“…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 1:3).
Why is it that some Christians seem to be transformed by their encounter with Jesus Christ, but others are not? Some Christians, even Christians of long standing, still seem to be very much conformed to the world around them, even deformed in their views and outlooks. Yet all of them stoutly assert that they are Christians, that they too have been born again by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not strange that the world asks, What is wrong? Why are they like this? The secret, John says, is fellowship.
What is fellowship? I had a friend who was in the Navy who used to say it was two fellows on the same ship. There is a sense in which that is true. They do have something in common—the same ship. That is the basis of fellowship, for essentially this word means to have all things in common. When you have something in common with another, you can have fellowship with that person. If you have nothing in common, you have no fellowship. We all have things in common. We share human life in common. Most of us share American citizenship in common.
But John is talking about that unique fellowship that is the possession only of those who share life in Jesus Christ together. This makes them one, and this oneness is the basis for the appeal of Scripture: to live together in tenderness and love toward one another. Not because we are inherently wonderful people or remarkable personalities or that we are naturally gracious, kind, loving, and tender all the time. At times we are grouchy, rough, and irritating to others. But we are still to love one another. Why? Because we share life together. We have something in common. We share the life of the Lord Jesus, and therefore we have fellowship with one another.
We must understand the difference between relationship and fellowship. Relationship is becoming a member of the family of God by faith in Jesus Christ. It is established by being born again to a new life in Christ through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. John makes that clear at the end of this letter. “Whoever has the Son has life [that is relationship]; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life [he does not have a relationship]” (1 John 5:12).
The Christian life starts right there with this matter of relationship. Relationship is repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Fellowship is experiencing him. You can never have fellowship until you have a relationship. Relationship puts us into the family of God, and fellowship permits the life of that family to shine through us. That is what marks the difference between Christians. Fellowship is the key to vital Christianity. That is why we need one another.
And that is why this letter, which calls us back to fundamental issues, focuses first on that. The important question is, as a Christian, are you enjoying fellowship with the Father and with his Son? For if you are, then you will begin to enjoy the fellowship that we have together in the Father and the Son through this new life brought to us by the Holy Spirit.