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A CLOSE LOOK AT THE MEANING OF FELLOWSHIP

July 27, 2014

A CLOSE LOOK AT THE MEANING OF FELLOWSHIP

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

July 27, 2014

 

1 John 1:1-2:5


1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We 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 there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

3 Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

          What do you think about when you hear the word “fellowship”?  My mind runs back to the hymn Leaning On the Everlasting Arms that I learned as a boy in Harrison Chapel Baptist Church on Highway 26 between Delight and Antoine (Pike County), Arkansas.  Perhaps you will recall these words.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

O how bright the path grows from day to day,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,

Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

Leaning, leaning,

Safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

          Leaning On the Everlasting Arms is a hymn about fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  By the way, this hymn was written by a Presbyterian pastor named Elisha Hoffman.  Reverend Hoffman wrote other hymns you may have heard or sang, including Down At the CrossAre You Washed in the BloodI Must Tell Jesus, and Is Your All on The Altar

 

          Leaning On the Everlasting Arms speaks about the divine joy of fellowship with God.  We sing about how sweet it is to “walk in this pilgrim way” and “how bright the path grows from day to day” as we are “leaning on the everlasting arms.” 

 

          1 John (now believed to have been written by one or more teachers who were influenced by John, the Evangelist rather than the Evangelist himself) speaks of fellowship in more challenging ways.  Fellowship in 1 John is an ethical issue to be experienced through confession, forgiveness, and obedience, not merely sung. 

 

We do not get far into 1 John before this truth meets us.  At 1 John 1:5-8 we read:  … God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him, while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  Fellowship with God means living (walking) in holiness and truth with God. Anything else is darkness.

 

But Scripture is clear and unflinching about the fact that humans are imperfect creatures.  We do not always walk in the light of holiness and truth.  We often miss the mark.  At other times we deliberately turn away from holiness and truth.  To deny this is to deceive ourselves, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).  We are sinners.  We do not walk in the light of holiness and truth, but in the darkness of pride, self-worship, greed, and hatefulness.

 

The author of 1 John provides a standard to help us know if we are truly in fellowship with God.  At 1 John 2:3-5 we read:  Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.  Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.  By this we may be sure that we are in him.

 

Ponder those words in the light of what is going on around us and across the world.

  • God commands that we love one another as we love ourselves.  Yet people who say they know God are opposed to allowing refugees from violence, rape, and crime to enter the United States.  Preachers, politicians, and people who profess to be Christians have been complaining about welcoming and comforting refugees. Whoever says “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist.  
  • God commands that we care for one another.  Yet people who claim to know God are opposed to providing subsistence income to unemployed workers.  Whoever says “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist. 
  • Jesus demonstrated the love of God for sick people by healing them.  Now we see people who claim to know God berating public help for low income people in obtaining affordable healthcare.  Whoever says “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist. 
  • Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9).  Yet over the past three weeks more than a thousand people have been killed in the latest episode of the long running conflict between the Israeli government and Palestinians in Gaza.  Israel argues that its Gaza military offensive is needed to halt rockets fired by Palestinian militants associated with Hamas on Israeli cities and towns and to destroy a network of tunnels built by Hamas to smuggle fighters into Israel. Palestinians, on the other hand, see the current war as simply the latest case of Israeli aggression, and point to the high number of civilians who have been killed and wounded.  It is certainly wrong to launch weapons of death against others, and that is what has been done by Hamas militants and by the Israeli military.  That wrong is compounded, however, by the disproportionate number of civilian casualties—meaning people killed and wounded—who are Palestinians. 
  • No sensible person can call combatants men, women, and children who have nowhere to escape a military incursion by an occupation force.  Killing defenseless people is never an exercise in holiness and truth.  The truth is that the recent Israeli advance into Gaza has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including more than 200 children and more than 100 women.  Meanwhile, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA) banned a radio advertisement by a human rights organization (B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in Gaza), saying that the content of the ad was “politically controversial.”  Any government that wages war on helpless men, women, and children and then tries to prevent the world from knowing the names of children killed in Gaza is not only out of fellowship with Palestinians in Gaza.  It is out of fellowship with God and walking in darkness.  Whoever says “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist. 

 

Fellowship with God involves walking in the light of divine truth and holiness.  To refuse to walk in the light of divine truth and holiness—by refusing to obey the divine commandments to love God with one’s entire being and love others as oneself—is to lie on God. It amounts to falsely claiming that God justifies our wrongfulness and wickedness. 

 

So how do sinners have fellowship with God?  At 1 John 1:9 we read:  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

 

And at 1 John 2:1-2 we read:  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 

 

Jesus, the righteous, defends us, the guilty.  Jesus, the holy one of God defends us, the unholy.  Because Jesus defends us, God forgives us.  Because God forgives us, we have fellowship with God.  Fellowship with God is a function of being forgiven. 

 

Forgiveness from God is a function of confessing that we are sinners and being defended before God by none other than Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness puts us in right standing with God.  But obedience to the divine commandments to love God and our neighbors is how we prove we truly are in fellowship with God. 

 

So we can be forgiven, yet out of fellowship.  And if we only want forgiveness but don’t want to obey the divine commandments to love God and our neighbors—meaning that we don’t want to conduct our lives in holiness and truth—we either don’t know God or don’t want to live according to what we know is true about God.  

 

God forgives us to restore fellowship, not to ignore our dis-fellowship with God and our neighbors.  Fellowship is directly related to obedience—following the love commandments. 

 

We are not created to live to ourselves or for ourselves, but to live with and for God and with and for one another, including our enemies.  Whenever we miss the mark or otherwise violate the truth and holiness of God we also violate the conditions that make holy fellowship possible.  In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven to live in fellowship through obedience to the love commandments, not to disregard and defy them. 

 

When we faithfully follow the love commandments Jesus talked and modeled we truly “walk in [the] pilgrim path” that Elisha Hoffman described as “bright” and “grows from day to day.”  “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” involves confession, forgiveness, and obedience.  God takes care of forgiveness.  Confession and obedience are our work. 

 

Amen.

 

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2014