Connecting People in Community: Humans are not solitary beings. Our horizontal relationships with people must be shaped and empowered by our vertical relationship with God; but none of us are perfect. Thankfully, the gospel provides a wonderful promise: if we confess our sins in humility, God will not only forgive us but will purify us from all unrighteousness. Recorded on Jan 8, 2023, on 1 John 1:1-10 by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our DNA, a sermon series on our core values that define who we are and what we’re trying to do. Our core values include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. These values provide a wonderful source of power, meaning, and joy for the Christian life.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re continuing a 4-part sermon series called DNA, focusing on our identity and the core values which define who we are and what we’re trying to do here. Our core values include inviting people to worship, which we covered last week, but also connecting people in community, our focus of the day, as well as training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. At the most foundational level, worship, community, ministry, and mission are the basic building blocks of the Christian life. When these values are guided and empowered by our mission and vision and are rooted in the truth of God’s word, they become our DNA, encoding everything we need for life and flourishing as a church. Today, we’re considering relationships here in the church and the value of connecting people in community. Now, again, just like last week, there are so many places we could go in the Bible to see why this is true and should be part of our DNA. But I think the opening of a letter written by the Apostle John is a classic example. So if you have a Bible/app, please open to 1Jn 1:1. We’ll read through this text and then unpack it together.
1 John 1:1-7 (NIV), “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out 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, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
So the book of 1 John is an epistle or letter in the NT from the Apostle John, one of the closest friends of Jesus, to the Christians most likely in and around the city of Ephesus in modern Turkey. The people in this area had initially heard the gospel from the Apostle Paul. According to church history, John was a leader in this region toward the end of his long life. And from his letter, we can see that there were problems there: people were being led astray by some who claimed to be Christians but had broken away from their church (and had started a church across town) because they had much different views of the person and work of Jesus. The true Christians there needed to hear again from one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus to strengthen them and clarify the gospel. And this is why John writes to them. Let’s start back with v. 1.
1 John 1:1-2 (NIV), “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” Ok, let’s pause here. So when you read the Apostle Paul, you get a much more systematic, bullet-point type of feel. John is more artistic to me; he paints in watercolors. His thoughts blend into each other, and he uses many rich metaphors. John starts his letter not with a traditional greeting but jumps right in with language that reminds us of the beginning of his gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1). For John, the coming of Jesus was a new Genesis, a new beginning, for creation. So here, he points back to that new beginning because, for him, Jesus changed everything. But the way of Jesus, for John, wasn’t something he learned in church from a pastor or teacher, and it wasn’t something he learned while he was growing up at home from his parents — he was an eyewitness. And we see that here. He says, we heard Jesus, we saw him with our eyes, we looked at him, and our hands touched him. John was in a group of eyewitnesses (we heard, we saw), and this group includes men and women who followed Jesus and became his disciples. But also, this was the main function of the twelve apostles, to be eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Peter described his apostleship like this, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16). So this is what John as an eyewitness had to say/proclaim concerning Jesus, the Word of life who brings eternal life. Jesus, who was with the Father in heaven before coming into the world as a human being. And this isn’t a theory or a philosophy for John. This isn’t a squabble over some minor doctrinal point. This is about knowing/believing the truth about his friend, Jesus, and finding real life/love/joy in his name. Without a true understanding of Jesus, there is no other way to have a right relationship with God. So this is of utmost importance. (v.3)
1 John 1:3-4 (NIV), “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.” John was no doubt concerned by the news that there were false teachers among his brothers and sisters in Christ whom he dearly loved. As a pastor, I grieve when I hear that someone has been deceived or led astray or has just decided to drift away from Jesus. I care for you, and I do not want anything/anyone to harm you. This is why John says that he’s writing “to make our joy complete.” But joy in what way? Joy as he hopefully confirms their fellowship. “…so that you also may have fellowship with us.” The Greek word translated fellowship is the word koinonia. And koinonia means something deeper/richer than a friend or acquaintance. To have koinonia means to have a shared partnership in something, to be mutually committed to one another. It’s the type of bond that forms when you have a shared mission/direction in life. And this is really what we mean when we talk about connecting people in community here at our church. We don’t want a bunch of shallow or meaningless relationships here. We don’t want 1,000 friends on social media who know really nothing about us. Those types of relationships are corrosive to our souls. We want you to experience the type of relationships you were created by God to enjoy, relationships that are fruitful, meaningful, and deeply satisfying. Now, in a way, this should be startling to us. Because John says that not only can Christians have this type of deep relationship with one another, but that our relationship/fellowship with one another is rooted in our relationship/fellowship/koinonia with God. If you’re new to Christianity, this surprising truth is at the core. God loves you and wants a relationship with you. We have been separated from God by our sin. But because of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection, we can be forgiven for our sins, reconciled with God, and enjoy life everlasting in his kingdom by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus. And one of the effects of this saving faith is the quality of relationship (fellowship) we have with other Christians. Our horizontal relationships with people (in and outside the church) must be shaped and empowered by our vertical relationship with God, which is exactly what Jesus taught. That the first and the greatest command was to love the Lord our God, heart, soul, mind, and strength, but the second was like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. But if we fail to understand this message about the Word of life, then we will not have true fellowship with God or with his people. No wonder John is concerned. As John would write later in his letter, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1Jn 5:12). Everything is at stake here. But what was the message? What did the people need to hear once again? Look at v. 5.
1 John 1:5-7 (NIV), “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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, purifies us from all sin.” When people are in danger of being deceived or led astray, they need to be reminded of the gospel, and the gospel starts with God. We might think the gospel starts with us because our needs/wants/desires/opinions tend to be fairly important to us. But no, the gospel starts with God. And who is God? God is infinitely good and wise and just and holy. And God’s word is creative and powerful and true. God is light. He doesn’t do evil or tolerate evil, or even tempt people to do evil. He is the righteous judge who doesn’t lie or deceive; in him, there is no darkness at all. But it’s because of his good and holy character that God cannot tolerate our wickedness, rebellion, and sin. The bad news of the gospel is that we cannot walk in the light by our own strength. Just try to be perfect in thought, word, and deed for one day, and tell me what you think. And this isn’t just a Christian belief. Nobody’s perfect, and everybody knows it. But the good news is that God sent his son Jesus to live the life we were supposed to live but then to die on the cross, in our place, for our sins. So through the blood of Jesus, we can be forgiven and purified or cleansed from all sin. This is how we can have fellowship with God. But this also means that how we live matters to God. If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, and here I believe darkness is referring to unrepentant sin and not simply ignorance of the truth, then we are living a lie. But wait a second, you might think. Is John saying that once you become a Christian you can never stumble or struggle with sin? Not at all. Look again at v. 8.
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” This is so helpful. Because anytime you talk about relationships that go beneath the surface level, you need to talk about how to deal with sin. We live in a broken world. And to some degree, we add our own brokenness to this world, including (and maybe especially) in our relationships with others. The closer the relationship, the more likely we are to do/say something we’ll later regret. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” And we are called to walk in the light and live in the light as he is in the light. But even Christians who have a very accurate understanding of the gospel will, from time to time, stumble or fall in sin. What do we do then? What happens here in the church when you sin against another brother or sister? Do we cut them out of our lives? Do we never speak to them again? I think John is very realistic (as is the whole bible) about sin. John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In other words, Christians shouldn’t think we’re perfect, and it helps no one to pretend we’re perfect when we’re not. In v. 10, John says if we act in this way, we are actually accusing God of being a liar about us and our true spiritual needs. This is a serious accusation. But in being realistic about sin, it doesn’t mean that God’s ok with anything we might say or do according to the flesh or according to worldly standards of what is right or appropriate. The grace and forgiveness of God isn’t a license to go on walking in darkness. The solution is found in v. 9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So when we become aware of our own sin, of the darkness in our own heart or life, we don’t have to be crushed with guilt or shame or condemnation. We should feel appropriately bad about it, but John says there’s something we can do about it. We should confess our sins to God in prayer. And confess our sins against one other to the person we offended. But here is a beautiful promise: if we confess our sins, in humility and in faith that God has already accomplished everything we need to be forgiven in Christ, God is faithful and he is just and he will not only forgive us but will purify us from all unrighteousness. This is how the good news of the gospel applies not only to the Christian life, but to imperfect relationships with other believers. This is the fellowship of Jesus.
So what do with this today? How might we apply this teaching to our fellowship and our value of connecting people in community? I’d like to close with a reminder of what this teaching means for what it is that unites us to each other. What unites us here in the church is not primarily our shared preferences, opinions, or goals. That might be true for many other relationships or friendships in life. And that might be true to a degree here too, but that’s not the primary reason we are to be one. It isn’t because of our shared ethnicity, language, or culture, either. Our koinonia isn’t primarily based on what type of music we listen to or who we cheer for on the football field, or who we vote for in November. Again, we might have many of these things in common, but they’re not the most important reason why we are one in the church. We do not have to look the same or act the same or think the same to have this type of Christian fellowship with one another. Unity does not mean uniformity. We are united in the church first and foremost because we are united to Jesus. And in Jesus, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6). And this means that we have far more in common in Christ than we have that makes us different or separate. You have more in common with a man who lived 500 years ago in the Philippines who was a Christian than you do with your next door neighbor today who is not a Christian. Despite the fact that you share the same language, live in the same place/time, and have many cultural similarities with your neighbor, that Filipino man is your brother in Christ for all eternity. This means that here in our church, you will encounter people who have different preferences, opinions, goal, and so on. A worldly understanding of unity would say you should feel free to ignore someone like that because they are not your people. But Jesus would say, that is your brother/sister, don’t let anything divide you. I know for a fact that we have people who lean left and people who lean right on the political spectrum. I know we have people who root for different football teams or who come from all sorts of places in life. But again, Jesus would say, that is your brother/sister, if you have fellowship with me, you have fellowship with them, don’t let anything divide you. This is why connecting people in community is so important to us. Because of his great love for us, relationships are important to God. In the gospel, we see what Jesus was willing to do to overcome the obstacle of our sin so that we might be reconciled with our Father in heaven. Do we have that attitude, that commitment to community here or do we see these relationships as disposable? Do we have that kind of deep concern for our fellowship with one another, being willing to confess our sins to one another, or do we tend to stay at the surface level with other Christians? Do we see our relationships here, in our community groups or serving on ministry teams or spending time before or after services or even over coffee during the week, as a source of joy that God intended for your life or more as an inconvenience, an intrusion on your comfort? Everybody needs friends. Everybody needs a group. Connecting people in community is in our DNA. This is who we are. True community is costly and can be painful at times because of our sin, but because of Jesus, the Word of life, our fellowship is growing and is being sanctified and will never come to an end. In fact, it’ll only get better and better, going on forever.