The Truth Hurts, but Here's Help
Last week, we saw the importance of grounding our faith in Jesus who is both God and human. John wanted us to know that he witnessed with his eyes, ears, and hand the earthly Jesus. This experience had forever changed John, and now he wanted to tell others.
We also learned that even though we can't witness Jesus with our physical ears, eyes, and hands, we can still witness about Jesus. We see Him through the life changing effect He has had on others as well as how He has changed us. Through the witness of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we can in a sense both see and hear Jesus. John passes the faith in Jesus unto us.
In the same way, we pass our witness of Jesus to others, that Jesus might be heard and seen in us. This witness is both passive and active in nature. The way we live our life and how we love the Father, Son, and each other, bears witness to the world of Jesus Christ. But even as John also verbally proclaimed the love of Jesus to others, we too must tell others about Jesus.
The common testimony of Jesus Christ brings us into fellowship. This fellowship is of the body of Christ. As much as we participate in Christ's body, we also have fellowship with the Father and the Son as well.
Exposition of the Text
v. 5. A lot of religious sects related good with light and darkness with evil. Some saw the forces of light and darkness as being rival forces or gods battling over the universe. Some saw good and evil as belonging to the same force, kind of like the "force" portrayed in the Star Wars movies in which Luke Skywalker's father Darth Vader succumbed to the Dark side of the Force. Others saw a greater god who created the spirit world, where a lesser, evil, god who created the material universe and trapped the human spirit in evil flesh. This was probably the view that John's opponents who left the church had.
John will have none of this. He emphatically says that God is light and that there isn't one bit of darkness in Him at all. We know from the Gospel of John that Jesus is presented as the Creator, God, and "The Light of the World." This same Jesus became human flesh (John1:14). In no way can this Jesus be seen as anything but the pure light from God as well as God the Son. The material world is neither evil nor created by a lesser god or as they called it, "Demiurge". The source of evil as we know it comes from within the creation itself, by the rebellion of Satan and on this earth by the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
The idea that Jesus rose from the dead would have seemed ridiculous to these Gnostic who left the church. And it would have been even more offensive for them to believe that Jesus rose in a human body with flesh and bones. Their whole idea of salvation was based on being freed from the evil body. But Jesus clearly proved Himself alive by eating fish and bread with His disciples as well as allowing His disciples to touch him.
v. 6. John now develops the idea of light further. If one wants to have fellowship with God, this person must also be in the light also. In fact, the one who would have fellowship with God has to be all light without one single speck of darkness. Now this should create utter despair for every human being. Who is without a single fault? To say that one has fellowship with God would be a statement that I am perfect. What could be a greater lie than that. It seems to me that John in two short verses has summed up the entire argument of St. Paul in the first three chapters of Romans in which Paul concludes with the statement "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Perhaps some of John's opponents claimed that they had become perfect through some kind of secret knowledge. But John makes it as clear as Paul. No one is good enough to come into the presence of God, and that anyone who claims this is a liar.
And without Jesus, the situation would be always hopeless. The first part of the Christian message always has to address the utter hopelessness of the human situation. Man is utterly lost and undone. This is indeed terrible news unless God had not done something to make it possible to have fellowship with Him. We all somehow have to be made pure, without a spot or wrinkle, if we are ever to have fellowship with God. And this help would have to come from one far greater than ourselves.
v. 7. John now gives us a peek at the solution. We need to walk in the light of God. But how can we do this as we are in darkness. We could not approach the brightness of God any more than Isaiah could in his vision in Isaiah 6:1-5 and not feel absolutely undone. Who could see the full brightness of God and live? The solution is simple except for the fact it is impossible for us to do it.
The only man who can have fellowship is the one who is perfect. And the only perfect man who ever lived was Jesus. Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father, having fulfilled the Father's will, and tempted in every way we were tempted, yet without sin. He remained perfect. He could return to the Father's presence as the Perfect Son of Man as well as the Son of God.
Therefore, the only way human beings can have fellowship with God is in Jesus Christ. He is the one who makes us worthy before the Father. The children of Adam having fallen could not as they were in Adam come into the presence of God and more but surely be driven out from the Presence. But no as Paul states it, by and in the second Adam, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can see the Father. And since we are not part of the body of Christ, we can have fellowship with each other as we are all in Christ together.
The second half of the verse tells us why we can now have fellowship. This is the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross as the atonement for our sin. Here indeed is a great mystery. Blood ordinarily does not make something clean. Blood stains and is very hard to remove from a garment. Who would was a dirty garment in blood to make it white as snow? The blood of Jesus takes away our stain and makes us pure as the light of God, without a single spot or blemish.
It is also interesting to notice that the present tense "cleanses" (καθαρίζει,kath-a-ree-zee) indicates a cleansing going on in the present time and is not just a reminder of the past cleansing of our sins at Cavalry. And this cleansing is tied to walking in the light as He is in the light and having fellowship one with another. There is a sense of healing and cleansing which occurs when we are walking in the Lord together. How careful then should we be to assemble together!
v. 8. John now makes it abundantly clear that this standing with God and being able to have fellowship with Him only is possible so long as we are in Christ. As soon as we look to ourselves, it is clear that we are even now sinners before God. The Greek word for "we have" (ἔχομεν. e-cho-men) is in the present tense. John does not say "If we say that we had not sin" as though this was before we met Jesus, but now we are perfect. The present tense here says "If we say that we ourselves at this time do not have sin". Any claims to our perfection in ourselves has to be removed right away. It is clear that the only perfection we have stands in our relation to Christ rather than ourselves.
I think John reminds us of this because those who had left probably had some doctrine that they were not perfect. In fact they had deceived themselves. The Greek word for "deceive" (πλανῶμεν, plan-oh-men) comes from the same root we get "planet". Planets in the ancient world were called "wandering stars" because they seemed to move and wander in relation to the other stars. In a sense, we can see that these who had left had wandered from the truth which remains as fixed as the constellations in the sky. Wandering away from the fellowship of believers should serve as a warning that we are going astray.
v. 9. Note again that the Greek verb "confess" (ὁμολογῶμεν,ha-ma-la-go-men) is in the present tense. This does not mean that we have already confessed our sin and do not need to do so any more because we are now perfect and don't sin any longer. It also does not say "If we should currently commit a sin, however remote the possibility, we should confess it." The conditional "if" says "If we confess the sins we commit, we will find forgiveness, and if we do not confess our sins, we will not find forgiveness."
The emphasis of this verse is not how good we are, or even how good we should be. Rather it is a testimony to the graciousness of Christ to forgive our sins. The blood He shed cleansed (καθαρίσῃ, kath-a-ree-see, an aorist or one time act ) us from all unrighteousness. It has all been provided for us by Jesus' shed blood.
v. 10. This verse is even stronger than verse eight. The verb "have sinned" (ἡμαρτήκαμεν, hee-mar-tay-kah-men) is in the Greek Perfect tense. The perfect tense refers to an act which happened in the past but has an ongoing effect even now. We make God to be a liar not only if we claim that we have not sinned, but even to suggest that we are now currently free from the effects of that sin, apart form the righteousness of Christ. The fact that these mortal bodies will die unless Jesus comes first, and even if Jesus comes will have to be utterly transformed. Any idea that a person has by himself or herself come into a state of perfection is utter blasphemy. Christ alone must be our righteousness and our plea. We can take not the least bit of pride in ourselves. Boasting is absolutely excluded. Who can make God a liar and be right with Him? In fact, one who confesses this does not have Christ at all ("The Word of God is not in him".)
The first chapter sets the foundation from which the rest of the epistle must be understood. Some like John Wesley have used this epistle as to prove that a believer can be made perfect in love in this life and actually cease from sin. This chapter puts severe restrictions on such a view.
What had happened among the followers of holy living is that the Christian walk is too individualized. It seems that the word "fellowship" which appears so prominently should make it apparent that this epistle is not about the perfect believer but the perfect body of Christ, the church. The fact that fellowship with each other is mentioned even before the fellowship with the Father and the Son indicates the vital importance that fellowship within the church plays. We are not made perfect without each other. We are not in competition with each other. We are as a fellowship to yield to the Spirit of the Lord and Jesus who is head of the church. The fact the others had left to claim individual perfection was proof that they were not of God. We are not in a race against each other but with each other. If we are racing with each other, then we will not boast alone or in ourselves, but rather than in the One who has bought us and brought us.
There has been so much preaching about the believer being the "Temple of the Holy Ghost". Yet when one actually addresses the word of Scripture I Corinthians 6:19 uses the plural pronoun "your" (ὑμῶν,hee-mohn) with the singular "holy place" (ναὸς, nah-oss, the inner sanctuary of the Temple where the god actually resided in Greek thought, or equivalent to the Hebrew "Holy of Holies") The emphasis here is not of many holy places, but one. The stress is not on the believer but the church. The presence of God is in His church.
I think this idea is better preserved in the Orthodox churches of the east as seen in the creed. Their Nicene and other creeds begin with the plural "We believe" (Greek, πιστεύομεν, pis-tehv-ah-men). The Western churches begin with the Latin, credo, "I Believe". The use of "we" reminds us that we are in covenant together with Christ.
The true church is "in Christ and walks with Christ. It is the visible, tangible, and perceptible representation of Christ on this earth, what others see and hear from and about Jesus. This is why fellowship and love for each other is hammered home in this epistle. The true church has true doctrine and true love.