(1Jo 1:4 ESV) 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
“Our joy” has puzzled commentators for centuries — so much so that some ancient manuscripts say “your joy” (very similar in the Greek), the assumption being that John wishes to provide his readers joy — which is surely true. But the best manuscripts say “our joy” — and the idea is that until his readers understand the lessons John is teaching, John’s own joy will be incomplete. He takes joy in their salvation — he calls them “my little children” in 2:1 — and wants to see his work brought to completion in them.
The same expression repeatedly appears in John —
(John 3:29-30 ESV) 29 “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John the Baptist declares his joy complete with the appearance of the Messiah. His mission is fulfilled.
Our joy is complete when our mission is accomplished — and John’s mission among his readers would not be accomplished unless they learn what he is teaching in this book.
Verses 5 – 7
(1Jo 1:5-7 ESV) 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
John is fond is writing in absolute contrasts. You are either in the light or in the darkness — and it’s either utterly light or utterly dark: “in him is no darkness at all.” There is no mixing of light and dark; it’s all one or all the other.
In my childhood, I was taught that “light” is living a sufficiently good life, meeting some vaguely stated standard of “good enough.” In fact, one reason I chose to attend Lipscomb was because I wanted to learn just how good I had to be for God’s grace to reach down to me and lift me the rest of the way.
But John tells us plainly who is “in the light”; it’s those who are “in him.” If you are in God at all, you are in the light. You can’t be in God and in darkness — because there is no darkness there.
Now, John will add some challenging thoughts to this idea as we work through the book; but the rule remains: if you’re in God at all, you’re in the light.
What are the consequences of being in the light? Well, “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” We in the Churches of Christ tend to focus on the “cleanses us” part, but John first tells us that being in the light means we have fellowship with each other.
Your’ll recall “fellowship” from —
(1Jo 1:3 ESV) that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
John has promised fellowship with himself (and presumably the other apostles) as well as fellowship with God and Jesus. He now promises fellowship with one another. You see, our horizontal fellowship is a product of vertical fellowship. By being in right relationship with God, we are prepared and qualified for fellowship with each other.
“Fellowship” translates koinonia, which also means having in common, partnership, and sharing. If you and I are both in right relationship with God, we have something of the utmost importance in common. Moreover, we’ll have been changed by the Spirit, having had our hearts circumcised by the Spirit and God’s laws written on our hearts and in our minds. And we’re going to live with God forever — together. We’re going to be in community with each other for a very long time indeed!
Of course, sinners can’t be in fellowship with God — unless they’ve been forgiven. Unforgiven sins separates us from God. Fortunately, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” As is now familiar teaching, “cleanses” is in present tense in the Greek, which means it refers to ongoing, continuous cleansing, not a single cleansing at baptism. As Peter said in Acts 2:38, we are “baptized into forgiveness sins.” We are baptized into washing, not a washing but an ongoing washing.
Now, I don’t believe or teach the perseverance of the saints or “once saved, always saved.” But John says very little about falling away, and we’ll stick with the apostolic lesson plan. Yes, it’s possible to fall away, it doesn’t contradict John, I’m not a Calvinist, and we’ve covered it many times before.
John connects fellowship with each other and cleansing from sin for similar reasons. You see, until we’ve been forgiven by grace and accepted that our forgiveness is a gift and not earned, then it’s easier to forgive other people. We can only be in true, close fellowship with others when we extend the same grace to them that God has extended to us — and they do the same for us.
Marriage, friendships, and most especially churches only work well when the people see the world through the eyes of grace. Only fellowship with God makes true fellowship with fellow humans possible.
Now, I skipped a thought from v. 6. If we falsely claim fellowship with God, we “do not practice the truth.” Several times in 1, 2 and 3 John, John refers to “truth.” As is true in Paul and Peter as well, “truth” does not refer to any true proposition. 2 + 2 = 4 is a fact, but it’s not “truth” as John uses the word. A while ago, I covered this point extensively in a series of posts. And just as is true in John’s Gospel, “truth” is the truth about Jesus and the truth that Jesus is. Jesus, of course, also taught the truth. It’s the good news of the Kingdom.
And this is of critical importance, as John says a lot about “truth,” and what he says gets to be confusing if we take “truth” in the abstract sense. Jesus is the truth.
(John 14:6 ESV) 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now, it’s interesting that John says that if we falsely claim to be in God, we “do not practice the truth.” “Truth,” you see, is not a mere set of statements to be believed. They must also be practiced. More precisely, the good news must be practiced. It’s something you believe and, believing, do.
John will tell us more about practicing the truth as we proceed.