Fellowship in God’s Light, Love, Life
Philippe R. Sterling
Enjoy fellowship with God by abiding in His light, love, and life, in accordance with apostolic teaching.
Church tradition ascribes the letter to the apostle John who writes from Ephesus towards the end of his life. The letter may have been a circular letter sent to the seven churches cited in Revelation.
Literary Structure and Content
First John is organized around three ideas about God. God is light. God is love. God is life. There are three corresponding applications for God’s children. Walk in the light. Live in love. Express spiritual life. Each idea about God grows out of the others and returns to encompass and apply the others. Love, life and light belong together and cannot be separated. The ideas about God and the applications for God’s children focus on fellowship with God. 1 John 1:1-4 introduces that focus.
I. An Invitation to Fellowship: The apostle John invites all who have believed in Christ for eternal life to abide in
the apostolic teaching of which he writes and enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:1-4).
II. A Guide for Fellowship: Fellowship involves walking in God’s light, living in love and expressing spiritual life
A. Fellowship involves abiding in God’s light (1:5–2:27).
1. We abide in God’s light by confession of sin, obedience and love (1:5–2:1).
a. We abide in God’s light by exposing ourselves to God’s holiness and confessing the sin it reveals
Walking in God’s light shows up our sins. We need to acknowledge the sin which God’s light exposes. God extends to us family forgiveness based on the death of Christ.
b. We abide in God’s light by living in obedience to God’s commands (2:3-6).
Walking in the light also means obeying God’s word. An obedient believer receives a special experience of the love of the Father and Son. Disobedience brings loss of fellowship.
c. We abide in God’s light by loving God’s children (2:7-11).
Light and love go together. Love is an expression of walking in the light. Love is a new commandment in that we are to love as Christ has loved.
d. The life of abiding in God’s light applies to all who believe regardless of physical and spiritual age
2. We may be hindered from abiding in God’s light by worldliness and deception (2:15-29).
a. We are not to love the world but do the will of God (2:15-17).
There is a love which God hates — love of the world. The world in the Bible is Satan’s system for opposing the work of Christ on earth.
b. We must guard against false teaching by staying with the teaching of the Holy Spirit and by continuing in
a life of faith and obedience (2:18-27).
There are two forces at work in the world. The first is that of truth working through the church by the Holy Spirit. The second is that of falsehood working by the spirit of antichrist, Satan who is the power behind the coming antichrist. It is vital that we detect lies when they come our way. The spirit of antichrist departs from the apostolic fellowship and denies the Father and the Son.
We publicly certify that we are children of God by our practice of righteousness (2:29). This has nothing do with our personal assurance of eternal life which is founded only on the promise of God (5:11-13).
B. Fellowship involves abiding in God’s love (2:28–5:3).
1. We may be hindered from abiding in God’s love by sin, hatred, and error (2:28–4:6).
a. We should not practice sin but should purify ourselves by fixing our hope on the return of Christ and live
in keeping with our new nature (2:28–3:10a).
The Father has bestowed a great love upon us in making us His children. Sin cannot be a part of our fellowship with God. When we sin we are functioning under the influence of our old nature and taking part in the activity of the devil. We need to function under the influence of our new nature and take part in the activity of the Holy Spirit. When a believer sins he conceals his true identity.
b. We are not to love simply with word and tongue, but in work and truth (3:10b-24).
Love is the appropriate expression of our fellowship with God. A failure to love others cannot be traced to God. We verify our fellowship with God by the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is love.
c. We need to distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error (4:1-6).
We are to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. We distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error by apostolic doctrine.
2. We abide in God’s love by trusting His Son, loving His children, and keeping His commandments (4:7–5:3).
a. We love God by first accepting God’s love in Christ (4:7-19).
God is light. That refers to His holiness. God is love. His love is a holy love, and His holiness is expressed in His love. By sending Jesus to die for us God manifested both His holiness and His love.
b. We love God by loving His children (4:20–5:1).
c. We love God by keeping His commandments which are not burdensome (5:2-3).
C. Fellowship involves abiding in God’s life (5:4-21).
1. Possessing Spiritual Life: We enter into life by believing in Christ (5:4-13).
2. Expressing Spiritual Life: We abide in God’s life by prayer, intercession for sinning believers, knowledge
of our identification with Christ, and loyalty to God (5:14-21).
Theological Reflection and Application
God invites us to fellowship with Him by abiding in His light, love and life. We enter into life by believing in Christ and can express that life in prayer for each other. We love God by keeping His commandments and loving His children. We stay in the light by confessing the sin it reveals as God applies the perfect cleansing of Christ’s blood for family forgiveness.