"Fellowship" as Used in 1 John 1
One of the key words .in the epistle of 1 John is "fellowship." The word in Greek is "koinonia." Many think of church socials or "dinner on the ground" when they heard the word used. But John uses the term to carry the thought of a deep and mutual sharing.
"Fellowship" is defined as: "communion, . . . sharing in common."(1) "The intimate bond of fellowship which unites Christians."(2) "The fellowship of Christians with God and Christ, 1 John 1:3, 5-7, which fellowship, according to John's teaching, consists in the fact that Christians are partakers in common of the same mind as God and Christ, and of the blessings arising there from."(3) "To have fellowship with God, . . . with the Christian brethren."(4)
In this article it will be our purpose to show from the epistle of 1 John what is required of a Christian if he is to be in fellowship with God and Christ. We will also discuss some of the results of being in fellowship with God and Christ.
In 1 John 1:6, 7, John gives the conditions for fellowship: "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 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" (N.A.S.B). Thus, in order to be in fellowship with God, a Christian must "walk in the light."
"Walk in the light" is a rather simple command to obey, but there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to fully understand what is involved in such a command, a study of the words "walk" and "light" will help.
"Walk" is used in the figurative sense to "signify the wole round of the activities of the individual life."(5) In the Greek, "If we walk," (eau peripatomen) is a condition of third class "with 'ean' and present active subjunctive."(6) Thus the "walk" under study is one that is continual, "keep on walking."
"Light" is what the Christian must continually walk in. Further, Christians are to only walk in the light in which the Father is. But what light is it that the Father is in? The apostle in 1 John 1:5 declares that "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." "The affirmation, 'God is light,' is not the same as 'God is the light' or 'God is a light,' but simply God is light, such is His essence; He is of the character of light. The word 'light' sums up the divine character on the intellectual side, as 'God is love,' similarly describes the fulness of His moral nature. He is the 'author' of light (James 1:17); its creator (Gen. 1:3); He is bathed in perpetual light (1 Tim. 6:16); and the marvelous light in which Christians are to walk is His (1 Peter 2:9)."(7)
Another question raised by the command to "walk in the light," is the manner of the way in which to do it. In other words, "How does a Christian walk in the light?" In order to answer this question, a study of certain verses of scripture will help.
In John 8:12 Jesus declared that He was the light of the world and that the one who followed Him would not walk in darkness, but in light. Too, it is of interest to note that Jesus and God are both pictured as being in the light. So what is true of the Father concerning light is true of the Son. Later in John 8:31 Jesus said that if a person abides in His word, then they were His disciples. There must be some relation between "walking in the light" and abiding in the word of Christ.
John, in chapter 12:44-48, pictures again the contrast of "light" and the "word." For in verse 44, Jesus said that the one who believes in -Him also believes in the Father. He then goes on to say that He came as "light into the world." Thus the one who accepts the Son accepts the Father. The question is then asked, "How is this done?" Jesus answers this in verses 47 and 48; to accept His word is to accept Him. To reject Him is to reject the word and it is this word that will be the standard of judgment at the last day.
So when a person "walks in the light," he is in a sense conducting his life in accordance with the commandments laid down in the word of God. There are many admonitions in the New Testament that tell the Christian how he is to conduct himself as he "walks in the light" (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; 2:6; 1 Thess. 2:12). When a person ceases to walk in the law of God he is said not only to be in darkness, but also "without God" (2 John 9, 10).
Attention now needs to be directed towards what happens to a person as he "walks in the light." In order to do this more effectively, we will look at the results in the negative and then in the positive.
There are only two places a person can walk, either in darkness or light. If one chooses to walk in darkness then he has chosen the path that is the opposite of light. He is walking in a path that shuns fellowship with God. "Those who 'walk in darkness' are not only sinful in conduct; their disposition is one of hatred and envy."(8)
By choosing such a path the individual must accept three consequences of such a walk: He must deny the reality of sin (1 John 1:6,7), He must deny his responsibility for sin (1 John 1:8,9), and He must deny the fact of sin in his own life (1 John 1:10).(9)
Finally when we or any person choose the darkness "'we lie,' 'we deceive ourselves, 'we make Him a liar;' and we are false, that is, to our knowledge; we persuade ourselves that falsehood is truth; we dare to set ourselves above God. And again: 'we do not the truth,' 'the truth is not in us,' 'His word is not in us;' we do not carry into act that which we have recognized as our ruling principle; the Truth, to which conscience bears witness, it is not the spring and law of our life; we have broken off our vital connection with the Truth when it comes to us as 'the Word of God' with a present, personal force."(10)
For the person that "walks in the light" there are two things that happen to him; he has fellowship with other Christians and the blood of Christ will cleanse him from all sin. Remembering, of course, that all of this depends on his continual "walking in the light."
The phrase,. "have fellowship with Him" of 1 John 1:6 changes in verse 7 to "have fellowship with one another." The two phrases are virtually synonymous. Just as men are at war with God, they are at war with one another, so men reconciled to God are reconciled to one another.
To be in fellowship with God forms a bond (see chart below). Such a bond helps the Christian overcome some of the problems he faces in life (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 12:26,27).
God & Christ
Apostles (1 Jn.1:3)
Christian + Christian + Christian
The second blessing of being in fellowship with God is knowing that the blood of Christ will cleanse one of his sins. Not only must one "walk" continually, but he must "confess" his sins continually. If he does, the blood will constantly cleanse him of the defilement and condemnation of sin.
Thus we have seen that John uses the term "fellowship" to convey the relationship a Christian has with God and his brethren in Christ, as long as he abides in the light (the Word of God).
Truth Magazine XXI: 22, pp. 341-342
1. Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), Vol. 2, p. 90.
2. Thayer, Joseph, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), p. 352.
4. Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 440.
5. Vine, Vol. 4, pp. 194-195.
6. Robertson, A.T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Vol. 6, p. 207
7. Woods, Guy, New Testament Commentaries: Peter-John-Jude, (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1953), p. 215.
8. Woods, p. 216.
9. Westcott, B.F., The Epistles of St. John, (Grand Rapdis: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), p.18