1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 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 and was made manifest to us— 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.1 John 1:1-4
Here we are in our first Refresh & Restore of 2021, and I find myself both excited and nervous. I am excited because getting to open the Word and journey through it with you brings me great joy and is a special time for me each week. But I find myself anxious at how small I am compared to the massive task of “rightly handling the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But I trust in the power of the Word (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12) more than I fear my own inadequacies. As Augustine said, “Where Scripture speaks, God speaks”; and we so desperately need to hear Him.
What we are setting out to do in this new year – seeking to walk through whole books and sections of the Bible, to genuinely understand it – is not a new task. We will break it down like Isaiah had to in his time: “precept upon precept” and “line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10). We will join in with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah who, upon returning home from exile, “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8).
So, today, let us set out to read and understand John’s first epistle (letter) and look at the Life, Light, and Love that comes only from walking with Christ – the Word of God.
The first thing we see is how he opens 1 John and how it fits with the gospel of John. He started his gospel by describing how Jesus is eternal and God:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”John 1:1
Where the other gospels begin with the birth of Christ and/or the work of John the Baptist, John’s gospel goes back before the beginning and shows that Jesus has always been and always been God. 1 John begins by showing us how we can know Him through the experience of those who knew Him as the God who saved them from their sins and the divine Man who was their friend on earth.
John was writing here as he and Peter said in Acts 4:20: “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”. He is bringing Jesus, who “was from the beginning” (v. 1), into focus, showing us how He became knowable. Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and lived a fully human life; He could be “heard”, “seen”, “looked upon”, and “touched”. He was not some abstract being or god. He is neither myth nor legend. He is real.
John is relaying his first-hand experience with Jesus so that we can know Him. He does this so that when he talks about the “Word of Life” it is not some idea to be thought about but, rather, a Person to be known. Back when John was writing, there were people who were trying to convince others that God did not “become flesh”. They wanted to challenge that truth and replace it with theories and ideas (because theories and ideas can be ignored or changed as needed). But John shows that there was more to Jesus.
He was not only the “Word of Life” but the Life (John 14:6). And because He came – was born, lived, died in our place, and rose from the dead – the Life was “made manifest” (v. 2). We do not typically use language like this, so it may be a bit hard to wrap our minds around. But the word translated “made manifest” literally means “to make visible”, “to cause to be seen”, or “to make known”. That is exactly what happened. God, in Jesus, was “born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7); He became a man to make Himself known to us. “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) so that, by knowing, believing, and trusting in Him we might become “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
This is literally what John is doing here in this letter: He is sharing the Life with us. He wants us to know that he has “seen it”. He wants to “testify to it” so that we can believe it. And he wants to “proclaim” it – “the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest” (v. 2) so that we can have it too.
We have already talked about how John wrote his gospel to show us Christ and his first letter so that we can know Him. Now, we see how he goes from showing how to have eternal life in his gospel – “whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16) – to showing in 1 John how we can know we have eternal life.
Those who have eternal life have “fellowship” with John, all believers, and – especially – with “the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3). The word fellowship has a lot of (pardon the made-up word) churchiness associated with it. Where I live in the Southern US, the word fellowship could be associated with the awkward, pre-Covid greeting time at some churches, but it is most often associated with eating (I can almost taste fried chicken as I type this) meals at church gatherings. But the type of fellowship – the very concept that is at the heart of what John is saying here – is so much more than a shared meal, a handshake, or even a hug. It is not a way of life or even a part of life. It is a result of having eternal life – of associating with the Life.
The word here translated “fellowship” is a special word. It could translate as a “close association”, “community”, or “a close, mutual relationship”, but all those things can exist outside of eternal life. They are too regular to communicate what John is talking about here. The “fellowship” he refers to comes out of the shared experience flowing from the grace of God in salvation. It is community built upon the foundation of the gospel – that we are all sinners and are only saved by the grace of God in Christ alone.
The closest earthly example that I can relate it to would be a group of people who survived some tragedy. They would have a bond based on their shared experience of having lived through something together. But that is where the illustration falls apart. The fellowship with God that comes from salvation produces our fellowship with one another. And we do not share the experience of living through something; we share the experience of the Life. We can celebrate the fact that, despite the “wages of [our] sin [being] death”, we have received the “free gift of God…eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We are family – “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:7). This is a bond like no other.
Through knowing Christ in this way – the way that John knew Him, John shares with us the same thing that Jesus gave to him: complete joy. Here in verse 4, John echoes the promise that Jesus made to him – a promise he heard with his own ears. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Joy means the reason for or object of gladness and delight. When we receive Christ, when we are fully known and loved by Him, He becomes the object of our delight and the reason that our hearts can be glad. He has already taken our sin upon Himself on the cross and defeated death, and He is willing to exchange our sorrows for joy. What better news could there be? For that reason, John tells his original readers and us today that he is “writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (v. 4).
I am immensely thankful for the testimony of John – that He would share all that he had heard and seen of His friend Jesus with us. I am even more thankful that Jesus – the Word of Life – came that we “may have Life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Have you experienced the eternal life that comes only from Jesus? All it takes to have eternal life is the same as with any gift – to receive it, to receive Christ because “to all who…receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It is my prayer that – if you have not repented and believed in Jesus Christ – you do just that. He promises that “whoever comes to [Him] will never [be] cast out” (John 6:37). He will never – never – cast you out but instead make sure that your joy is completely full forever.