Portraits in Fellowship, Part 1
Last time, we introduced the subject of Two Most Important Aspects of Fellowship with God. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, we only got around to discussing one of those aspects, which was living a lifestyle that allowed us to enjoy fellowship with God. We’ll discuss the second aspect in this article and we’ll also let this serve as the starting point for our new series, Portraits in Fellowship.
From the example we provided last time, a Christian who may very well be an authentic Christian but is far from living a life that allows them to enter into fellowship with God because they have chosen to live a lifestyle of sin, needs to understand that he/she has no ongoing fellowship with God. It is non-existent in spite of what they may think.
The married man who constantly cheats on his wife is not only morally wrong, but has actually made himself a liar on many fronts. First, he has gone against the public vows he has made to love, honor, and cherish his wife. Second, he made those vows publicly and before God so he is not only harming his relationship with his wife, but he has become a liar before people and God. Though he is married to one woman, he lives as though he was unmarried.
John points out in 1 John 1:6 that if we claim to love God, but live a life of deliberate and continued sin, we are actually lying about our love for God and absolutely not in fellowship with God (my paraphrase). The husband who claims to love his wife but cheats on her with other women as often as possible is lying about loving his wife. He may think he loves her, but he actually loves himself far more. If he truly loved his wife, he would not cheat on her. Moreover, there is no real fellowship taking place between spouses because of the lack of truth.
The Christian who truly loves God will deliberately endeavor to live a life that allows him/her to enter into and maintain fellowship with God. This is really essential for any relationship, including marriage, but even more true when it comes to our relationship with God. The husband and wife who truly love one another will hold the other in high esteem and do all that is necessary to obey their original vows to one another, not out of a sense of legalism (though it may appear that way to outsiders), but due to a growing sense of love that is seen in greater devotion. In the same way, two individuals who have become good friends and enjoy a solid friendship would not deliberately do anything to ruin that relationship. Instead, they would do only those things that build their friendship up so that it is maintained and deepened.
How much more should this be true of our relationship with Jesus? Shouldn’t we live in a way that upholds our commitment to Jesus irrespective of what others around us might say, think, or imply? This is exactly what John is telling us in 1 John 2:3-6.
3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. 5 But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. 6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked (NET).
This is the test that tells us whether or not we are truly “knowing” God. The phrase “if we keep His commandments” is something that John explains to us. For the Christian who obeys God’s commands, God’s love has been perfected in that person (v. 5). The point is that Christians who take their commitment to Jesus seriously should without doubt walk as Jesus walked. The motivation for such living should not be legalism, but because of our increasing love for the Father because of His love for us. I love my wife, therefore I do what is right by her. I do this not because of “rules” (legalism), but because of love, devotion, and the reality of my commitment to her.
John tells us that to enter into and maintain fellowship with God, we must live a lifestyle that honors God (1 John 1:6). This right living is our proof that we love God. He also tells us beginning in 1 John 3 that we must love one another and he takes pains to tell us what love actually is and how it should look in the life of each Christian. John tells us that the person who is willing to lay down his life for another truly loves. Jesus did that for us. We should be prepared to do it for others, especially those of the household of faith.
John also points out some very practical aspects of what loving our brother/sister in Christ looks like, in 1 John 3:17.
But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?
If you see a brother or sister in need and you have the ability to help them, but choose not to help, how can you say that you love them? You’re actually hating them. To not help is to be unloving, not loving. It’s quite possible that God has blessed you with things in order for you to be a blessing to others. This is how God works in and through Christians. Be quick to share.
The other thing John implies in his short epistle – 1 John – is that we should be quick to forgive others when they commit wrongs against us. Whatever the sin, we should never hold a grudge and be quick to forgive from our hearts. Why? Because God no longer holds a grudge against us because of our sin. When people sin against us, is their sin somehow greater than our own sin against God? Nope. Sin is sin and while certain sins yield a greater set of consequences in this life, all sin is completely abhorrent to God. All of it.
John warns us against hating in 1 John 4:20.
If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
There are many ways to hate people, but one of the worst ways to hate someone is an unwillingness to forgive them. We are masters at excusing ourselves while holding others responsible and hanging onto grudges. We too easily discard any real sense of fault-finding where we are concerned, but lay it on heavy and thick when someone does something against us.
When we fail to forgive, we fall out of fellowship with them and God. In fact, we will remain there until we are willing to forgive. God will not fellowship with us if we are unwilling to forgive people who sin against us. If we harbor resentment, we are not walking like Jesus walked. While we cannot forgive them legally or judicially (only God can do that), we can certainly forgive them from the heart and even ask that God will not hold their sin against them. We can let it go and forget it realizing how much God has forgiven us.
Notice the first martyr Stephen of Acts 7. Here he was condemned by the religious leaders. They became so enraged with him that as one man they took Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death. As he was getting ready to die, he prayed a prayer that brought tremendous glory to God.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60; KJV).
Why did Stephen do that? How did he do that? Did he grit his teeth and simply do what he thought was right, though he may have inwardly not wanted to forgive? No, he was empowered by God to forgive from the heart. How? He was in fellowship with God and his own life did not matter. In that sense, he had become like Jesus by forgiving people who hated him. We all should be imitators of Jesus in this same way. Since He freely forgives us, we have absolutely no excuse at all to harbor grudges. None. We need to become masters at forgiveness and we’ll talk about practical applications of this in future installments of this series.
Stephen had just seen a vision of Jesus standing (to welcome the first martyr to heaven) at the right hand of God. Stephen was so focused on Jesus that this world’s luster completely faded. It meant nothing, especially compared with the place he was clearly going to in just a few moments. To forgive the men who were going to physically send him to that place of glory beyond this realm required little effort on Stephen’s part to forgive. It was probably a breeze and he gloried in it. He was glad to do it. God was pleased (and glorified) that Stephen did ask on their behalf that this particular sin was not going to be held against them. It was pure love in action, just as Jesus loved and loves.
The point is this: when we are in fellowship with God, as John tells us, God is “in” us and we are “in” God. John is not talking about our salvation here (though you cannot have fellowship with God without having salvation). This is simply another way of saying that we are in fellowship with God. Because we are in fellowship with God, it is easier to do those things that please God because it is God’s Presence which empowers us.
If we truly love God, we will avoid a sinful lifestyle. If we adopt a sinful ongoing lifestyle, we are not only not loving God, but we are completely out of fellowship with Him. Get rid of the things that keep you from being obedient to Him.
Moreover, be quick to forgive from the heart. Do all that you can to enter into and maintain fellowship with God Almighty.