The story of redemption is the greatest romance ever told. In it we have the greatest conflict, the most noble and valiant hero, and the most glorious victory. This overarching theme is often summarized in biblical “snapshots” such as David and Goliath, Boaz and Ruth, and even David and Mephibosheth. But the larger epic of our Lord’s search for a people, a bride, and a kingdom, far surpasses the romance, intrigue, chivalry, struggle, or victory of any literature ever known to man.
In the epistles of John we see a common theme of a fellowship shared by believers and the Lord. This fellowship is forged in conflict, against dark and sinister forces, as faith is tested and refined. The touchstone of the fellowship is found in the truth, and that truth centers in the glorious person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. To hold to this truth against all odds, all deception, and all temptation is to win a place among the ranks of those who value the fellowship of the King. It is an old story.
The Old Testament is a story of our King in search of a nation and a people. From all the nations of the earth God selected the smallest and weakest, and called them “Israel,” after the man whose history foretold their centuries-long struggle to enter into His blessings. Because of her election, Israel’s history plays out on a stage of perpetual hostility and affliction. Yet out of that centuries-long anguish comes a fellowship of those who, by persistent faith, enter the roster of heroes (Heb 11).
In the New Testament, the story continues, as the King now seeks His choice bride—the Church—from among all the peoples of the earth. He is born into poverty, lives in obscurity, and dies in agony and unjust infamy. Just when the hordes of hell were celebrating His defeat, He rises from the tomb, and ascends into His glory. In the sending of His Spirit at Pentecost, a new era begins—the Church Age. A new fellowship begins to form, built on the truth of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. In the intensified fires of spiritual conflict, against every scheme of a wily and evil Foe, the beleaguered bride is tempted, torn, and purified, for her coming day of glory, when she will be presented to the King—robed in all His glory.
The same general theme runs through the epistles of John. That theme is a priceless treasure called “fellowship,” shared by all who hold fast to “the truth,” and who live in the power of the love of Christ. Those who enter into this fellowship are known by their demonstration toward one another of the grace and the love they each have received through the mercies of Christ Jesus. In the first epistle of John, we see the precepts of that fellowship set forth. Then, in the second epistle, we find the practice set forth in the face of hostile and deceptive opposition. And in the third epistle, these principles and practices are personified in living examples of those who stand approved within this fellowship, and those who, having been led astray, have excluded themselves from it. Will we stand approved in the fellowship of the King?
Defining the Fellowship
In 1 John 1:3, the author states the goal of his writing, “That you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The conditions of this fellowship are then clearly established, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1JO 1:7).
The key then to entering into this fellowship is to “walk in the light,” which John further explains as “walking in truth” (2JO 1:4; 3JO 1:3-4). This truth is specifically stated as “the doctrine of Christ” (2JO 1:7-9). Those who live by this truth are easily identified, because the outward evidence is a manifest love for other believers (2JO 1:1, 2JO 1:5; 3JO 1:5-8). This conduct of love comes at great cost,—first, by those who are not believers (2JO 1:7-11), and often even from believers who have been deceived by the enemy (3JO 1:9-11).
In this light, the fellowship of which John speaks is a costly thing—a prize won through diligent spiritual vigilance, in which we “share in the sufferings of Christ,” in order to maintain His claims. For it was in the Upper Room that Jesus proposed the greatest weapon against the prince of darkness and his forces. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (JOH 13:35). No sooner were the words spoken than Satan, the “old deceiver,” began his assault on this stronghold of the faith. First, he attacks the unity such love creates (1CO 1:10-13) by causing division, then perverts the true meaning of spiritual love into the shallow and sentimental version known in this depraved world and applauded in our churches.
Most Christians today simply cannot reconcile the call to “[maintain] the unity of the Spirit” (EPH 4:3) with the “sword of division” which Christ brought into this world (MAT 10:34). To far too many people, these seem to be contradictory statements that are mutually exclusive. Yet to those of the fellowship, these statements are in perfect harmony. The organized Church of today waters down the truth of the Gospel, to not offend and thus cause division. In so doing, they violate both “the sword of Christ” and the “unity of the Spirit.” Meanwhile, believers who refuse to compromise the fundamental truths of Christ, and who call the Body of Christ to “stand firm in the faith,” are ostracized as “trouble-makers,” and “unloving” people who “divide the church.” As we will see, the same conditions existed in the Church of John’s day (3JO 1:9-12).
The fellowship of which John speaks is like the bonds forged by warriors who have fought bravely together, suffered and died sacrificially for one another. The love they share is a priceless and timeless thing—forged in the fires of combat. It is something those on the outside will never understand. In it is found a unity that cannot be broken, and it co-exists with a sword that forever identifies the common enemy and vows to fight that enemy whenever and wherever he is found.
In this fellowship, the truth is never compromised, and the love is never a pretense.