1 John Lesson One: 1 John 1:1-4 – The Foundation of Fellowship

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (HCSB)

Before we dig into the passage itself, let’s present information regarding the letter.

  • There is little debate among scholars that John is the author of the letter.
    • There are many similarities to John’s Gospel.
      • The use of “light and darkness.”
      • The use of “life and death.”
      • The use of “love and hate.”
    • The beginning of the letter suggests the writer had close, personal contact with Jesus during His earthly ministry.
    • The authoritative tone in the letter supports apostolic authorship.
  • Since the conclusion is that John wrote this letter, the next question is, when was it written? Was it before or after John wrote his Gospel?
    • The letter appears to have been written to confirm the faith of believers facing the challenges of proto-Gnostic teaching. This movement was growing during the last part of the first century.
    • John’s Gospel was used by the proton-Gnostic, suggesting some time had passed between the writing of John’s Gospel and 1 John.
    • Based on this, an acceptable date for 1 John is in the early- to mid-nineties.
  • The letter lists several reasons for the writing of 1 John.
    • So that the readers may have fellowship and joy.
    • To provide a foundation for the assurance of salvation for the readers.
    • To warn the readers of false teachers who reflected the spirit of the Antichrist.
  • The letter included three tests to identify those who belonged to God.
    • The test of right belief demands that we believe Jesus had come in the flesh – 4:1-3.
    • The test of right behavior demands righteous living – 2:29.
    • The test of right attitude demands evidence of brotherly love – 3:11.

As we begin our study of 1 John, in the opening verses of the letter, the writer revealed to the readers about his and other eyewitness experiences regarding eternal life through Jesus. His desire is that all might share in the same fellowship. Let’s take a closer look at this passage.

  • John talks about Jesus in a two-pronged manner.
    • “What was from the beginning” and “what we have heard” refers to the incarnate Christ. The incarnate Christ is the message, the Word. Jesus has always existed as part of the triune God. 
    • “What we have seen,” “what we have observed,” and “touched with our hands” refers to the incarnate Christ.
      • John used these phrases since he was combating heretical teaching.
      • False teachers were making claims that Jesus’ body was not a normal one or that He was an angel and not a man.
      • John made a frontal assault on these false teachings by explicitly stating he had first-hand interaction with Jesus. 
    • The message and the person are inseparable. Each explains the other. The message about Jesus is intimately related to who Jesus is.
  • This duality also applies to the timeline of creation.
    • The contrast between “that which was from the beginning” and “what we have seen…observed” is a contrast between eternity and an actual past event.
    • John and other eyewitnesses saw the deity of Christ incarnated in time/space/history.
      • The first-hand witnesses were with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry.
      • The false teachers distorted what Jesus taught, and their ideas were not verified by Jesus’ ministry.
    • The eternal Son of God, Jesus, had come in the flesh – John 1:14.
  • In verse two, John goes on to explain the source of eternal life has been revealed through the person of Jesus.
    • Life was meant to be eternal before the fall in the Garden of Eden.
    • This life was revealed in the person of Jesus.
  • This truth is the key purpose of this epistle.
    • John is fighting against a Christological heresy that denied the incarnation of the deity, Jesus.
    • The heresy involved the separation of “Christ” and “Son of God” from “Jesus.”
    • The heretics believed Christ to be someone other than Jesus.
    • This position would call into question the issue of atonement through the sacrifice of Jesus.
    • John is writing to assure his readers that belief in Jesus and separation from idols and false teachings (false christs and false religions) is the path to eternal life.
    • John is encouraging his readers to persevere in their belief in Jesus as the Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
  • The key idea in verse three is the term “fellowship.”
    • The same term is used in 1 John 1:6.
    • Fellowship also implies knowledge of Him, Jesus, found in 1 John 2:3.
      • The idea of fellowship is the apostolic preaching of the historical Jesus and the readers’ response of faith to that teaching. Fellowship implies obedience to Jesus’ teaching.
      • It is demonstrated by the readers walking in the light as God is in the light – 1 John 1:6-7.
        • Loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
        • Because God is love, our Christian love originates from God.
        • Evidence of Christian love is having eternal life.
    • Faith in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, moves one from the realm of death to life, from darkness to light, and by demonstrating love towards fellow believers.
    • The context of fellowship with the Father and the Son is eternal life with them.
      • Fellowship is first dependent on hearing the Gospel message.
      • Next, it means believing and accepting the Gospel message that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God.
      • It is a sign of oneness within the community of God, with other believers, the Father, and the Son.
      • This “oneness” is inseparable from eternal life. If we are one with God, we have eternal life.
      • It also implies perseverance in the faith. Falling away will break fellowship.
  • In verse four, it may appear somewhat selfish for John to use the phrase “our joy” in relation to others joining the fellowship of believers. However, that would be an inaccurate understanding of John’s intent.
    • John is writing from an apostolic viewpoint. This is no different than a pastor who is joyful when a person comes to Christ or when someone who is struggling preservers in the faith.
    • This idea is supported when we consider 3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
    • However, it goes beyond this.
    • Since the context of these first four verses is oneness in fellowship, the joy is shared by all who are in the family of God. Both shepherd leaders, as well as members of the flock, should express joy as people become believers and persevere in the faith.
    • Although the “we” starting verse four refers to the apostles, every subsequent use of the term “we” in this epistle refers to the collective body of Christ.
    • What is the “joy” that John is referring to?
      • Being faithful followers of Christ.
      • Bearing fruit. If a person is a faithful follower of Christ, they will bear fruit.
      • There is a partial fulfillment of joy during our time on earth through fellowship with other believers.
      • Full joy will occur when Christ returns.
      • When considering John’s theology, it is impossible to take the joy away from a true believer.
        • John 16:22.
        • John 17:12-13.
      • Those who fell away from the faith were never true believers in the first place and were never part of the fellowship.
      • John’s theology was also a theology of perseverance in faith. Believers are sustained by being immersed in Scripture and the practical application of scriptural practices.  


  • Are you in meaningful fellowship with other believers? John is clear that fellowship with others and with God are essential parts of the assurance of our salvation. Being part of the body of Christ is more than attending a Sunday service. It’s being in meaningful relationships with other believers where we support each other through prayer, service, and sacrifice.
  • As we are involved in witnessing and evangelizing others, don’t add or take away from the Gospel. John was fighting against heretical teaching in this epistle. If we make substantial changes to the Gospel, we are part of the heretical crowd.
  • Even though we face trials and hardships during this life, does your life exhibit joy? Our hardships are temporary, but our joy is eternal. Focus on the eternal as you live each day.

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