Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The All-inclusive Fellowship that Completes our Joy

          This morning I once again found myself meditating on the wonderful fellowship described by John in this beautiful preface to his first letter.[1] John was very clear about his experience with Jesus. In the past, while Jesus was present on earth in his physical body, John had “heard” Jesus, “seen” him, “looked upon” him, and “touched” him with his hands. With that in mind, what did John expect that we could experience, since none of us would have the same opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in an earthly way?
          After describing his experience of Jesus in his earthly life, John identifies his purpose and aim in writing this letter. There is no doubt that “the life was made manifest,” for that was an objectively verified reality. John is very clear that he, along with the other apostles, “have seen it.”[2] What John now adds to his experience of personal, earthly, fellowship with the life that was manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ, is what he is doing to share this with others.
          To begin with, he writes this letter to “testify to it,” and to “proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” John testifies to both the reality of Jesus’ coming, and his experience of Jesus’ coming, and he proclaims the gospel, the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.[3]
          What John was aiming for, the wonderful “so that” of Scripture, is that his testimony and proclamation of the eternal life that is in Jesus Christ would result in, “that you too may have fellowship with us”. To clarify, John means that his readers could have the same fellowship with “the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ,” as John and the other apostles had already experienced and enjoyed.
          John expects that, if he testifies and proclaims what he heard, saw, and touched, the church would enter into fellowship with the apostles, and our fellowship would also be with the Father and the Son. Further along in this letter he makes clear that this fellowship necessarily includes the Holy Spirit.[4]
          Since John spoke of fellowship that included the apostles, it is no surprise that other apostles wrote of the same things. Paul wrote about the church as “one new man” made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ.[5] He writes, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”[6]
          When we look at this carefully, we discover that there is the exact fellowship that John wrote about in his letter. The “him” is Jesus, the “we both” is the Jewish and Gentile believers as the one new man, the “one Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, and “the Father” is the God and Father of us all. Here we have “fellowship with us” and fellowship with “the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ,” just as John identified in his letter.
          However, not only does Paul describe the persons involved in the fellowship he speaks of, but he gives indications of the relationship between us. The “we both” of the whole church has “access” to the Father. That access to the Father is “through” Jesus. This access to the Father through Jesus is “in one Spirit”. The “to”, “through”, and “in”, of the “we both” weaves together the fellowship we have within the church, with the Triune.
          Paul continues,
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.[7]
          The Gentile believers are “no longer strangers and aliens” from the Jews. However, this is not because the non-Jewish people joined the Jewish religion. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus have left behind their earthly identity, and entered into the identity of this one new man, the church.
          Instead of being strangers and aliens to Israel, the non-Jewish believers in Jesus Christ were “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Instead of thinking of the church as two classes of Christians, Jew and Gentile, all Jesus’ disciples are “fellow” citizens, giving them “fellow-ship”. They are fellow citizens “with the saints,” meaning all those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been set apart unto him as holy in his sight through their faith in Jesus. They are equally “members of the household of God,” since all who are in this household are adopted as sons by faith in Christ.[8]
          Now, look at how Paul describes the fellowship that exists between the church, the apostles, and the Triune God. First, he says that this one new man, this household of God, is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”[9] This is why John could say that the readers of his letter could have fellowship with the “us” who were the apostles and eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The church is built upon the apostles and prophets as our foundation. They are the “rock” upon which Jesus said he would build his church,[10] and we are the church that is built upon that rock.
          However, that is not the whole picture. To make sure we do not think that the apostles and prophets alone are the foundation of the church, Paul adds, “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”[11] So, now we have a foundation made up of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone who gives to this foundation life, substance, order, direction, leadership, structure, and whatever other synonyms of existence we can think of. And, we have the “household of God” that is “built on” this Christ-centered, apostolic-prophetic foundation.
          Now, while being built “on” this foundation of Christ, apostles, and prophets, is one way of looking at things, Paul continues with another facet of fellowship when he says, “In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”[12]
          So, the “household of God,” is “built on” the foundation of Christ, apostles, and prophets, as a “whole structure” identified as “a holy temple in the Lord.” We who are this one new man, this church, this household of God, are actually a temple. All believers are “joined together” as this structure, this household-of-God-temple, so that the household of God “grows” into this holy temple.
          Adding this together, or perhaps it would be better to say, weaving it all together, we have all believers who have access to God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit. Every generation of the church is added to this household of God that is built on the solid foundation of Christ, apostles, and prophets, and is constantly growing into a singular holy temple in the Lord Jesus Christ. That sounds like a lot of fellowship!
          Paul concludes with another crescendo of beautiful thoughts woven together into this divine tapestry of kingdom-of-heaven fellowship. He says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[13] Again, look at the persons involved. We are “in him,” which means Jesus. The “you also” is this one new man made out of both Jews and Gentiles, meaning all believers. We are being “built together” as the household of God, this holy temple, this church, this one new man. Together as this holy temple, made up of all believers no matter what ethnic background, we are “a dwelling place for God” the Father. And, it is “by the Spirit,” that we are able to be such a dwelling place for Almighty God.
          When the apostle John writes that he wants his readers to “have fellowship with us,” he speaks of a unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace[14] that already existed among the apostles, and the initial Jewish believers of the early church.[15] He wants us to share in this fellowship that is “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” We can know that we have this fellowship with the church, and with the Triune, “by the Spirit whom he has given us,”[16]and, “because he has given us of his Spirit.”[17]
          All this to say that our views of fellowship in the church must not be limited to select believers (although fellowship is only with true believers),[18] but must think of the whole church as this “one new man,” this “holy temple” that is being built together as the dwelling place for God. And we must think of the unified Triune God all fellowshipping with us because of the work they have done for us in creation, and in redemption.
          Now, I don’t have time to elaborate on what the apostle Peter adds to this glorious picture, but I will leave you with his words of encouragement and exhortation:
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[19]
          That is the fellowship God has created us for, and redeemed us to experience. Ask God to lead you to experience it in the fullest possible way. Or, as John concluded, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”[20]May that aim be fulfilled in each of our lives today!

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I John 1:1-4
[2] John’s gospel account shows this very clearly as well. John 1:1-18 is worth comparing to the first four verses of I John.
[3] John 3:16 and John 17:3 are two well-known references to our eternal life in Jesus Christ.
[5] Ephesians 2:15 with Ephesians 2:11-22 as the immediate context, and the whole book of Ephesians as the larger context.
[6] Ephesians 2:18
[7] Ephesians 2:19-22
[8] Galatians 3:26
[9] Ephesians 2:20
[10] Matthew 16:18
[11] Ephesians 2:20
[12] Ephesians 2:21
[13] Ephesians 2:22
[14] Ephesians 4:3
[15] The book of Acts shows how the church began with the 120 Jewish believers, with thousands more added on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and both Samaritan and Gentile believers welcomed into the church as it grew and expanded into other places.
[16] I John 3:24
[17] I John 4:13
[18] There is much that is called Christianity that is not Christianity, and many who are called Christians who are not Christians. All the apostles are very clear in their letters what it means to be a Christian, and so to be part of that true church that is the body of Christ, the household of God, the one new man, the holy temple in which God lives by his Spirit.
[19] I Peter 2:4-5
[20] I John 1:4

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