A.  FELLOWSHIP  1 John 1:1-2:2

The word 'fellowship' (koinonia) comes three times this section (1:3, 1:6, 1:7). When soldiers have trained together, and been in tough battles, there is a bond of fellowship between them. They know each other, risk their lives, are proud of their regiment. The English pub used to provide fellowship for the regular customers and any lonely persons who cared to join them. A group of friends who studied, and played, and danced through school will remember with nostalgia their fellowship at that time.

Christian fellowship (koinonia) has its own flavor. It is a fellowship brought into being and animated by the Holy Spirit. As Paul explained "In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We too have our fellowship as soldiers, who "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11) to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12) and share in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).

As opposed to getting "drunk with wine" in a pub singing bawdy ditties, we have the fellowship of being filled again and again with the Spirit as we "sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs making melody to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:18-19). We are also fellow students (disciples) in the school of the Holy Spirit. It is a school that has no entrance requirements, but it offers an opportunity to know God's Word, have the Messiah revealed to us, and understand what life after birth and life after death is about. In this school it is the Spirit who produces in us the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and equips us with the gifts of the Spirit needed to function in the church, the body of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

Unlike other fellowships, we include both men and women, old people and young children, rich and poor, good people and those who are more or less bad. We also welcome people of all races in any country of the world.

But this kind of fellowship is only possible if we take sin into consideration and know to deal with what goes wrong in our lives and in the lives of others (1:8-2:2).

1:1 As in his Gospel, John does not name himself, but for this Epistle he begins with his credentials. He was one of those who had seen, and examined, and touched the eternal life which was with the Father (see Acts 1:21). The first verse connects exactly with the first two verses of John's Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1, 2).

1:2 In the Gospel we are told that the Word is the life and "light and of all people" (as in John 1:4, 9), and "The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:14). But now in his Epistle John adds that the original source of all life and human illumination has been revealed for us to see on earth, and he and other apostles were the eye-witnesses of this incarnation (taking human flesh)..

1:3 The purpose of writing is that the readers should be able to enjoy fellowship with other Christians. But Christian fellowship does not come by the human planning of social events. It originates from the eternal Trinitarian fellowship of the Father and Son. The Son is the anointed King Messiah (the word Christos is correctly translated Messiah in the NRSV of Matthew 1:1, 16, 17, 18, and throughout the Gospels). God as Trinity is not an undifferentiated unit (Unitarian), but a family oneness of three Persons held together by love. In physics an atom was defined as a oneness of protons, neutrons, and electrons held together by atomic force. But the power of love that hold the eternal Trinity is infinitely greater.

1:4 The result of fellowship (koinonia) with the first two Persons of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit will be introduced later, 3:24, 4:13, 5:6) is that we are drawn into that kind of fellowship. And fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the family of God is the perfection of joy (some manuscripts have "our joy"as in NRSV. That may be true, but an unlikely motive for writing). We should translate "That your joy may be complete (filled to the brim)."

1:5 Darkness is the absence of light. And since God is perfect light it follows that in God's perfection "there is no darkness at all."

1:6 Fellowship with God (1:3) means walking with God. But we wonder how imperfect human beings could ever walk with perfect light? Obviously this is impossible if we choose a direction into darkness away from the light and love of God. In the Gospel John had divided the world into light lovers and darkness lovers (John 3:19-21). And although we are very imperfect the Son of God is willing to walk with us as long as we do not delight in darkness and ultimate death.

1:7 It is however possible to be a light lover, and actually walk with God, but at the same time be conscious of our own sinfulness. It is also possible to have fellowship with other brothers and sisters who are also sinners if we accept the fact that we and they are equally saved by the Son's crucifixion. The word 'blood' is important, and we will see how the word is used in connection with the word ilasmos (atoning sacrifice) in 2.2.

1:8 The words "If we say" come three times (1:6, 8, 10). Obviously some people were making genuine fellowship impossible by what they said. Saying that we have no sin means that for Christians there is no such thing as right and wrong. The antinomian (no law) heresy held that Christians are not under law but under grace. These people deduced that nothing is sinful from Paul's statements that we are "freed from sin"and "dead to sin" (Romans 6:7, 11, 22). What Paul is saying is that we are freed from legalism. Instead of setting our mind on "the things of the flesh" we are to "live according to the Spirit" and set our mind "on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). Obviously it is impossible to have fellowship with people who reject any sense of right and wrong. Such people soon end up in total degradation.

1:9 Fellowship is only possible if we not only admit that there is sin (lack of love) in our lives, but we confess particular instances of it to God. The model of sin used here is not a set of laws which have been disobeyed and deserve eternal damnation. It is more like all that needs to be changed and corrected in a child's character for him or her to become an effective loving person throughout life.

1:10 God certainly intends to perfect us in love by the Spirit (see Matthew 5:48). But claiming that we have already attained perfection denies the fact that God has much more to correct in our lives. This not only makes God a liar, but makes any kind of Christian fellowship impossible. Those who claim that they are already perfect (sinless perfection) inevitably reject any further work of the Spirit in their lives. And they are a pain to work with.

2:1 The object of admitting our imperfection is not to encourage sinful (unloving) behavior. But when we fail, and know we have disappointed our heavenly Father, we admit it and discuss the failure with our advocate (the Latin advocatus means one called alongside to help). As our advocate, Jesus the Messiah is righteous in that he is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins" and immediately sends the Spirit to "keep cleansing us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

2:2 John used the word 'blood' (1:7) as a shorthand term for the death of the Messiah by crucifixion. A sudden death would have taken the Son painlessly straight back into the family of heaven. But the word blood here (as in other places) refers to the long drawn out injustice, humiliation, torture, and agony of the Messiah's blood being drained slowly by crucifixion. Jesus went into that process of terrible crucifixion knowing that the Holy Spirit who had been with him since his conception, and throughout his ministry, could take care of raising him from death. As Paul explained, "If the Spirit of him who raised the Messiah from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). It is the Holy Spirit who assures us of resurrection from all the frailty of our humanity. In a sense we are all nailed to the cross of our mortality. But, even when the world's injustice and human sin have done their worst, we can trust the Holy Spirit to raise us from the painful death of our body.

"The atoning sacrifice" is a translation of the Greek word ilasmos. And John makes clear that this sacrifice offered by the Son is not just for us but for "the sins of the whole world." Theologians have often explained this sacrifice as a payment made in a Roman law court to placate the wrath of the Father. But the model of sacrifice we prefer is not set in a law court but in a family setting. It begins with the love of God. We know as humans that when we love (children, parents, friends, church members) we inevitably get hurt by those we love. When we are hurt in loving, we can stop loving, or make the person pay for the wrong , or make him or her squirm with guilt. God's kind of love not only forgives, but it absorbs the hurt of human rejection. That is why God's love is a very costly atoning (making one) sacrifice. That suggests the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a visible expression in space time of his eternal willingness to forgive sin, and destroy its power by absorbing it in his own person (as the prophet saw clearly in Isaiah 53:4-6). And this atoning sacrifice has been continually at the very heart of the love of God. John caught a glimpse of it as he was standing by the cross with Jesus' mother (John 19:25-27).

Those who have experienced the Messiah's willingness to be hurt, and absorb our sin in his body, will also begin to love the way God loves. When we find ourselves willing to forgive, however badly we have been hurt, we also absorb the hurt in our own bodies as a costly sacrifice. And once we have settled that we are willing to walk in that light, however badly our brothers and sisters hurt us, we can "have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus keeps cleansing us from all sin" (1:7, a Greek present continuous tense). If you absorb my sin in your body, and I absorb yours, and we still love one another, we can have fellowship together.

B.  OBEDIENCE 1 John 2:3-2:17