By Irvin Himmel
There is a clear connection between the prologue of the Gospel of John and the keynote of the first epistle of John. In the former, the Word is described in relationship to God, to the creation, and to mankind (John 1: 1-4). That Word (logos) which became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14), was in the beginning with God, and was God. All things were created by Him. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The statement of John 1:4 provides a text for John’s first epistle.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life (v. 1).
John begins the letter by directing attention to the life which was from the beginning. This explains why he says “That which” rather than “He who.” Of course, that life inheres in the person of the Word, consequently John writes about the life which stood before him in visible, tangible, audible form.
There is a vital relationship between light and life. This is illustrated in the kingdom of nature. Plant life needs sunlight. Our spiritual life depends on Christ, the light of the world.
Note that in verse 1, mention is made of “the life,” and also “eternal life.” We should remember that “the very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that man might have life” (Summers). “Life in all its fulness and completeness was in Him” (Hailey). Jesus said, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
John and the others who were with Jesus during His ministry had (1) heard, (2) seen, (3) looked upon, and (4) handled the Word of life. The Word had come indeed in fleshly form. The humanity of Jesus was real. John was qualified to witness to this important truth. He was an ear-witness and an eye-witness. John had “seen” the Word incarnate; yes, John had “looked upon” or “beheld” Him. The latter signifies “an intent, contemplative gaze.” The Greek word “denotes not the bare handling, but the exploring use of the hands that tests by handling” (Fellowship In The Life Eternal, George G. Findlay, p. 85). The term is used in Lk. 24:39; Acts 17: 27; Heb. 12:18.
For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us (v. 2).
This verse is parenthetic and explanatory of verse 1. The word of life had to be manifested in human form to be seen, heard, handled, and therefore witnessed. Think of the magnitude of what John is saying. The Word of life (eternal life) was from the beginning with the father. But that life was manifested to John and others! There was no doubt in John’s mind. He was qualified to speak on this matter, and he was eager to declare to others what he knew to be factual.
“The life,” “that eternal life,” is not physical life. “Here it means that divine life which the Logos was and is” (A.T. Robertson). It is by means of the Word of Life, God’s Son, that the Father communicates and expresses His will. That Son is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). He gives the water of life (Rev. 21:6). To be baptized into Him is to have newness of life (Rev. 3:5). All who follow Him shall have the light of life (John 8: 12). He offers to the faithful a crown of life (Rev. 2:10). By Him we gain access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:14).
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” (v. 3).
The apostles felt a sense of urgency in declaring what they had seen and heard. In Jerusalem, when the Jewish authorities threatened them and commanded them not to speak at all in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20).
What was the grand object in the testimony of the apostles? John answers, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us..” A divine fellowship for men is derived from the life revealed in Christ, and the apostles proclaimed the truths to establish this sacred sharing.
Our fellowship is not merely with the apostles and other saints, but with the Father and with Christ. Fellowship with deity necessarily includes both the Father and the Son. It was the Son who explained the Father. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). It was the Father who attested to the Son. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5).
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (v. 4).
Some versions give it as “your joy,” while others render it “our joy.” This minor variation leaves no problem in explaining the sense, for the teacher and the taught share a mutual joy in the Lord.
John’s language in this verse reminds us of Jesus’ statement in John 15:11. He said to the apostles, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” “The joy of Jesus was fulfilled many times over as the first century church turned pagan cities upside down with the Gospel” (Gill).
Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). What a joy it is for one to realize that his sins are forgiven and that he is in communion with the Father and the Son. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). What a happy privilege to be a child of God – an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ! John did not write that there might be half-hearted joy, but that joy might be made complete.
God Is Light
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (v. 5).
God is the source and dispenser of all light – physical, moral, and spiritual. James referred to Him as the “Father of Lights” (Jas. 1:17). The heart of the message which John had heard and announced is that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
John expresses truths both positively and negatively. As though it is not enough to say that “God is light,” he adds, “and in him is no darkness at all.” A plain preacher was brother John!
Light signifies purity, truth, and righteousness. These qualities were lacking in the gods of the heathens. “They had gods that could cheat and lie, gods licentious and unchaste, gods spiteful and malignant towards men, quarrelsome and abusive toward each other” (Findlay). What a revelation it was to such people to be told that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Talk and Walk
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But 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 (vs. 6-7).
God places around Himself a sphere of light in which all must walk to have fellowship with Him. “This must be plain, and it is in accordance with the doctrine of the gospel, that if God is light and we walk not in the light, the fellowship is broken, we are not in accord, and we must be in accord with the will of God to have fellowship with him” (Caton). To profess communion with God while living in sin (darkness) is to drag God down to the level of pagan deities!
Since fellowship is predicated on our walking in the light, we should take special notice of what that includes. By reading the entire epistle we learn that the following are among the essentials to “walking in the light”:
1. Confessing our sins (1:9).
2. Keeping God’s commandments (2:3-5; 3:24; 5:2,3).
3. Loving our brethren (2:9-11; 3:14; 4:20,21).
4. Not loving the world (2:15-17).
5. Abiding in Christ (2:28).
6. Doing righteousness (2:29; 3:7.10).
7. Hearing the apostles (4:6).
8. Confessing that Jesus came in the flesh (4:2,3).
9. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (4:15).
10. Believing that Jesus is the Christ (5:1).
Many people talk about having fellowship with God, but their walk is not according to what John outlines as necessary. Talk alone does not put one in communion with God. We must walk as He directs.
Problem of Sin
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (vs. 8-10).
Sin is the barrier to fellowship with God. As an act of grace and mercy, He sent His Son to redeem us from sin. But the redeemed never reach a sinless level of living on earth. Anyone who supposes that he has risen to a state of absolute perfection, immunity to sin, is selfdeceived, and the truth is not in him.
We are taught to keep on confessing our sins, being assured that God is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse. The blood of Jesus keeps on cleansing if we keep on walking in the light. As already noted, acknowledging our sins is essential to walking in the light.
Denial that we have sinned does two things: 41) It makes God a liar, for He testifies that “all have sinned” (Ram. 3: 23). (2) It proves that His word is not in us.
The problem of sin must be solved for man to enter into fellowhip with God, and redemption by the blood of Christ is the answer. However, since the redeemed are not immune to sin, there is the need for continued cleansing. John certifies that by our walking in the light, confessing our sins, the blood of Jesus cleanses (a continued process) from all sin. This makes continued fellowship possible.
Entering into fellowship with God and with Christ is conditional. Maintaining that divine sharing is conditional. God is faithful and just. If the fellowship is broken it will be our own fault. God has made every provision to reconcile us to Himself. Knowing our weaknesses and sinful inclinations, He has made available the continued purifying necessary to our remaining in communion with Him.
- What passage in the Gospel of John might be considered as the text for John’s first epistle?
- What is the connection between light and life?
- Why was John qualified to bear witness concerning the Word of life?
- According to verse 3, what was the grand object in the testimony of the apostles?
- Name some things mentioned by John which are essential to our walking in the light.
- On what is fellowship predicated?
- Whose fault is it when fellowship with God is broken?
- Since sin is a barrier to fellowship, what is the answer to the problem of sin?
- Is it correct to say that some Christians are immune to sin?
- How does joy relate to the life of a Christian?
Guardian of Truth XXV: 13, pp. 198-200
March 26, 1981