This last weekend I was invited by a good friend of mine to join him and his son to watch a live monster truck show not too far from where we live. This friend had two free tickets and I was considering joining them with my oldest one. But after some reflection and consideration I needed to decide against it for various reasons (all non-ethical and non-theological in nature!).
In the advertisement for that show it said that there would be a fire-spitting, car-destroying, gigantic robot-dinosaur and I was really tempted to go just to see that part. What a life experience that would have been! Well, as my friend gently reminded me after I told him that we would not come, this might have been the only chance for us to actually see a monster truck show. I guess, I will not have this life experience!
In today’s post I want to write about the first letter of John (specifically the first four verses) and see what the apostle has to say about the topic of life experience. This letter/homily starts out with a description of a very physical in encounter (e.g. touched with our own hands; seen with our eyes).
The main verb actually shows up in verse 3 (i.e., “we proclaim to you”). Putting the main verb in verse 3 (we proclaim) helps John to intensify the object of what is proclaimed rather than emphasizing the proclamation itself. If we would do that today we would most likely put it in bold fonts. Thus the first three verses would look something like this: “We proclaim to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us)– that is what we proclaim to you!”
The reason for this proclamation is that the readers/listeners may have fellowship with John and his workers. Notice that via the apostolic ministers fellowship with God is established – John writes: “so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ).” Kruse (PNTC, 57-58) succinctly writes: “To have fellowship with him is the alternative to having fellowship with the secessionists. In this context ‘fellowship’ denotes, not only a personal relationship with the author, but also partnership with him in his work of proclamation.” In other words, fellowship with us is fellowship with God; fellowship is participating in the life/work of God.
Notice that the word “Son” here refers to Jesus Christ. Ok, that’s not suprising. But one interesting aspect is that John uses this term 22x in reference to Jesus Christ in 1 John; yet it is never used by John to designate believers. The term “son” is reserved for Jesus alone!
It is also interesting to see the author writing that “ourjoy may be filled/complete” (verse 4; emphasis mine). The first person plural personal pronoun (i.e., “our”) seems quite odd, but Kruse (PNTC, 59) writes: “The author recognises that his own joy in Christ cannot be complete if fellow believers for whom he feels some responsibility are in danger of departing from the truth by becoming involved in another koinōnia [Greek for fellowship], one which he will soon prove to be bogus because it does not really involve koinōnia with the Father and the Son (vv. 5–7).” Burge (NIVAC, 52, 56) also sees that “intimate fellowship in the Christian community is only possible when there is consensus about the identity and presence of Jesus…John unites the themes of Christology and community as he exhorts the church that a right understanding of Jesus should inform how we live together.”
The introduction of this epistle shows us, that the incarnation is historical and crucial to the author – yes to Christianity itself. I remember vividly one of my early discussion with a fellow theologian about the most important event in the life of Christ. I actually do not remember who picked what but the two events under discussion were the cross and the resurrection. If an Eastern Orthodox friend would have joined in she would have probably corrected us and standing firm on the fact of – the incarnation!
[My point here is not to weigh one event over the other (I did those in my ignorant years – which are still well and alive in so many things!).]
The importance of John’s writing is therefore that
Christian community is not some passing association of people who share common sympathies for a cause. Nor is it an academy where an intellectual consensus about God is discovered. It cannot be so superficial. Christian community is partnership in experience; it is the common living of people who have a shared experience of Jesus Christ. They talk about this experience, they urge each other to grow more deeply in it, and they discover that through it, they begin to build a life together unlike any shared life in the world.
John asserts that this fellowship is also “with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (v. 3b). This puts one more dimension to the meaning of community. Fellowship is not just the coincidence of a shared experience of God, where we compare our private spiritual walks; it is living and experiencing the Father and the Son together as believers Christian fellowship is triangular: my life in fellowship with Christ, your life in fellowship with Christ, and my life in fellowship with yours. The mystical union I enjoy with Christ becomes the substance that binds the church together (Burge, NIVAC, 55).
This is a tremendous observation and challenging as well. How would our church look like if we would live in such a fellowship?