the world attract a believer’s heart, then it follows that his heart will condemn him. Consequently, there will be a lack of confidence or boldness in his communion with God, although God is still over all and meets all of our failure and divided affection with the loving discipline and fatherly care that only He can show. If our heart is filled with divine love for God and for the children of God, then communion is unhindered and we can pray confidently with His interests on our heart, receiving what we ask because we do that which is pleasing to Him. Oh, to have that “love out of a pure heart”!*
Much more could be and has been written on the subject of communion with God. But learning about communion is no substitute for enjoying it in His presence. Of utmost importance is the needed exercise of heart in simply maintaining and enjoying it, for our own blessing, and for the pleasure of Him who created us in His own image for that very purpose, and who cleansed us and gave us eternal life so that communion might finally and forever be enjoyed.
¹ Fellowship and communion can generally be used interchangeably for the same word in Greek, which is koinónia.
² J. N. Darby: Notes on the First Epistle of John
³ That is, relating to Christian experience.
* I Timothy 1:5