John writes with the loving intimacy of a Father and the gentle care of a Pastor. Twelve times he refers to them as ‘My dear children’ (2v1) or ‘Dear friends’ (4v1) underlining his commitment to them. So what does he have to say?
Invitation into Fellowship
John opens up his letter with a wonderful invitation: ‘…you also may have fellowship with us…’ (1v3). And if we are in any doubt about what that Fellowship looks like, he tells us: ‘…our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’ (1v3) John claims to enjoy a deep, intimate and personal relationship with the Father and the Son and he wants us to experience and enjoy that same fellowship: ‘We write this to make our/your joy complete.’ (1v4) John is making it absolutely clear that true joy is found only in fellowship with God, and the good news is we are invited to share in it.
Threat to the Fellowship
Fellowship with God is real and true and and John wants us to be sure and confident in our fellowship with God. However there are two main threats to this fellowship, that weakens our assurance and undermines our confidence. These threats come from inside of us and outside of us.
First the threat from the inside – Our sinful nature. ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin….’ (2v1) John knows that our sinful habits and sinful ways can seriously hinder and damage our fellowship with God. When we sin it weakens our assurance. We begin to question if we really are in fellowship with God, and if we really are his children.
So John writes to provide a way to deal with the problem of our sinful nature. He points us back to the cross and to the finished and completed work of Jesus: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…’ (2v2); and points us to the new life we have because of Jesus: ‘No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.’ (3v6) Because Christ has dealt with my sin I will seek to rid the sin that continues in my life. I will hate sin and make every effort to squeeze it from my life. I can only do this by looking to the cross each day in faith.
Second the threat from the outside – The false teachers. ‘I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.’ (2v26) John knows that there are those who come in from the outside and seek to distort and deny the truth about God. When we listen to them it can undermine our confidence. We begin to wonder if this is true and if what God has said can be trusted.
So John writes to encourage us in the truth: ‘See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you…’ (2v24) and encourages us to test everything: ‘Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits…’ (4v1) Because God has given us the truth we are not to go looking else where for more truth, we keep hold of the truth and follow in it’s way.
So we must be careful of the very real threat that comes from inside of us and outside of us.
Confident in our Fellowship
If we follow what John says, if we take seriously our ‘Belief and Behaviour’ we will enjoy confident fellowship with God. ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life’. (5v13) This has been a constant theme through out the letter, he wants us to know with absolute certainty that we have fellowship with God: ‘This is how we know we are in him’ (2v2); ‘This is how we know who the children of God are’ (3v10); ‘This is how we know we belong to the truth’ (3v19); ‘This is how we know he lives in us’ (3v24); ‘We know that we live in him and he in us’ (4v13); ‘We know that we are children of God’ (5v19).
John not only invites us into fellowship with God we have confidence that we are in fellowship with God.
The great sign that we share in this fellowship is our love for others. ‘…Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.’ (3v10) Loving others is not the way into fellowship with God it is evidence that we are in fellowship with God. ‘Anyone who does not love remains in death’ (3v14); ‘…Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’ (4v7) ‘…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.’ (4v16) Loving others as God loved us is the sign that we know and enjoy fellowship with God.
In summary, John writes, inviting us into fellowship with God, warning us of the threat to that fellowship and reassuring us that we are in fellowship with God.