John wrote his three letters later in the first century when he was an old man. He may well have felt that he was now one of the very few who had actually known Jesus in the flesh. He had lived with Jesus day by day, walking with him, eating with him, listening to him. So he emphasizes that he had seen Jesus “with our eyes” and “our hands have touched”. Amazing! What a tremendous privilege John had!
With doubting Thomas Jesus had invited him to use his eyes to see the holes in his hands and to reach out his hand to touch the wound in his side. But then Jesus had told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.29). John himself must have witnessed this exchange between Jesus and Thomas. Although therefore he marvels at his awesome privilege of having seen, heard, touched Jesus in the flesh, he knows well that God’s rich blessing fills all who relate intimately with Jesus by faith. We too rejoice in all that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ of Jesus. And John’s repetition of the reality of this personal experience of Jesus underlines its vital central importance in our life and witness as Christians. Our message is true!
John not only repeats the fact that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’, but two other words stand out in this passage because they are repeated – “proclaim” and “in order that”.
As we have learned to expect from John, the primary emphasis in our witness is “concerning the word of life” (1.1). In John 1 God’s word is in fact Jesus himself and Jesus is also not only the source of life, but is actually himself “the life” (e.g. John 14.6). So John tells his readers that this life has appeared on earth and “we have seen it and testify to it” (1.2). Having declared that the heart of our witness lies in this life, he then proceeds to add that we proclaim theeternal life which we have in “what we have seen and heard”. And this eternal life was “pros/towards the Father”, using the same preposition that comes in the first verse of his Gospel. As Christians we have received new life in Jesus which transforms our life on earth; and we also enjoy his gift of eternal life with continual movement towards the Father. Even Jesus, who is one with the Father, moves eternally closer and closer to his Father. How much more do we need to relate ever more closely through Jesus with the Father!
Hina/In order that (1.3/4)
What then is the goal and purpose of our proclamation and witness? Whole books have been written to teach us the goal of Christian witness and mission. But John gives us an astonishing answer to our question. The goal of Christian witness, he says, is “so that you may have fellowship with us” and thus he says he is writing “in order that our/your joy may be filled”.
John implies that our Christian fellowship is so loving, rich and heart-warming that we long for others to come by faith into our fellowship to share the glory we so much enjoy. In our world today loneliness has become a heart-rending problem, so the reality of close Christian fellowship becomes specially attractive. As Christians we need to pay particular attention to developing ever more loving fellowship in our church and among us all as followers of Jesus. John then explains that our fellowship is quite different from the sort of bond that can develop between football supporters or in other secular contexts. He states that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”. As we come closer to the Father and the Son, God’s love grows increasingly in our Christian fellowship.
As new people come to faith in Jesus and bring their gift of new and eternal life into our fellowship, this will of course enrich both them and us. It is hardly surprising then that we have here alternative textual readings. Is it “our joy” or “your joy” that will be completed? It is of course both! If they join us, then ‘we’ and ‘you’ are one together, so “our joy” is identical with “your joy”.
So, for John, the great goal of our witness and mission lies in the beauty of loving relationship. The Father and the Son; Christian believers with the Father and the Son; the children of God in loving fellowship together; new believers added to our fellowship; all of us together glorying in the joyful beauty of this fellowship. And thus our/your joy together is filled full.
Coffee or tea
It seems that the Holy Spirit has raised up coffee and tea as a key factor for our witness and the growth of the church! He uses our times of sharing coffee and tea to deepen our love and fellowship with each other. Coffee and tea after Sunday Services and other meetings; small mid-week or Saturday morning gatherings; visiting each other in our homes. How vitally important it is to spend time together and have the opportunity of really sharing together!
Our little village church enjoys a Thursday morning totally informal coffee morning at a local garden centre. We have no agenda and never know from one week to the next who will be free to join us. These regular coffee mornings have played a significant part in fostering a deeper and more personal fellowship amongst us. The garden centre staff actually noticed us coming each week and thought we must be a family. I was able to tell them that they were quite right! We are a family – not by blood, but as God’s children and therefore as sisters and brothers together in the love of Christ.
Lonely people today will surely be attracted by the warmth of Christian fellowship. Such fellowship can also form the answer to the needs of a broken society.