The Real LIfe
THE REAL LIFE 1 JOHN 1:3-4
Folks, we live in a day where we need something real to hold on to. There are many who are holding on to the wrong things such as wealth, thrills, prestige, power, etc., only to be disappointed in the end. But last week we discovered that John in this letter writes about something that is real. This thing that John claimed to be real was the Word of Life. The Word of Life was the work and words of Christ, as well as the gospel message. In discussing the Word of Life, John mentioned that this life that is real was revealed, experienced and proclaimed. Yet, John says there is more about this life that you should know and that is it can be shared.
In the beginning of the movie Spider-Man, Peter Parker undergoes a transformation. Bitten by a spider that's been subjected to genetic experimentation, Peter develops superpowers. Beneath his lycra union suit beats the heart of a hero who nightly swings between the skyscrapers, looking for some endangered soul to rescue. One such soul is Mary Jane, a young woman he secretly loves. She falls for Spider-Man—but not for Peter Parker. Mary Jane (M.J.) doesn't know who Spider-Man really is—even when he comes to her rescue. Just after Peter and M.J. part company outside a diner late one night, four thugs approach M.J. and back her into an alley. Peter watches as one of the men pulls a knife on her. M.J. tries to defend herself for a moment, then, suddenly Spider-Man appears, spins a web, and ties up the four bad guys. Later, M.J. and Peter discuss her mysterious rescuer, and she confesses her love for Spider-Man. Mary Jane is impressed to learn that Peter "knows" Spider-Man. In fact, Peter admits he's had a "conversation" with Spider-Man about Mary Jane. She presses him to know what Peter told her hunky heartthrob. Peter searches for the right words; "I said, um, 'Spider-Man,' I said, 'the great thing about M.J. is when you look in her eyes, and she looks back in yours, everything feels not quite normal, because you feel strong—and weak at the same time. You feel excited, and at the same time terrified. The truth is you don't know the way you feel, except you know the kind of man you want to be. It's as if you've reached the unreachable, and you weren't ready for it.'" What Peter describes is the same phenomenon we experience when we come to know Jesus Christ. Looking at the God-Man, we feel weak, but he makes us strong; we are terrified, and at the same time more exhilarated than we've ever been in our lives; and in him we see the person we want to become.
As the Apostle John looks back over his encounter with Christ, he knew that Christ had made all the difference in his life. He was not the same as a result of his experience with the living Word of God. Christ had made a difference for him and the other apostles. So as one of the apostles, he wanted others to have the same experience. So he proclaimed this message to those that he loved and possibly pastored along the way. The purpose of the message of God is that it results in fellowship and joy. It is through the preaching of God’s Word of the historical Jesus and the response of faith in the proclamation that brings about fellowship and joy. The Bible says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
John puts great effort to explain that the gospel was nothing new. It has been around from the beginning. Now we may can repackage how we present the truth, but we dare not repackage the truth. As we sing it is the old, old story that makes the difference in a person’s life. So John in the opening paragraph says that this Life which was revealed, experienced, and proclaimed can be shared. He wanted his readers to share in the fellowship and the joy that he had in his relationship with Christ. So John says there are two purposes for our proclamation of this message: fellowship and joy.
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
In this first stated purpose for proclaiming this message, John wanted to invite his readers to join in the fellowship that he had with God. Why? Well, it is evident in the letter that the fellowship had been divided by the false teachings that have crept into the church. John speaks of the fellowship that is a result of salvation. The word fellowship means “communion, participation, share a common life, and partnership.” This word is found in other literature, where it describes partners in business, joint owners of a piece of property, or shareholders in a common enterprise. Yet, in the New Testament, this fellowship results in a common faith (Philemon 6), sharing of possessions (Acts 2:44; 4:30); and participation in the gospel (Phil. 1:6). So what John is saying is that if you accept this proclamation of the gospel, then you will have something in common with us as apostles. So what is it that John says these readers will have in common? John writes that what these believers will share in common is eternal life (1 John 5:13).
The only way to share in this fellowship that the apostles had was to understand that it was not the result of man’s striving, but God’s promises and gifts. This fellowship, as described here, is the real meaning of salvation. Salvation can only be possessed through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life” (John 5:24). John expresses this thought in his gospel and his letters. He writes, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:12). “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). So what John is saying is that a man can know God, talk of Him, and even claim to have Him; and still not have Him. But genuine faith is to have fellowship with one another and Christ (1 John 1:6f.) is to “know” Him (1 John 2:3) and to “abide” in Him (6). This fellowship is a supernatural life that Christians share.
One reason for John inviting his readers to join in the fellowship is communion on a vertical level makes the horizontal possible. It was not only to strengthen one another, but it was an invitation to be one with the Father and the Son. Our fellowship with one another depends on our fellowship with God. But do we have anything in common with God. No, as sinners we have nothing in common with God because He is holy. But God through His grace provided a way for us to have fellowship with Him. Jesus when he became man took on something that is common with all of us and that was He became a man. Then He went to the cross and took on His body the sins of the world. As a result of Christ paying the price for our sins, the way was open for us to have a relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). So when we trust Christ, we can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This word partakers is the same word which was used here for fellowship.
A second reason John invites us to join this fellowship is to shield his readers from the doctrinal attacks of the false teachers and to strengthen them spiritually. It is through fellowship with one another of like faith which holds one another accountable. Folks, we need each other for growth and development in our Christian walk. During World War II, the enemy conducted experiments to find the most effective type of punishment for eliciting information from prisoners. They found that solitary confinement was the most effective. After a few days of solitary confinement, most men would tell all. That is why we need fellowship—without it we too become easy prey for temptation and abandonment of our values.
In 1858, David Livingstone, already world famous, returned to Africa to find the source of the Nile. He reached the southern end of Lake Tanganyika in 1867 and moved on toward the interior of Central Africa, then dropped out of sight. In 1869 the New York Herald sent Henry Morton Stanley on an expedition to find him. After many hardships, Stanley found Livingstone on October 28, 1871, and remained with the famous missionary-explorer until March 1872. These months made a profound impact on Stanley. He said,
In 1871 I went to him as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London. To a reporter and correspondent such as I, who had only to deal with wars, mass meetings, and political gatherings, sentimental matters were entirely out of my province. But there came for me a long time of reflection. I was out there away from a worldly world. I saw this solitary old man there, and asked myself, “How on earth does he stop here—is he cracked, or what? What is it that inspires him?” For months after we met I simply found myself listening to him, wondering at the old man carrying out all that was said in the Bible—“Leave all things and follow Me!” But little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused, seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went quietly about his business. I was converted by him, although he had not tried to do it.
What H. M. Stanley had seen was the life of God in one of God’s own.
So what is John trying to communicate to us? What John is saying is that our human fellowship is a direct result of our divine fellowship. This is quite a rebuke to what happens in many churches and the purpose of evangelism and church life. John Stott says, “We cannot be content with an evangelism which does not lead to the drawing of converts into the church, nor with a church life whose principle of cohesion is a superficial social camaraderie instead of spiritual fellowship with the Father and the Son. A true message will always produce a true fellowship.
These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
The second stated purpose of John about this message is that these will have joy. There has been much debate as to whether John is speaking about his joy or the joy of his readers. I think John is writing like a pastor who loves his flock and desires for them to persevere in the faith and continue in the fellowship. This understanding is supported by the statement that John makes in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”
This joy that John has and can be that of his reader’s cannot be manufactured by us. This joy is a gift from the Father, just like the Son is a gift. This joy is a by-product of our fellowship with God. Someone once said, “Joy is the flag that flies over the castles of our hearts announcing that the king is in residence.” A Jesuit priest-theologian-anthropologist, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin once said, “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.” Folks, grimness is not a Christian virtue. David in the Old Testament spoke of this joy when he said, “in your presence is the fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). So what is the nature of this joy?
Jesus was the possessor of this joy because he had communion with the Father (John 14:20) and did the will of the Father (4:34) and because of Him doing the Father’s work this joy was granted to his disciples. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (15:11). Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24). In these two contexts, joy results from abiding in Christ (15:4), asking and receiving in prayer (15:7b, 16:24), and resultant fruit bearing (15:8). This fruit bearing is defined in terms of keeping Christ’s commandments and loving one another as Christ loved them. This joy comes from abiding in Christ’s love, just as Christ’s joy came from abiding in God’s love.
C.S. Lewis told Sherwood Wirt, there is too much solemnity and intensity in dealing with sacred matters, too much speaking in holy tones. The tragic loss in all this pious gamesmanship is to the individual in the pew, who begins to feel that in the midst of the religious razzle-dazzle he cannot get through to the Lord Himself. We have learned that joy is more than a sense of the comic, than earthly pleasure, and to a believer even more than what we call happiness. Joy is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God. If our new freedom in Christ is a piece of angel food cake, joy is the frosting. If the Bible gives us the wonderful words of life, joy supplies the music. If the way to heaven turns out to be an arduous steep climb, joy sets up the chair lift.
The sad reality is that many Christians expect happiness, but joy is far greater. Happiness is based on what happens to us, but joy comes from within and is one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). No matter how trying the circumstance is we can have our joy full by looking to Jesus and keeping our eyes on him.
Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.” Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.” Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.” Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in Christ alone.
In this context, joy results from fellowship with the apostolic witness and the father and the Son. This joy can be enjoyed during our life through faith in Christ, but will be complete at the return of Christ and the consummation of the age. Complete joy is not possible in this world of sin.
But can this joy be taken away in this life? John says that those who are true believers in Christ cannot possibly have this joy taken away (John 16:22; 17:12-13). This is why we are to be separate from the world and expect the world’s hatred and persecution; but all fear is banished because Christ has overcome the world and our present sadness will be turned into joy. It is only those who depart from the visible fellowship of the church who lose this joy. Why? Because they were never apart of the fellowship and they have never believed in Christ and never had eternal life (1 John 2:19; John 6:60-71).
Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship O'ahu in Honolulu, Hawaii, writes
Some time ago some wonderful people in our church gave Anna, my wife, and me a dinner certificate to a nice restaurant for $100. We thought, Wow, a hundred bucks. Let's go for it. We found a free evening. We dressed up. I took a bath, used deodorant and cologne—the whole thing. I even washed and waxed my car, because we wanted to take it through the valet, and I didn't want my Ford Pinto to look bad. The night came, and we were excited. We went to this ritzy restaurant and walked in. They gave us a nice, candle lit table overlooking a lagoon adjacent to a moonlit bay there in Hawaii. Oh, it was nice. And we thought, for a hundred bucks for just the two of us, we could eat high on the hog. So we ordered the most expensive thing there. It was wonderful. When the bill came, I said, "Honey, why don't you give me the certificate." She said, "I don't have the certificate. I thought you brought it." I said, "You have to have it. You're supposed to have it. You're the wife!" She said, "I don't have it." And I thought, We are in deep yogurt. Here we are. We look rich, we act rich, we even smell rich. But if we don't have that certificate, it invalidates everything. There are times in our lives when we can look holy, we can act holy, we can smell holy. But without a relationship with the Lord, we've forgotten something. It's relationship that validates everything else.